When Jack Causey moved to a neighboring city to pastor their First Baptist church, I waited for a couple of months and then called.

“You don’t know me, but I know you. Could we meet?”

It sounds like a note passed in middle school, but we were adults. I was a pastor in my 20s in need of guidance. Jack was entering his fourth pastorate. Each congregation had thrived under his leadership.

Jack’s preaching and worship skills were such that he frequently designed worship services for and spoke at youth events and on college campuses, which were then tough crowds. Jack had been the pastor-adviser to a campus group when I was an undergraduate. I did not know him personally, but I was part of the crowd that followed him.

headshot of Jack Causey

At lunch, I mentioned needing to learn from him, and Jack immediately rejected the idea of being a mentor or coach. We could be friends and peer pastors, he said. He was willing to meet once a month. We did that for about five years. Later, Jack agreed to facilitate an intensive, yearlong leadership development group with me. We did that for a decade.

Jack died in November, 37 years after our first lunch. On Facebook, because that is the social media of my generation, I read hundreds of clergy testifying to Jack’s impact on their lives. At his memorial services, I learned that Jack had gathered peer groups before that phrase was known in our denomination.

I wondered: What was so special about Jack Causey? How did he come to influence so many people?

When I asked to meet with him in 1986, I was drawn to his skills as a storyteller and his experience as a pastor. After years of facilitating groups with Jack, I realized that his superpower was listening.

Everything from the intense gaze of his blue eyes to the forward lean of his posture communicated that he heard me. If he knew something that would help, he would offer it. If not, he would give enough feedback to demonstrate that he was hearing me and was with me. Person after person in the memorial service testified to receiving the gift of being heard.

One of the reasons Jack resisted the title “mentor” and was hesitant about being a “coach” is that he was humble. He thought those titles suggested that he had some technique or wisdom. He would say he offered kindness. He offered friendship.

That description might suggest that he was passive, but Jack had a keen sense of how to put what he was hearing and noticing into action. As a congregational pastor and elected official in his denomination, he honed the skills of good leadership. He moved toward conflict and sought productive resolutions. He worked to establish consensus and held himself and others accountable to goals.

He was a master at setting and keeping boundaries. Before smartphones, Jack never carried his calendar with him, because he wanted to have space to think through any commitments being asked of him. At the church, the only key that he claimed to carry was to his office. He did not want to be distracted by being drawn into doing others’ work. At our first lunch, he set a rule that we would each buy our own meals (although when I was his “boss,” he did let me pay).

His leadership and service engendered long-lasting loyalty. A couple of years ago, I arranged to visit Jack. That morning, I learned that his beloved wife, Mary Lib, was gravely ill and had been admitted to hospice that day. Jack wanted me to come to the hospice house.

When I arrived and asked a volunteer to be directed to Mary Lib’s room, the lobby quickly filled with six or seven more volunteers. They asked all sorts of polite questions about how I knew Mary Lib and Jack. I was from out of town, and they were determined to protect the Causeys at this vulnerable time.

Jack heard the ruckus and came out to assure the group that we were old friends. I was deeply moved by the mutual care that had developed between the Causey family and the community and had endured for more than 20 years after his retirement from First Baptist.

After I left the pastorate near Jack, I launched a center to support congregations and established a leadership development program for clergy in their first five years of congregational ministry. Another mentor of mine guided me in setting up the framework to serve about a dozen clergy per cohort. I was near the same age and experience level as the participants and needed a partner who could bring decades of experience to the program in a humble and inviting way.

I approached Jack, and we co-led the yearlong program for about a decade. A few years into that process, Jack retired from the pastorate and devoted his vocational energy to staying in touch with the participants. Over time, the participants spread the word about how helpful a conversation with Jack could be.

My contribution to Jack’s post-congregational ministry was to create conditions for him to offer friendship and encouragement to more pastors. Jack knew this was his calling, and he asked me how he could do it in an accountable way. Eventually, our denomination also set up a structure for Jack’s work. When I read all those Facebook posts and comments, I took some comfort in knowing that our institution and denomination had been part of creating the opportunity for Jack to befriend more people.

Jack Causey’s ministry reminds me of the impact that happens when someone is committed to what Jack called friendship and I know as mentoring. It can happen one-on-one through the individual’s initiative. The impact can be expanded by thoughtfully created structures and conditions. But at the heart of it is a person deeply committed to careful listening and mutual respect.

Jack may be right that “mentor” is not a helpful word, because it commonly represents a top-down relationship. But he brought wisdom to our relationship and to countless others that many in my denomination will miss.

Thanks be to God for Jack. May we all be inspired to offer friendship to colleagues after his example.