Crawford Coon is a known name among Pentecostals. He provided to the entire world, systematic content for Bible teaching. His Christian Discipleship Course should be on the shelf of every pastor.
Crawford is my Dad’s younger brother. Their father – B. L. Coon, was a “church planter” in rural Central Louisiana before the phrase “church planter” was a phrase. Crawford and Gayle’s visits to our home were never boring. As many later came to know, Crawford could tell a compelling tale.
No disrespect is intended when I call him “Crawford.” You may know him as Pastor Coon, Brother Coon, Superintendent Coon, Bishop Coon, Dad, or Uncle. At our home, Crawford and his wife, were simply, “Crawford and Gayle.”
Crawford is one of three mentors of my life. The other two now-deceased were G.A. Mangun and T.F. Tenney. Those two affected me from a distance. Through observation, and only much later by participation, did I learn from these great men.
Crawford was different. He was near at hand. We talked. At times, rather often. Some of what I learned came from observation, others came from conversations boiled to a succinct statement.
At the heart of things, Crawford was a meat and potatoes preacher. Unfortunately, as is the case in contemporary restaurants, “meat and potatoes” can be a bit rare. It is even rarer for someone to be so confident as to share his “meat and potatoes” with anyone else.
Today I looked at unpublished teaching notes Crawford gave me in the 1970s. The material is thorough, clear, concise, applicable and relevant. None has the fluffiness of whipped cream. Nor did any of the material have the confusion of a casserole.
As a youngster: I read his material and looked at his library. He recommended some of my earliest book purchases. On occasion, I heard him preach or teach. I learned the value of a thorough, systematic study.
We both harken from the same cultural and church setting. Crawford and I both graduated from the same small-town high school. A good place to be brought up. I’m not sure it challenged either of us to do anything significant. Of course, that is likely the case in most educational environments.
Crawford made a difference. At some point, it occurred to me, if Crawford’s communication with audiences could consistently make sense, perhaps I could do the same. So, I mimicked his study, work ethic, and way of putting material together. From Crawford, came my commitment to consistently elevate the Bible to its proper place of authority.
Crawford told me, “Never take action while angry. A good Pastor controls his emotions.”
I tried but did not always succeed. I’m not sure Crawford always succeeded in following his own advice.
On one occasion as a tired young pastor, my emotions mastered me. My anger was petty and ineffective. The second was when a person with a borderline personality disorder manipulated me into a minefield. At the time, I’d been away from pastoral ministry for a bit. Perhaps my sensitivity to such manipulation was dull. Through decades of pastoring, I’d never allowed anyone to move me into such a three-ring circus. Moreover, I was the “monkey in the middle ring.” In time, “somewhat controlled anger,” became a last-ditch response. It did not work.
Otherwise, I never dealt with any circumstance in anger. Now, that is not to say I didn’t get angry. I did, and I do. Crawford taught me to cool off before trying to address a situation.
Unfair things come to a leader. People misunderstand your actions. Unkind things will be said. None of us can control other people’s attitudes or actions. We can control our response. Crawford equipped me to deal with the crazy adventure of ministry.
Crawford advised me, “Do not allow yourself to appear shocked by any situation people bring you. Whether they tell you they robbed a bank; shot their neighbor, or been absurdly promiscuous always act as though the person you just spoke with had told you something much worse.”
Why is this important?
1. If you appear shocked then the person’s actions become even worse in their mind.
2. If you lean back in the chair with a facial expression that seems to say, “Wow, I’ve never heard anything quite that awful,” the person immediately perceives you as ill-equipped to help them.
Somewhere along the path, a person’s confession will shock you. Don’t act it.
By observation, I learned to take any opportunity God gave me. Crawford did not measure invitations. In this, he was like T.F Tenney. Thetus Tenney said of her late husband, “He went anywhere they asked him. He always thought he could help.”
This was true of Crawford when he was relatively unknown. It was still true after Crawford became a Bible teacher of note.
As a pastor, I had two different preachers cancel coming to my “at-the-time” small church. The pastor of a larger congregation had extended an invitation for the date they had previously scheduled with me. Crawford told me that was not how someone who “preached for the Lord Jesus” acted. Those who “preached for Jesus” rather than the crowd, the honorarium or to be able to drop names did so without regard to church size or the pastor’s name.
In retrospect, my biggest and most lasting impact has been with a group of 5-12 preachers. Those times are never a big deal, but for the long term, such moments are a great deal for the kingdom.
How to effectively and systematically study the Bible
Knowing how to study the Bible seems like a no-brainer. It isn’t. Some would say, “Surely every preacher knows how to study the Bible.” We assume too much.
Crawford showed me how to study for expository preaching or teaching. He also showed me how to use Greek and Hebrew resources. My approach to studying an individual Bible character also came from Crawford.
The gist of his lesson to me, “Don’t look at the scripture as bits and pieces of segregated information. Look at the Bible as a collective whole.” By his tutelage, the Bible was more than an array of sermon material, but a celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything comes back to Jesus!
It is o.k. To relax and let a group ask questions. It is unusual for a preacher to let an audience ask questions. A time for questions was relatively normal at an earlier time. (A question to ponder: were those earlier preachers more secure in themselves or more studious in their preparation?)
Questions can be embarrassing. The question may be irrelevant to what was taught. The question may be more of a statement than a question. The speaker may not know the answer.
Crawford didn’t care. He was comfortable in his own skin. All of the things we fear about questions came to him. He handled it all and coached me on doing the same.
Most important he taught me it was perfectly ok to say, “I don’t know.” The preacher who must know everything is dangerous. We have all dislike a “know it all.” No pastor (or preacher of any kind) needs to be thought to be as a “know it all.”
Crawford said, “You can’t tell most of what you know about people. Through the years of pastoring a specific congregation, you will come to know dark things about each family. If you are going to help that family or others they have to trust you.”
Part of gaining that trust is not telling anyone else what you know. This principle is non-negotiable. If a preacher cannot keep confidences, (that includes his spouse being equally silent), his ministry is limited. I’d not want him for my pastor. Unfortunately, such a leader cannot be trusted.
Choose, Learn, Identify
The last of this is an appeal to my peers. We need some introspection to help those coming behind us.
- Who you learn from is important.
- What you can later identify as having been gained is equally important.
Until we identify what we have gained from our mentors we cannot know what we must intentionally pass on to the next generation.
Give What Has Been Given You
Please – people of my generation. Listen to Uncle Paul, “Take what has been given to you and commit it to faithful men, who will commit it to faithful men, who will commit it to faithful men, who will commit it to faithful men . . . .ad infinitum.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
It will be tragic if what we have gained from the preceding age dies with us. It must not be. Write a book, start a blog or video blog, meet with a small group of younger preachers. Impact tomorrow by passing on what you gained.
To whom much is given much is required! I’ve been given much.
Help! Help! Help! Because of scheduled speaking engagements, I’d stocked up on all my books. Those engagements have been canceled or rescheduled. The stockroom is overflowing with Light in a Dark Place, Ten, Take Root, Bear Fruit and all the rest.
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For more lessons learned from people who influenced my life, take a look at these earlier blogs: Things Learned from L.C.Coon; 7 Things Learned from Tom Fred Tenney; Five things I learned from H.B. Frazier; and Things Learned from G.A. Mangun.