Every pastor needs a pastor.

Check that.

Every pastor needs a pastor who doesn’t wear the title, “pastor.” A pastor needs someone from within the flock they can share openly with. Someone who can open their mind to new insight, help them see the blind spots, and do it all with next to no self-interest. Their primary interest is ministering to the minister, and the the minister is safe with them. So, no matter what the minister divulges–how bitter they are, how hurt they are, how overflowing with hope they are…it’s safe with them and they know just what to say.

Ray Hardin was that for me during my years of ministry in Dallas, Texas.

He died last Sunday night. Today, those who love him will say goodbye, officially.

Last Sunday night around 7pm PST, as I enjoyed fellowship after the service with the people of New Vintage Church, Ray left this world for another. Cancer…that detestable thief of life was the culprit. 

Ray was a godly man with a rather pleasant “edge” to him. I’ve always loved guys like that. His was a true “spirit of the law” man who understood grace as well as anyone I’ve known. That doctrine of grace was anchored by the experiences of his own spiritual journey and seasoned by his close walk with others through theirs.

Ray had a rich, clear, baritone voice made for radio that all preachers dream of. He had the ability to wordsmith prayers and communion thoughts that nudged or shoved the spirituality of the church in the right direction every time he stepped to the podium. Admittedly, he LOVED to stir the pot…but it was a pot that needed stirring and I think Ray knew that. He also definitely got a kick out of holding the spoon.

We debated liturgy. We talked preaching. We ate steak and drank wine. We laughed at one another’s expense and mourned one another’s tragedies. It was a simple communion. It wasn’t complicated or scheduled. But, it was a simple and beautiful communion. And, I thank the Lord for allowing Ray and I to share it together.

A couple of quick stories:

  • One of the most special nights in my ministry was the night I delivered the opening night keynote lecture at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures of 2006. I was 30 years old, and a ball of nerves. Before introducing me, Jerry Rushford asked those from Highland Oaks to stand. Unbeknownst to me, Ray had flown out just to see me preach…without telling me. When he stood, my mouth dropped open, and I felt so blessed to have him there.
  • I remember the day we finally reopened the auditorium (“sanctuary” as he insisted on calling it at all times), for worship at Highland Oaks after many months of construction and millions of dollars of expense. Ray prayed for me and the praise team backstage before services and led a communion service for us. It’s amazing what a powerful thing one poignant prayer at a key moment in life is.
  • Shortly after we moved to California, Ray let me know he had cancer through email. I called him immediately and we talked for a couple of hours. I could tell right then he was determined to glorify Christ in His Body, whatever that took as he journeyed through cancer.
  • Ray was an astoundingly thoughtful and conscientious man. He nearly always called or texted on birthdays, Father’s Day, Easter, and other times that let you know he really thought about you often.

Whenever he called, I stopped what I was doing and picked it up, because I didn’t know if that would be the last time we talked. The picture above was taken after dinner at Kirby’s on Lower Greenville in Dallas on March 15, 2011. I thought that would be the last time I would see him and thus didn’t really want the night to end. So, I drug it out. The doctors has told him the end of April was likely going to be it. But, Ray kept fighting. On July 1, I was in Dallas again and asked to see him. We went to lunch together at a dive of a Mexican restaurant (that was fully yummy)…and talked for several hours. When Ray got up to use the men’s room, I bought the last meal. Out of close to a hundred of those meals, he had never let me pay. Not one time.

And that was the last time I would see my pastor in this life.

Here are the last words we exchanged afterwords via text on July 1:

Tim: “Today was such a blessing for me. I cherish our friendship. Blessings upon you. TTPP”

Ray: “Thank you for your time and lunch! We covered some territory today…loved it. Glad to see you healthy and engaged…don’t stop trusting God to redeem it all! R”

Then, last Friday night, 2 days before his death, when it was obvious the end was near, I texted him: “Brother, I love you and will ALWAYS cherish our friendship.”

And that’s true. I will ALWAYS cherish our simple communion. We should all cherish the simple communion of deep fellowship with those God has given us.

Ray is gone now. But, just for a little while–until God takes cancer and all the other killers to the eternal woodshed once and for all. For now, we who loved Ray can look forward to that day and draw inspiration from his witness.

RTRR (how he liked to sign every correspondence), I love you and I’m thankful to the Lord for you. Today, we will all grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We will worship the Victor over Death and Cancer. We will take comfort from Jesus’ words to our grieving sister Martha: “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die.”

Question: If you’re in ministry, do you have a “pastor to the pastor?” If you aren’t, what are some ways to bless those who serve in your church, whether paid or unpaid?