Just a few minutes ago I received a text from my friend Andy Connelly that his father, Dr. Marlin Connelly, had passed away. When I think about the people who have impacted my life, Dr. Marlin Connelly is near the top. As a matter of fact, I will never be able to fully explain the positive impact he has had on my life to anyone else. He was a great man of God
I first encountered Dr. Connelly as a Freshman at Lipscomb University in the Fall of 1992. He was teaching Freshman Bible to a room filled with hundreds of students, and I was right on the front row. I had never heard anyone teach the Bible like Dr. Connelly did, and I couldn’t get enough. I also found out that he was also a preacher and would soon be moving to Hillsboro Church of Christ as their pulpit minister. I started attending Hillsboro soon after he began working there, and went to every class of his that I could. To this day I still have most of the hand written notes that I took during those classes, and they continue to be a powerful tool for me in my own study and teaching. The sermons and classes he taught at Hillsboro meant everything to me, and Dr. Connelly became a spiritual giant in my world.
At some point during my college years, one of the elders at Hillsboro asked me if I would preach on a Sunday evening. I had never preached a sermon in my life, but for some reason I agreed to give it a try. In the back of my mind I was thinking that if they were asking me to preach, that probably meant that Dr. Connelly would not be there. I couldn’t imagine trying to preach a sermon in front of him, so at least I wouldn’t have to worry about that. I studied and prepared as hard as I could to get ready for that sermon, and when the evening arrived, Dr. Connelly was sitting right on the front row. I was MORTIFIED. How could I possibly preach a sermon in front of this spiritual giant? Well, somehow I got through the sermon with my hands and knees shaking. The feedback from everyone that came up and talked to me afterward was very positive, but Dr. Connelly didn’t say anything to me in the auditorium.
As I was leaving the auditorium, Dr. Connelly was waiting for me in the back hallway, and immediately I got really nervous again. What would he say to me? Well, he completely shocked me by telling me that my sermon was excellent and that he wanted to work with me on developing my skills as a preacher and teacher. Over the next several years he mentored me, he asked me to co-teach some of his classes, and he began helping me get preaching appointments around the area (fill-in, summer series, etc.). Years later, when he left Hillsboro to go back to Bellevue Church of Christ, he would still ask me to come and fill-in for him in his classes. What an absolute blessing this was for my life, and without his guidance and encouragement, I don’t think I would have ever pursued preaching and teaching.
In addition to his guidance as a preacher and teacher, he was also a dear friend to our family. He married Olivia and I on September 6, 1997, and this is something that I will always treasure. This loss has hit me hard, and leaves a huge hole in my heart. I love Dr. Marlin Connelly, my friend, mentor and spiritual hero.