HomeFaithDooley Noted: A generational pastor

Dooley Noted: A generational pastor

A generational athlete is often so talented he looks out of place against the competition. A generational leader rises so far above his peers that comparisons are futile. A generational moment is so rare that we consign the future to mediocrity in comparison. Admittedly, sometimes we use the label prematurely, but dubbing the impact of another as generational takes significant time and serious evaluation.

This week our city lost a generational pastor. A man whose life and ministry touched countless thousands around the world, leaving a footprint that no one person will soon fill. Dr. Phil Jett became the pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in June of 1983 after moving from Atlanta. When he arrived, our congregation hovered around 400 worshippers each Sunday. But over his 24 years as pastor the church grew and grew, eclipsing 2000 in weekend attendance by the time he retired in 2007. He built buildings, launched ministries, and poured his life into our people.

After retiring our beloved pastor assumed the role of Pastor Emeritus, which some view as an honorary title with no responsibility. Not so for Dr. Jett. For the next 16 years this faithful servant led our pastoral care teams by officiating weddings, preaching funerals, visiting the sick, and caring for the elderly. By doing so he lightened the load for all who came after him while also meeting a real need in the church. As a result, Englewood has continued to grow and grow, seeing the same kind of success that characterized Dr. Jett’s earliest days in ministry in Jackson.

Most are likely aware that not every pastoral transition happens smoothly. Frankly, many former pastors cannot stay in the church they previously led without causing disruption. Perhaps Phil Jett’s most remarkable quality was his commitment to prioritize the success of those who came behind him. All totaled, he mentored three successors, all of us younger pastors called to guide Englewood into the future. He loved each one of us unconditionally and he encouraged us incessantly. And we loved him, too.

Dr. Jett was a once in a generation pastor. Numerous qualities demonstrated such a lofty description. He was a larger-than-life personality with a command of every room. He unwaveringly spoke truth with an uncanny smile and joy. He could correct and encourage you simultaneously, oftentimes with his long arm over your shoulder. His resolute work ethic made him a leader that everyone wanted to follow. More importantly, though, were the biblical qualities that permeated Dr. Jett’s life and ministry. Here are a few lessons he taught me about serving the Lord.

First, faithfulness is more important than accolades. Much like the Apostle Paul, Phil Jett’s messages did not come from error (he told the truth), impurity (his motivation was to help others), or by way of deceit (his methods were not manipulative) (1 Thess. 2:3). A tremendous stewardship hovered over Dr. Jett’s ministry because he realized that God entrusted him with the gospel as an approved messenger (1 Thess. 2:4a). Unwilling to succumb to the misguided cultural whims of the day, this steadfast pastor sought to please God more than people (1 Thess. 2:4b). He cared nothing about social media platforms, name recognition, or building his brand because the glory of men was not his calling (1 Thess. 2:6).

Second, gentleness is underrated. As strong as Dr. Jett was, he possessed an uncanny tenderness for the people he served. Outside of Jesus and his family, Englewood was his greatest love. As he continually gave of himself, you never doubted that he cared. For those who were hurting, Phil Jett was as gentle as a nursing mother (1 Thess. 2:7). For those who were angry, he remained kind even if they did not return the favor. He loved people so well.

Third, longevity is the key to real ministry success. This year marked 40 years of service for Dr. Jett at Englewood. Few pastors can boast of such an achievement for various reasons. Admittedly, even in the best churches, there are moments when every pastor wants to quit or move on. But serving people effectively and consistently takes time. The most fruitful ministry occurs when God’s messengers impart not just the gospel, but also their lives (1 Thess. 2:8). Perhaps the greatest evidence of Dr. Jett’s commitment to the local church is not how he labored while in his position, but how he continued to serve after his position ended.

Finally, proclaiming truth requires living truth. The most inspiring compliment I keep hearing about Phil Jett is that, whether at church or in the community, he was always the same. In other words, his faith wasn’t for show. He consistently lived out what he taught others. He lived an upright and blameless life (1 Thess. 2:10), earning the right to be the father figure that we all needed. He exhorted us through his words, but he also encouraged us by his example (1 Thess. 2:11). With his mouth he told us the way, but with his life he showed us the way. Consequently, his pleadings to live out our faith in the same way did not fall on deaf ears, and we are all better for it. (1 Thess. 2:13).

I will always be thankful for the life and ministry of Phil. Jett. I’ll meet you on the other side, friend.

Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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