The following story was introduced to me by my co-author Leonard Sweet a number of years ago. Since that time, I’ve studied the background to the story to learn more. The story holds two important lessons for all Christians. Especially for those in ministry.
Throughout his entire life, Martin Luther King Jr. only taught one college course. It was a class on social philosophy. In 1962, the class was open to the entire student body at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Tragically, only eight students signed up and took the course. That wasn’t a typo. Only eight signed up for King’s course!
Six males and two females were the only people on the planet who could accurately say that Martin Luther King, Jr. was their professor.
This brings me to my first point: It’s possible to be given an opportunity to be in the presence of greatness and let it pass by.
That’s precisely what happened with the rest of the student body at Morehouse in 1962. Greatness was within their reach, but they let it pass. So they missed their moment.
But there’s more. As far as we know, none of the eight students kept the class syllabus. None kept the notes they took. None took any photos of King teaching them. And with the exception of one student, none kept any papers graded by King. (Another student kept the notes from one class written in King’s own hand.)
Except for their names appearing on the class roster, there was virtually no evidence that these eight students ever took King’s course. Most of their experience was left to their memories.
This part of the story illustrates my second point. It’s possible to be in the presence of greatness and not recognize it.
Now before someone objects saying, “Well Frank, we’re all equal in the body of Christ, so this story about King has no application for any of us today.”
It’s true that we are all equally loved by God, we have all been given the same Holy Spirit, and we are all equally a part of the body of Christ. But with respect to our unique gifting, with respect to our faithfulness to our calling, and with respect to the impact we have in the world, it’s appropriate to call some servants of God “great.”
It was in this latter sense that Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest prophet who ever lived. It was in the former sense that He said everyone in the kingdom is greater than John (Matthew 11:11).
In this respect, Peter and Paul were great servants of God. I also believe that people like T. Austin-Sparks, A.W. Tozer, Charles Spurgeon, and C.S. Lewis were also great — even though they themselves would undoubtedly balk at this label.
When I was a young believer, I had no concept of greatness in the kingdom of God. So I lost many opportunities to see and hear “great” men and women of God. Over the last 25 years, however, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to be in the presence of greatness. And I’m thankful that God gave me eyes to recognize it and not pass it by.
On the flip side, I’ve watched many Christians — even those who are in ministry — fail to recognize greatness when they met it or when it was in their reach. And as a result, their lives and ministries are all the poorer.
I believe that one of the reasons why the body of Christ is so weak and insipid today is because so many do not understand or discern greatness in God’s economy. You see, when we are oblivious to this element, we cut ourselves off from receiving the Lord’s best and highest. Just as the student body at Morehouse — excepting the eight — weren’t privy to King’s unique contribution in an intimate setting.
May God give us all grace so we never miss such moments.