Lessons from a Family Doctor

by Will Wilson

Pastor, New Hope Baptist Church (Bethel, OK)

A common question asked of most people from a young age is: “What does your father do?” In my life, the dialogue is always the same: “He’s a doctor.” “What kind of doctor?” It was not until recently that I truly considered the weight of my ever-ready answer: “He’s just a family doc.” Never was it intended to downplay his life’s work; it was simply another way of saying he wasn’t a specialist. Hanging in his office at work, for as long as I can remember, was a framed comic strip that was set in the Old West. The family doc saw several patients, sending one to the Ear, Nose, and Throat doc, another to the optometrist, and still another to the podiatrist. In the final frame, the family doc is sitting at his desk reflecting on his day’s work; he sighs and says, “I never get to treat anyone.”

Often, in the increasingly competitive world of ministry, many pastors have neither the funds nor the time to continue their formal education; thus, in their minds, they somehow fall short. Others come into ministry later in life, simply bringing with them a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree from a secular institution, having received no formal training in ministry. And still others are blessed to attend any one of our fine seminaries, many having attained master’s degrees, and no small number hold terminal degrees. Yet, how ought the pastor to view himself? Is the less educated pastor simply a family doc who never gets to treat anyone? Is the highly educated pastor a specialist who has his pick of who he can and will treat?

At the outset, let it be said that education and the pursuit thereof is absolutely necessary to preparing for ministry. The Academy is a gift to the church and should be valued for her pursuit of truth and knowledge. If the opportunity for higher education presents itself, waste no time in seizing it. Pastors should strive to be pastors and theologians. However, the education received from outside the Academy is just as valuable, simply by virtue of the knowledge gained. A vast majority of what I do as a pastor outside of the pulpit is executed with knowledge gained not from the Academy, but from a family doctor–a bachelor or a master, if you will—among a world of specialists.

The role of the pastor is much like that of the family doctor. We see everybody under our care. We are there at the “new birth,” and we are at the bedside at death. We administer life giving medicine in the form of bread, milk, and meat that nourishes the healthy and restores the unhealthy. We are intimately familiar with entire families, and they look to us as the one with the answers to what ails them. Last year, my dad celebrated fifty years of medical practice. I posted about this on social media and the responses were overwhelming. Countless were those who chimed in: “He delivered me!” “We love the doc!” “We wish he’d come back!” “He was such a caring and personal doctor.” On and on they went. How is it that someone who “never treats anyone” could have such an impact? Much in the same way that pastors do, regardless of one’s pedigree or particular context. Whether we know it or not, if we are preaching Jesus, loving people, and fulfilling our call, we are having an impact on people’s lives. Your flock will come to care about you as you care for them. And whether you ever hear about it or not, the pastor is remembered not for what he knew but how much he cared.

A second lesson learned from the family doctor was that of attention to and respect for the older generation: a valuable lesson for any pastor, especially a younger one. One day an elderly lady on a fixed income came to my dad’s office. She had an outstanding bill on file. After her visit, before she made her way to the front desk, my dad told his assistant to accept payment for the current visit, and then to inform her that her account was now paid in full. In that seemingly insignificant story, I learned a valuable lesson that I think of and act on frequently. With one kind act, the family doctor allowed her to maintain her dignity and he showed her grace. Often a pastor will arrive at an impasse with the older generation, usually over style of worship or some other secondary or tertiary issue. However, when the pastor has learned to treat them with attention, respect, dignity, and grace, more often than not he gains an ally and a friend.

A third lesson learned from the family doctor is that even though you may not want to do something, excuses are cheap, so you do it. To be sure there are advantages to being raised in a doctor’s home, but there is one singular disadvantage: it is impossible to act sick to get out of going to school. Even with one’s best acting skills engaged, one look in the doctor’s eyes and he knows. Pastor, there will always be things we don’t want to do. Often, it’s not that we can’t do things, we simply just don’t feel like doing them. But the task to which we are called is of the highest order; and one look into the Great Physician’s eyes will cause all of our best acting, our best excuses, our best efforts to falter. So, we suit up and go and do it. And at the end of the day, we find that we could do it, even if we didn’t want to.

Pursue the opportunities afforded you. Be educated. Learn humility. Learn honor. Learn to work hard. Wherever you find yourself, always be learning. And never forget that the specialists would have no one to treat if it weren’t for the referral of the family doctor. All that said, I wish just once the good doctor would have realized it would have been nice to miss just one day of school. Doctors and their education, am I right?

Will Wilson is the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Bethel, Oklahoma. Born and raised in Post, Texas, Wilson moved to Oklahoma at age 14. A graduate of Boyce College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has been the senior pastor at New Hope for almost a decade. He and his wife, Leigh, have been married for 17 years. They are the proud parents of Trip, Jett, Cruz and Tatum.

Matthew Emerson
Dr. Matthew Y. Emerson, Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion, earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and an M.Div. and Ph.D. in from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Emerson joined the OBU faculty in 2015. He previously taught at California Baptist University, where he served as Chair of the Arts and Sciences Department in the OPS Division. Emerson has authored or co-authored over 20 publications. His research interests include the Old Testament’s use in the New Testament, early Christian interpretation, and theological method. He serves as co-Executive Director of the Center for Baptist Renewal, co-editor of the Journal of Baptist Studies, steering committee member of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar, and Senior Fellow for the Center of Ancient Christian Studies. He is also a member of a number of scholarly societies. Emerson grew up in Huntsville, AL, where he met his future wife, Alicia. Married in 2006, they have five daughters. He and his wife are both members at Frontline Church in Shawnee.