JACKSON, Tenn. – Dec. 4, 2008 – In 1995 I attended my first Mississippi Baptist Convention, which is held annually at the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Miss. FBCJ is a massive facility, covering several city blocks; the sanctuary itself stands across the street from the state capitol and the parking plateau itself is pretty dramatic on its own merits.
The only parking space I could find was in the very back of the lot, which meant a long hike. It was a sunny day, a good one for a nice walk, and I was joined quickly by an older man who asked if he could accompany me.
He asked who I was and where I served. He said that he recognized my father’s name and asked if I were related to several others whose last name I share. I noted that he was painfully shy, barely looking me in the eye as we talked, but I was struck by how his shyness came off as humility rather than any sort flawed self-esteem. I liked him immediately. As we reached the church doors, I finally thought to ask him who he was and where he served.
“I’m Frank Pollard,” he said, “and I pastor this church.”
I was dumbfounded, even as he asked me to follow him for a bit. He showed me several areas of the facility and told me how much he loved serving as pastor of the church: “I love it so much, I’ve pastored it twice!” he said with a wide grin.
Little did I know that some time later, I would join that church and Frank would become my family’s pastor.
Dr. Pollard died this past weekend after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. I am keenly aware of the influence that he has had on a generation of preachers and theologians, even as he has influenced the way that the Christian faith is lived out in my beloved home state of Mississippi. His honors and awards are lengthy; his lasting reputation, however, will be his passion for serving Christ with a humble spirit.
I cannot think of Dr. Pollard without remembering his prodigious memory. His sermons broke open God’s Word, finding application after application, all the while setting hooks within the sermons through the use of poetry and humor. As a literary scholar, I was astounded by his wide and varied appetite as a reader. His altar calls were bold, though never manipulative. His commitment to evangelism and to meeting the physical needs of the inner city was nothing short of titanic.
Regarding missions in particular, Dr. Pollard held a fierce devotion. He constantly challenged us to give of our time, our finances and our prayers. My wife and I were convicted to give sacrificially to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in particular while we were members there. The church had what seemed like dozens of former International Mission Board missionaries in the congregation, and Dr. Pollard knew that they were the best cultivators of support for missions. I worked in the college ministry at the church and saw many of my students surrender to calls to missions and ministry under his preaching and mentorship. My five years of service at that church made me optimistic about what a church could do in an effort to impact its surrounding culture and the world as a whole through an unashamed faith in God.
The last year of Dr. Pollard’s pastorate, the audio-visual folks installed screens on either side of the sanctuary to allow the congregation a better view of the services. When Frank preached, both screens displayed huge images of the preacher; I found myself frustrated frequently that my eyes would look at the screens rather than at the man himself. I don’t know what it is about our humanity that causes us to prefer the artificial over the real, but we do it all the time. We are so easily distracted by pale imitations.
As I ponder the influence Dr. Pollard has had over my family’s life and my own preaching, I am mindful of how he would have said that he was the artificial and Christ was the real, that his parishioners would be in error to look at him and not see that he was merely an imitator of the genuine love of Christ Himself. Over a lifetime of ministry, Frank was an imitator of Christ, a humble and articulate vessel of the Gospel. His life and ministry were templates of how the Church can reach a lost and broken culture with the redemptive Hope of the Gospel.
By Gene C. Fant Jr.
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences