Remembering Roy J. Fish: Legacy Lessons for Evangelism and Ministry

During his lifetime, Dr. Roy J. Fish pointed scores of people to Jesus Christ and to heaven. On Sept. 10, 2012, Jesus Christ and scores of people welcomed Dr. Fish to heaven. If any, very few people possess the accomplishments in the field of evangelism, as well as the consensus of admiration and respect, attributed to Dr. Fish during his life and ministry.

Some know Dr. Fish because of his vast denominational service. In addition to serving Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for almost 50 years as distinguished professor of evangelism and the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (the “Chair of Fire”), he served Southern Baptists on the executive board and later as the president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio; on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Committee on Committees; on the Strategic Planning Task Force of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board);  as a speaker for countless national and/or state evangelism conferences and pastor’s conferences; as interim president of the North American Mission Board; and as second vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Others may know about Dr. Fish because of some of the awards he received. In 2003 he received the Distinguished Service Award in Evangelism from the North American Mission Board. In 2005 he was presented with the W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award in Pastoral Evangelism by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Last, in 2010, he was inducted by the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) into the Evangelists Hall of Fame.

During his memorial service, Dr. Roy Fish’s son, the Rev. Steve Fish, exhorted the hundreds in attendance, “The legacy that Roy Fish carried did not go with him to the grave. That legacy is in this room right now. That legacy has been imparted to us, that something amazingly precious has been imparted to us through this man. No amount of money can buy the spiritual things that have been entrusted to us.”

A common misconception of “legacy” occurs when someone articulates another’s legacy solely in terms of his past action(s). However, as Rev. Steve Fish articulates concerning his father, “legacy” isn’t a merit that one carries to his grave but rather a set of virtues that one imparts, even entrusts, to others for years beyond the grave. The set of legacy virtues Dr. Roy Fish imparts to those of us who remain are so numerous that attempting to articulate them all proves an impossible task; nevertheless, three come to mind. Remembering the legacy of the life and ministry of Dr. Roy Fish will generate a sense of adulation for him; however, it should also prompt the following characteristics of him in the areas of evangelism and ministry:

  • A Legacy of Humility: Countless stories could be shared to demonstrate the sincere humility of Dr. Fish. However, consider the response of Dr. Fish in 2005 when he received the news that trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary had approved naming the newly established School of Evangelism and Missions after him. He humbly replied, “There are many deserving people at Southwestern who have contributed a great deal to evangelism. I am glad to be counted among them. To have my name on the School of Evangelism and Missions is more than I ever deserved or dreamed. Let me just say I am deeply grateful.” Dr. Fish’s acknowledgement of others, his sincere view about himself, and his gratitude to God and those who made this decision demonstrate a heart of humility.To those who knew him, Dr. Fish’s response to a crowning honor of one’s ministry achievement is demonstrative of the consistent pattern of humility he both possessed and practiced. Dr. Fish has imparted to ministers of the gospel a legacy of genuine humility. Some ministers will be tempted to boast in themselves and/or about their own ministry accomplishments via social media applications and/or some other outlet. However, they would be well-served to remember the legacy example of Dr. Roy Fish’s genuine humility by acknowledging others before themselves, demonstrating the sincerity of their hearts, and expressing their gratitude to God and others.
  • A Legacy Integrating the Disciplines: In his inaugural presidential address, Dr. L.R. Scarborough stated his philosophical vision for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “A theological seminary should not be a cold-storage for the preserving of theological eggs, but rather a warm incubator for the hatching of live, burning, shining preachers of the Gospel with souls hot with zeal and full of power.  . . . Our men should find God as well as his truth in their seminary studies.  . . . Their hearts as well as their heads should grow.” Scarborough understood: 1) educational pursuit of the academic disciplines alone would result in the cold-storage of facts and 2) evangelistic passion absent the moorings of the academic disciplines would fuel an unbridled inferno. He cast a vision for an integration of educational disciplines of the academy and the spiritual discipline of evangelism.Dr. Fish earned his doctorate in church history at Southwestern by writing a dissertation titled, “The Awakening of 1858 and Its Effects on Baptists in the United States.” He also earned a reputation through his teaching career at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of being one of the most respected practitioners of evangelism during the mid-20th to early 21st centuries. Dr. Fish would not allow his background and research in an academic discipline of theology to prevent his practice of and commitment to evangelism; nor would he allow his passion for evangelism to inhibit his scholarship within the academic disciplines. The legacy that Dr. Fish imparts to those he leaves behind includes an integration of the disciplines of both the academy and evangelism. Those who would be counted among Dr. Fish’s legacy will integrate the academic disciplines and the discipline of evangelism with keen minds and fiery hearts.

Instead of being consumed with himself and his own accomplishments, Dr. Fish invested himself in the lives and ministries of others. Rather than locking himself away in an ivory tower, he opened himself to his students. Instead of trying to reach the world on his own, he enlisted and helped enflame the burning hearts of students and pastors around the world. So, may those who follow in his footsteps ensure there are multiple footprints alongside their own.