It is with deep sorrow that I received news that Jack Causey had died. Jack was a friend in the deepest sense of the word. He was my mentor, my pastoral supervisor in my doctor of ministry program, and was perhaps the kindest human being I ever have known. Jack lived a long, good and full life.
I first met Jack back in the late 1990s while I was a seminary student. He had come to preach a revival at Zebulon Baptist Church, where I was a member. I remember well one of his revival sermons from that week, “In the Eyes of God.” I was mesmerized by both the content of his sermon and his exquisite delivery. I hung on his every word.
My pastor at the time, Jack Glasgow, introduced us after one of the revival services. Jack was so gracious. In the gaze of his blue eyes, I felt like I was his only concern. The ability to give complete attention to a person was one of his many gifts. I will always remember his kindness on that night.
After being introduced, Jack and I spoke a few pleasantries. He then invited me to call him as I neared graduation so he could help me find a church to serve. I thought, “Yeah, right.” After all, Jack was a well-known preacher, had served as president of the General Board of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, had come within 300 votes of becoming the president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, and I was no one. I was a seminary kid who barely knew how to put together a sermon.
Seminary had been a very tough journey for me, and I was quick to be skeptical of people who said things they did not mean. I guess you could say I had trust issues. Jack picked up on that thought running through my mind. How he did that, I do not know. With a quick tilt of his head and a slight nod he assured me, “No, I mean that.” He did. I learned to trust Jack Causey.
When graduation approached, I made that call. Jack remembered welcoming it. He invited me to First Baptist Statesville, N.C., to meet with him. He gave me a tour of the beautiful facility and talked with me about ministry. He gave me the most precious gift that day, his time. He gave me hours of his time. He got to know me and my hopes and calling. He learned what I valued in ministry, and he thought about where I could fit in life and ministry. He was among the first to notice academic gifts in me and suspected I would spend my life serving both the church and scholarship.
“Every time I had a crisis in ministry or my personal life, I called Jack.”
On that day, Jack became my friend and mentor. Jack was someone I called regularly. Every time I had a crisis in ministry or my personal life, I called Jack. Often I would call with no agenda, I just wanted to talk to him. I often ask young ministers who they call when things go badly as they inevitably will at some point. I believe all of us need a person to call. For me, I knew I could always call Jack Causey.
Whenever I called Jack, I could count on a few things. I could count on getting wisdom. I could predict how he would coach me. I had internalized his approach, and what I found in doing that was when I did ministry the way he would coach me, his approach worked. He never said what I must do. He would help me keep my anxieties down, think through possibilities and work through a solution. When our calls concluded, I felt confident in my gifts and resources, had an understanding of the situation and had a significant anxiety reduction. His wisdom was a treasure.
When Jack and I spoke, I also could count on getting affirmation. Jack never left a conversation without telling me of my gifts, intelligence and how much he believed in me. Jack saw potential in me that, at first, I did not recognize in myself. He made a point in every conversation to say he believed in me. I am sure this was intentional. I also am sure he shared his gift of affirmation with every other minister he mentored. That was Jack.
What Jack never knew was that he taught me to preach. Back during that first revival when we met, I listened intently to him, picking up the nuances of his preaching and incorporating them into my sermons. When I was first learning to preach, I would use his sermon structure for “In the Eyes of God” as a template. To this day, whenever I put together my notes for a sermon and I want to tell a biblical story or modern narrative and compel attention, I will write the title of the story as a bullet point and write, “Causey it” underneath.
“Jack never left a conversation without telling me of my gifts, intelligence and how much he believed in me.”
I learned many important lessons from Jack. I am a better person and a better minister because he invested in my life.
I had envisioned a future conversation with Jack. I wanted to go to Statesville after the first of the year and spend an afternoon with him. I intended to pick his brain about church leadership again. That conversation is not to be, and I am deeply saddened by that. I also wonder what it will be like to do ministry knowing Jack is no longer a phone call away.
I am not alone in this. One of Jack’s great gifts was that he could make a person feel like they were the only concern he had. He gave that gift to numerous ministers. Many ministers sought his counsel and listened to his wisdom. He gave his gift of affirmation to all who sought him out. He could make all of us feel beloved and unique. He was not only my friend. He was our friend. He made us better.
Jack and I spoke the Monday before Thanksgiving. I noticed, for the first time, that he was not sharp. That night I told Molly of my concern. I was starting to expect there would be a long goodbye. That, of course, did not happen. Jack fell. Complications emerged. Jack passed away.
I’m always hopeful our loved ones in eternity know what is going on in our lives. I believe Scripture teaches that. I also recognize that life here is probably not the most important or interesting subject in eternity. So, in the hope that Jack can be aware of my words, I have to say on the occasion of his passing, “Thank you, Jack.”
Layne Wallace serves as senior pastor of Rosemary Baptist Church, Roanoke Rapids, N.C., and is author of Karl Barth’s Concept of Nothingness: A Critical Evaluation.
Jack Tales: Remembering Jack Causey | Opinion by Justin Cox