Beginning with the End in Mind: In Memoriam Dr Ken Neller

They say that when you write a song you should start with the end in mind. Similarly with telling a joke; you don’t want to give the punch line early or you ruin the joke.  Without the punch line at the end there is no joke. But what about life?

One of the things that I appreciate from my various academic pursuits has been the emphasis of starting with the end in mind in each discipline. In counseling you always want to know what the end goal is for the client. In nursing you plan for discharge, hopefully a healthy one, from the first moment they enter the door. In Dr Huffard’s spiritual leadership class in seminary he had us do a life assessment of a spiritual leader who ended well to see how God worked in that individual’s life.  He wanted us to see the challenges, valleys, and peaks in a faithful servant.

There is now a new leader whose life I wish I had known better.  Whose life deserves to be assessed because he was a true spiritual leader.  That man is Dr. Ken Neller; he Ended Well.

Dr. Neller finally arrived where he always longed for his journey to end on January 10th, 2013. I am grateful that my life intersected with Dr. Neller.  He taught me New Testament, the Gospel of John in Greek, 1 Corinthians in Greek, and Christian Ministry aka “Marry them and Bury them” class.  I am especially grateful for the “Marry them and Bury them” class because in my first full time ministry job I performed 2 weddings, but I also performed 8 funerals in 12 weeks!  However, those were not the most important things that I learned in Dr. Neller’s class.

I remember on our first day in our Christian Ministry class that Dr Neller gave us a questionnaire.  One of the questions asked was “Who has influenced you the most in your life?” I responded in the questionnaire the missionaries that I grew up around in Argentina.  I got it wrong.  I think the majority of our class of young hopeful minister got it wrong too.  Dr. Neller called us out and said that while family members, youth ministers, missionaries and other Christians are all good; they do not compare to Jesus.  He was that in love with Jesus.  He did not say that for show. He was being transparent.  It was the most impactful teaching moment I had experienced from him. It shook me at my core.

Dr. Neller ended well and had a vision for how he wanted things to end from the beginning. He followed Jesus.  One of my peers at Harding, Jonathan Storment, recalled a moment that we both shared together in Dr. Neller’s Christian Ministry class soon after that questionnaire:

“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.’”[1]

I remember that moment well and I too was shocked by the moment.  I was humbled. I was inspired by his vision for his life.

In honor of a life well lived that honored God I have added Dr Neller to my personal heroes of faith that have gone on before me who are now apart of the “great cloud of witnesses” Hebrews 12:1 (See image of my Bible below).  Thank you Dr Neller for challenging and cheering me on my journey of faith with your life and your enlightenment of the Scriptures. Thank you for “Neller’s Nifty Fifty” passages that you instilled in me, the spiritual discipline of memorizing Scripture.

I am happy for you to get to hear the words that you always wanted to hear from God “εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω· εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου“ “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

God,

Thank you for a good and faithful servant.

Amen.

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4 Responses to Beginning with the End in Mind: In Memoriam Dr Ken Neller

  1. This is a thorough description of a thorough and great man of God.

  2. Linda Franklin Clark says:

    Thank you, Jonathan for your remembrance. Ken was my brother-in-law and we wish we’d had the opportunity to sit in his classes and learn some of the same things you did while at Harding. You mentioned Neller’s Nifty Fifty….could you share those with us? I posted your entry and two people have already asked for the list. Thanks for your help.

    • jrteel says:

      Linda,

      I appreciate your compliments. I have just posted it on my blog. It is amazing how well known he is just for his “Neller’s Nifty Fifty.” Makes me happy. On a side note I went to HUG and graduated with Aaron (I am assuming your son) and Collin

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