Yesterday (February 6, 2017) was the funeral for one of my childhood pastors and a man who had a profound influence on my life and ministry. Here is what I shared yesterday at the funeral in his honor and memory.
2 Timothy 2:1-2 “You then, my child be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
I cannot remember a time when Dean Risser was not my pastor. My earliest memories include him in the halls and pulpit of Southview Grace Brethren Church and the backyard Bible School at his and Ella Lee’s home. Mrs. Risser was my first Sunday school teacher and I promise she had her glowing white hair long before our rambunctious gang of two, three, and four year old’s ever came under her instruction.
As I’ve thought about Dean’s passing and going to his Savior I couldn’t help but think of 2 Timothy 2:2. It seems to encapsulate all that was good about Dean’s life. He wanted to faithfully lead others to follow Christ and serve him with their whole life. I can honestly say that Pastor Dean is a huge reason for why I am in ministry today and I’ve thought about four things that he taught me and others about the life of the pastor.
First, the life of the pastor is a life of prayer. No one taught me to pray like Dean Risser. The man probably traveled thousands of miles on his prayer walks. I’ll never forget covering the grounds of Southview with him early one morning before Wifflefest to pray for all the participants. I know Dean prayed for me and many others. Dean taught us to pray.
Secondly, the life of the pastor is one spent in evangelism. Paul says to young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist and Dean did that work. Dean never met a stranger and was always willing to talk with people. He was fervent in sharing the gospel and wanted others to know that Jesus died so that they might have life. If there was a front pocket in his hospital gown my guess is there was a Gospel of John tucked in it. Gallons of coffee were sipped and hours were spent in the seats at Hawkins all in an effort to build relationships with people. Dean taught us to share the Good News of Jesus.
Thirdly, the crown of the pastor is that of faithfulness. There probably won’t be any books written about Dean. We won’t have a national holiday in his honor. But the glory, honor, and praise of his life was not about his own recognition. He labored for Jesus and his family all the way into his nineties and modeled simple faithfulness to his Lord and his wife for decades. He encouraged others and worked hard to plant churches. Dean owed all the glory to Jesus and he was simply faithful. Dean taught us to be faithful.
Finally, the life of the pastor is assisted by good humor. I’ve poured over the pastoral Epistles looking for something about a funny bone requirement for pastoral ministry. There isn’t one; but Dean taught us that it’s sure helpful to laugh at yourself and a good humorous word can be just what people need, even if it’s the same joke every Sunday. With age people either get more sweet or more bitter and I think it can be said of Dean that he was sweet, and spicy, to the end. Dean taught us to laugh.
I mentioned I probably wouldn’t be in ministry today if it wasn’t for Dean. The four lessons I learned from him all come to fruition in one story. You may not have known, but Dean had the spiritual gift of prophecy. The story is told when I was three years old on a Sunday we were preparing for a carry-in dinner after church. A lady was walking across the fellowship hall and dropped an entire tray of silverware on the floor. It made such a loud noise that I came around the corner and yelled, “What in the hell was that?” The lady was jaw-dropped and my parents were mortified. But Dean simply said, “ah, don’t worry, he will grow up to be a pastor someday.”
I thank God for the life and ministry of Dean Risser and his wife Ella Lee. Their lives have truly been multiplied and we have been richly blessed through them.
Zachary D. Hess
Grace Polaris Church
Young Adults Pastor