A Tribute to my Pastor, Dr. James DeLoach

Yesterday, a man precious to my heart entered heaven. Although I pause as I write those words, “entered heaven,” because they just don’t seem fitting. I stumble over this idea because my friend, pastor, and spiritual grandfather, Jim DeLoach lived each day as if he were already breathing heaven’s air. He was one of those rare souls who walked with God in a real, personal, and intimate way. For many folks, the idea of heaven is a far away concept or a distant reality, but not for Dr. D, as I liked to call him. He walked with Jesus and served Him faithfully for 80 years and then yesterday my friend saw his Jesus, face to face.

Dr. Jim Deloach was in many ways the grandfather I never had. (Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers passed away before I knew them.) When I was a young believer, I met this great man, and we formed an unlikely friendship given our age difference. Looking back, I’m amazed at how he always treated me with such dignity and grace. I was a train wreck when I first came to faith in Christ. Many in leadership positions didn’t know how to handle a girl with the baggage I brought with me, but Dr. D always treated me as the woman I was becoming, and not as how I was behaving at the moment. This kind of love and grace were used by God to heal my heart, grow me personally, and ultimately taught me how to love others on their faith journey.

It would be years later when my church bestowed the highest honor upon me by inviting me to co-teach a Bible study with him. For over seven years I was blessed to serve alongside him and learn from a true Bible scholar.  I learned far more from this great man than just theology and sound doctrine. As my pastor, I learned from him what it means to shepherd people.

He walked with people through life’s trials and triumphs.
He mentored addicts.
He counseled new converts.
He guided struggling sheep back to the Good Shepherd.

In those years my friend also shepherded me through an intense testing of my faith, he prayed with me during my long season of singleness, and fervently asked God to provide my husband, and he gave his hearty approval when the Lord brought Justin Ellis into my life. Dr. Deloach was the one who officiated our wedding with his classic wit and grace, and then most recently he dedicated our baby, Sydney, to the Lord.

Many words will be spoken and penned about this great man. I wanted to take this moment in the midst of a world that continually portrays men behaving badly to shine a spotlight on a great man who lived until his last breath in a way that honored God, loved people, and served Jesus. I have no doubt that my pastor heard, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

As a woman in ministry, I want to commend him as a man before his time. While he was rooted and grounded in scripture and would be considered a conservative in every sense of the word, this great man never once hindered my calling or treated me differently because I was a woman. On the contrary, he took heat from others who didn’t take kindly to a woman teaching in their Bible study class and if rumors are true, he said, “If she goes, I go.”  He encouraged me, challenged me, and faithfully prayed for me as I sought to use the gifts God gave me for His glory and it was my joy to teach under his authority. I’ll never forget one habit of his. Each Sunday before I’d stand up to teach, he would pull me aside and whisper in my ear, “Give em heaven.” That was him to a tee. He wanted people to experience heaven on earth, walking with God in a real and personal way.

In the last few years that I’ve lived in San Antonio and him in Houston, our times together were sparse, but every moment we had together I left encouraged and closer to Christ. When writing my book Stand, I kept thinking about my 96-year-old friend and how he had stood firm for Christ for eight faithful decades. I called him one day and asked him the secret to a lifetime of faithfulness. He said, “Marian, never let anything, not anything, steal your love for Jesus.”

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