Bishop Billy Cole was always mentoring. Even when an elder serving under him did not yet realize that pastoring was in the future, still the stories and lessons learned from the bishop were good preparation for pastoring. Whether the younger minister knew it yet or not, he was being prepared for his fullest potential.
Many lessons that I learned from Brother Cole have benefited me in pastoring later. His true story called “Send Them Up the Escalator” (below) has been very helpful.
In pastoring there are wonderful moments when I am very confident I’ve heard from God for what to preach. It’s great when the Lord gives you a nudge and you know which direction to go. However, painfully, being a pastor also means that on many occasions you must preach regardless of whether or not you have a nudge from above. Being able to be a blessing over the long haul depends on how you react to those in-between times—when you’re forced to “carry the mail” without having been given any mail! What will you say then?
When I’m in such a condition, sometimes I consciously think back to the times I heard Brother Cole recount a true story about him being in an airport with Rev. Charles Mahaney, a great man of God who was also an incessant cut-up. I’m going by memory, so it’s somewhat of a paraphrase.
Brother Cole and Brother Mahaney, two road-weary, battle-hardened warriors of the faith, were unsure of where to go inside a massive airport. They passed one unmanned helpdesk after another. Brother Cole’s normal way to react to such circumstances might have been a slowly increasing frustration and mounting tension. Whether Charlie Mahaney simply was wired differently, or whether he was trying to defuse the situation, he reacted with humor.
As the two confused travelers approached yet another empty helpdesk, Mahaney suddenly jumped behind the desk and pretended to be an employee of the airport. Immediately a line of people formed! Mahaney began giving advice!
(I have tried to imagine what faces the great Billy Cole must have made as he watched his humorous friend deal with one weary traveler after another. )
Suddenly, an actual airport employee appeared. Naturally, he was not overjoyed at the fact that an imposter was dealing out unofficial (and potentially detrimental) “help” advice. Under the employee’s stern gaze, Brother Mahaney vacated the helpdesk.
“Just what have you been telling people?” the employee asked.
Mahaney answered, “I told everybody to go up the escalator, and there would be help there.”
After a tense pause, the employee seemed to relax and said, “That’s OK, actually. There really is a staffed desk at the top of the escalator.”
After telling this story to his elders, Brother Cole always gave his huge, unguarded, heart-warming laugh. He would conclude by making a helpful application:
“Sometimes, you won’t know exactly what to preach,” he said. “That’s no time to break out some new, weird doctrine. That’s the time to stay safe. Preach something you know well, such as Acts 2:38 and Jesus-name baptism, or about the Oneness of God. When you don’t know where to send folks, be safe and just send them up the escalator!”
Thank you, Bishop. We miss you. I know you’re enjoying life above, at the top of the escalator. I’m doing my best to send people up. I plan on getting there myself too.