Billy Jo Daugherty, pastor of Victory Christian Center in Tulsa (one of Tulsa’s “big three” mega-churhes) passed away Sunday from lymph cancer at the age of 57.
I only got word of his illness a few weeks ago. I don’t think anyone actually knew for very long. Most of my information was received word-of-mouth, so I can’t verify the accuracy of this…but what I heard was that he went to the hospital for throat issues, and they discovered the cancer. By the time they found it, it was apparently quite advanced. I am sobered and saddened to hear of his death.
Those who read this blog regularly might wonder why I’d eulogize a mega-church pastor on it. There are two reasons, really. First–I have a loved one who is a lymphoma survivor. It was detected at stage one because it created a mass in an unrelated part of the body; otherwise there were no symptoms. It was as if the mass was a divine warning, so I’m thankful something happened to dectect it…because so often (like with Billy Jo), it isn’t detected until it becomes a real threat. My loved one has been cancer-free for nearly 6 years. All that to say–I can relate to the shock and trauma the family must be going through, simply because although that cancer had likely been there for years, in their hearts and minds this is a relatively new development.
Second…although Billy Jo Daugherty’s mega-church is the polar opposite of what I’m about here…we all have a history. We all have roots. And Billy Jo is part of mine. He was my pastor for a time while I was in college, and his messages ministered to me where I was. I never knew him at any time to act in rudeness or arrogance, or to speak ill of anyone. I met him on a couple of occasions; my impression was that he was as close to “normal” as anyone in that position could be–no celebrity persona, or superior attitude that I saw in others like him. As my path took me away from most of the elements of church he readily promoted, there was less and less I could agree with him about; but I believe that he genuinely did his best to live out the truth as he saw it. And for that, and for the ways he allowed God to use him, he deserves only respect.
Many will sing his praises and list his accolades over the coming days and weeks–all the great things he did for God. I can’t join in that cacophany–not because I can’t acknowledge it, but simply because I’ve come to realize that what God considers good fruit is often very different from what we think. When we all one day view the books of our lives, I think we will be shocked (dismayed?) at how many things we did that we thought were awesome that in God’s economy are of no account at all; and we will also be pleasantly surprised at how many seemingly insignificant things we did actually changed the world. I imagine that Billy Jo Daugherty has experienced both by this time, and knows the true impacts of what he did, or did not, do. Either way, he is at rest in the arms of his Father. And he is no longer ill.
And so I honor Billy Jo’s memory today, not for all the Bible schools he built, nor for all the people he helped train for ministry, nor for the astounding amount of money his church has given to missions. And honestly, I can’t even honor him for his flawless character, because I was never close enough to him to know how “flawless” it was. Rather, the honor I feel toward him is because for a time while I was still being formed, his unassuming sense of humility set an example for me that I never forgot, and he spoke words that gave me direction when I was drifting. He was my pastor, in whatever sense I understood that idea at the time; and for that moment of my history, Billy Jo Daugherty displayed the nature of Christ to me, and it made a lasting positive impact on my life. I think those are the things that really matter. Anyone with organizational skills and fundraising abilities can build a school. Where lives get changed is in the day to day of allowing Christ’s love to emanate from us. Christ loved me through Billy Jo Daugherty, even from a distance, and it made a difference in my life. And for that, I am forever grateful.
May Jesus comfort his family and his flock, and give them peace and direction for the future.