On the Death Of a True Pastor

By John David Clark, Sr. - June, 1989

Monday afternoon, April 17, my brother Mike called to tell me that our father had taken a turn for the worse, and when I arrived in Henderson later that evening, it was clear that he had. I knew that, in all likelihood, there would be a funeral within a few days. Still, in his extreme weakness, the presence of the anointing of God was so rich that it captivated the saints who visited him. One elderly saint told of his visit. "When I had been there a while", he said, "I asked him if he wanted me to leave now, and he shook his head, 'No.' So, I sat down again, and the love of God came into that room so strong...I could not move. I was paralyzed by the love of God."

Tuesday evening, brothers Earl Pittman, Jim Gregory, Sammy Puckett, and I sat in my father's little room, experiencing a heavy settling measure of the Spirit of God, a measure which, I am convinced, few even in the Church have ever known. We spoke of things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, as my father lay on his bed listening. When I remember those moments, I remember the room as having a sweet glow, and I feel again the great joy with which God was carrying us through what would otherwise have been an unbearable experience. I still remember the incredible confidence which God caused to rise up in my breast in the midst of this trying time. I am still in awe of God's power to comfort, even to encourage the hearts that are laboring most heavily with sorrow and despair. I felt as if I were being borne up in the arms of Jesus, where there is no despair, no frustrations, and no complaints. There is only faith, and deep, deep joy. Our conversations through this time were inspired conversations, full of zeal and faith, not the kind which men strain to show, but the kind that just "happens" when God's Spirit really seizes control of a situation. The glorious confidence with which we were able to face the passing of our pastor was not of us. It was supernatural. During the last month of George Clark's earthly life, the little church over which the Lord had made him the shepherd lived out a true miracle. In his room that Tuesday night, as we spoke of the things of God, the undergirding strength of the Lord must have impressed even our dying pastor, who rose up from his pillow, and with some effort looked to me and said in a weak voice, "Will you be persuaded tonight?" I don't yet understand all that lay behind those few words, but like Jesus' sparse words on the cross, I knew that a price of pain was paid in order to get them out, and that they were filled with a weight of deep spiritual meaning. Sensing that, and knowing already that God was blessing us in a way we had never known, I responded to my suffering father, "Yes. Yes. Fully persuaded." And I believe that through God's tender care of this church in a most difficult time, He persuaded us that he is able to keep us in his love and truth, without spot and blameless until the coming of the Lord.

There is no good reason to doubt God's love and saving power. He has abundantly proved Himself, His awareness of our needs and His power to provide everything we need to meet and overcome the trials of our faith which must come. Weeks before my father's leaving us, as it was apparent that the time was drawing near, I had feelings of despair. "O God," I thought, "what a grievous loss to the church this will be! How can I ever possibly communicate to people what we all will be losing? So few of us who actually know him really appreciate the depth of his wisdom in Christ, the depth of his love for people, the child-likeness of his soaring faith, the gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues and interpretation, discerning of spirits, which have manifested themselves through him for the church's sake for so long? O God, who will ever know who this man is? and what he meant to the church as a whole?" There was such a frustration and fear in my heart. My mind was worried. Who would ever know, or care?

When those feelings left, I can't tell you, precisely. All I can tell you is that sometime during the next several weeks I began to hear myself speaking with a confidence, and a soul-stirring excitement which caused me literally to forget what I was fearing. My heart was filled with a faith I'd never known. It was, and I'll say it again, as if I were being carried, spiritually picked up and carried, far above the shadows of this world's sorrow, far beyond the reaches of Solomon's "vexation of spirit." I was lost in the love of God, unable to fret about tomorrow, for joy that I was in Christ today. Life is bright, above the shadows. There is no death, above the shadows. From the heart's store of treasured thoughts, an old song of the church comes to mind just now. Some of the words are these:

Lift me up above the shadows, for the storms are raging high!
Lift me up, my blessed Savior, let me to thy bosom fly.
There no evil thing can touch me, over on the shining side.
Lift me up above the shadows, let me ever more abide!
Lift me up above the shadows, out of sorrow, into joy!
Lift me up above my grief, Lord, give me gold for my alloy.
Then, when death must claim my spirit and the storms of life are past,
Lift me up above the shadows, till in heaven I stand at last.

Wednesday, the 19th of April, our dear friend Mary Sparks called my wife Barbara, asking what was going on with my father. "He's been on my mind all day," she said. Also, she had just been made aware of the fact that the Passover would begin at sundown, and she felt very impressed that this Passover held special meaning for him. That evening, our little church gathered for our mid-week prayer meeting, where, I must say, the grace of God was upon me in a mighty way, and I exhorted the church with a boldness of faith and joy only God can give. After this, however, a strange and wonderful thing happened. I discerned as we sat there, hearing testimonies and a few songs, that the Lord was finished with this meeting, yet not nearly enough time had passed for us to have had a regular meeting. I sat there, waiting on the Lord, wanting to know what to do, but not knowing. Sister Betty Pittman then sang a song she sings so well, "Going Home." And when she had finished, the Spirit of the Lord let me know exactly why I had felt that the meeting was over that night. I addressed the church. "We do not do well to sit here," I said, "while my father lies over there alone. He needs us over there more than we need each other here."

While he worked with his RN degree, my brother Mike graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in Spanish. He graduated from Southeastern Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree, receiving top honors, at the graduation ceremony, in both the Hebrew and Greek languages. Later, he earned a registered nurse degree, and now has his own money management business in downtown Henderson, (saving some folks, I might add, small fortunes with his insurance-and-investment programs). While he worked with his R.N. degree, he was Director of Nurses at the rest home where our father spent his last days. Having had that experience there, he knew what to do to prepare for the church's coming over to be with my father on that Passover night. He and Sister Betty, also a nurse, went ahead of us, and when the church arrived he was in a recliner, very weak, but aware that we had come. We took him into the dining area, where we sang for him, and without having to say it, we knew that what we were really doing there, with great thankfulness to God for having been given the priviledge of being taught and nurtured in the way of Jesus by him, was relinguishing him now to God. Yes, there were tears. His dear sister Leona sat by his side, holding his hand, weeping, but touched with the sanctity of the work God was doing before our eyes. We sang again, as Mike played his guitar, the song, "Going Home", and my heart melted with grief that the time had come. Earlier in the week, my father, languishing and tired of this life, shook his head slowly and said to me "If it was just over." I had told him then, "It won't be long", and those words seemed to have comforted him. Now, the time had actually come, and had not the grace of God been so abundantly poured out upon us, we had been swallowed up with grief. As it was, we felt a wholeness, the completion of a matter. As Aunt Leona said, smiling through her tear-stained eyes as she left, "Everything's alright. It's finished."

After everyone had gone home, and my father was helped into his bed for what would be the last time, I decided that I should stay with him that night. My father did not like to be alone, and I felt impressed to spend this Passover night with him. That is one decision I will never regret. I held his listless hand much of the night, doing what I could to let him know that he was not alone now. And when, at 6 a.m., the nurse woke me to let me know there had been a definite change in his breathing and heartbeat, I knew it was time. First, I went to phone Mike, who had been working all night in the emergency room of the hospital, and then I went to my father's bedside and took his withered hand into my own. "Well, daddy", I said to him softly, "It looks as if today's going to be your graduation day. I believe you'll be going home to be with Jesus today." Despite saying this, I didn't know how quickly he would be gone. By 8:30, it was over.

I called some of the church, relatives, and of course Barbara, my wife, who was still at our home in Lexington, N.C. She woke the children and dressed quickly, but wasn't able to make the trip in time to be with him when the angels came. Those who were there witnessed the peace and power of the scene. Uncle Joe, whose only pastor in his 73 years had been George Clark, was there. Brother Earl and his wife Betty, who had both been brought into the way of Christ by him, were there. Brother Donnie French and his wife, Shelia, came in. Mike and his precious wife, Connie, brought their two small sons with them.

As I sat beside him, I gently rubbed his tired hand and said, "Daddy, these old hands are growing cold and dark. You can look for the angels at any time now." The minutes passed, and as his breathing became more erratic and his blood-pressure was dropping quickly, I thought of how much he must surely be wanting it all to be finished, and of how the flesh, even at this point, was still warring against the spirit. "Isn't it something," I whispered in his ear, "how this old flesh just doesn't want to give up?" Except for opening his eyes to look for Brother Earl to come in the door a few minutes later, his affirmative response to this comment was the last response he showed to anything. Just minutes before he fell asleep in Jesus, and it was very much like someone falling into sleep, Mike sat on the bed and held one hand, while I held the other, and we sang one of the old songs of the church, "Heaven Holds All to Me." Some of the words are:

Out on the hills of that wonderful country,
happy, contented, and free,
Loved ones are waiting and watching my coming.
Heaven holds all to me.

I thought of my mother and grandmother, both of whom I had stood beside as they, too, fell asleep, as my father now would yeild, after 88 healthy years, to the gentle arms of Jesus. How many times he had mentioned saints of years passed, whom he had known as a young minister early in this century. I smile now, remembering how we once had teased him when he mentioned his old friends in Christ, saying that those old saints had been waiting so long for him to come, that they probably had given up hope for him by now, supposing that he had gone to quite a different place! Consistant with his love of humor, he chuckled at the suggestion. I can see him now, with a far away look in his eyes, talking of them. "Just think", I can hear him say, "whole congregations I've pastored, and every one of them gone on!" Now, as we watched him breathe his last, long breaths, we knew he could be counted in that number.

One of the very most meaningful truths which my father taught those who listened to him was that being a pastor was exactly that: BEING a pastor. A pastor is not something one does; rather, it is something one IS, if indeed one is a pastor given by God. The present system among Christianity of selecting, or voting on pastors, is anti-Christ in its very nature. If a congregation, or board of deacons, were wise enough to chose a pastor, they wouldn't need one. By his Spirit, God gives certain pastors to certain people, and it is a life-time responsibility. George Clark was our pastor until the moment he left this earth. Without even trying, he still was instructing us in the way of the Lord, still was disciplining us to trust in His mercy, still was teaching us, by example, that God was faithful and, so, we must be. If a man is a pastor sent by God, he can not retire, any more that Israel's High Priest could retire. A pastor is a gift from God, not to be refused if one would grow in the grace and knowledge of God. Virtually all of God's sheep are right now wandering, as it were, on the hills, having no shepherd. From place to place they go, looking for something they can't express, but what it really is, is a home, with a shepherd to whom they really belong, who really loves and cares for them as his own. The system of hiring and firing preachers cannot provide this love. "He that is an hireling," said Jesus, "and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep" (Jn. 10:12-13).

In the mid 1950's, there was a violent strike at the south Henderson cotton mill. I can remember Walter Cronkite reporting it on the evening news. Many people were out of work. As a result, many people didn't have much to give to the churches by way of tithe and offering. You'd be surprised how many "pastors" felt the call to leave Henderson during that time. I don't say they left because they were evil. I say they left because they were hired. To be a pastor was what they did. It was no what they were. It was their job, not their life. "Ye are in our hearts", wrote Paul to the church at Corinth, "to die and to live with you." The good shepherd", taught Jesus, "giveth his life for the sheep." The hireling system knows nothing of this depth of love and committment. You know as well as I, that a larger congregation with more money is what moves the man who is hired to do the job.

I have seen the evil of the hireling system. Young saints led to Christ by a man who then abandons them to lead another flock. I have hurt for them. They knew something was wrong. Something inside didn't feel right. And adding to the confusion is that sometimes the young believer is selected to be on the committee responsible for chosing their next pastor! Talk about utter confusion! How can that young, wounded lamb be expected to plumb the depths of spiritual mysteries, and chose a man who is able to lead him into all righteousness? In other words, the young lamb is called upon to discern who it is, who is more discerning than he. And, as I said before, if a church is wise enough to be able to select its pastor, it doesn't need one.

Because the hireling system is so ingrained into the thinking of God's people, they can hardly believe that any other way would work. Just as Old Testament Israel considered God's way of raising up judges to lead Israel as patently unpredictable, as too unreliable. They wanted a system like the other nations, of a standing king. Something dependable, constant, and organized, as if God is not dependable, constant, and organized! The prophet Samuel begged them to desist in their demand for a king, and when they would not, he wept and prayed to the Lord. "They have not rejected thee", the Lord told Samuel, "but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them."

Just as Israel broke God's heart centuries ago, by desiring to be "like all the nations", so, the church has grieved him by resorting to the way of carnal men in selecting its pastors. Israel rejected God by rejecting His way of raising up leaders for his people, and the church has rejected God by doing the same. Preposterous, do you say? I say take a look around you. Look at the hundreds of sects, large and small, which call themselves after the name of Christ, who died to make us one, and then tell me that God's way has not been forsaken by the church. Tell me God's heart is not broken. Take a good, long look, and then tell me that God planned this confusion, that Jesus suffered and died, so that we could be the divided, hurting people that we are.

We've grown accustomed to the plague. In the main, confusion reigns in the spirits of God's sheep. They don't know where to go. They don't even know (they're not told) that such a reality as having a pastor for life, given by God, exists. And, despite their hunger, it is virtually impossible for them to believe that is could be. There are sheep wandering from one dry place to another here in Henderson, and I have known for years that I am their pastor. But they do not know it. In time, I pray, they will realize it, but until they do, I suffer with them through their wandering from one stony place to another. And all the while, green pastures await them. The same green pastures which Israel, in her desire to be like those without the truth, forsook.

George Clark wasn't elected to his post. He was appointed to it by God. And the Lord sent him sheep, for whom he was responsible until death, in the sight of God. Even as he lay dying, his flock would come to him for strength, and because he was a pastor, even in death he did not disappoint them. Because he was given to us by God, God continued to honor Himself by enabling him to minister to us until the end. And now, the mantle has fallen upon me. I know my sheep, and that I will give account to the One to whom they really belong, at the end of the way. I pray that I may do so with joy, not with grief, but time alone will tell. The night of our Passover prayer meeting, brother Glen Bartow remarked, "How few people in all the history of the church, as we know it, have really experienced what we have had, in really having a pastor from God. And now, we are experiencing something even more rare, perhaps, than that: the transfer of authority over the flock from one man of God to another." Yes, Glen, ours has truly been a sacred experience, a mystery of faith and love. I ask you, our fellow servants and friends, to pray for us, and for all saints, that we might know Him, and grow in all goodness, being full of the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ the Lord.


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