Before GPS and modern maps humanity was reliant on landmarks to guide them as they traveled. Landmarks, those easily seen and recognizable features of the landscape, natural or constructed that helped travelers understand where they were in relation to where they were going. Steve Spears was a landmark in my life.
This morning Pastor Spears completed his journey, passing from this earth. For nearly two decades, at very formative moments for me and my wife, Pastor Spears served as mentor and friend. When I heard the news, my mind and heart was immediately flooded with memories of our time together. Steve Spears served as one of the officiates at our wedding, now over thirty years ago. I remember distinctly him telling the congregation assembled to witness our nuptials, that he was thrilled to be our Pastor. In retrospect, I’m not sure all the moments were “thrilling” for him or for me. I’m certain that I caused him a fair amount of stress, because as a young preacher I was often unsure of how to move forward and made plenty of mistakes. Yet Pastor Spears was always willing to give me another shot at figuring things out. For that I’m grateful.
Pastor Spears was there for the birth of both of my children. He spent considerable time and money investing in them both, as he and Teri were always generous with their love. Pastor Spears gave me opportunities to lead, preach, and experiment with innovation. He was incredibly patient, as I was often obnoxious and arrogantly convinced of my perspectives. But Pastor Spears was always willing to let me try something new and as a result I gained a lot of experience that continues to serve me to this day. As they say, “experience is what you gain when you don’t succeed.” I gained a lot of experience under his guidance. Of course, we had our fair share of disagreements. Any relationship that is real and genuine will be complicated at times. Pastor Spears and I often had different perspectives on ministry strategies, leadership styles, and theological positions, but I will always be grateful that he gave me space to express these feelings and opinions. And when he couldn’t reserve judgement, at least he was tolerant, a characteristic of grace that is severely lacking in our world today. He will be missed.
It is impossible to listen to someone preach and teach the Bible as Pastor Spears did so relentlessly throughout his life and ministry and not be influenced by it. I sat and listened to Pastor Spears faithfully preach for decades. His style was marked by a high energy, enthusiastic, Apostolic Pentecostal, full throated delivery. He often broke into song as he loved to sing in a way that engaged the emotions and moved the soul. I was privileged to travel to Africa with him and personally witnessed him praying and baptizing hundreds of people, and I was witness to but a glimpse of his lifetime of ministry and service.
On at least two occasions, Pastor Spears’ ministry inspired me to write some lines of poetry that my wife Candy ended up singing and recording. I’ll never forget sitting in small gathering at 1501 E. Moultrie on a Wednesday night. Wednesday nights at the Pentecostal Church in Blytheville, Arkansas, were typically reserved for Bible teaching and fellowship, but Pastor Spears was never one for doing things in an expected way. On this specific Wednesday night, he was especially inspired to preach about a faith in Christ that guides us through the most difficult of life’s storms and challenges. He so inspired me, that I begin to weave his words into rhymes. “Storms won’t last forever; the sun will shine again. Just over the next horizon calm seas will begin. The Lord, He’s my captain, He’ll bring me safely through the storm, my ship won’t go under as long as Jesus is on board.” The second time, Pastor Spears inspired me to write was when his own father passed away. Pastor Spears and his father, Doyle Spears were both great preachers of faith in God and they also loved to preach about the Christian’s hope of Heaven. Steve and Teri ended up recording the song with Candy, and Steve sung the second verse; “All the glories of that city will be ours to behold. The gates of pearl, the streets of gold oh the half has not been told. But oh, to see Jesus and to look upon his face, to see the one who saved me and brought me home by His grace.”
My life will forever be marked by the influence of Pastor Steve Spears.
Steve Spears and I ended up going in different directions, as my life evolved and changed as does everyone’s, and I saw less of my old pastor. But on occasion our paths would cross, and he was always willing to share a kind word of encouragement, something for which I’m appreciative. I saw him last in 2016 at a ministry conference in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was in transition, leaving a church that I had pastored for five years and was on my way to returning to the Academy to teach and coach. He was gracious as always, offered me a mint that I probably needed and, in the exchange, he dropped the can of Altoids and they scattered on the floor. Instinctively I immediately went to floor and tried picking them up one by one. It was as if both of us were transported back to a decade earlier, and there I was on the floor at the feet of my former mentor. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about it.” We laughed and I told him I loved him, and he said, “I love you too.”
It was almost a year ago to this day that my father passed away at 93, a day or so later I received a kind note from Pastor Spears that provided comfort and encouragement. That was our last exchange.
Landmarks are very helpful in tumultuous times as they provide reference for where one has been and where one is going. Steve Spears and his family will always serve as a series of touchstones in my life. Pastor Spears serves a point on my journey, that is now moving in a distinctively different direction than where it started, but nevertheless wouldn’t be the same without his influence. Landmarks, like nostalgia, serve to inform our memories of how things once were. In both good and bad ways, they conjure feelings that sometimes we don’t know how to process, and like all of life it isn’t without its complications and nuance. But it is our life. It is our experience. It is our journey and these the landmarks we pass along the way.
Thank you, Pastor Spears, for being a steadfast landmark for many, and for me.