Among my 33 years of travels through journalism was a stint as a business reporter for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. I had the opportunity to report on many significant stories during my time there. I met and mingled with a lot of Nashville’s financial and political powerbrokers. I dined with kings, who would pull up at the newspaper’s entrance in their Cadillacs and whisk me off to a fancy restaurant.
Pinstripe suits and shoulder-length, permed hair was my style. My appearance was a cross between some rock star freak and Gordon Gecko. To say I lived a profligate life is an understatement. There was little evidence that I had been saved at the age of 10, although I knew in my heart that was the case.
So there I was, writing about some of the most powerful people in Tennessee for the largest newspaper in Tennessee. A leader at the paper called me into his office one day just to say, “Hinkle, I like your style.” I was aggressive. I was also prideful (I rudely refused to shake the hand of then U.S. Sen. Al Gore one day as he toured our offices). I was out of control. Then, God, in His mercy, stepped in and it all ended for me at The Tennessean.
Frustrated, confused and wounded, I got a heaping helping of humility. I had no idea what I would do, but God began to show me who I really am. Not in a worldly sense, but who I am in Him.
The day I left The Tennessean I went home, lonely and feeling like a failure. Sometimes God has to allow these painful moments in our lives in order to get our attention, perhaps to prepare us for something He has in mind for us to do. That day I laid my head on the kitchen bar and bitterly wept. I pounded my fist on the counter and screamed at God, “Ok, you’ve given me this ability, why won’t you let me do it for you?”
That day, God reminded me I belonged to Him and I needed to get my eyes off the world and focused on Him. I have never forgotten that day. It launched me into a fabulous journey – at the age of 42 – that changed my life.
Not sure what the future held, I made the decision to trust God. I went to work at a sports magazine and for the brief time I worked there, nothing special happened. Then someone told me Anthony Kimbrough, the editor of the Columbia (Tenn.) Daily Herald, was looking for a reporter.
I called him. He immediately expressed interest in me and we arranged to meet. Kimbrough, I learned, was a deacon at First Baptist Church, Columbia. I accepted his offer to become business editor for The Daily Herald, while also accepting his invitation to attend First Columbia.
Kimbrough was a good boss and a committed follower of Christ. We were sad to see him accept a job with the state of Tennessee. However, that led to me becoming editor, yet the most important thing Kimbrough did for me was invite me to First Columbia.
In 1994, First Columbia ran about 800 for Sunday morning worship. It was one of the strongest churches I had ever seen. I felt loved at Grace Baptist Church in Springfield, Tenn., where I was saved and baptized, but the love shown to me by the people at First Columbia was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It remains one of the most loving, caring churches I have ever seen.
I was deeply involved in the ministries there. I taught the single-adult Sunday School class, sang in the choir, was on the drama team and knocked on doors witnessing to people. I loved First Columbia – and they loved me.
Then it happened.
God began working on me in a different way. I sensed something was up, but I could not figure it out. My friends at First Columbia helped me. God was calling me to full-time gospel ministry. At first, I thought, “Why would God call a 45-year-old newspaper editor to full-time ministry?” I had no theological education. I felt unworthy and totally inadequate. But the people of First Columbia helped me see. They affirmed my decision by helping me financially as I left for seminary and then brought me back and ordained me once I had graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
I have never forgotten my fist-pounding, screaming prayer to God five years earlier, asking God why I couldn’t do journalism for Him? Friends, God is faithful. God loves us. He is wise, and He knows when it’s the best time to do something. We walk not by sight, but by faith.
He earned a master of art’s degree in Christian Education in May 1998. Ordained into the Gospel ministry in August 1998, he was accepted into the PhD. program at Southern a year later. He ultimately earned a Master of Theology degree (ThM.) in May 2010.