Father, Friend, Encourager-in-Chief

by Andy Wood on January 4, 2021

in Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Stories, Principle of Legacy, Turning Points

Some people are supposed to live forever. I know better in my head. But my head isn’t the space where I’m roaming at the moment.

Since 1972, when I first heard him preach, I have looked to Fred Wolfe as my pastor. Over time he became much more than that. He was mentor, friend, and profound encourager. A discipler in his own way. A mentor and coach of preachers, including the dozens of men whom God called into vocational ministry out of his.

I was one of those.

You could always tell when I had spent any time with him – I came away talking just like him. Other people, me included, try to shed the accents of their childhood. Not Brother Fred. He was as true to his South Carolina roots last month as he was when I first heard him. In my eighth-grade reckoning, to me he sounded like Jerry Clower.

I was mesmerized.

But it wasn’t his unique accent. Something else kept me captivated by this preacher – the first I had ever heard who kept my attention throughout the “trial sermon” he preached in January 1972. I would later learn that he was a man of prayer, who lived and taught something called the Spirit-filled life. That was his not-so-secret.

One of my favorite pictures of him, that captures the essence of who he was, shows him kneeling beside the pulpit behind which he would soon preach. That was Brother Fred. Preacher second. Prayer warrior first.

Encourager in Chief

For me, he became much more.  Brother Fred was one of the most extraordinary encouragers I have ever known. In fact, when he left Cottage Hill Baptist Church he started a ministry called “Barnabas – a Ministry of Encouragement.” When he started a church a few years later, he named it Luke 4:18 Fellowship – a reference to Jesus being a healer of the brokenhearted.

At a time when my own ministry crashed and I was steeped in shame and failure, he offered something I didn’t know was available – grace for preachers. “Andy,” he said, “God knew all this would happen before He ever saved you. And He saved you anyway. And God knew all this would happen before He called you to preach. And He called you anyway.”

His words were like oil to my wounded soul.

Later, when I had lost everything that meant anything to me, he found me. He actually got the number to a pay phone near where I was and called it, seeking me out.

“Andrew,” he said.  I knew immediately who it was.  “This is Brother Fred.”

“Hey!” I replied, already tearing up. Other than my own family, there is to this day no one I want more to be proud of me.

This was no day for pride.

“Well, I’ve heard,” he began, “you’ve lost everything.”

“Yes sir.”

“Lost your job.”

“Yes sir.”

“Lost your ministry.”

“Yes sir.”

“Lost your wife.”

“Yes sir.”

“Lost your kids.”

“Yes sir.”

(Note:  He was calling to encourage.)

“But I want to remind you there are two things you still have.”

“Yes sir?”

“You still have Jesus, and you still have a choice.”

He continued:  “You can go out from there and live any way you want, and nobody will ever say another word.  But I know you’re going to do the right thing.”

There was more – much more – to be said.  But those words – You still have Jesus and you still have a choice – formed the foundation for one of the most remarkable healing and restoration experiences I have ever seen… and I saw it up close and personal… I lived it.

Then there was that time just over a decade ago, when I sat in his office, burned out and fried, facing another season in which my life, work, and calling would be redefined. “Maybe I should just hang it up,” I said, or something like that.

His reply still rings in my heart today:

“You’re 51 years old.  You still have many chapters to write.  And the only way they won’t get written is if you get discouraged and quit.”

Funny (one of the funniest humans I have known in the right setting), thoughtful, and always a leader, there is only one time I can remember him being a little out of sorts. When the “Wolfepack” – his preacher boys and former associates – threw him a 70th birthday party and retreat, after a couple of days of that, he was done. He didn’t like all that attention being on him.

There are many others who were much more a part of his life than I was. But for 49 years there has never been a time when my father-in-ministry wasn’t a part of mine. Until yesterday.  COVID may have  claimed his body, but his heart belonged totally and completely to Jesus. And now he’s home.

But this man of prayer, this Son of Encouragement, has a reward that continues to multiply, long after his days on earth are done. His legacy lives on in the thousands of lives he has touched as a husband, father, grandfather, preacher, pastor, and friend of pastors everywhere.  When my wife counsels wounded marriages and hurting children, a part of her extraordinary work is built on foundations he laid in her life. The coaching, teaching, or preaching I do is the same. Brother Fred showed us what it looks like to invest your life in someone else and trust God for the results. Now we get to pay that forward.

When I had the privilege of ghostwriting his second book, It’s Not an Easy Road, but Jesus!, Brother Fred included a brief acknowledgement in the front, thanking me and referring to me as one of the “Timothys” in his ministry. Now I think I may know a little of how Timothy felt when Paul wrote these words:

I solemnly exhort you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction…. Use self-restraint in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing

(2 Timothy 4:1-8).

Farewell, my father, friend, and faith-keeper. For 63 years you have loved His appearing. Now you have seen it in person. In the meantime, I still have more chapters to write. But because of you, I won’t give up.

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