One of the mixed blessings of being a pastor is presiding or participating in funerals, especially those of Christian friends. On the one hand there is sadness for the loss of family members and friends; on the other there is the celebration knowing those individuals “see in full” as the Apostle Paul writes. They have arrived safely into the arms of Jesus. They’re home.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the joy and high honor of participating in the funerals of two gentlemen leaders and choice servants of God — pastors Don Cobb and Doug Sager. Both these men exemplified what it means to love God and love people. They set the bar high for pastoral ministry while demonstrating the highest level of humility. Both had a passion to see people come to saving faith in Jesus. Both demonstrated what we can be when we walk with God and submit to His leadership every day, every week, every month, every year, year-after-year until Jesus calls us home. Both men left legacies whose ripple effects will reap a Kingdom harvest for years to come. They’ve shown us how to finish well.
Bro. Doug, as he was affectionately known, arrived back in Tennessee about the time I moved here. He had been pastor of Alcoa Baptist Church, then was pastor in Alabama, before returning to the Knoxville area to become pastor of First Baptist Church, Concord, for 20 years. After his retirement from Concord, he became interim and then full-time pastor at Vonore Baptist Church in Vonore where he was serving at the time of his passing into glory.
Baptist and Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey wrote a story about Doug last week after his home-going and you can find that story at baptistandreflector.org.
Bro. Doug was a special man. To me, he was a friend and mentor. I can certainly say there has been, and only will be, one Doug Sager. Most people knew him as an upbeat and energetic pastor, quick with a smile and word of encouragement, and someone who loved children. That was evident by the thousands of children his churches ministered to through Vacation Bible School and ongoing children’s ministry. But Doug himself needed a little encouragement early on in his ministry while serving in Florida. He went to see a nearby pastor, Adrian Rogers. Bro. Doug was feeling inadequate and said he didn’t feel he’d be able to preach with the golden voice of Dr. Rogers or with the spiritual depth of another giant of the faith, Pastor Peter Lord. Dr. Rogers listened, then simply told Doug to be himself; that God didn’t intend for Doug to be someone else.
And did that advice take root. It was wise for Dr. Rogers to recognize God’s working in Bro. Doug’s life, and it was wise for Bro. Doug to heed the advice. I am thankful, and we are blessed, that both of these men became pastoral anchors and great Tennessee Baptist leaders. Frankly, that advice Dr. Rogers shared with Dr. Sager is great advice for every one of us and especially pastors: Be who God made you to be.
I was recently handed notes from Bro. Doug’s sermon on his last Sunday as pastor at Concord. He served his congregation biblical prime rib as he clearly communicated five nonnegotiable principles of ministry. These were pillars he talked about on a regular basis, shared with other pastors like me and everyone else who was blessed to be touched by his mentorship, and were woven into the fabric of his life.
(1) The Bible is the infallible Word of God and Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and those facts are nonnegotiable. All your ministry must be anchored to those two facts or you’re drifting away from truth.
(2) Your level of commitment determines how much — or how little — it takes to stop you. Ministry is not easy and in fact can be downright difficult, but if you are committed — resolved — to that calling, you’re more likely to keep plowing ahead.
(3) The value you place on someone or someplace is determined by the time you’re willing to spend on that person or that place. In other words, a greater investment stands a greater chance of realizing a greater return.
(4) If you understand the why, you can live with the how. Be farsighted and keep the ultimate things of Jesus and His gospel in sight. That is what pulls you through to the finish line.
(5) Don’t figure out how you can’t; figure out how you can. Have faith and believe that God is always the God of possibilities.
I remember one other poignant statement Bro. Doug used to make: If your memories are bigger than your dreams, you are headed in the wrong direction. Short statement; huge truth. Let it sink in.
I thank God for the personal and Kingdom impact of Tennessee pastors like Drs. Sager, Cobb, and Rogers — giants of our faith who loved the Lord and who left giant legacies. No one will fill their shoes, but there are many who could fill their own shoes if they follow the example of these three godly men. I believe God wants to raise up more humble servants like them to lead His people. Let’s honor their legacies by passionately pursuing our Savior.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.