Writings by Cole Huffman

What Goes Away Also Remains

It’s been said that every good joke requires three people: the one who tells it, the one who gets it, and the one who doesn’t. How does one plot his career? Like this (feel free to substitute your own name): 

Stage 1: Who is Cole Huffman? 

Stage 2: This is a job for Cole Huffman.

Stage 3: We ought to get someone like Cole Huffman for this job. 

Stage 4: This job calls for a younger Cole Huffman. 

Stage 5: Who is Cole Huffman? 

Get it? Those who don’t may require this David Goetz story: “A friend, an Episcopal priest, invited me to lunch at an exclusive country club near the upscale community in which he served. We sat at a table that overlooked the 18th hole. The lunch crowd hailed the priest like a celebrity coming home to a neighborhood bar. The elderly ladies at a table nearby tried to catch his eye as we sat down. The women giggled like middle-schoolers. When the check for the meal arrived, the waitress asked, ‘What is your number?’ and my friend rattled off his membership number, a perk of his collar, and signed the guest check. He then turned and said to me, ‘I know this is not real. I know this will all go away once I retire.’” 

It goes away for all of us at some point. Even Billy Graham. I’m reading Grant Wacker’s biography of Graham entitled America’s Pastor, how Graham’s life and ministry indelibly shaped American evangelicalism and the wider culture. But Wacker quotes a 2007 poll that found nearly a third of Americans under thirty years of age didn’t recognize Graham’s name. My own independent verifications in 2015 follow: A young friend under thirty saw me reading the book with Graham’s face on the cover and asked, “Who’s that? Is that the Moral Majority guy?” Another young friend didn’t recognize Graham’s name when I quoted something from the book to her. 

In college my fraternity pledge class assembled one night for an object lesson. We were encircled and a large bucket of water placed before us. Each of us was to step forward and put our hand into the water then take it out. As we did our pledge trainer read Saxon White Kessinger’s poem, “The Indispensible Man,” which contains the lines: “Take a bucket and fill it with water, Put your hand in it up to the wrist, Pull it out and the hole that's remaining, Is a measure of how much you'll be missed.” 

The poem is on to something when directed at conceitedness. Often the people who peacock about as if their plumage is irreplaceable are not. But the poem is off too. Plunging a hand into a bucket of water fundamentally changes the water. Let me ask you: Would you drink that water we all put a hand in? No remaining “hole” in the water from the hands does not equate to no remaining effect on the water. 

My church turns octogenarian this March. I’m its eighth senior pastor. Every pastor has what I’ll call his quintessence crew (QC)—the people who come to believe things will never be better for them or their church than during his ministry. The QCers are people especially appreciative of their pastor because he was there for them in a crisis or always approachable. Their values form his vision. His preaching they quote in their prayers. A few will prize their favorite pastor too highly. His successor learns soon enough who they are. 

Pastors, like coaches, often get disproportionate credit and blame. We are none of us indispensable to our churches. That’s not to say we don’t have important roles, but none of us are the quintessence of gospel ministry in our time. On the occasion of my church’s eightieth birthday, I want to honor my seven predecessors and their years of service: Albert Dudley (1935-1941), Stanley Soltau (1942-1968), Earle Stevens (1969-1981), Jay Letey (1981-1982), Duane Litfin (1984-1993), Ronnie Stevens (1994-2003), and Howard Clark (2003-2007). They each one lastingly affected the water in First Evan’s bucket. I’m thankful to have a place in their circle. Perhaps I can stick around long enough to see my Stage 4 day dawn. 

Regardless, someday this all will go away for me too. But because of the Spirit of God, what goes away also remains. Knowing this keeps me from hooking my identity to my role intravenously, an occupational mistake for too many pastors. I’ve been a pastor at First Evan long enough to know I’ll miss it when it goes away someday. But it’s only an occupation. My vocation is follower of Christ, the one who once turned a few buckets of water for hand washing into wine. 

Call it a great career if I can manage to not turn His wine back into water.    

Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:24 PM
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