(Photo: Antioch Bible Church Facebook page)
Although his physical appearance denied that he once played in the NFL, Pastor Ken Hutcherson, reduced by the ravages of the cancer he fought for more than a decade, looked at me as I entered the room for his men's discipleship meeting on a Monday night in early November with the eyes of his former linebacker self – he read me like he was gauging a quarterback about to take a snap.
"Hutch," sitting at the table with about two dozen men, was disarmingly gentle in his demeanor. However, one thing was certain, the leader of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Wash., had the cutting edge sharpness of a sword when it came time to studying and diving deep into the word of God with his men.
Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God. Thought and speech are God's gifts to creatures made in His image; these are intimately associated with Him and impossible apart from Him. It is highly significant that the first word was the Word: "And the Word was with God, and the Word was God." We may speak because God spoke. In Him word and idea are indivisible.
It just so happened that I was blessed to be able to sit in that night in November on Hutch's discipleship meeting in just the second week of the group's new study on A.W. Tozer's book, Knowledge of the Holy (text from Chapter 1 above).
Hutcherson, husband to Pat and father to four children, died last Wednesday at the age of 61, from prostate cancer. Doctors told him long ago that he would not live long, but he battled the illness bravely, maintaining his Bible studies and Sunday services schedule. During the week I was there, Hutch gave a sermon on Sunday after a chemo therapy treatment on Thursday.
In an article about his death, the Seattle Times reported that Hutch was "described by supporters as funny, happy and jovial even in the face of cancer, while detractors called him an egotistic bully." Hutch did not shy away from political discussions.
Antioch's pastor of administration, Gerald Lewis, told the Times that Hutcherson would like to be remembered as a man "for whom the word of God was paramount."
"More than anything, he would want people to know he loved Jesus and submitted his entire life to working for the Lord," said Lewis. "He often said, 'I have been saved by the word of God, and I believe it to be true. I have to live by that, and I have to lead by that.'"
That's how I remember Hutch – an uncompromising follower of Jesus, whose hope in God was contagious. You could see it and feel it in the men that attended the meeting that night I was there. It was a mixed group – about half the men were black and half were white. They loved each other like mature followers of Christ could only do, and they loved Hutch.
I set my journalist's hat down when I visited Hutch twice that week. I just wanted to absorb the moment. However, at some point, I needed to write a story. I just didn't know what about so I filed it in my brain. During a subsequent phone interview with him the week before he died, and for one of the only few times in my career, I asked the interviewee to tell me what he would like to talk about. Without much of a pause, he said, "The multi-ethnic church," a reflection of his church and many others who were discipled and championed by Hutch.
"I have been studying scripture since I was 16 and I just couldn't get away from the fact that when Christ died on the cross, the homogeneous Jewish view of the church moved to the New Testament church out of the book of Acts was supposed to be and commanded to be free for all people, a cross-culture church," he told me. "I was compelled that if I was ever led to do a church that it would be cross cultural and if it wasn't, we would shut the door."
I spoke with Mark DeYmaz, a highly respected leader in the emerging Multi-Ethnic Church Movement, the day after Hutcherson's death. DeYmaz and his wife were unsure about their path ahead, before deciding on planting the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in 2001.
DeYmaz writes after laying out a chain of events that led up to the church plant:
In short, the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas would not exist today without the influence and impact of Ken Hutcherson in my life. It is fitting then that I was appointed to serve as Mosaic's first lead pastor and elder through the laying on of hands at Antioch Bible Church in the summer of 2001.
He also found it fitting that, to the end, Hutch wanted to talk about the importance of the mulit-cultural church first before any other topic.
Pastor Derwin L. Grey, of Transformation Church in Charlotte, N.C., was also hugely influenced by the dynamic leader and honored to say, "I knew Hutch."
"Hutch was fearless in how he preached that the Gospel should produce, just like in the first century church, cross-cultural, multi-ethnic congregations," Grey told me. "He called, challenged the church in America to be more biblical and Gospel-centered. I thank him for his example.
"Before Transformation Church was planted, Hutch and a team of men from Antioch Bible Church prayed over me and blessed me. Today, Transformation Church is a Gospel-centered, multi-ethnic church."
Grey called Hutch courageous. "For over a decade, Hutch would not let cancer keep him from serving Antioch Bible Church. Often, in great pain, he kept a smile on his face."
I remember that smile. It was Hutch's smile that was a big part of the way he could hold his men accountable while at the same time deliver the sometimes difficult-to-take truth of the Bible.
Ezechiel "Zeke" Bambolo, Jr., who was one of the men there the night I attended the discipleship group, reflected on the strength and character of his faithful leader. I was able to wish him and Antioch my condolences by email.
"Thanks for the extremely kind words my brother. We are moving forward as he no doubt expects us to ... standing tall and strong. Keep your prayers coming for his immediately family most of all," Bambolo wrote.
In my interview last week with Hutch, I asked him about the importance of churches in the U.S. being multi-ethnic.
"People will go where they are loved and people will attend where they feel at home," Hutch said. "And people will go where leadership looks like them. You put those things together and you can come away with a pretty successful church, brother."
During my visit to Antioch Bible Church I felt loved, at home, and with leaders that looked like me. The reason that was so was because Hutch's hope in Jesus was contagious.