Thursday, January 10, 2013

Remembering Ken Neller

I just learned about the passing of a very dear friend of mine named Ken Neller. Dr. Neller was a New Testament professor at Harding University, and he had a profound impact on my life. As I understand it, he had a heart attack very suddenly today. It was completely unexpected, and quite a shock.

As I started thinking about our connections over the years, it really amazed me how many blessings I experienced because of him. I first had him as a freshman at Harding for advanced New Testament Survey. Later, when I was adjuncting for Harding, I would base my class point system on the one he used for us. He was always prepared, and was very clear about his expectations for us. He took time to answer questions, and a lot of our discussions in class have still continued to stick with me over the years. He was a fan of mnemonic devices...I'll never forget the story of him tackling Brian Brophy for the sake of giving the class something to remember. Nor will I ever forget in Greek that when dia occurs with the genetive case, it means "through", due to a rather awkward mnemonic tip he gave us. Dr. Neller was never afraid to talk about anything, even taboo subjects. This helped me to be more courageous as a teacher myself. Still today, when a hard question is posed, I think of how Dr. Neller never shied away from any topic, because he knew that Scripture speaks powerfully to real life issues and challenges. I knew from very early on that he was a person I could trust, because he never tried to hide anything. He was an honest person. He taught me that if I'm going to believe something, I should know why, and that my reasons should be good reasons.

He always had all of his classes over to his house each semester for an excellent meal (for which he readily gave much credit to his wife Barbara), and some fun out in the yard. I will also remember him for the way he made an effort every week to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the students. He wanted to sit with us and to make himself available to us however he could. He wanted to understand our needs and perspectives.

I loved him as a professor, and as I graduated and began my own work in ministry, I continued to appreciate him even more. He's continued over the years to be a true friend and encourager. Even as recently as a few months ago, when I faced a hard dilemma, he was one of a couple of people I contacted for good advice, with which he was quick to respond.

Every time I've been back on campus, if he's seen me, he's immediately come to ask how I'm doing, how my ministry is going, and how my "lovely wife" is. The last time I saw him was this year at the lectureship. I'm doubly thankful that I was able to go this year. He walked with me some around campus and caught me up on some of the good stuff he's been involved with. He never missed an opportunity to verbalize, "I'm really proud of all you're doing."

In terms of losing Dr. Neller, any time would have seemed too soon. I know I am just one person of many who could say so many good things about how Dr. Neller has blessed our lives. I'm sure that over the next few days, many others will share their stories, too. He was an excellent shepherd for the Downtown congregation in Searcy for many years. He truly gave his life one day at a time to the service of the Kingdom, and I'll miss him so much until I see him again.

I would not be who I am were it not for Ken Neller. With this post come prayers for his family, as they will miss him deeply. He's given them much to be proud of and many reasons to be comforted in his passing.


  1. Thanks for the post. He was a good teacher & a good man.

  2. Thank you Mark for this post. I read the sad news on facebook, but longed to know what really happened to this wonderful man of God. I did find the answer in your post only after a Google search.

    We met several times in Jinja with Dr. Ken Neller and his was not a face of a stranger. At our encounters, we each seemed to long for a longer conversation, which I hoped to happen when I get to visit Harding. It has not happened. I wish....

    Grace Nyanga