We were saddened along with so many others to hear the news this past week of Dr. Ken Neller's passing. He taught for many years at Harding University and impacted the lives of many students. Not only did he teach a number of my classes, he also did our premarital counseling. Over the past couple days, Rachel and I have reflected on our memories of Dr. Neller.
When I first arrived on the Harding campus, my dad took this young Bible and Ministry major to meet his friend, Dr. Neller. I don't remember anything that was said that day in his office, but my initial impression of him (one that stuck with me throughout my time in school) was that this teacher was serious and yet still very approachable.
For two years, I was an officer in the Ministry major's association, of which Dr. Neller was a sponsor. And that meant that we had lunch together in the front of the cafeteria near the big windows about once a month in order to plan for upcoming meetings. We talked about all sorts of things and it was at one of these lunches that he encouraged me to go to grad school. I can still picture him reaching under his pullover sweater to pull out a pen from his shirt pocket to draw out a diagram or write down the name of a book or an idea.
Rachel specifically remembers one of the times that he spoke in chapel. Dr. Neller started off by saying that he would be talking about the subject of modesty. He said was going to show a "very revealing" video of immodest behavior that had been approved by the administration. We all squirmed nervously wondering what 'explicit' behavior we were about to witness. When the video started to roll, we saw example after example of sports players celebrating touchdowns, home runs, etc. Dr. Neller talked about pride and the dangers of that 'kind' of immodesty. After it was over, there was much grumbling in the aisles of the Benson as it seemed that a large number of students seemed to feel like that message hit a little too close to home. That was just one example of Dr. Neller not being afraid to use the pulpit for prophetic purposes.
In a ministry class, the one he referred to as the "marry and bury class," he told us that ministry comes out of the overflow of our spiritual life and of the importance of remembering that if our spiritual cup is empty, then we will have nothing left to give others.
As part of that class, I remember going to visit people at the hospital with him and learning about how to pray and encourage the sick and dying. I remember eating a meal or two at his house and watching the way he interacted with his family. I remember sitting in on a Downtown staff meeting and him laughing at a colleague's joke. I remember a man who took his call to ministry seriously and made himself approachable to me and many others.
Thank you Dr. Neller for investing so much time and energy in your students. These past couple days, I've shared with my Mozambican friends some of the lessons you taught me. And I've told these friends that I look forward to introducing them to you... someday.