Life Compass
Keeping You Pointed in the Right Direction


I recently read a book entitled When Principle Was King by a personal friend of mine,  Dr. Bob Gray. It chronicles the life and ministry principles which guided one of fundamentalism’s leading pastors, the late Dr. Jack Hyles. For over forty years Dr. Hyles pastored the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. In the late 1960’s his ministry gained national attention for tremendous Sunday School growth through an evangelistic arm of the church known as the Bus Ministry where thousands of children from poor neighborhoods were transported to Sunday School each week. By the 1970’s his was the largest church and Sunday School in America.

This church was a haven of the “old time religion” by taking a stand against secular, liberalism in churches who were changing methods to keep up with the pop culture of the times, First Baptist Church looked the same from the 1950’s to the dawn of the 21st century. Hair styles, music, dress standards, and social moral taboos stayed unchanged and chic at the “old church downtown” for nearly a half century. But this same church was also a pioneer. They were the first mega church. Hundreds of thousands of people attended weekly services. Ministries ranged from a rescue mission (homeless shelter) to a servicemen’s center where sailors from the Greak Lakes Naval Base could spend the weekend. The church birthed several schools including a full blown Bible college. The annual Pastor’s School was the grandfather of the church conference movement which drew thousands of pastors and lay people from across America to Hammond for one week a year to learn the methods of Dr. Hyles and the First Baptist Church. Part workshop and part revival meeting, this conference influenced an entire movement within fundamental Christianity to reach their towns, cities, and areas with “old fashioned soul winning” and church building.

Hyles was loved and hated.

Like his ministry, in many ways Dr. Hyles himself was a complex man and yet a simple man.

He was simple in the sense that despite his “fame” within the independent Baptist world he never forgot the humble beginnings from where he came from. Raised during the Great Depression, he came from a poverty stricken home where he was raised by his mother in the absense of an alcoholic father. He was a World War II veteran and along with his bride he pastored small churches and growing churches throughout East Texas. Beginning in the Southern Baptist Covention he was one of their rising stars in the pulpit whose command of a congregation gathered large crowds and an increased platform within the denomination. After falling out of favor with the power structure within the convention he helped pioneer the independent Baptist movement. 

By the time his church in Hammond gained national attention, the middle aged Jack Hyles had come a long way from his boyhood poverty. He was known for his generosity and lavicious gifts to preacher friends and veteran’s of the ministry who never gained the fame and attention he had. Millionaires sought his advice. Pastor’s lined up and flew to Hammond for private tutitorials in ministry development.  He never lacked for invitations to travel and speak. Young pastors like Jerry Falwell desiring to make their mark for God sought his friendship and imitated many of his methods. Even pastors outside his Baptist framework like Tommy Barnett built their ministries around his model and practices.

Yet Hyles held the hearts of laymen across the country because he remained approachable. They demonstrated their love through the simplicity of giving him millions of Resees Peanut Butter Cups throughout his lifetime. He liked Diet Dr. Pepper, boiled peanuts, and Stacy Adams patent leather shoes. He sent thousands of pastors and missionaries on cruises and vacations but rarely took one himself. He hosted mayors and governors and nationally known and reknown pastors at his conferences and his own service attendances could fill football stadiums, but he would travel and speak for a rural pastor with a congregation of a hundred people in the countryside.

Hyles/Anderson College was launched to train preachers to reproduce the Hyles style of ministry around America.

Dr. Hyles believed in living your life by principle. Throughout his life he developed principles by which were used to make his decisions for him. His advice was simple, “when a difficult decision must be made let the principle make it for you so you don’t have to.” Dr. Bob Gray, a graduate of Hyles/Anderson College and who pastored a large thriving church in Texas for over twenty nine years, traveled for many years with Dr. Hyles in speaking engagements across the country. He was one of Dr. Hyles’ “preacher boys” who represented why Hyles/Anderson College was started.

In the book When Principle Was King, Dr. Gray takes the reader inside the thought process of a man who influenced hundreds of thousands of people. Adding some of his own insights and drawing from personal time spent with Hyles, Gray shares some of Dr. Hyles own disappointments. In one chapter he shares how Hyles lamented that his college did not turn out hundreds of replicas of himself and ministry. One of Dr. Hyles’ principles was that a person should be able to be copied. He believed you should be predicatable, explainable, and your methodology should be able to be immitated and reproduced thus reproducing the same results and fruit. Hyles and Gray both feel as though the independent Baptist Colleges have failed in that area.

Here is where I respectfully disagree. Not with the conclusion … I agree the colleges have failed. I disagree with premise. While I agree there are things we can and should learn from others and we should copy good work habits, methods, and put the good ideas of others into practice … you cannot live someone else’s life nor can you copy the anointing God placed on them. I believe God gives to every generation a person or a few people who are chosen to have influence whether in spiritual matters or political matters or business matters. These people may be believers or non believers. Yes, you read that correctly. Ronald Reagan was a man of his time with some timeless principles like the concept of limited government. Reagan had a deep abiding faith in Christ. Steve Jobs changed the world. Computers, iPods, and iPhones have forever changed how live and get information. Jobs influence cannot be argued but he was an athiest.

God used Dr. Jack Hyles. Hundreds of thousands were converted to Christ and thousands of pastors were challenged and motivated to do something big for God in their towns and areas of influence because of Hyles’ influence on them. But no one can ever be another Jack Hyles. Just like there will never be another Reagan or Jobs. Each man is chosen for specific reasons to do specific things.

Should we forget the principles of Reagan? No. Should we ignore the accomplishments of Jobs? No. Should Hyles and ideas be forgotten? No.

Some, who disliked Hyles, would argue he should be forgotten and his methods discredited. The same is said of Reagan and Jobs.

Hyles had a drive for souls and a passion for preaching. He stood firm for what he believed and showed the world that churches could be well organized, focused, strategic in reaching people, and dynamic in presentation. We still need that. Does one have to do it in an Arrow-Kent white shirt with Stacy Adams shoes, a raspy voice with a tic cough, and a bus ministry? No.

For those who dislike Hyles I would say … hate him if you want but it was God who chose to call him, anoint him, and use him as He did. Get over it. God uses whom He chooses! And that’s really my point … let God do the choosing. You cannot assembly line the anointing of God nor the fruit of God. I could argue, correctly, that many did copy Hyles right down to even wearing the same style glasses but failed miserably to gain the same results. That’s the reason the colleges have failed. The kids have been taught to copy rather than develop the specific giftedness and calling within them. A copy is never the same as an original. Never. Then once you copy the copy and then copy that copy and so on … you get a distortion.

Jack Hyles was an original. Yes, I am sure he had mentors and heroes whom he emulated some of their habits or attributes but at the end of the day no one else was like him. That’s why we loved him. That’s one of the reasons God was able to use him as He did. When Paul said, “follow me as I follow Christ”, he was not saying copy me. He was saying watch me and watch my faith and follow what I have follwed from Christ. Dr. Hyles inspired me to pray all night, press into God, and not take no for an answer when I knew I had a Biblical promise I could lay claim to. His messages on Duty, Fresh Oil, and This Kind shaped many of my ministry and personal practices, philosophies, and convictions to this day.

Dr. Gray is an original. Yes, he has copied many of Dr. Hyles’ philosophies and convictions. Yet, he is also a one of a kind man in many respects. The author shares how things were different when he went to Bible college compared to today. Again, I agree. There was a hunger, a zealous desire to get out there and make a mark for God. There was almost a rebellion for God … especially if someone dared tell you, “you can’t do it like that” or “you’ll never amount to anything for God.” That last line has motivated me personally more than a hundred pastoral workshop seminar presentations. Students came to places like Hyles/Anderson College from public schools, secular colleges, and real life. Many were older, married, and a bit seasoned. They were mature and goal driven but also teachable. Today, many of the kids come from Christian schools and are either rebellious, spoiled brats or opinionless drones off an assembly line who have been programmed to function within the rules and safety of their protected world rather than prepared to think and defend their faith in the real world.

Take a look at history. Whether secular or spiritual …. the people who have had the greatest influence and made the biggest marks have been part rebel, part maverick, part teachable, and part emotional. Mix in confidence, will power, focus, and creative thinking … and you have formulated a recipe by which God has something to work with.

We are all a combination of the things and people who have influenced us. And in that … it makes us original. “God made you an original don’t die a cheap copy.”

%d bloggers like this: