The Influence of Vance Havner on my Life and Ministry

The first time I ever heard Vance Havner, I was a teenager. He came to my home church two years in a row for a series of revival meetings. My life has never been the same. The path my life has taken has been largely influenced by this country preacher from Jugtown, North Carolina. Although small of frame, as a prophet, he was a giant of a man. Havner had a distinct accent you would had to hear to appreciate. His messages, bathed in truth were quick, powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword. Even though he was in his seventies and I was not yet twenty, I knew God was leading me to this man. He was what I wanted to be. By the grace of God and reasons I can not explain except for providence, we connected.

Over the next fifteen years, we exchanged correspondence and visited when he was in the area. I would take youth groups to hear him and they would leave the meeting stunned. Vance Havner was a model, mentor, counselor and confronter in my life. I still recall (honesty is good for the character, but bad for the reputation) one meeting we had in his apartment in Greensboro a few months before he died. I was ‘waxing eloquent’ about my views on life and ministry. Suddenly, I felt a soft hand on my arm, patting me gently. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve been young and old. You’ve just been young, now why don’t you sit and listen for a few minutes.” I got the point. Teachers need to teach, learners need to listen. Disciples shouldn’t take center stage, that only belongs to the Master.

In 1985, while leading a youth camp in south Texas, I received word that Dr. Havner had died around 3:00 a.m. that morning. The last time I had seen him was a few months before he entered a nursing home, following a severe fall. The day was August 12, 1985. It was also my oldest daughter’s birthday.

Here I was, halfway across the country, at a dusty old campground with a hurting heart. I was in charge of the camp meeting, but my heart wanted to be In Greensboro, N.C. for the funeral service. In my heart, this was like the death of a family member. I prayed, wept and wondered. Finally, I remembered that Vance rallied to preach the morning after his precious wife, Sara, went to be with the Lord. It hit me, if he were giving me advice today he’d tell me to stay and preach. “Let the dead bury the dead, follow me.”

On occasion, I still sit and watch the video of his funeral. I have asked God to use me to honor the prophet. Nine months before he died, Vance Havner laid his hands on me and prayed for a portion of his mantle to fall on my life. I have never known a more humbling moment.

He is dead, but he still speaks. His voice needs to be heard, now more than ever. A few years ago, I contacted a national religious publisher about some of Dr. Vance Havner’s work. To my shock, the publisher’s letter said, Havner’s writings were ‘too deep’ for today’s market.

Too deep. No. But probably, to some, a little too convicting, a little to much ‘in your face’ for a culture that is polluted by relative thinking. Too prophetic for the church that wants sweet religious talks. The church today is failing to deal with sin. The church of America has become numb to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. The church today needs a Vance Havner. A prophet who is unafraid to speak the truth, even when it hurts. He said, “Preaching the truth makes people sad, mad or glad. Too many people today leave church on Sunday neither sad, mad or glad; they go out as they came in. Better go out mad than just go out!”

I maintain this site as my “thank you” and tribute to my mentor and hero. The man whose DNA is still in my veins. It is my way of saying thanks to the man who most influenced my ministry in the formative years. It is, most of all, I pray, something that will rekindle an interest in this 20th-century prophet. He needs to be heard. Though dead, he still speaks.

Michael Catt