A good and great man has died. I was privileged to serve as Brother Willard Collins minister for about a decade. How do you describe such a man?
The "man with the voice" - even till his last few months his voice was as powerful and clear as in his prime. He was the man who loved the church. He loved the Lord's church so passionately and only wanted the very best for it. He was an encourager "par-excellence"!
He encouraged ever good thing. He seemed to always believe the best and at times when it became miserably obvious that something was amiss his heart would appear to break at confronting it. He encouraged me at every turn. I used to call him Granny White's ambassador. He traveled, widely, all over our brotherhood - teaching, preaching, recruiting, fundraising. And often people who visited Nashville for the first time would visit GW simply because they'd heard Brother Collins talk about what a great place it is. I remember visiting a couple who had visited us one Monday night, they lived miles from our building. I couldn't understand why they had driven all that way. They told us that night that they had moved to Nashville area from Colorado and couldn't wait to visit Granny White because Brother Collins had held a meeting there and talked about it. He loved the local church, on one occasion he told me: “It is impossible to preach the gospel without preaching about the church purchased by the blood of Christ…In advancing Christianity the action is to be in the local congregation…If the church moves, local congregations must lead in the march”
Here was this guy whose knowledge and abilities with the Word were tops in our fellowship and every week he'd encourage me in my work. When I moved to GW he was already a hero of mine, getting to know him up close and personal that respect did not diminish - he was the real thing. He blessed my life. When he said, "Brother Dale, the church needed that sermon, and I needed that sermon..." - I took special note ---I mean, what would you do?
He was a man who was simple. His words made me want to be better and do more while making me feel like I was a hero already. It was quite humbling. Brother Collins had a deep, deep knowledge of the text but he always chose to teach in ways that children could and would grasp! His grad degree was from Vanderbilt nonetheless, yet he used simple illustrations and words - are you listening? Our children at GW loved him. I remember one time their teacher was to be away and we asked who they wanted to teach their class - they wanted 80+ year old Willard Collins.
You never knew where he was going when he started - but he always landed the lesson with grace touched with a surprise that made you glad you'd listened. I will never forget the Wednesday night lesson on "the neon sign" - it was a classic on how to promote the church!
He moved people with his love and beliefs. He believed, passionately in the Lord and His plan of salvation and preached it with such vigor that people responded. Someone once told me his success was in that he began delivering the invitation the minute he stepped into the pulpit and didn't stop till the invitation song was over. It is no wonder he filled auditoriums where ever he went. From a very young man (he, Brother Batsell Barrett Baxter and Brother Ira North years ago would have lunch together every Monday and compare notes...and challenge each other to grow the congregations they worked with. Imagine being at one of those lunchs). The many area wide meetings he held led to the growth of the Kingdom.
His memory was unimpeachable: he would always ask about my mom and dad, my inlaws and people who they were associated with by name. How many such names must have resided in that database of his mind?
It was Brother Collins who envisioned the "We Believe" seminars as he truly believed that if Granny White, right next door to David Lipscomb University would speak out clearly on some of the matters troubling the church, people would take notice.
I could go on and on with story after story of this great man of God and his life - I've not even mentioned his tremendous sense of humor.
He will be missed - I will miss him - as will thousands of faithful Christians. I pray that as people consider his life they will consider his commitment to the Lord, His church and His Word; his optimism and his dedication to God's People everywhere. There is much concern in some quarters for the future, we could do with a dose of the simple, committed faith of Brother Willard Collins.