I have pastored the LaRue Baptist Church now for nearly 36 years. But if it had not been for the writings and teaching of Dr. Jay Adams, I don’t believe I would even be in ministry today. And if you had told me I’d be counseling people, not to mention training others to counsel, I wouldn’t believe you because the thought of sitting in an office counseling someone absolutely terrified me. Jay changed all that.
My first response to Jay was indifference. I had graduated from high school in 1973 and headed off to Cedarville University to study history. Of course, counseling was not even on my radar but in my freshmen year Dr. Jay Adams came to Cedarville for the annual “Staley Lectureship Series.” I remember sitting in chapel “hearing” him (I can’t say I was actually listening), looking at my watch and wondering when this boring flood of words would end. I also recall how my friends and the faculty in the psychology department reacted. They were less than thrilled at his presentation. The discussions were interesting, but I wasn’t much interested in any of it.
Weird and On-the-Fringe
By the time I left college in 1977 my views on Jay had changed. I thought he was a weird, “on-the-fringes” kind of guy. I had imbibed much of the integrationist thought that dominated Christian college campuses and the idea that the Bible was sufficient to deal with our deepest problems was preposterous. “What kind of a nut would actually believe that?” I thought. I was also off to seminary, believing that the Lord might be leading me into pastoral ministry. My seminary education was good, but we only spent a week on counseling in the sole pastoral theology class required in the M.Div. curriculum. Someone may have referenced Jay in that class, but I don’t recall it. We all knew that if preaching didn’t get the job done you referred people to the “experts.”
I left seminary armed with my M.Div. and the idea that expository preaching would grow people and grow the church. As long as you spent forty hours in your office doing your exegesis and writing expository sermons, God would crown your efforts with success. After all, the big-name chapel speakers we heard in seminary built their churches that way.
In 1985, I arrived in LaRue, OH, ready to preach. But before long people started appearing at my office door needing help with their personal and marital problems! That wasn’t supposed to happen (not with the sermons they were hearing!). I found that even with four years of Christian college and four years of seminary, I didn’t have a clue as to how to help these struggling parishioners. What was I going to do? Within that first year I was at wit’s end and almost ready to quit. I was struggling.
By God’s gracious and wonderful providence, I received a letter from my dear friend, Russ Park, a pastor with whom I had gone through college and seminary. He had been to a counseling training course at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, IN. He sent me a pamphlet explaining the course, I read through it, thinking, “This might just help me,” until I got to the very last page; a page displaying the picture of Jay Adams and his endorsement of the training course. “Oh no, not that nut!” I hesitated, but concluded, “Well, it might have a few things I could learn that would be helpful.”
I spent twelve Mondays traveling to Faith Baptist Church and, under the tutelage of Pastor Bill Goode, Dr. Bob Smith, Pastor Tim Turner, and Pastor Randy Patten, I learned the fundamentals of biblical counseling. But I learned more than that. I learned how to grow and change (for the first time!), what it meant to be a godly husband and father, and I learned how we ought to “do church.” All of this from the Scriptures. They are sufficient! A revolution occurred that summer that changed me and my family; and the ministry of LaRue Baptist would never be the same as we learned that God’s Word even addresses everything we do as a congregation.
And all of this happened because of an “instrument in the Redeemer’s hand,” by the name of Jay Adams. My mentors had been discipled by him. We read his books. The fascinating thing about it all was not that Jay and his disciples proposed a radically new paradigm for understanding and living, but that they pointed us to the Word of God. I saw for the first time what had always been present in the Text! Rather than a book of problems (solve the problems and you’re ready to preach), Jay showed us a book of answers; a revelation from God that displayed Jesus “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
I thanked God for His work that summer of 1986. I thanked Him for his faithful servant, Jay Adams. Jay had gone from “nut” to one of the men in my life, besides my own father, whom I deeply respected.
From 1986 on, I tried to learn as much about biblical counseling as I could and that meant going every year to the annual conferences of ACBC (then known as NANC). In 1989, while attending the conference in Philadelphia, I happened upon my friend “Doc” Smith who was with Jay and so he introduced us. I actually got to shake his hand! Wow!
In those days Jay would speak for three of the four plenary sessions in every conference. Each year I eagerly anticipated his addresses, amazed at the logic, biblical content, and ministerial application. I don’t believe I was ever disappointed and would go home more excited and better equipped for pastoral ministry. I was able to have some conversations with Jay over the years and got to know him a little more each time. I remember the annual conference where my friend, John Street, wrangled a lunch with him and we heard the story of how Competent to Counsel went from class syllabus to (explosive) book.
I came to love Jay when I saw, not the polemicist for and defender of sufficiency, but the pastor. What I saw and what I heard from him convinced me that he was, at heart, a shepherd. Although a scholar who spent many years in the academy, he thought all such study must produce pastors who could bind up the wounds, rescue and feed Christ’s sheep. One year he brought a number of folks from his congregation to the annual conference and I observed him interact with them. Obviously, you don’t see much in a three-day conference setting, but I remember how I was struck by the gentle care he displayed even in that limited situation.
In the Spring of 2000, Jay came to LaRue Baptist Church to speak at our Annual Bible Conference. In those few days his humor, kindness and gentle, shepherding heart were on full display. After he would speak, we would gather for some dessert and coffee time in our fellowship hall. He sat in the midst of the “multitude,” conversing and having a great time. Everyone loved this guy! Thinking I would have some fun with him, I very publicly presented him with a mug emblazoned with “American Baptist Men.” His response was quick and priceless, “Thanks! I’ll use this at my next baptism.”
What particularly stands out to me, though, was the evening he came to our house for dinner. For most of that evening he conversed with our children and some of the young people from church; they were the center of his attention. He took an interest in them; he ministered to them. All those children are grown now, and they all remember that night.
I praise and thank God for Jay Adams. He is, without a doubt, one of the most significant figures of the twentieth century church. But my gratitude is more deeply rooted in the fact that God used Jay Adams to rescue a young pastor on the verge of quitting and then, using the Word of God, taught him how to shepherd the flock of Christ. “Great man” doesn’t do him justice. “Faithful servant” does.