Great Cloud of Witnesses

The following are the words I shared on the floor of presbytery on Wednesday, May 11.  This was the day on which I was examined and voted on as a candidate for Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I am humbled and thankful for all that has transpired over the last several days.  This is my way of saying "Thank you" to all of those who made it possible.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”

A small giant of a man, William James was born March 29, 1908 in a tiny Texas town. WJ, as he was called early in his life, became an itinerant minister in the Assembly of God Church. He faithfully served churches in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana for over 60 years. I was privileged to call this man “Grandpa.” The birth and life of William James have impacted and continue to impact my life in ways that I may never fully understand.

In his early 30’s William James committed his life to Christ and to ministry on nearly the same day. He enrolled in Central Bible College and was soon ordained to ministry in the Assembly of God Church. Brother James, as most would call him, was the patriarch of faith for the Shivers family.

Grandpa was my earliest example of what it meant to be a minister. He lived his call on a daily basis before family and his parishioners. His influence and the ripples of his ministry and life have touched four generations and will touch many more.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”

From as early as I can remember, Beulah Mae Shivers, my grandmother and wife of William James, had a habit of introducing me to friends and congregants alike as “her little angel, who was going to be a minister one-day.” And from as early as I can remember, I HATED IT! In fact, at sixteen years of age, Jennifer, my wife, and I began dating. When I brought her along with me to a family get together to meet the extended family, my grandmother, with all sincerity and candor seized the opportunity and asked her, “Honey, what do you think about being a minister’s wife?” I wanted to crawl into a hole! And poor Jennifer would have run home if she thought she could find the way. I still find it hard to believe that Jennifer stayed with my sometimes wacky but always entertaining family.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”

My father, James Shivers, a preacher’s kid, carried the torch of the faith into my immediate family. His faith and his life shaped my own faith development in ways that I am still discovering to this day. His willingness to ask the tough questions of himself and his faith, the kindness of his eyes, the passion in his life, the love in his words, and the compassion in his hands challenged me to grow into a faith that is alive and vital.

At seventeen, my father, in typical fashion, asked me a question that has continued to help form and inform my faith and the calling on my life. His question was “What difference does it make that you are a Christian?” I am not sure how I answered that day, but I have never forgotten the question and it has never forgotten me.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”

This may seem to be an unusual way to tell the story of my journey of faith. However, I can think of no better manner in which to tell it. In fact, I would be kidding myself this morning if I thought that my faith and calling into ministry is not inexorably linked to these wonderful people and the way in which they lived out their faith and life.

I was at a wedding not long ago when the minister asked the bride and groom to turn and face the congregation during the meditation. She then said, “Now imagine that these pews before you continue out onto the horizon line as far as your eyes can see. Then imagine those pews filled with people. These aren’t just any ordinary people. These are the people who have been a part of your life. These are the people who have nurtured you.” So today, I encourage you to do the same. Turn and look toward the doors of the sanctuary. Imagine the doors being open and the pews continuing out onto the horizon as far as the eye can see. And these pews are filled with people. These aren’t just any ordinary people. These are the people who have taught you about faith. These are the people who have cultivated your call into ministry. And the pews go on and on and on. This is your “great cloud of witnesses.” Do you see them?

When I consider this day and all that it means, this is what I see; row upon row of people who have had a hand in getting me to this point. I wish that time would allow me to mention each one by name, like Jerry Pattengale, my youth minister from College Wesleyan Church. This man of faith helped me, a high school athlete, understand that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is for everyone, even a confused teenager from Marion, Indiana; or Dr. Gary Newton, who encouraged me to get involved as a youth director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in my hometown. Following college, I was led to accept a call to Second Presbyterian Church as the Director of Youth and College Ministries after much prodding and more than a little prayer by my friend and mentor, Dr. Robin Chaddock. Throughout the succeeding twenty-one years, this congregation and staff have supported, encouraged and influenced me as God continues to reveal a more complete picture of the call placed upon my life. Faith and ministry examples like Dr. Howard Stone, Dr. Ray Bowden, Dr. Tom Walker, Dr. Joan Malick, Dr. William Enright and Dr. Lewis Galloway have played a more than significant role in helping me understand myself, my gifts and the God who has called me to serve. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned my seminary professors, my colleagues and the hundreds of youth with whom I have had the privilege of working; row upon row upon row.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”

The call on my life to Ministry of Word and Sacrament is one that has involved a lot of time (too much time according to many), a lot of different voices, and a significant amount of prayer. Through this process I have come to understand that the expression of God’s call on my life is continuing and will continue to unfold.

One might ask, "Where do you sense God calling you now?" Since age seventeen I have sensed God’s call on my life to ministry with and among young people. Throughout this process this call has only deepened and grown. I cannot tell you exactly where it will lead in the future, but I can tell you that this is where it has led me in the present. I am called to minister to and with the youth of the church. I believe this to be a lifelong call, but I also know that it will continue to develop as the mystery of my life does the same.

I know that I will never fully “arrive” at a complete understanding of the call that is placed upon my life nor will I ever completely understand myself. There will always be a certain mysterious quality about both. However, I humbly and fearfully step into the depth of these mysteries relying on the strength and grace of the One who has called.

I am humbled by this day and by this time spent with you. I am grateful to the great cloud of witnesses who have led me to this place at this time. And yes, somewhere in the back of my mind, I admit that I can still hear my grandma say, “This is my little angel, who is going to be a minister one-day.”

Thank you!

Laying on of hands at Brian Shivers' Service of Ordination


  1. This is wonderful! Thanks for sharing this on the blog!

  2. WOW!! Powerful, poignant and such depth. As one who has only been able to be on the periphery of your life - my prayers shall remain with you until I also join "That great cloud of witnesses."

    May God bless and Annoint you forever

    Bud Brown


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