We Grieve… but with HOPE.
By Tim Morey… (A fellow church planter.)
There has been a lot of shock and grief these past two days as two men who blessed me greatly passed unexpectedly – my teacher and mentor Dallas Willard passed away this morning from cancer, and yesterday, my friend and colleague Larry Sherman died unexpectedly on a flight home from Nashville.
I’ll write more about Dallas later, but I wanted to share a few reflections from my time with Larry, as many of you who read this blog are Covenant church planters who knew or knew of Larry Sherman.
Yesterday I was at a retreat with about 50 church planters and denominational leaders when news came in that Larry had died. The shock was palpable as the room received the news of his passing, as was the grief in the hours to follow as the news was absorbed.
There is no such thing as a good place to get that kind of news, but there was a sort of appropriateness about hearing it there, in the presence of friends and colleagues of his who had worked with Larry for decades. Much of Larry’s work took place quietly, behind the scenes – and his friends in that room were uniquely suited to speak to the effect of Larry’s steady influence on church planting over the years. My interactions with Larry span only a handful of years, but I was deeply blessed by him all the same.
I first met Larry eleven years ago. I was a prospective church planter attending the ECC’s church planter assessment center, and Larry was one of the assessors. I was struck by his love for God, the church, church planting and church planters, as well as the depth and breadth of his experience. I knew at once that if I was blessed to plant a church, Larry was a man I wanted to learn from. Every chance I got, I did.
Fast forward six years to my first experience serving as an assessor. I was intimidated to be sitting at a table among giants, most of whom had been on the team who assessed me. My plan was to fly quietly under the radar, observe, learn, and try to avoid saying anything stupid. Larry, it seemed, was aware of my plan and graciously determined to thwart it. “Tim what do you think?” “We need to hear from Tim on this one.” In the years of church planter assessments to follow, I learned much from Larry’s insights, and from the gracious way he would contribute to conversations that could at times be complex or contentious.
Larry was instantly likeable. Warm and friendly, he exuded genuine good-naturedness and care for others. If you are a person, you pretty much had to like Larry.
Larry was smart and strategic. He was a collector of ideas, models, and innovations – a voracious reader always thinking about how we could best position our church planters to live and preach the gospel.
Larry had a tireless work ethic, and a tremendous capacity for output. He approached every question with thoroughness of thought and was comprehensive in his answers.
Larry was a man of integrity. I was around him during moments of victory and moments of frustration, and in both he honored others and conducted himself the way any of us would hope to.
Larry had a gift for making good things better. He was not afraid to look for both strengths and weaknesses in what we did, and consequently was always tinkering under the proverbial hood, tweaking this and that to make the machine run smoothly. I think especially of our church planter training center and the work he did there. Any who have gone through that training will have benefitted from Larry’s meticulous work.
Larry loved his family. At every event we did together, the team would know within ten minutes of arrival how his kids and grandkids were doing. These reports usually involved pictures. And Larry would always ask about Samantha and our kids. We were blessed to have Larry at our dinner table a couple of times when he and I were working on projects together, and he always made a big fuss over our girls. The girls loved it, and so did Samantha and I.
In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul writes the following: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
As I reflect today on Larry’s passing, I’m keenly aware of two things: Larry’s passing occurs within the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and for that reason it is a passing that comes with hope. And second, many others know hope in Christ because of his life. May Larry’s life continue to be felt long after his passing.