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Fruit Of His Labors His Big-Name Students Call Howard Hendricks A 'Prof' Like No Other
By BERTA DELGADO / The Dallas Morning News
Their names are more widely known than his, their voices heard by thousands every day. But it's his voice that shapes theirs, and it's his teachings that give form to their ministries.
And though Dr. Howard G. Hendricks prefers to stay out of the limelight, his former students say he deserves public acknowledgement for all that he has done at Dallas Theological Seminary and for all that he has done for them.
No other educator, they say, has impacted the evangelical world like the man whom they reverently call "Prof." Take note of some of the protégés, and it's easy to see that they could be right.
There's the Rev. Tony Evans, one of the most prominent black preachers in America; there's Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, author of the publishing phenomenon The Prayer of Jabez; there's the Rev. Charles R. Swindoll, one of the most popular evangelical preachers in the world; and the list goes on and on.
"Impact is only as good as it plays out in future generations," says the Rev. David Jeremiah, another protégé and another of the evangelical world's most trusted voices. "Prof is like a pebble thrown in a lake – the ripples just keep going outward."
Consider that the combined ministries of just eight former students of Dr. Hendricks reach close to 30,000 people in the pews every week, their radio programs air in most countries on thousands of radio stations, and their books have reached millions of readers.
A shy, soft-spoken man of small stature, Dr. Hendricks becomes bigger than life when he stands before his students. And those students, current and former, are forever grateful that the man who has molded them left the pulpit for the classroom long ago.
"I was born into a broken home," the 78-year-old man says. "My parents separated when I came along. I split the family."
Reared by his father's mother, Dr. Hendricks says that in elementary school he was a troublemaker, a hell raiser. Probably just acting out a lot of insecurities, he says looking back on his Philadelphia childhood. His fifth-grade teacher had predicted that five boys in class would end up in prison. He was supposed to be one of them. The teacher was right about three of them, Dr. Hendricks says. That teacher, Miss Simon, once tied him to his seat with a rope and taped his mouth shut.
When he introduced himself to his sixth-grade teacher, Miss Noe, she told him something that would change his life forever.
"She said, 'I've heard a lot about you, but I don't believe a word of it,' " he recalls.
She made him realize for the first time in his life that someone cared, he says. "People are always looking for someone to say, 'Hey, I believe in you.' "
In his 52 years as a professor at Dallas Seminary, that's what he has sought to do – believe in his students and help develop them.
Though he was a pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth for a couple of years, the words in 2 Timothy 2:2 always stuck in his mind: "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
Instead of pastoring one church, he would train 10 students to pastor 10 churches. And so, in 1951, he joined the staff at the seminary where he had been educated.
But over the years, it's not just his teaching that has stood out, say students. Make no mistake, they say, he's a wonderful teacher. And, his Methods of Bible Study class is what "put flesh on the bones." It taught them to break down Scripture, to organize it, to diagram it, to put it together and then pull it apart again.
Most importantly, students say, he has taken the time to mentor.
A good mentor, says Dr. Joseph Stowell, president of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, is someone who lives out what he believes and what he teaches.
"A lot of guys can be good in the pulpit. Then you get close and think, 'Oh, I wish I hadn't gotten this close,' " says Dr. Stowell, a 1970 Dallas Seminary graduate. "I've watched Howard Hendricks with admiration, and I've asked God if I could please have the same consistency and integrity in my life."
Says Dr. Evans, a 1976 graduate: "There was always an encouragement from him, a challenge from him, and it gave me an inspiration that I have not yet shaken."
The Rev. Erwin Lutzer came from Canada to attend seminary in 1963. He was shy and lonely. He sat at the front of the class but never got involved in discussions. One day, Dr. Hendricks asked to speak to him.
"He encouraged me and said, 'I want to thank you for your teach-ability.' And he said that he felt I was gifted and that the Lord would use me some day," says Dr. Lutzer, pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago. "You can imagine the sense of confidence and acceptance that I felt in the seminary community after that."
"Prof" has a way of bringing out the best in people, says Johnny Tang, a current student from the San Francisco Bay area.
"Something you don't know is in you, you find out because he helps you see it," Mr. Tang says. "He brings it out of you."
The Rev. Elizabeth Inrig says that Dr. Hendricks gave her the ticket to the rest of her life in her ministry to women. Dr. Inrig's husband, Gary, was a student of Dr. Hendricks' in the '60s. She learned so much from Dr. Hendricks and his wife, Jeanne, in that time that she returned in 1989 to enroll.
She serves as director of women's ministries at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, Calif., where her husband is pastor. She also serves in the same role for the Evangelical Free Church of America.
She speaks of the Bible study that she wrote, telling the Christmas story through the eyes of a shepherd's wife. It stemmed from an assignment in Dr. Hendricks' class.
"He validated it, and I've been doing it ever since," she says.
Though there are many good professors at Dallas Seminary, she says, Dr. Hendricks is special.
Dr. Swindoll won't argue with that.
Dr. Swindoll, a 1963 graduate, is pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco. His Insight for Living radio program airs 1,900 times daily worldwide. Dr. Swindoll, who says there is no one he admires "more than Howie Hendricks," is also chancellor at Dallas Seminary.
"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," he says. "Put bluntly, he has been and still is Dallas Theological Seminary's 'best advertisement,' hands down."
The Rev. Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 9,000-member First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls. For a boy who grew up at First Baptist Church of Dallas to end up in 1977 at a nondenominational school raised eyebrows.
"My ordination council grilled me about why I went to DTS," he says. "I answered two words: Howard Hendricks."
Dr. Jeffress says that he learned how to pastor from the Rev. W.A. Criswell, the longtime pastor of First Baptist of Dallas who died a year ago.
"And from Dr. Hendricks I learned, hopefully, what it means to be an effective Christian communicator of the truth," he says.
"The structural part of preaching most of us learned from Howie Hendricks," says Dr. Jeremiah, a 1967 graduate who pastors Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. "When I hear Swindoll or Stowell speak, I hear him in them. I can see his influence in what they do."
As all these famed preachers and educators who have been influenced by Dr. Hendricks round out their years of ministry, he says, they'll touch lives that will touch lives. Just as current students hope to do, students such as Maria Pacheco of Chicago, and Karyn Baitzel of New Jersey, and Ivan Yong of Los Angeles.
"Only eternity will reveal all he's done for the cause of Christ worldwide," says Dr. Evans. "I'm just honored to be one of the protégés."
Dr. Hendricks says he saw the same passion to develop others in former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Dr. Hendricks knew Mr. Landry well. He served as chaplain for the Cowboys from 1976 to 1984.
In November, Dr. Hendricks received the fourth annual Tom Landry Excellence of Character Award from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The Rev. Billy Graham, another close friend of Dr. Hendricks', is among the other past winners of the national award.
During his tenure with the Cowboys, Dr. Hendricks saw how Mr. Landry influenced players. Seeing how many showed up at his funeral in February 2000 showed the deep respect they had for him, he says.
He says it amazes him that there are people across the board in sports, business, the ministry, who are where they are because someone else made a contribution.
"And yet they never reproduce the process," he says.
He looks to his students to continue mentoring others. Jesus did it, he says, and that's the pattern he's followed all these years.
"For me, it's very important because I think it's really my fulfillment," he says. "I tell people, 'You're looking at a completely fulfilled human being.' If I died today having produced some of the people God has given me the privilege of shaping, it will have been worth showing up on the planet." Reprinted with permission of The Dallas Morning News.