On January 11, 2013

Well Done Dr. Neller

Dr. Ken NellerThe most influential people in my life have been more humble than they should have been.

Last night, one of the people who has shaped me the most passed away of a sudden heart attack. Ken Neller was a Bible professor at Harding University. He was one of the most academically accomplished people I’d met. Everyone knew he was brilliant, but not because he let you know that.

I remember how I was preaching in Chapel on Galatians, and I took him to lunch to talk about it. I remember him talking about the Grace of God in that book, and feeling like I was hearing something that was true in the deepest sense of the word. I remember taking my Greek final and him telling me that my translation reminded him an awful lot of the NIV. I remember him talking about never cheating your family to serve the church. I remember taking his preparations for ministry class (what he called the Marry and Bury class) and him telling us that the Kingdom of God was alive and well today, and we could serve it by these practical ways of serving the local church.

He taught me how to do ministerial finances, how to do weddings and funerals and how to read the Bible. He taught me how to use redaction criticism to write a sermon, but to never say redaction criticism in one. But the greatest lesson he taught me was one that only really makes sense now.

He was teaching us about how each of us have a canon within a canon. That is, everyone who reads the Bible, privileges certain verses over others, and it’s important to acknowledge which passages we lean into. Because, he said, this will affect the way you do ministry and the way you view God.

And that’s when he told us something that has blessed me every since.

He told our class that his hermeneutical center, the verse that meant the most to him was Matthew 25:21. When Jesus tells his people Well done, my good and faithful servant.

And then Dr. Neller teared up.

Which was not what any of us in class saw coming. He wasn’t the crying type, but you could tell that this was embedded deep in his idea of what it meant to serve God and to teach.

And then Dr. Neller went on to tell us that we each had no idea what we were about to step into, the amount of criticism we would face, and the temptation that we would have to be people-pleasers, but that this was not a big enough dream to give our lives for. And then Dr. Neller said this, “When I realized that God was the only one I really wanted to please, I realized what it meant to serve a church.” 

I read recently that 94% of college professors said in a survey said that they thought they were “above average” teachers. Dr. Neller would have been in the rare 6%. He blessed me and so many others so much because he had nothing to prove, he was able to say hard and loving things to us because he loved us more than he cared about being thinking he was loving. He was able to serve us and the Kingdom of God so well, because he only cared about the approval of God.

Dr. Neller’s passion was to prepare generations to come behind him. And in so many ways, his influence has just begun.

I want to say thank you to Dr. Neller and to Barbara and Collin and Seth for sharing their lives with so many students for the past two decades. I want to say to Dr. Neller well done. But he was never working to hear that from me.

But I’m pretty sure he finally heard it from the only one he ever hoped to hear it from.

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  • Bebrophy

    Well said

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Brian.

  • Ken Bissell

    What an incredibly large hole his death has left, not only in the Harding family but in the church at large. Ken was my minister in Lexington, KY in the early 90s before he returned to teach at Harding, and I realized quickly that he was uniquely equipped to discern the scriptures. The countless thousands of students who sat at his feet over the past 20+ years were blessed to learn from one of the truly great professors who didn’t let his scholarship get in the way of his example. You said it well, Jonathan…a great blend of humility and brilliance. I know God will help fill that void, but right now we’re in mourning at Harding. As for Ken, he has received his reward, and for that, we rejoice.

  • http://kingdomseeking.com/ K. Rex Butts

    Great thoughts.  Even though I was tucked up in the 3rd floor School of Biblical Studies (what they called back in the day), I did get to take one class with Dr. Neller (Christian Worship).  Then every time I saw him he would speak to me as if I was his only student, always ready to listen, have conversation, pray, etc…  That is the mark of someone who views his life as a ministry from God for the sake of others.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=71005235 Jonathan Stein

    The thing I keep coming back to while I’ve been thinking about Dr. Neller’s influence on me is how much he loved the church. He loved her people, he loved being able to support, encourage, and mentor her ministers, and he loved being able to serve far beyond what he was paid. As I look back at the way I’ve developed since starting undergrad and having Dr. Neller for the first time, I can see his influence through all of it. But I didn’t realize that until last night. Jonathan is right, he was subtle and humble, but his great love for the church has left an impact we will never forget.

  • Brandon Moore

    Thanks brother… Its been amazing to see how many posts have already been written in his honor. He will be missed.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That’s right Jonathan, I’ve heard it said a ton since Dr. Neller died, that he  was so good at being able to see the people he was teaching, and the purposes for which he was teaching them. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Bro Ken, I’m sorry for Harding’s loss, and the loss of churches all over the world. Dr. Neller helped make us better people and better ministers. But I’m sorry for your personal loss as well. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Anissa Harris

    well said . . . He would be pleased to know that we are “catching on”

  • Rebecca

    What a great testament of a mentor.

  • http://twitter.com/DiVau4Jesus Diane Vaughn

    Thank you so much for sharing this! It’s greatly appreciated!

  • Youngmckenzie112

    Beautiful.  Thank you.

  • Abe_chambers

    A wise and kind man he was. He pushed us hard in Greek class because he loved us and knew we could do it. Years later, I returned to Harding to work on my Masters. This past year and a half of grad school I can recall the greetings and smiles that we exchanged through the hallways in the bible building. He will be missed

  • laco09

    So precious, Jonathan.

  • Stefanie Armstrong

    Diane, we love you and are so sorry for your loss!!  Ken sounds like such an inspiration!  My heart breaks for you, your mom and dad, and his family; they are in our prayers!!!  I know his family and you will rely on  your faith and each other to pass through this sorrowful time.  

  • Tjrector

    Wow! how honoring, and he’s still sharing through you. Thank you.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/77TKBCXILDJTN4A2WCU4RKKE3A Laurie

    Such a wonderful tribute! Thank you for passing on to the world such a blessed testimony!

  • Dunderwood

    Amen Jonathan! I know he was proud of you.

  • Emily Daw

    “He taught me how to use redaction criticism to write a sermon, but to never say redaction criticism in one.”  This sentence beautifully illustrates so many things about Dr. Neller.  He was brilliant, he was scholarly, and he had very high expectations of his students — but he also understood how to meet his students and his congregants exactly where they were.

  • Cody Willis

    I think we were in Greek 3 and in Marry and Bury together at some point, I took each class multiple times because I was not a good student. My favorite from Dr. Neller were some of the blunt ways he had of putting things, stuff I probably cant say on your blog. However, one of the things he said repeatedly was, “Never argue with an idiot, their argument brings you to their level and then they beat you with experience.” His common sense approach to life and his transparent, anti-agenda based approach to ministry was transformative.  His come-as-you-are authenticity was so uncommon it always left you asking the question, “Is this guy for real?” because no one is that open with honesty. He was truly one of a kind and it wasn’t until last night that I suddenly realized that I never said thank you the way I should have. Can’t wait to see him again. God Bless Ken, Barbara, Collin, and Seth.

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  • Manon de Senneville

    Dr Ken Neller will have an everlasting impact in my life. For several years, he preached what I needed to hear every week at Southside church of Christ in Lexington,KY.  May he rejoice in the Kingdom and may the Lord comfort his wife Barbara, and their two children, Seth and Collin.  Thank You  so much for being  HIS true messenger on earth.  Manon

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks TJ!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thank you Diane, and I’m so sorry for your loss. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That’s funny Cody, that’s a classic “Neller-ism” thanks for sharing!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Manon. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Emily, I have a B or two to show how much he expected from his students (and I earned those) but Dr. Neller’s passion was for his students to serve the church well, and you’re right! That’s exactly what he did. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Bro. David! That means a lot to hear.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Laurie. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Amen Abe. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Rebecca. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Anissa. I think you’re right. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Brandon, I know right? I was so impressed by how many people were writing about and talking about what a difference he had made in their life. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Rex, You nailed it, that was very much who Dr. Neller was. 

  • Logan Light

    Thank you, Jonathan. I appreciate you taking the time to put into words, what I have struggled to talk about. 

  • Knoxb

    I do not know this man of God, but I hope to meet him someday. What a wonderful tribute. Bless his sweet family.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Logan. If I’m right you are still living in Searcy, I’m very sorry for y’alls loss brother. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks for saying that. And he was a great guy. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=71001378 Drew Battistelli

    A wonderful tribute to an awesome man.  Thanks!

  • Jason Eades

    I remember him telling us in ministry class to “dig your well deep” so we would be able to have enough left to give to others as a minister. I’ve always remembered this. I was just talking to someone at church about this in the past month. Does anyone remember his teaching about how to identify the genitive absolute in Greek? A very kind, caring, wise, passionate man. He will be missed.

  • JR

    I don’t know Dr. Neller, but based on what has been shared here I thank God that there are still might men, with humble spirits, sharing the Gospel.  He may be gone to glory, but the Spirit of the Lord has been deposited in every student who had an ear to hear.  The torch has been passed.

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  • http://jonathanteel.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/beginning-with-the-end-in-mind-in-memoriam-dr-ken-neller/ Jonathan Teel

    In my honoring of Dr. Neller I shared part of your blog post and gave you credit.  I just wanted to share that with you.



    Jonathan Teel 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Jonathan, thanks man. I read it. That was a great blog. Thanks for sharing that!!