Many people have influenced my life for the better, but few have had as much an impact as Joe Aldrich has. Joe is the former president of Multnomah School of the Bible. Joe has Parkinson’s Disease and is slipping fast. He’s been out of the public eye for many years now, even though he’s not that old (in his sixties). He was my pastor at Mariner’s Church in Newport Beach, CA, when I was the church’s first youth pastor (1970-72). Every Thursday we would get together to talk about the youth ministry. It was a real struggle for me and I needed a lot of help. That’s because I was a freshman in college! Joe had been a Christian Ed major in his master’s program at Dallas Seminary; I was, at the time, a Christian Ed major at Biola. I changed to a Bible major because of Joe. But the reason may not be what you might think: I learned much more from him about Christian education than I did from all my professors at Biola! I felt that I was getting such a good education from him about what CE was all about that I didn’t need to waste money on an inferior education in college. This is not meant to demean the CE program at Biola; rather, it’s simply to note that learning Christian education in a real-life setting, and learning it from a man who had been so involved in it that he at one time was an adjunct teacher of Christian education at Dallas Seminary, is something that you can’t compete with. When I switched to a Bible major, I was required to take two years of Greek. I took the first year while I was a CE major, but the second (and then third and fourth) after I switched majors. Joe had an impact in the direction of my life and career.
Now, back to Thursdays. Joe and I would meet for two hours every Thursday. But we didn’t talk about youth ministry for most of the time. For the first hour or so, Joe would bubble over about the sermon he was preparing. He was genuinely involved in the text, and it constantly changed his life. He first preached from Nehemiah. It was a multiple-month series. Joe would diagram the Hebrew text that he was preaching from each week, memorize the text in English, and wrestle with the exegesis of the text very seriously. I thought that if a man who had been a CE major at Dallas Seminary was diagramming the Hebrew text each week, then surely Dallas Seminary was the place to get a solid theological education! I learned, too, that Joe had memorized the Greek verb chart paradigms and could still recite them all at will as a pastor. Joe was the first DTS grad that I remembered meeting; he was one of the primary reasons I decided to go to Dallas for my education.
Joe was indeed an incredible memorizer. Once, when he was hospitalized for some injury or disease (I don’t call which), he was stuck in the hospital for a week. During that time, he was not idle. He memorized Ephesians!
After he shared his insights about the text he would preach on three days later—that were just emerging now—he would ask me about the youth ministry. He’d give me tips on how to deal with the kids, and lay out principles for youth work. It was pure gold. Then, we would pray. If anything, Joe is a man of prayer. We would usually pray for 45 minutes. If you’re keeping track, this means that Joe would talk about what he was learning from the Bible for an hour, we would talk about youth ministry for 15 minutes, and we would pray for 45 minutes. What I had expected was quite different from this breakdown, but in the end I saw the wisdom of dealing with ministry this way. Spend time in the Word and time in prayer. Those things should be our highest priorities.
I was a relatively poor student (grade-wise and money-wise) in college, but a recommendation letter from Joe got me into seminary. His influence was still large at DTS even after many years.
Joe had a wicked sense of humor. He was a great practical joker. When he was in the doctoral program at DTS, he and John Walvoord’s son (also in the doctoral program) did an incredible practical joke that should have gotten both of them kicked out of school! But Joe was wise enough to do this one with the son of the school’s president, making both of them immune.
Joe was also a very bright student. He earned all A’s at Dallas except for two C’s in Hebrew. His prof? Bruce Waltke. Joe got the highest grades in the two courses he took from Waltke. Students would take Waltke just to hear him pray in class—knowing that they would most likely fail the course. But it was worth the price to hear this man’s adoration for our Almighty God pour forth twice a week.
Joe also was and is an evangelist at heart. His book, Lifestyle Evangelism, is a natural outgrowth of who he is. When he and Ruthe were in seminary, they would rent an apartment where they served as apartment managers. And every week they would invite the folks in a different apartment over for dinner. After awhile, all of the people in the apartment would become believers! When that happened, Joe and Ruthe would pack up and move to another apartment complex where they would be managers, and they’d start the process all over again.
Joe is also a financial wizard. He and Ruthe would save the money that they would have spent on rent (as apartment managers, they stayed rent free). They did this for seven years—through the Th.M. and Th.D. programs. By the time they packed up and left for California, they had saved up $10,000. It was enough for a nice down payment on a house in Newport Beach, where the prices had not yet gone ballistic (that would happen a year later).
Finally, Joe had a strong sense of social justice. He was pastor at Mariner’s Church for seven years, then he became the president of Multnomah in Portland. He noticed early on that the men’s dorms were in terrible disrepair, so he urged the board of directors to do something about it. Meeting after meeting, they turned a deaf ear. So, Joe read up on the procedural rules for the board meetings and he noticed that the president had the right to choose where the meetings would be held. The next meeting was held in the bathroom in the men’s dorm! The funding to improve the men’s dorm was approved and the fixes were made.
Joe is the epitome of someone who is wise as a serpent, as gentle as a dove. He’s one of the great servant-leaders of our time. I always saw in him a person who lived out his Christian faith the way most of us breathe. His adoration of Christ was at the center of his life, and he has a strategy for how to maximize things to Christ’s glory. And even though we may have disagreements over some theological issues (e.g., Calvinism), I have learned much from this godly man. He has modeled what he often said: “Christianity is caught more than it is taught,” and “truth is not heard unless love is felt.” Thanks, Joe, for being such a servant of our Lord!