Many of you have most likely heard of Dr. James Earl Massey. In case you haven’t, let me tell you about this great man.
From 1954 to 1976, he served as Senior Minister of the Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit and then as speaker on the Christian Brotherhood Hour radio broadcast from 1977 to 1982. He was the Dean of the Tuskegee University Chapel from 1984 to 1989 and Dean of the Anderson School of Theology from 1989-1995.
He is the author of over twenty books. He has walked alongside such great leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman. Dr. Massey has preached and lectured at more than a hundred colleges, universities, and seminaries in the United States and on four continents.
I could go on.
You need to know that I was unaware of most of these accolades until later in my life. Before I knew how great he was to the world, I knew how great he was to my dad. I knew how much my father treasured his wisdom but more importantly, his friendship.
Dr. Massey was a frequent guest at my father’s church in Dayton, Ohio. He was instrumental in helping my father start a Preaching Clinic in the mid-seventies as a premier conference to inspire great preaching in up-and-coming pastors and church leaders. We knew he would be our guest in our home and around our dining room table every year during the annual Preaching Clinic.
At the time, I knew him as a very kind man. I knew him as a man who was famous, brilliant, and dignified. He smiled a lot and seemed genuinely interested in the life of a then 14-year-old. I would eventually have the privilege of having him as a professor while attending Anderson University.
And then I grew up.
I grew up and realized just how influential this man was. It became clear to me that he was one of America’s great theologians. As a young pastor, I was not a graduate of seminary. I never went to seminary because I was not planning to be a pastor. Once I became one, going to seminary meant quitting the job, getting the degree, and then returning to work in the church. That did not seem to be an option for me at the time.
I vividly remember being asked to speak to pastors in various gatherings within our church tribe--one was particularly memorable. I was introduced to the audience and then walked onstage to the pulpit. Please remember, I was out of my league every Sunday in my own pulpit. But I knew my people and they knew me.
Outside of my own congregation, it was an understatement to say I was intimidated by other pastors around me. After being introduced to speak at this particular occasion, I stood at the podium and immediately realized that Dr. James Earl Massey was in the audience.
If I remember correctly, I stammered and acknowledged his presence, then went on with my planned outline.
For reasons I may never understand, I knew there was no way I should be speaking to an audience which included James Earl Massey. Now, as I look back on it, I wish I had been able to pull it together and ask for his help. What might it have been like to receive instruction from a man who might have been willing to help me?
I now encourage young leaders never to hesitate to ask someone they highly respect and admire for their input.
Now, I find myself in a very different season. As a young teenager, I idolized him. As a young pastor, I feared him, but yet loved and admired him in ways hard to describe. And as an adult, Dr. Massey showed up in my life in a most unpredictable way.
My parents went through a very difficult, embarrassing, and heartbreaking crisis in their marriage. This crisis ultimately led to a divorce that was final the week of what would have been their thirtieth wedding anniversary. It was a very dark moment for my dad.
The burden of years of rapid growth in church ministry and years of strain in their marriage gave way to difficult set of circumstances which included physical and emotional burnout. And things went downhill from there. Those were years when pastoral health and burnout was not understood nor was it even recognized.
Over time, both of my parents remarried and found happiness in the remaining seasons of their lives. Dad’s marriage gave me a stepmom, three stepbrothers, and a stepsister I love. We learned the depth of forgiveness, God’s grace, and the kindness of those who understood grace.
Dr. Massey refused to give up on Dad. He and a few other great friends stayed in touch with my dad and they loved him, restored him, believed in him, and lifted his spirits in ways no one could have imagined. Dr. Massey spoke at my church--sitting with my dad and Dr. Massey on the front row is something I will never forget. And when my dad died on May 11, 2015, one of the first phone calls I received came from Dr. Massey.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of speaking again to a large group of pastors and church leaders. Dr. Massey was in the audience. Instead of feeling intimidated, I felt honored. The years had taught me to just be myself, bring the best I can, and know who I am instead of all that I’m not.
After that service, Dr. Massey put his hands on my shoulders and told me what a great job I had done. He said, “Marty, today you were yourself. You were you. And I really appreciate what you said.”
There are days I can’t understand why I forget what I wish I could remember, and remember what I wish I could forget. But I will never forget that moment. Never.