The Outrageously Fruitful Ministry of a Depression-Prone Man
For almost 40 years, James “Buck” Hatch served on the faculty of Columbia Bible College in South Carolina, teaching courses in Bible, hermeneutics, psychology, and family life. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of alumni of what is now Columbia International University consider him their favorite and most influential professor. When he taught, students listened, riveted. When he counseled, hurting people received a life-sustaining injection of hope.
You’d think a dynamic personality and get-it-together psyche propelled such an enduring, respected ministry.
That wasn’t the case.
Buck demonstrated the truth of Psalm 50:15: “Call on Me in the day of trouble,” said the Lord, “I’ll rescue you, and you will honor me.” Buck’s life flashes in bold neon letters this truth: our need or weakness provides an opportunity for God to receive more glory.
His son Nathan, now president of Wake Forest University, called Buck Hatch “a painfully shy person, always near the brink of depression…a soul not at home with itself.” Nathan added, “My father has come to radiate a deep and abiding joy. But you could not call him a happy person. He has always wrestled with thorns in the flesh that drove him not to rely on himself.”
Rather than yield to despair, or conclude he wasn’t fit for a vocational ministry, Buck gravitated to wounded people who judged themselves too severely and perceived God as aloof and uncaring. Ten hours a week he reserved for free counseling sessions, convincing hurting individuals that God is far more faithful and forgiving than folks imagine.
Prolific author Philip Yancey, a CIU alumnus, says that Buck’s influence helped unpollute his faulty concepts of God, ingrained by a legalistic church upbringing. One student represented the views of many when he wrote to Buck, “You’ve been a father to hundreds of people who needed a father like you.”
In my own forty-seven years of vocational Christian service, I’ve never known a name spoken with more reverence than Buck Hatch. What a productive ministry from someone who was, according to Nathan, “insecure, melancholy and introverted.” Indeed, Buck’s temperamental weakness magnified the sufficiency of God.
Nathan concluded that his dad’s brokenness gave him ready access into the interior rooms of people’s lives. “Buck Hatch’s life demonstrated that the divine economy inverts natural priorities. In Christ’s kingdom, the last shall be first, a life is saved by losing it, and weakness confounds strength.” Having known Buck personally, I better understand a comment I heard from the late Joe Aldrich: “Only wounded soldiers can serve in God’s army.”
Whoever believes that recurring depression is inconsistent with fruitful ministry didn’t know James “Buck” Hatch. No wonder the late pastor Ron Dunn said, “Your greatest area of usefulness to God may stem from your greatest area of pain.”
What “broken” person do you personally know who nonetheless exercises a fruitful ministry? How does the person’s brokenness facilitate his or her fruitfulness, rather than hinder it?
(I gleaned Nathan’s remarks about his dad from his November 14, 1994 article in Christianity Today, “The Gift of Brokenness.” The entire article examined the fruitful ministry of his depression-prone father. He wrote the article as an 80th birthday gift to his dad.)
To find written and audio resources by James “Buck” Hatch, visit the library offered by Columbia International University: www.buckhatchlibrary.com.