There have been a ton of people that have helped me out along the way, and it’s time to give some honor where honor is due. I’ve written some of these types of blogs before. There’s one about my dad here, and one about my mother here. And even one about an old coach I had here. But there are plenty of other folks who have been there for me through thick and thin, and it’s time to give them some credit.
The name Ben Merold will be familiar with some of you. He’s been a preacher in the Restoration Movement churches since the King James Bible was fresh off the newly invented printing press, or so it seems. His resume is well documented, leading East Side Christian Church in Fullerton, California for a couple decades before moving to Harvester Christian Church in Missouri at the age of 65. The church of fewer than 200 grew to 3,500 before his retirement. The Christian Standard did an excellent interview with Ben prior to his resignation that you can read here. (The Christian Standard website also gets credit for this photograph of Ben)
I was a young minister in Florissant, Missouri when Ben resigned his post at Harvester. I remember sitting at my desk one day thinking there was a legend of the movement that lived twenty minutes from me that I had never met. I got in touch with his secretary and asked him to lunch. I figured I’d get a “no.” He was kind of a big deal and probably had no time for me, I reasoned. To my surprise, he agreed to the meeting. It was a wonderful arrangement. I’d ask a question, stuff some food in my mouth, and listen to Ben answer.
Thus, I got to know one of the most humble, wise, generous men I’ve ever met. Over the course of a half-dozen lunches I grew to respect and love Ben in ways that are hard for me to articulate.
First, the man can flat out preach. I mean really preach. I would easily place him in the Top 3 preachers I have ever personally heard, and that includes the really famous ones with YouTube channels and Twitter followers and book deals. He’s kind of like Daniel Day-Lewis in that way. If you ask most people who the best actor out there is, very few will say Daniel Day-Lewis. If you ask actors who the best actor is, they always say Daniel Day-Lewis. Same with Ben. Ask a bunch of people who their favorite preacher is, they’ll list off a bunch of different names. But if you’re in Restoration Movement circles and you ask a bunch of preachers who the best preacher is, most of them will mention Ben.
More personally, I can’t get over Ben’s generosity. During the time we were meeting and eating, I know for a fact that he met with at least two other young ministers in our area. This was on top of his booked-solid travel schedule and personal life. He led leadership retreats and filled the pulpit for people all over the midwest. He began to serve again at Harvester Christian Church when asked to by their new lead pastor. He may have retired, but he had plenty going on. Why he saw fit to eat BBQ with a young youth minister he’d never served with is something that still makes no sense to me, but I’m sure grateful.
Perhaps most notably, Ben was incredibly wise. He guided me through some difficult times with calm assurances and reasoned thought. He was completely honest, but in a folksy sort of way that never sounded harsh or critical. He had a complimentary tone that never came across as empty flattery. He encouraged me to take a preaching job but remained excited and supportive when I revealed I was going to stay in student ministry. All Ben ever did was dish out wisdom by the wheel barrow full. I’m better for having spent time with him.
In London, England, the clock known as Big Ben stands out in the London skyline–a fixture in that place that is irreplaceable. Known for it’s reliability, the clock is still ticking despite it’s age. Completed in 1858, the clock tilts slightly now because of excavation nearby. Still, the clock functions as it’s meant to. So strong and reliable is Big Ben that even during The Blitz of World War II, the clock never missed a beat. Tourists stand and gaze at it, paying it due homage.
It seems to me that Ben Merold is a lot like that clock. Through cultural shifts that happened on his watch and right beneath his feet, despite attacks of trials in his life and the overall discouragement that comes from being in church leadership, and regardless of his age (which is significantly less than the clock’s, despite my earlier jabs), Ben Merold keeps on ticking. He might be tilting a little from age, but he hasn’t fallen down just yet. He’s a fixture in the skyline of our movement that all members of Christianity would do well to stand and stare at for a while.
Because of his wisdom, his generosity, and his longevity, Ben Merold is someone you need to know.