It still surprises and moves me that so many people in Illinois Baptist churches fondly remember my father Tom Adams, or at least his writing. Dad entered his eternal life with the Lord ten years ago, just one month after I began my role here as IBSA’s executive director. Yet more often than not when I visit a church, one or more of its members will tell me how much my dad or his writing meant to them.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for one of those older church members to reach into their Bible and pull out a yellowed clipping of one of his columns because it met a particular, deep need in their lives. Dad wrote for the Illinois Baptist for 34 years, through columns such as “Problem Corner,” or “Ask Tom Adams.” So he became a sort of corresponding counselor to many.
Frankly, I thought I would have my dad’s counsel for a few more years here in Illinois. Instead I have needed to rely on the years I had to observe him as father, pastor, and associational leader. With his memory in my heart, here are some of the lessons I learned from Tom Adams.
1. Writing broadens and lengthens influence.
Dad never pastored a large church, nor held a position of great stature. But because he wrote down carefully considered thoughts at least every couple of weeks for decades, he touched tens of thousands of people he wouldn’t have otherwise.
2. Few words can be more impactful than many words.
Dad was a man of few words interpersonally, and the format of his columns gave him only a little room to express an opinion or idea in writing. But he demonstrated both in speech and writing that a few, carefully considered words can have great impact. Apparently they also fit better in your Bible.
3. Readers are better leaders.
My dad would be the first to admit that his wisdom didn’t come from his own deep intellect or extensive formal education. But he was one of the more widely read men I have ever known. Just ask my mom, whose house is still filled with an incredible variety of books, even after giving many away. I’ve never been the avid reader my dad was. But I’ve rarely gone in to a serious meeting or problem without doing my homework.
4. Face your fears with faith.
I didn’t know it until years later, but my dad was scared to death to move our family from Southern Illinois to the Chicago area. My mom tells me he became physically ill over the decision to follow God’s call there. What was very hard for him became very good for me, and in their own ways for the rest of our family. For reasons I can’t go into here, I doubt very much if I would be at IBSA today if he hadn’t made that move when I was fourteen. But his example helps me face my fears with faith, even today.
5. Invest fully where you are.
Dad was never a self-promoter, or a ladder-climber. I know he dreamed of another position or two in his life, but he always chose to invest fully where he was called, until God through others beckoned him elsewhere. Me too.
I jotted down some other lessons I learned from Tom Adams: Do what you know is right, and trust God with the consequences. Marry well and let your spouse be herself. How you say something can be just as important as what you say. Some burdens are best borne privately. Leaders come in all personality types.
A few years ago my mom and I helped my dad organize some of his Illinois Baptist columns into a book, titled after one of his columns, “Speaking Out.” If you don’t have a copy and will write me, I will be glad to send you one. He would be pleased for you to have it. And I will be pleased for his influence to touch your life, as it deeply has mine.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.