Presently I have a book being published by Jeff and Dale Jenkins of the Jenkins Institute. The book is called, Profiles of Faith & Courage: Interviews with Gospel Preachers. The idea for this work was actually begun twenty-five years ago, and is just now coming to fruition. What had begun with two gospel preachers (Granville Brown and George W. DeHoff) in 1984 and 1985 was not, at that time, accompanied with any idea of extending any farther. Then, in 1991, I elected to conduct this interview with a number of gospel preachers who were known to me personally. Some of these brethren I knew only by reputation. I had determined that I would utilize two gospel journals, with which I was associated at the time, as the main avenue to get these interviews before a segment of the reading brotherhood. The sad reality is that the majority of these brethren have now “gone the way of all the earth” (Josh. 23:14). Their responses to my questions are recorded here lest we forget, not only them, but the work to which they devoted so much of their lives on earth.
In 1985, the country music legend, George Jones, released a hit song titled, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” Those very words become a popular refrain when it comes to lamenting the fact that the “old guard” of gospel preachers are passing from the scene. For example, in the obituary notice of brother Darrell Beard, long time gospel preacher in Mississippi, it was said that we are losing a generation of strong preachers, and then the question was asked, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?” In the notice of brother Beard’s passing it was pointed out that we are losing six hundred preachers a year to death, or burn-out, but are only gaining three hundred per year. If that statistic is true, it seems to reflect the old adage of, “one step forward and two steps back.” As Solomon wrote, “One generation passes away, and another generation comes” (Ecc. 1:4).
A few years ago I heard brother Phil Sanders preach in a gospel meeting. While visiting with Phil shortly before time for services to begin, he informed me that people were telling him that he had “mighty big shoes to fill.” This was about the time when Phil was to take his place on the In Search of the Lord’s Way television program to eventually replace the retiring Mack Lyon. Phil said to me, “I tell them I will be the best Phil Sanders that I can be.” Mack Lyon did a wonderful job with the Search program for so many years. Phil Sanders cannot be another Mack Lyon, nor did anyone expect him to be. As the mighty spiritual oaks like N. B. Hardeman, the Wallace’s, G. C. Brewer, Marshall Keeble, Franklin Camp, R. N. Hogan, Gus Nichols, Guy N. Woods and a host of others have come on the scene and made their marks, people were asking, “Who will replace them?” The answer was then, and is now, “No one will replace them, and no one needs to try to replace them because no one can.” Each of these men filled their unique place in God’s overall plan. We cannot clone them.
Jack P. Lewis remembers R. C. Bell, one his old college teachers, who used to tell the story of a boy who had a bantam chicken. The boy set an ostrich egg in front of her and said, “I do not expect you to do this well, but do the best you can” (These Things Are Written: Bible Lectures Presented at Harding from 1952 to 2012, p. 843). If we are into human comparisons, the rest of us who preach might feel like bantam chickens along side most of the people who are included in this work. There have been many great gospel preachers that have passed from earthly scenes just within my lifetime. As the mighty spiritual oaks of our pulpits and evangelistic fields have fallen I used to wonder, “Who will replace them?” In recent years, however, I have come to think of it as a query that is grossly misguided. The progress of the church is advanced by the small and the great. No one is expected to fill the spot uniquely carved out by another. We do, however, need to walk in the steps of every faithful preacher who ever proclaimed the gospel with love and conviction (Heb. 13:7). Indeed, we must follow them as they followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We cannot preach like they did, nor should we try. We might need to revive the pulpit power of these men, but we can never duplicate their uniqueness. We must preach what they did in the sense of declaring God’s divine message with the same book, chapter and verse clarity that was characteristic of all who have loved and proclaimed the gospel from the beginning of the church until now!
by Dennis Gulledge