Saying goodbye to another disciple-maker hero of mine: Dr. Howard Hendricks.

hendricks>> A moving video tribute to Hendricks’ years as a Bible teacher

His fifth grade teacher said he was “most likely to end up in prison.” Humanly speaking, it was probably true. But Christ had a plan for a young boy named “Howie.” He saved  him by His grace. He gave him a hunger for His Word. He gave him the gift of teaching that Word that was truly remarkable. And now the Lord has called him home to glory.

Dr. Howard G. Hendricks, a revered Bible teacher, seminary professor, and disciple-maker extraordinaire who trained more than 13,000 students to walk with Christ and preach the Word, went to heaven to be with His beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Wednesday morning. He is the second of my discipleship heroes who have been called back to heaven in the last six months. The first was my spiritual mentor, Dr. T.E. Koshy, with whom I co-wrote the book, The Invested Life: Making Disciples Of All Nations One Person At A Time. Now Hendricks, who wrote such wonderful and powerful books like, As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character In A Mentoring Relationship, which Koshy and I quote several times in our book, is gone, too. I will miss them both very much.  

Hendricks was an absolute treasure. I first discovered him — a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) for 60-plus years — when I was a teenager growing up in the little town of Fairport, New York. My father gave me a set of audio cassette tapes of messages by Hendricks. He was teaching about the importance of following Christ wholeheartedly, the centrality of making disciples, and the critical distinctives of Biblical leadership. The messages — “How To Lead, Parts I & II,” “The Characteristics of a Leader, Parts I & II,” and “How To Motivate, Parts I & II” — were given to a management conference held for the staff of Campus Crusade For Christ back in the early 1970s. But when I discovered them in the early 80s, I was captivated. I had never heard someone teach the Bible so clearly, so powerfully, and with such authority in my life. Honestly, I listened to those tapes dozens and dozens of times. For years, they were the six best sermons I had ever heard. I took notes from them. I lent them to friends. I could recite much of the material, and often quoted it.

He used to say, “Show me your men!” It didn’t matter what else a person was doing in ministry, he argued, if a person wasn’t making disciples then he wasn’t obeying the Great Commission. If he couldn’t show you the men into whose lives he was investing — personally, individually, intentionally, not just from the pulpit, not just in the abstract — then he wasn’t being faithful to “making disciples of all nations” as Christ commanded in Matthew 28:18-20.

He used to say, “A leader is a man who knows where he is going, and is going to the right place, and can persuade others to follow.” A real leader isn’t a leader because he has a title, Hendricks argued. He has to have actually people following him. He has to be a man of vision, but also a man of heart. He has to be a man infected by a great and worthy and Biblical idea, but also one who loves people and cares for people and can help people see the value of following Christ with all that they are. 

Indeed, those tapes so inspired me eventually that I took a young guy I was discipling down to DTS for a conference Hendricks was leading on disciple-making just to finally meet the man and hear him in person. I’ll never regret that decision. Hendricks wasn’t just theologically solid. He was funny! He was a great story-teller! He could really captivate an audience. But it wasn’t because he was smooth or charismatic. It was because he understood the power of the Word to transform lives, and he had seen the Word transform him, and he was compelled to teach faithful, reliable men who would be able to teach others also, just as Paul commanded us in 2 Timothy 2:2. The young guy that went with me to that DTS conference was so impacted that he left working for me, enrolled in DTS, studied under Hendricks, and graduated a few years ago with a passion to preach the Word and make disciples, too.

I can’t say I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Hendricks personally. We met once. We chatted briefly. I learned from his secretary that he had read and enjoyed several of my novels. But that was it. Regardless, he had an enormous influence on my life and personal ministry. I thank God for him, and I look forward to spending more time with him when we meet in glory (though I know there will be a long line of people ahead of me who will want to chat with him and thank him for his faithful service to Christ).

Dr. Chuck Swindoll — who graduated from DTS, eventually became the school’s chancellor, and has reached millions upon millions of people with God’s Word through his books and his radio program, Insight For Living — says Hendricks “is the one man who has had the greatest impact on my entire life. And there is no doubt in my mind that since the late 1950s to the present day, no other teacher at DTS has been more influential to more of our graduates, or more magnetic to more potential students than Dr. Hendricks.”

“Hendricks, known simply as ‘Prof,’ directly or indirectly touched millions of lives in the evangelical community and beyond,” reports DTS Magazine, in a wonderful tribute that I commend to your attention. “For more than sixty years Prof served on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), where he taught more than ten thousand students. He also ministered in person in more than eighty countries. Through speaking engagements, radio, tapes, films, the sixteen books he authored and coauthored, countless journal and popular-market articles, his service on numerous boards, and his work as a chaplain to the Dallas Cowboys (1976–1984), his reach was and is worldwide. His legacy, in partnership with Jeanne, his wife of more than sixty-six years, includes four children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Holding large audiences enthralled at venues such as Billy Graham’s conference center or Promise Keepers’ stadium rallies, Prof would confide, ‘It’s wonderful to be here with you, but I have a group of delicious students waiting for me back at the seminary.'”

I hope you’ll take some time to learn more about this remarkable man. He truly lived the invested life. Are you?

>> Discipleship library: a collection of Hendricks’ messages