It’s a rare thing to see three generations of preachers
speaking together at one service. And when they’re all named John, what would
you call the event? “The Gospel According to John.”
And their texts? First John, Second John and Third John.
On March 6, Pastor Johnny Tiller, along with his son John
David Tiller and grandson John Matthew Tiller, preached to a packed crowd at
Liberty Baptist Church in Ellenboro. Great-grandson J.D. Tiller was also on
hand to quote John 3:16 in English and Spanish. It was the first time the three
preachers in the Tiller family had ever spoken together in the same service.
“It was like living a legacy,” remarked David Tiller, “like
the culmination of a lifetime of influence.”
That influence began in the heart of a 13-year-old boy named
Johnny Tiller back in 1939, who felt the Lord calling him to preach. Since he
started to preach at age 13, Johnny, now 84, has never quit. In his seven
decades of ministry, Johnny has followed God’s call in pastoring several
churches in western North Carolina and now teaching at Fruitland Baptist Bible
Institute in Hendersonville. He estimates that he has taught 1,500 students over
the years, and countless others have been influenced for Christ through his
church ministry. But, the greatest influence has been on his family.
His son David comments that he had a drug problem growing
up. “I was always ‘drug’ to revival meetings,” David remarked.
Johnny’s grandson Matt had a different kind of drug problem.
“Matt was on drugs and in jail — he lived a wild life,”
Young Matt had struggled with Tourette’s syndrome, a disease
of the neurological system that causes a person to make involuntary movements
or sounds called tics. Being teased by his peers, Matt began to rebel. That led
him to turn to alcohol and drugs, and he wound up in jail. The prayers and
godly influence of his father and grandfather were not lost on Matt during that
“I was paying attention to their example,” Matt said, “even
though they didn’t think so.” Later, at a candlelight service at church, he had
“an amazing encounter with God.”
That began a new chapter in Matt’s life, which ultimately
led him to surrender to preach — in Spanish. As a freshman at Gardner-Webb
University, sitting in Spanish 101 class, Matt sensed that God was telling him
he would preach in Spanish one day.
A few years later, he felt a definite call to that ministry.
Matt now serves as the Hispanic pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, with his
wife, Adriana, who is from Costa Rica, by his side. He also teaches Spanish at
East Rutherford High School.
Because Matt has only been in the ministry since 2009,
Grandpa Johnny had never heard him preach before.
“I was surprised to hear Matt preach,” said Johnny. “He
preached a powerful message, like someone who had been preaching for many
Johnny was also amazed to see how far God had brought him in
such a short time, considering Matt’s checkered past. For Matt, who came up
with the idea for the event, it was a humbling experience.
“It was a great honor to preach with such men of God,”
reflected Matt, “especially when it was my father and grandfather.”
Although Johnny’s son David surrendered to the call to
preach at age 25, he and his father had also never preached together at the
same event — until March 6. While he was pastoring, David had his father Johnny
to speak at churches where he served, but they had never preached during the
Currently, David teaches in the College of Education at Tennessee
God’s hand was obviously at work in putting together the
messages preached by all three pastors.
“We prepared our messages separately,” commented Matt, “but
you could see a woven pattern. All the messages just fit together.”
Matt preached the first sermon, based on 1 John 4. He
emphasized the love of God, explaining that if God’s love has touched your
heart, you’ll touch someone else. David preached a message from 2 John 8
entitled “Lost and Found.”
He warned against losing your influence,
your integrity, or your joy because of doing things your way instead of
God’s way. Finally, the elder John Tiller capped off the service with a
stirring challenge from 3 John entitled “Three Portraits of Today’s Church
He used the examples of Gaius (who was easy to love),
Diotrephes (who loved to be first), and Demetrius (a man of love) to highlight
types of people we find in churches today.
All three pastors were amazed at how God led them to make
similar applications. Then again, since their sermons were based on the
writings of John, the Apostle of Love, that would seem fitting.
The “Gospel According to John” event was not primarily about
the John Tiller family, they contend.
“It’s not about us, but about bringing glory to God.”
A DVD of this event is available for a suggested donation of
$7 through T-E-A-M Ministries (Tiller Evangelism and Missions Ministries), led
by Mark and Ann Tiller.
For more information, contact P.O. Box 6616, Asheville, NC
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Haselton is a student at Southeastern
Baptist Theological Seminary and teaches English as a Second Language at Wake
Technical Community College.)
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