I’m saddened to report of the homegoing of my dear friend and brother of over 15 years, the Reverend Clifford Williams, pastor of the Carey Hill Missionary Baptist Church of North Augusta, South Carolina, who passed suddenly on yesterday morning, August 29, 2013 at the age of 50.
I had the privilege of watching Clifford (excuse my commonality, but it’s like discussing my own brother) and his ministry soar in North Augusta. He served Carey Hill for two years as Assistant Pastor and then after the resignation of the pastor, the Church called him to be their pastor in January 1993 and installed on Easter Sunday 1993. At that time the church had only one location, in Clarks Hill, South Carolina. Under his visionary leadership, the Church grew by leaps and bounds and mainly by faith.
By faith, the Church purchased computer equipment, two new vans, two new HVAC units, a public address system, the parking lot paved and a new church sign installed. They padded the pews, choir robes purchased, sanctuary re-carpeted, remodeled the pulpit and installed a handicap restroom. The church was doing all of that while transitioning to become a “full time” church having worship every Sunday.
He led them into the purchase of land in North Augusta, where they build the Carey Hill Resource and Conference Center, which houses two of their services each month. He developed and created the Carey Hill Development Corporation and was able to embark on community activities such as education, training, wellness and entrepreneurship.
Clifford’s biggest asset was his personality. I marveled at his interaction with his members – from youngest to oldest. He was bold in his leadership but kind in his pastorship. He was the kind of pastor that drew people – even if you weren’t his member, you knew Rev. Clifford Williams.
He was a family man. He married Susie Trammell and they had three children and she suddenly went home to be with the Lord. He was left to raise his family, but he did so with the help of a supportive team – his mom, his dad, his family and his wife’s family of which he counted them and they counted him still as family.
He was a preacher and also he knew preaching. He was fluid in his conversation – one minute you could be talking about preaching and the next minute, he was cracking a joke. He would laugh at your jokes and his favorite expression to me was “Houston, you’re CRAZY.” His laugh was contagious and you couldn’t get a good read on what he was thinking when he said, “Oh, Lord….”
Clifford preached at First Baptist Church for my Installation. It was a no-brainer. I wanted my brother there and my pastor there. My brother (Clifford) preached us crazy at 11 a.m. and then my pastor preached with power at 3 p.m. Clifford served at the worship leader. I had been his guest at Carey Hill for many years doing annual days and Revivals and I looked forward to the fellowship every year.
He was a serious trainer of preachers and he took serious the call upon his life. He was called to the ministry and preached his first sermon in 1991 at the Summer Grove Baptist Church of Williston, South Carolina, where he was ordained in 1992 prior to his call at Carey Hill.
He served as a denominational leader, pastor, father, husband, son, brother, corporate CEO and owned a business, “Affairs to be Remembered,” a catering and floral business, operated from the confines of the Resource Center.
I remember our talk after his dad passed away several months ago and he loved his dad. My father had passed away about 20 years ago and we talked about the pain of death and he said, “Houston, one day somebody is going to call me about you or you about me.” He’s right. You’re here today and you could be gone tonight.
Clifford worked secularly with the Medical College of Augusta and with Westinghouse, in previous years. Also he continued his education by attending Luther Rice College and Seminary, Atlanta; Beacon University Institute of Ministry; Voorhees College, Denmark, SC; Morehouse School of Religion Extension Program (2001 Graduate Certificate in Theology); Pain College, Aiken, SC; and Morris College School of Religion, Aiken, SC.
In 2 Samuel 3:38 the word records this: “And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” I want to re-iterate this: A prince and a great man fallen this day in Augusta. Sleep on my brother, I’ll see you in the morning.
by Robert Earl Houston
I have held the senior pastor position at four congregations – one in Portland, Oregon, the next in Fresno, California, the next in San Diego, California, and currently here in Frankfort, Kentucky. Each church had it’s own distinctive curriculum vitae. The first church was a split from another congregation and wasn’t ten years old; the second church was in rural California and was one of the mother churches of the area; the third church was in a large metropolitan area; and this church is a very historical congregation (176 years of age when I came here).
I’m baptist so my ascension to all four churches was not at the hand of a bishop or prelate – it was through a process of screening by a select group of members within the church, normally called a Pulpit Committee. I empathize heavily with anyone who takes on that task because they not only have to deal with the desires of a congregation, but they have to deal with pressures from outside and inside factions. It’s not a paid position in 99.9% of churches that I am aware of and the risks and rewards are great.
I want to share a few suggestions with those who are led to apply for churches, things that I’ve learned down through the years:
# 1 – IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Even though the process can get cumbersome, the process is not about you – it’s about who the Lord will install into the church as the next shepherd. Just because you apply doesn’t mean that you deserve the church or that you’re even the one that the Lord will direct them to choose. Just because you have a “phat” resume does not mean that the Pulpit Committee is going to be led to select you. You may be the best one on paper, but the Lord may have something in mind. Remember this – when the Lord allowed Israel to have kings, they had good kings and bad kings. Sometimes the Lord allows someone to get called to a church in order to bring a season of challenge to that church. It’s not about you.
# 2 – YOU DON’T HAVE TO CAMPAIGN
Here we go. You find out about a church you want to apply for. Submit what they are asking for. Send it by certified letter and request that someone signs for it. And then LEAVE IT ALONE. You don’t have to become best friends with the Pulpit Committee Chair. If it’s a woman, you don’t have to send her a bouquet of flowers. You don’t have to buy an ad in a newspaper in that area. You don’t have to call every day to “have prayer with y’all.” Leave it alone. You don’t have to find out who else is being considered and start slinging mud behind the back of the other candidate(s). You don’t have to campaign.
# 3 – DON’T PACK UP YET
The worst thing to do, especially if you’re already pastoring a church, is to start moving out before you get a call to a prospective church. Your members shouldn’t walk in and see no evidence that you’re about to leave. And this almost means emotional packing as well. If you’re the pastor of your current church – PASTOR them until the day you leave. Don’t get lazy now. Don’t get unconcerned now. Serve, serve and serve. Keep up with visitation. Keep up with preaching with enthusiasm. Don’t pack up yet.
# 4 – EVERY CHURCH IS NOT FOR YOU
I had a minister write me several years ago and basically, he politely cursed me out. He was troubled that everytime I posted a vacant church, that it was costing him a lot of money, because he basically applied for every church that I posted. I had to tell him, “Reverend, maybe every church is not for you.” A little research may save some heartache. I’ve been fortunate in my pastoral career, but the highways are littered with pastors who brought high expectations to congregations that weren’t willing to go forward. The pastor had caviar dreams and the church had filet o’fish expectations. Also, making $500 a Sunday sounds good – but if you have no benefits – insurance, housing, etc. – after taxes, you may be in trouble. I candidated at a church in Tennessee once for almost two years and even though they called me to be their pastor, the Lord gave me an alternative assignment – because that church was not for me. Every church is not for you.
# 5 – MAKE SURE YOU’RE READY
I know. You’ve been sitting under Rev. for years and you think you can handle a church. Listen, it’s more than a notion. When I was a kid I thought I could drive Mom’s car. She went out of the city, left her car keys (I was 12), I drove her car just around the block, hit another car, panicked and when I got home I cried my eyes out because I knew Mom was going to kill me when she got home (and she did) – the point is, it wasn’t as easy as it looked when I got into the driver’s seat. Being a pastor has nothing to do with the oratory every Sunday. Being a pastor begs the questions – Are you ready to see people at their worst? Are you ready to stand over someone who may be dying of disease and offer a word of comfort? Are you ready to interrupt your family time to handle the needs of the membership? Can you stand your ground theologically in a changing world? Are you ready to be hugged on in your $700 suit by people who still smell of alcohol and weed? Can you theologically handle preaching AND teaching on a heavy rotation? Make sure you’re ready.
# 6 – GET READY FOR THE INTERVIEW
Not only be prepared to answer their questions, you need to have some questions of your own. What happened to the last pastor? How would you describe his leadership style? How many of y’all come to Bible Study? What is the authority the church gives to the pastor? Those are important questions. But you need to prepare to be yourself. Engage yourself in the interview. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t get caught up in a trap. I candidated at a church in Pasco, Washington when I was just 20 years old. A deacon in the room’s first question was “how much money do you want?” I told him, that was way down the road and I hadn’t even preached there yet. He literally shouted at me, “HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU WANT?” I deferred. He said it even louder and I dropped my head and I heard the Spirit of God say . . . “this is not for you.” The meeting was over, I preached the next morning, went home and they called someone else – who they dismissed after years of loyal service. Get ready for the interview.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
I have been overwhelmed by the response to the original article, “Dear Angry Associate Minister” – I’ve literally never had the type of response to my blog like this one and I think it touched a nerve across the world. Associate Ministry will be the subject of my next book (should be out by the end of the year) and in the black church, there is very little, if any, tangible resources for those who have surrendered themselves to the call of the Christ.
I also believe that a Pastor bears some responsibility in the development (or in some cases disappointment) of the preacher. One of my associates related a story to me that when they began their ministry at another church, he recognized a fellow associate minister from another church as “my mentor.” After his sermon, his pastor at the time reminded him publicly – “As long as you’re here at this church, I am your mentor and you don’t have no other father in the ministry nor mentor.”
It goes without saying that many ministers are falling into that trap – your pastor is your mentor and your father (or in some cases mother) in the ministry – and those formative, substantive years should not be granted to non one else. A covering isn’t parenthood. A covering isn’t mentorship. A covering that requires a payment is not a true covering, it’s a hustle disguised as a covering.
And a few more suggestions to add to previous discussion:
#1 – THOU SHALT NOT FORSAKE THY INDIVIDUALITY
In this media age, it’s easy to make preaching idols or patterns after what you see on TV or Facebook or YouTube. I will admit back in the day, many of us wanted “Jasper’s Close” or “E.K.’s argument” or “Gardner’s profundity” – however, it takes time for a minister to find his or her own style or his or her own individuality. I don’t have the vocal strengths of Jasper Williams (and never will). I don’t have the insight of an E.K. Bailey (and never will). I don’t have the rich, Louisiana soil of Gardner Taylor’s lyrical prose (and never will). I’ve had to learn to focus on my individual strengths and identify my weaknesses.
I get nervous in front of crowds, which causes me to stutter – but rather than to plow through some elongated words, I have learned to simplify them and use my stutter as a cadence. I can’t wear the suits of some preachers because what looks great on a size 38 may not look great on a size 58. However, I can be just as effective in an appropriate sized suit. Don’t be the next Sandy Ray or E.V. Hill – be the next YOU!!!
Don’t just recite your sermon when you get up to preach. Go over it. Record yourself (audio or visual) and see yourself in a different eye. If you have trouble pronouncing certain words, find yourself a substitute for that word or explain the phrase. If you’re gifted in communication, praise God. But make sure when you pray, ask the Lord to lead you and that you would follow in His footsteps, and not of your Bishop.
#2 – BE CAREFUL OF FACEBOOK
My eyebrows ache every Sunday night because of the superlatives that some associate ministers use when describing their preaching moments. I hate to say this . . . every sermon is not epic.
I think a bit of humility on Facebook may help some associate ministers (and some pastors as well). In our sermon preparation for Sunday to write “tomorrow is going to be epic . . . chains will be loosed . . . the captives will be set free” is to almost suggest that you are in control of the service instead of the Holy Spirit. Every sermon will not (and can not) move everybody in the house. And some sermons are on a time-release capsule basis – once it’s delivered, it’s impact may not be felt for days or weeks.
Some of our hyperbole is getting out of control. I had a minister preach for me once in San Diego and he preached a great message – but he went home and told everyone “Man, I slayed them at Houston’s church. They were hungry for preaching. They packed the place out to hear me.” He just forgot to tell the folk on the phone (and he didn’t even know I was listening in) – (a) I never announced he was coming; (b) They had never heard him before so they had no expectation; (c) My folk were trained about what preaching is and what preaching ain’t; and (d) That church was normally packed every Sunday under my leadership. Don’t choke on hyperbole – he’ll never preach for me again.
I keep Facebook on my desktop and look at it as moments are available because I have some communication, convention and enterprise issues going . . . but I’m not on Facebook 24/7. If you have to preach on Sunday brother or sister Associate, and you’re constantly on Facebook morning, noon, and night non-stop, and you’re bragging about your Candy Crush or Angry Birds score, or you’re posting pictures of you walking the dog or at a restaurant or club – why do I want to hear you preach? Obviously you’re not prepared.
By the way – I’m suspect of a preacher who posts his recent alcohol acquisitions instead of his purchase of books to help him or her in their ministry.
# 3 – WHAT TIME IS CHURCH?
If your worship service starts at 11:00 a.m. it does not begin when you walk in the door at 11:45 a.m. That train left the station before you arrived at the station. It says much about a preacher when his tardiness outweighs his timeliness. Those who pastor understand that when the worship begins, all hands need to be on deck – especially if you’re an associate, because you never know what you may have to encounter in the worship.
Two instances stick out in my mind:
One of my pastors didn’t hold true to the order of worship. A national tragedy had occurred and he called for all the sons of the ministry to assist him in one-on-one prayer with his parishioners. They were hurting, they were troubled. One of my fellow associates walked in late and the pastor openly rebuked him and said “Son, we’re praying for folk who are hurting, and you need prayer because you hurt my heart by not being on time.” He really had no valid reason for being late. His reason: He couldn’t find his vest to his three piece suit.
One of the my pastors became violently ill prior to worship. He literally was afflicted with the flu – coughing, sneezing, vomiting, etc. and he couldn’t preach. So he went home. He looked at me and said, “You’re on to preach today.” Four other ministers came in after the 11:00 a.m. hour and they looked at each other and said “where’s the pastor?” I told him he was ill and they said, “well, who’s preaching?” I told them “I am.” They looked at each other and one of them snapped, “You’re his favorite.” I said, “I’m not his favorite, but I am on time.” ’Nuff said. Timeliness will open doors for you.
# 4 – JUST PREACH
Ok, maybe I am getting a little older now – but why can’t preachers just preach at the preaching hour? If you’re on to preach – dang gum it – PREACH. It’s not Star Search, it’s not Showtime at the Apollo, it’s not Sunday’s Best – preach. A solo is not necessary. Telling us about how busy you were this week and how tired you are ain’t necessary. Matter of fact, if you’re that tired, you should have never accepted the preaching opportunity. Just preach.
If some preachers spent as much time on preparing to preach as they do for shopping for clothes to preach in, the Word would be in higher esteem. Clothes don’t make you preach any better and clothes that don’t fit actually become a distraction. Many of us watch Sunday’s Best and there’s always commentary on the clothes of Kirk Franklin. Kirk prefers obviously to wear clothes that are a size or two smaller instead of a comfortable, loose fit. God bless him. But a preacher doesn’t need a suit or dress that looks like body armour. It needs to be comfortable and ready to preach in. Just preach.
You don’t have to fight your pastor’s battles. Matter of fact, take it from someone who’s been in a few battles – sometimes a well meaning associate can add fuel to the fire. Just preach . . . Jesus. Associate Ministers aren’t preaching “a series.” You don’t get up in July after not having preached since December and you tell the crowd, “I want to continue in my series . . .” You don’t have a series. Just preach.
Stick to the text. Don’t get a great idea from TV and hustle to find a scripture that “will fit.” Ask the Lord to give you a text, read it, study it, dissect it, live in it, and then preach it. But stick to the text. Don’t take up a text in Genesis and you expound your way through Revelation. Just preach . . . the text. Just preach.
A FINAL WORD
35 years ago a minister only had two options – be a pastor or not be a pastor – especially in the Black Church. That is changing now. There are churches that are moving to a staff ministry concept and paying ministers for staffing roles. Ministers of Music, Ministers of Education, Ministers of Membership Care, Ministers of Youth and Young Adults, Ministers of Senior Ministries – in other words there are positions that are available that involve sitting not in the center chair and some that involve sitting in the pews – but you’re still compensated, in some cases receiving benefits – insurance, travel, vacations, etc.
My point is, and I’m digressing to the last blog on this, there is more to do in ministry than just pastoring. Dr. Johnny Pack, IV, one of my pastors used to say to us, “If you can’t preach in the church on Sunday, go get some pop bottles and line them up. Preach until they fall down.” What Dr. Pack was trying to tell us is that ministry is available, you have to avail yourself to ministry. Don’t get pigeon holed into one type of ministry – the pulpit ministry. There are other opportunities, chaplaincies, mission fields, etc. that are just as rewarding and fulfilling.
DO THE WORK – Love the Lord, follow your pastor, preach the word . . . and the Lord will provide!!!
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
Being a shepherd within the Lord’s church is an honorable position. I’ve been pastoring since 1989 and I’ve had memorable experiences, made some lifelong friends and some enemies on the way, and I’ve learned that sheep are best led when the shepherd leads, as intimated by Psalm 23.
Leadership in the Lord’s church, I admit, is not the easiest thing in the world. When a young man or woman comes right out of seminary or the educational system and is placed or called into a pulpit – they come into the pulpit with high expectations, great plans and ideas and often time discover that it is rare to have a congregation of equal expectation. I’ve been blessed, the five congregations that I’ve served wanted to grow, wanted to go forward, and weren’t afraid of trying things that were new and different. That is not always the case.
There is something that has crept into the Lord’s house: It is this desire of some shepherds (pastors) to want to absolutely control the spiritual AND personal lives of their membership to a point of where it’s almost difficult to distinguish pastoring from patronage.
I spoke with a church member of another denomination who opened up about a ministry that they were involved in. They had to sign a “non-disclosure form” – of where they could not discuss any matter or ministry of their church without direct permission of the pastor. They were given instructions that if the Pastor gives you a list of names of who not to ever have contact with again – you are not to talk to, phone, nor email that person or those individuals – even if they were family. They were told to bring their payroll stubs to the church within a week of joining the church. And then to cap it all off, they were told if they have any baptist or methodist or traditional Christianity friends – they were to sever all ties and communication with them immediately because “they ain’t saved like us.”
Call me crazy but it seems to me that this is not being a pastor. I’m not sure if there is a biblical command to pastors to “be thou stupid and controlling.” I’ve learned in 35 years of ministry that a pastor can encourage, cajole and suggest – but the individual member will either accept or reject said encouragement, cajoling and suggestions. In other words, if they were free moral agents before salvation, they will still be free to make decisions – and that’s not always rebellion, it’s just human nature.
Being told what colors to wear each day . . .
Being told what day or days to have sexual intercourse . . .
Being told what type of car to drive . . .
Being told not to wear a hair weave . . .
Being told to divorce your spouse because “I said so” . . .
It goes beyond the pale of pastoral ministry. To tell someone who is new in the faith that our Christian faith is one of division and exclusion of other denominations it petty and petulant. I’ve had people join my respective churches from all Christian faith traditions, and I’ve never told them, “You know you’re not saved because you are methodist.” I’ve never said “you’re not saved because you’re Apostolic.” Matter of fact, I think it’s childish to ignore or belittle another pastor or refuse to fellowship just because they’re not in your Christian faith tradition. To add insult to injury, to tell your congregation “we don’t fellowship with them baptists because they don’t have the Holy Ghost” is probably a sign that you’re lacking in some spiritual maturity.
Maybe there is a psychological diagnosis for this type of disorder. There is a remedy which many have used – they just leave – sometimes it’s the church, and sadly, sometimes they are so turned off from this type of pastoral deportment, they stay home and never darken the church doorway again.
This is not to say that a pastor shouldn’t teach the Word. He or she has every right to do so – but this is beyond the realm of preaching and teaching. Preach the word! Teach the Word! The Holy Spirit will change behavior – that’s HIS job!
You’re not a strong leader because you bully people. You’re a strong leader when you advocate the principles of God’s word. I want to see church members GROW, DEVELOP, MATURE, SHINE, DO GREAT THINGS FOR GOD . . . not to be subject to my own selfish and egotistical wishes. They are not my sheep, they are HIS. It’s difficult to fly when someone is standing on your wings.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
Easily one of the best movies this year and should be a shoo-in for nominations in next year’s Oscars is Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
The movie follows the life and times of Cecil Gaines, who began life as a son of a sharecropper (David Banner) and his abused wife (at the hands of plantation owners) played by Mariah Carey. After witnessing two brutal acts against his parents, he is brought into the owners’ home by the matriarch of the family to be taught how to be “a house nigger.” Cecil adapts to his assignment from childhood to his teenage years, when he leaves the harsh realities of the south and moves to Washington, DC, where he works at a hotel and is selected to a White House assignment.
Thus he begins to work under American Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. Each actor portraying the various presidents are spot on, especially Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) and Lyndon Johnson (Live Shreiber), who provided some of the biggest laughs in the theatre.
Forest Whitaker takes over the role of Cecil from early adulthood and is very solid throughout the movie – but in my eye, another actor should have played him in his early years. The wig was a distraction in his “20s and 30s” – but he sparkles in his old age as he not only combats in quiet confidence racism, but an alcoholic wife (played brilliantly by Oprah Winfrey), two quite different sons – Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley) – who have a conversation about this country that shows the tension in the African-American community in the 60s with a great gravitas. He has the line of the movie in the conclusion and when I left the theatre, people were repeating it as they left the theatre.
Cecil’s neighbors and co-workers are a delight, but I’m wondering why does Terrance Howard always have to play the philanderer? Cuba Gooding, Lenny Kravitz, and the other White House staffers, underpaid compared to their (unseen) white counterparts show how disciplined they could be publicly and switch mercilessly to real people in the kitchen.
The latter portions of the movie remind you of Forrest Gump as Cecil’s lifepaths directly dissect with major historical events – Korea, Vietnam, Kennedy Assassination, Nixon Impeachment, Little Rock Nine, Nashville Woolworth Sit-Ins, and even the Black Panthers. The brutality of the Freedom Riders of which Louis is a part, is worth the price of admissions for young people who have only heard of it and never seen images like this. It’s not disturbing for those of us who lived in or immediately after the period of the 60s, but it will make you think twice about race relations and wonder how come we are not farther along in 2013 than we should have been.
It also reminds us that even in the 50s and 60s that the Black Community was divided in its approach to civil rights. There were those who protested, those who fought, those who sued, those who stood in pulpits, those who organized boycotts, there were those who chose not to be involved, and there were those who went to the streets in violent protests while others took to the street in peaceful protest.
Oprah Winfrey plays Gloria Gaines like a finely tuned instrument. She displays a wide range of emotions from contented housewife to alcoholic to compassionate mother to combative defender of her husband. As she says, Cecil’s being a butler has brought financial sustainability to the family – even though he quietly fought for a raise, won at the hands of Ronald Reagan. Oprah even makes you remember that even in the bad times, humor and love often times keep a family relationship together when it doesn’t seem possible on paper.
There is no doubt that Oscar should consider Daniels, Danny Strong (for his screenplay), Whitaker, Winfrey, Oyelowo, Schreiber and Rickman for possible nods in respective categories. If this movie is not on the list for Best Picture then it goes to show that good filmmaking by black folk is still in the pullman car and not on the showcase floor.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
New Mission Missionary Baptist Church Pastoral Search
New Mission Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN is seeking a biblically educated candidate with a vision for spiritual and membership growth. Experiences in organizational, ministerial and pastoral leadership are needed. Candidate must be a good communicator, teacher and preacher with connections to community members and/or community organizations. The deadline for resume submissions is October 1, 2013.
Make all inquiries to:
Pastoral Search Committee
New Mission Missionary Baptist Church
2581 N. Baltimore, Indianapolis, In. 46218
Sis. N. M. Hayes – Assistant Church Secretary
New Mission Missionary Baptist Church
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism Ephesians 4:5
by Robert Earl Houston
I spent the first and formative years of my ministry under the wise counsel of my father in the ministry, the late Dr. Arthur Bernard Devers, I at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Portland, Oregon. I was called to the ministry in 1977 and preached my first sermon on April 30, 1978. I was licensed to preach in September 1979 and ordained after serving as co-Interim Pastor in 1984 under the pastorate of Dr. Johnny Pack, IV. I served Pastor Pack and was a charter member of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church from 1987 to my first pastoral call in January 1989. I spent my first 10 years of ministry as an Associate Minister.
During those years, I’ve seen gifted associates who went on to have great pastoral ministries. In my own circle, many of the guys of my generation – Pastor George Merriweather, Pastor Raymon H. Edwards, Sr., Pastor Walter M. Brown, Jr., Pastor Roy E. Clay, Sr., Pastor W. Gale Hardy, Jr., Pastor Victor Norris, Pastor Vernon Norris, Pastor C.T. Wells, Pastor Anthony B. Harris, Sr., and others are now pastoring congregations in the Northwest and beyond.
However, I have also seen promising associates, who too were gifted, anointed, and seemed to have the world at their doorstep, who are no longer heard, no longer wanted, and no longer considered for pastoral assignments or even staff positions. They are disgruntled disciples, frustrated prophets, nomadic messengers, and although a call has been placed upon their lives, they have fallen and it’s not that they can’t get up, many of them don’t want to.
I want to offer some suggestions for that angry associate minister before you completely self-destruct:
#1 – DON’T MAKE PASTORAL MINISTRY YOUR ZENITH
There are some 400,000 plus Christian churches in America. However, there are over one million ministers. Which means just by observation alone, that everyone who is called to preach (or decides to preach) is NOT going to pastor. Even those who spend thousands of dollars in seminary training and pastoral majors are not going to wind up pastoring.
I was a Pastoral Theology major at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah Seminary) in Portland and my pastoral theology prof was the president of the school, the late Dr. Joseph C. Aldrich. And of that class of some 30 of us, I don’t think five of us are pastoring today.
If you make pastoral ministry your ultimate goal and don’t get called to or organize a church, it’s going to eat at your soul. You’ll start getting frustrated when friends get called to churches. You’ll start bubbling with anger when persons with less education or perceived less anointing get churches. The call of ministry is not always a call to the center chair. That’s an elevation that only God affords. If you make serving your central focus instead of pastoring, you’ll save yourself some time and frustration.
#2 – DON’T BE A STRANGER AT YOUR HOME CHURCH
Admittedly, when I was younger, I was gone a lot. But it wasn’t because I was writing churches and pastors and asking for preaching opportunities. They came after me, by the grace of God. It didn’t happen instantly – about the third year of my ministry, I starting getting invites and opportunities – in Portland, in Seattle, in Tacoma, in Pasco, and then across the country. However, I knew the key – because I was faithful, visible, and supportive at home.
I not only was an associate minister, I was a tither (and still am to this day). Not just a tither, but a giver. Not just a giver, but a supporter. Not just a supporter, but I stuck close to my pastor, supported him as well as I could, and I learned pastoral lessons, just by watching him do his job. There were times when I accompanied him to the hospitals, the nursing homes, the homes of members who just lost loved ones – and then I would go to the office and watch him open the mail.
Also, I learned that a call to ministry means that I need to do some apprentice work. I taught two classes a week. A sunday school class and a young adult mission class, both the largest in the city with over 125 on roll in both classes. Teaching Sunday School gave me great training for systematic theology. Teaching that mission class and helping mold a generation of young people taught my pastoral skills that are in use today.
Staying home and boycotting your church with a petulant pout will not hurt your pastor nor your church. You become the loser and like the old saying goes: “out of sight, out of mind.”
# 3 – YOU HAVEN’T ARRIVED YET
I admit I made the mistake. I preached my first sermon in April 1978, and I had business cards made within 60 days. I thought I had “arrived” until I looked down and saw I had one foot still in the starting block.
I am careful to teach my associates (and I’ve done it at four different churches) that the first sermon is a “gimme.” It’s like the birth of a new baby who then proceeds to cry, open it’s eye and then urinates on you. You don’t complain nor lament because it’s a newborn baby. It’s cute. It’s funny. And babies can make certain sounds and you don’t hold them up to scrutiny because it’s a baby.
An associate who preaches one sermon and then thinks they should, as a pastoral friend of mine says, be called “Doc” or “Bishop” or “Apostle” or tells older ministers, “don’t call me Brother, I’m Reverend or Doctor or Elder” or is seen cutting the lawn with a ministers collar on or wears the colors of a bishop or pastor – is heading for a season of frustration and rejection.
I’ll bet the other apostles called John, “John.” I’ll bet after the fiery furnace, Shadrach called Abednego, “Abednego.” The titles, the business cards, the Facebook page, doesn’t make you a preacher. Time, prayer, and an authentic calling makes you a preacher. You cannot duplicate or create that which the Lord alone can create. Ministry is not created at the jeweler, it’s created in the mine shaft where pressure produces uncut diamonds.
# 4 – DON’T DIE IN THE INCUBATOR
This is advice for this generation. My generation didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Like it or not, this is a digital generation. 25 years ago if you wanted to hear Jasper Williams, Jr. or Donald Parson or C.A.W. Clark or Melvin Von Wade or Gardner Taylor or E.V. Hill, you had to go the conventions, go to the late night service, or travel to their churches to hear them. Now, they are all a mouse-click away or a swipe of a finger on an iPad. You can sit in Seattle and hear a service live in New York. You can be in England on holiday and hear a preacher in Kentucky.
Social media is wonderful – but learn this – social media kills. What you say, how you say it, and when you say it is not only monitored by your friends, but also church members, pastors, preachers – and pulpit committees and potential members.
I ran across an associate minister (of a church in the south) who decided that he was furious that the Pastor bumped him from preaching due to the appearance of a visiting pastor, to decide to take issue with the decision on Facebook. He reached out to fellow members to “keep me in your prayers as I confront the pastor.” Needless to say, he was dead before he got started.
In Spike Lee’s Malcolm X movie, Elijah Muhammad is shown admonishing Malcolm about the media. He says “be careful.” A tweet can change an opinion on a preacher instantly. For example, it’s asinine to tweet in the pulpit: “Damn . . . when will I ever get up to preach? #toodamnlong” when you’re in someone else’s pulpit waiting to preach. It’s suicide to write “I’m so glad I’m not the pastor of this church #cantwaittogetbackhome” when some of the people in the audience may have their twitter account open and read your analysis.
I would suggest to anyone who writes about another congregation or pastor to write positive, uplifting words. The late Dr. E.K. Bailey told a story about the late Dr. Manuel Scott, who was known for positive words about preachers. You couldn’t get Dr. Scott to say anything negative. One day at the L.K. Williams Institute, a preacher really got off-track in his message and literally preached incorrectly. Bailey and some other preachers ran to Dr. Scott to see what he had to say. Dr. Scott said “he chose a nice text.”
Social media has made faux reporters out of associate preachers. DO NOT TAKE TO SOCIAL MEDIA to complain about your pastor, belittle your church, nor complain about a pastoral decision. If you’re ever in that center chair, you may discover that a decision made was absolutely the right one.
A FINAL WORD
Enjoy being an associate minister. Relish the time. Savor it. Rejoice in it. Because when you become a pastor, and you have the responsibility of a church, and budgets are not just theory but reality, and you discover that popularity is fleeting, and that some people will hate you just because you are the pastor. Enjoy the time now.
Be thankful for your pastor. No pastor is perfect, God knows I’m four vowels short of perfect. However, when he or she has gone away to sleep in the couch of nature’s night, summonsed to leave death into life eternal – you will find out that your pastor, if you have submitted yourself as a son or daughter to him or her – that death will affect you like the death of a parent. Celebrate your pastor while they have breath in their body. Learn as much as you can. Be content preacher on where the Lord has you in this season. Remember, you’re not validated by your title, you’re validated by your submission to the Lord and your pastor.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
AUGUST 14, 2013 – Kentucky has suffered a tremendous loss in the homegoing of Dr. Joseph McDowell, pastor of the First Baptist Church Utteringtown in Lesington. Dr. McDowell passed away yesterday, August 13, 2013, following a brief hospitalization.
I met Dr. McDowell shortly after I moved to Kentucky in 2009 during the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky session in Bowling Green. Matter of fact, I just dined with him at our annual session in Louisville. I’ve had the privilege of preaching for him at his church and he preached for us in 2012. My associate ministers were so impressed by his presentation that when they purchased a robe for me it was a duplicate of the robe he adorned in the pulpit (pictured on the left).
He was beloved in the General Association. He came from a generation that produced pastors that are now among the ranks of the senior sages of Kentucky. Dr. McDowell pastored several congregations before coming to FBC Utteringtown, which is the rural part of Lexington, and he was a no-nonsense pastor. He was a trainer of preachers, several of whom are either pastoring or on staff at other congregations.
He was called “Dad” or “Pops” by many of the pastors in the General Association. He was not the type to continually talk publicly. He would sit in a meeting and if he spoke, you had no doubt what was on his mind, and then he would recoil and sit there just as calmly as he had before he stood up. He was Kentucky’s “E.F. Hutton” – when he spoke, you listened.
He had every right after putting in the years that he has to send his money and rest in his hotel room, but Dr. McDowell was at every session. He never sat in the back. He strolled up to the front and took his place. Perhaps that was born from his era – he took his place during the civil rights struggle and told us stories about his part in those marches, struggles and boycotts. He was attuned spiritually, but also socially and he was tireless when it came to the plight of African-Americans.
He was a churchman of the highest order. He loved worship. He loved church. He loved his district work, his state work, and even the national work. He was one of the people that you looked forward to hanging out with at the convention and preachers would crowd around him to hear what he had to say. He went to the Pastors’ Retreat in southern Kentucky and he attended the classes and you could see groups of preachers around him. He had a contagious spirit, a sly smile, and he could always wade through a conversation and get to the main point.
I don’t think there was a young or younger preacher that he didn’t try to help. Even if his assistance was rebuffed or rebuked, you could never say that Dr. McDowell didn’t try to help. His mission was to pass on the legacy of preaching and pastoring to the next generation.
He was a family man and loved his wife, Sandra, and all of his family members. Jokingly, he stood Sandra up at FBC Frankfort and announced “I just wanted you all to know that this pretty woman belongs to me.” We all knew that they loved each other deeply and we love them both.
When I preached for him, I was impressed with his hospitality. He was attentive to every detail and I remember remember walking into the basement for the meal and there were tables of food – enough to feed an army. “Rob, get all you want and if you need to take a plate home, we’ll take care of it.” I remember how loving the church family was and how well my members were treated. It was worth the drive.
At the last session of the Association, Dr. McDowell told some preachers about his experience at FBC. “Man, it was unfair. Houston got up and had all of his young adults to stand, and called them up to the choir stand and they sung that place happy. Then he put me up. It was so unfair.” But what he didn’t tell was that he preached us CRAZY that day and we were so blessed just to be in his presence.
Last night, I called a few pastor friends and one in particular stood out. He had known Rev. McDowell over 20 years and he broke down on the phone and for several moments just cried and cried and cried. That’s symbolic of how we all have reacted to Pops’ homegoing. This, in the words of “The Godfather” movie, is not business, it’s personal. We loved Dr. McDowell.
One of the pastors reminded me of something last night: “Houston, when you get our age (over 70) you realize that you could go home at any moment.” It’s very true. It also means that those who loved you also understand that as much as we’d love to have someone around forever and ever – the Lord always has the final word, and we’re all on His timetable. So, as the old saints used to say, “we bow to the will of our Heavenly Father, who is too wise to make a mistake.”
I’m quite sure, without a doubt, that this will be one of the largest preacher funerals in recent memory in Kentucky. Dr. McDowell didn’t pastor a mega church, but he had a mega personality and presence. He did what most pastors do every week – preach, teach, counsel, and lead his people. FBC Utteringtown loved their pastor and he loved them as well.
Services are pending. When they are announced, I’ll update this blog.