by Robert Earl Houston
I have had the joy of having one or two associate ministers to over 15 at one time. It’s like being a coach, advisor, and air traffic controller at the same time. Right now I have four active associate ministers and one of them is preaching at several churches this month, with my blessing, because I know that over the past five years, he has been faithful in his attendance at the church where I serve and he’s traveling with my prayers and spiritual support.
There is something amiss with an associate minister who is gone all of the time – especially in those crucial developmental years – the first three. Let me relay a story to you. I had just finished my first sermon in April 1978 and saw my “grandfather in the ministry” (my pastor’s pastor) the late Dr. C.E. Williams, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church of Seattle, in Tacoma, Washington at our General Baptist Convention of the Northwest Spring Board Meeting. He asked me how my first sermon went and I told him, and then I pulled out a sheet of paper showing all of the churches I planned to visit and fellowship with since “I’s a preacher now.”
I had on that list I was going to visit several churches in the city, churches in Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, Boise, Spokane, Pastor, and of course, his church. Dr. Williams, who I deeply respected and loved dearly, stood there gnawing on a toothpick, as was his custom. I gave him the grand presentation of the list and he looked up (he was about 5’8″ and I’m 6’2″) and said “are you done?” I said “yes sir.” He proceeded to share a few choice, harsh words with me and basically said, “You need to keep your crazy behind at home.” He walked away. My pastor was sitting in the car and I was riding with him. I came to the car in tears running down my face. He looked at me and said “Doc gave you the speech didn’t he?” I said “Excuse me?” He said, “He gave me the same speech years ago.”
My pastor was a gifted singer. He was young in his 20s and Rev. A. Bernard Devers had joined the Electrifying Mighty Warriors of Seattle. He quickly became one of the lead singers and even produced and was featured on two albums. He came to church one Sunday after being gone for several weeks and Pastor Williams kicked him out of the office. His words to my pastor were chilling – “when you decide if you were called to preach, you can come back.”
That’s when I learned the value of staying home.
One of the best things that ever happened to me was that encounter with Dr. Williams. I had to have someone who cared for me to tell me, straight up, that an associate minister is in the incubator of ministry. You haven’t arrived and you really don’t know your way around the pulpit or preaching ministry just because you preached one sermon. That first sermon is that – it’s first, but if you intend to preach again, it takes the humility of submission to a pastor to validate the learning process.
I saw my pastor deal with a multiplicity of issues, events and actions that I would have never learned on the road. Sometimes, I admit, I was chomping at the bit to preach, but my first ministry as an associate is to be an apprentice. To learn, to hear, to accept, to be challenged, to be stretched and to learn by observation.
I’m afraid of this new crop of preachers that preach one sermon and they are out on the road doing something else. Your job is not to go support another associate minister preaching, visit other churches, establish your own ministry, pass out business cards and start networking. You need to develop a Kizzy Spirit (from the Roots series. Kizzy means “stay put”). You can lose valuable insight and preaching opportunities because you’re never at home.
Again, I have a group of associates that I’m very proud of. This current group is consistently there. When they are out, it’s generally for reasons of illness and not “looking around” or “making themselves a name.” That will come with time. I strongly believe that the reason I was candidating for congregations to consider me as Pastor at the age of 18 was because I thought it not robbery to stay under my pastor’s wings and “learn of him.” I learned that I didn’t want to be singer who happens to preach or a musician who happens to preach. I wanted to be a preacher who happens to sing or play an instrument.
Remember, there is a benefit in staying home.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE APPRECIATED
by Robert Earl Houston
There is a little-known procedure that is fulfilled during the filming of television programs and movies – it’s called “product placement.” When an actor is drinking a cola and it happens to be a Coke – it’s not there by accident. The makers of Coke have paid for the right to put that Coke in that movie or television program.
When the closing part of a movie calls for the hero and heroine to fly off into the sunset and they board that American Airlines jet – again, it’s no accident that American’s jets are featured. American Airlines has paid for the privilege of getting their brand there at that time.
Earlier this week, one of the friends of our church was on her way to work and as she and a co-worker headed into work, a terrible wreck was on the side of the road. If memory serves me right, the car had hit a tree and the safety inflatible bags deployed, and apparently the driver was injured. She pulled her car to the side of the road and she and the co-worker began to assess the situation and help the driver. But check this out – they were both nurses and they were on the scene long before Paramedics could arrive.
That’s product placement.
God has a way of putting people in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s that pastor who preaches week in and week out; or that Sunday School teacher who drops a word of confirmation during a class; or if someone is in need and a believer happens to be there, even though they weren’t even scheduled to be there.
That’s product placement.
I want to say to you my friend that if you’re available – if you just make yourself available to the Master’s will – He will place you. The qualifications of man can be overruled by God when He has assignment written on your life. I’ve seen pastors placed in churches to the awe of friends, family and fellow preachers – because they were placed there by the Lord. I’ve seen divorced men (including myself) get called to churches – because there was something that God needed for that church at that time. I’ve seen barriers broken at churches that were steeped in traditions because the Lord had someone ready to break the status quo and to put the church or organization where He wanted it to be.
So, the next time you wonder – why am I here – remember, that’s product placement.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
In 99.9% of all baptist ministers that I’ve ever come in contact with there are two “levels” of credentials – there is the license and the ordination. Because we are baptist, every church is autonomous and every pastor may do it differently, but across most pulpits they are still the same – the license and the ordination.
When I came up in ministry 35 years ago, licensure was not automatic. At my home church, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, licensure was never a matter for church vote (as it is in many churches), but it was a judgement call by the pastor. I preached my first sermon on April 30, 1978, however, it wasn’t until September of 1979 when Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, licensed me. It was some years later, in December 1984, when I was ordained by Dr. Johnny Pack, IV, after serving as Co-Interim Pastor of New Hope.
There seems to be some confusion today about the Baptist Ministers’ license. Generally speaking, a license is the church’s (or the pastor’s) approval for an individual to serve in ministry until that individual is qualified for ordination. In the black baptist church, that usually comes after the first or “trial” or “initial sermon.” I recently attended the first sermon of a minister in Lexington and that individual was licensed, by church vote, immediately after the sermon, not preached from the pulpit, but from the floor.
I’ve been re-thinking licensure because some young ministers frankly abuse the privilege. It seems that when some individuals receive that Lifeway printed “Certificate of License” there is a change in demeanor. I recently changed my pastoral stance and said that a minister must prove themselves and in the future I won’t grant automatic licensure or even consider the same for at least one year – there should be a “proving ground” at the church.
What many ministers don’t understand is that your license is akin to the Deacons license – which means that it’s tethered to the local church. For example, if you’re licensed at Second Baptist Church and then you leave to join Third Baptist Church, your licensure is not transferrable (that is the call of the Third Baptist Church or their pastor). In some cases, Senior Pastors have been known to “call in” (meaning you have to return it) a license because it is not the property of the minister, it’s the property of the church – it’s that church saying “we support you and grant you opportunity to minister.”
Sadly, we’re in an age of some malfeasance in the ranks of clergy. I’m not even sure that ministers who have served under me since my pastoral ministry began in 1989 and left understand that their license is no longer valid. I personally wrestle with this issue – that I may not be able to recommend a minister who is not under my direct visual supervision – because the licensure suggests that they are still in the apprentice mode and my signature on their license is not an automatic endorsement especially if they are not fulfilling their assigned tasks or take their ministry seriously.
In most cases, a licensed minister cannot perform weddings. In most cases, a licensed minister cannot perform funerals. In most cases, a licensed minister is not (without pastoral or board approval) allowed to speak on behalf or represent the local church. Licensure basically says this: “I am submitted to the pastor and church where I hold my membership.” Period. However, if the pastor allows, a licensed minister can perform weddings or funerals – but only with the Pastor’s blessings.
There was a time that when a minister visited another baptist congregation that he always kept with him a full-size or pocket-sized copy of his licensure or ordination. In some cases, the pastor wouldn’t even let you into the pulpit unless you were licensed. I was amused to read recently that a minister had been “ordained” without ever being licensed or being in an apprenticeship program – to me, it seems like a disservice to the future ministry of that minister.
One big difference between licensure and ordination is examination. Generally speaking, there is no board that licenses a baptist minister; there is no public catechism in use as used in the ordination service. However, with some of the issues that have arrived in churches lately, I would not be surprised to see some second thoughts on this procedure – and it’s realistic to expect that background checks, examinations, etc. may be on the way in generations to come.
I hope that this will cause us all to re-think the Licensure process. I know I have over twelve associates at my church and have two ministers – one under watch care and one who just announced his calling – waiting in the wings. My job as pastor is to mentor them, teach them in the hopes that they won’t be as good as I am – but that they will be better and do more.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
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
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
Recently I entered into a discussion on Facebook in regards to ordination. It was a friendly discussion and it has been on my mind for several days. Ordination is one of those “high holy days” in the life of a minister who has surrendered his or her self to the call of the Lord. In most baptist churches, it is one of the few services that can draw together a minister’s past, present and future, and is normally a standing room only affair, depending upon the church and pastor’s level of involvement in the planning.
I was in the early stages of the ordination process in 1984 under my father in the ministry, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. When his pastorate ended in May of that year, me and my brother in the minister, Rev. Walter Monroe Brown, Jr. shared as Co-Interim Pastors of New Hope until they selected a pastor. I preached on first and third Sundays. Walter preached on second and fourth. We alternated on fifth Sundays and yielded the pulpit (gladly) when candidates were brought in to preach.
In November the church called Dr. Johnny Pack, IV of Texarkana, Arkansas as the pastor and also, upon his recommendation, voted to ordain us as Ministers of the Gospel. Under Dr. Devers, he had given us a catechism of some 900 questions, however, Dr. Pack had a different philosophy about ordination which I share today. You don’t go through the process to obtain knowledge, you go through the process because of what you already know.
I have a few things I want to say to ministers who are beginning their ministry or have their eyes on ordination or may find themselves frustrated because they haven’t been ordained yet:
#1 – Trust Your Pastor. If your pastor doesn’t feel you’re ready for ordination yet, he’s (or she’s) probably on sound ground for doing so. The pastor is like the baseball manager. Every other sport calls their leader a coach, in baseball they are managers. They are called so because of the multiplicity of involvements that they have with the team both on and off the field. The Pastor is the manager of the church and pulpit. He may observe some things in you, in your character, in your potential that you may not see. Give him the necessary space and trust to make the decision about your ordination and allow the Holy Spirit to speak through him when it’s your time.
#2 – Put Ordination in its Perspective. Ordination is not the crowning point of a minister’s life. It’s not the apex. It really is the validation of what has been, what is now, and what will be. Really, you would think that the Ordination should be called the “Licensing” (Baptist nomaclature) because it has the power of saying that this church and pastor believes and authenticates to the world your calling to the gospel ministry. I never worked in the ministry to get ordained. Ordination should not carry that kind of weight in your ministry. Ordination should be the commencement and not the graduation. It should encourage you to continue and not make you retire from your labors.
#3 – Use It Wisely. Here’s what ordination (as to what I’ve been taught) allows you to do. First, it allows you to “handle” the sacred sacraments of the church – communion and baptism. Secondly, it allows you (depending on the state) to officiate at weddings and funerals (in many places, only a letter of authorization from a church is necessary). Back in the day at a funeral, the minister would sign for the interment of the body in some places in the country. Thirdly, it allows you to use (legitimately) the title “Reverend.” It’s a level of legitimacy that shouldn’t be abused.
Don’t abuse the ordination by handling yourself with a degree of disgrace instead of dignity. Don’t abuse the ordination by offering ordination to others as if it’s a prize at a church raffle. Don’t abuse the ordination by becoming caught up into your title instead of your ministry. Don’t abuse the ordination by using it to create dissension in the ranks of other associate ministers. Don’t abuse the ordination by questionable conduct and undue grandeur. Don’t abuse the ordination by preaching liquid sermons that develop starving listeners.
I’ve now been an ordained minister for some 29 years and will be celebrating my 30th year of ordination, Lord willing, next year. A young preacher walked up to the venerable Dr. Gardner Calvin Taylor and said, “Reverend Taylor, what should I as a young preacher be preparing to do with my life?” Dr. Taylor, with the years of ministry written across the lines within his countenance smiled and said . . .
“Live to become an old preacher.”
by Robert Earl Houston
In beginning the process of completing my Internal Revenue Service tax return, I came upon the line that asked for my occupation. Today I’ve been thinking about that over and over and over again - is ministry my calling or is it my vocation?
In 1978 while a student at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University), a group of pastoral theology majors (me included) would have out at the local Burgerville, USA restaurant (don’t laugh – they have one of the best hamburgers in the country). Many of the names are a blur but the conversation one day wasn’t. It was in regards to the call of ministry. It was prompted by a tremendous lecture from our professor, the late Dr. Kopp.
A couple of us went on to describe our “call” – how the Lord had spoken either verbally and indirectly into our lives and we had responded to the call by surrendering our lives and life ambitions into the hands of the Lord. I was proud to say that the Lord had “called” me at the tender age of 17 and I felt led to prepare for a lifelong ministry.
Then the conversation took a turn for the worst.
One student said, “I tried being a plumber and the work was too hard, so I decided to go into the ministry . . .”
Then another said, “I was going to pursue a doctoral degree in medicine, but I figured I could make just as much by doing a degree in theology . . .”
And then another yet, “My father and grandfathers are pastor. That’s the ‘family business.’”
Wow . . .
Methinks that with some ministers today, those kind of illustrations are not just theory. Sadly, some ministers go because of talent instead of gifts; oratory instead of pneuma; a business plan instead of vision. Ministry is not a job, it’s a calling. It’s not a vocation, it’s a calling. It’s not something that you study to become, it’s something that you study because you are. Ministry is a calling!
The New Testament bears witness of Jesus calling His disciples (John 6:70 and other references) and that call is continued by Him through the Holy Spirit (Acts 9). There are volunteer workers to support the ministry, there are volunteers that financially support the ministry, but there are no recorded volunteer preachers. You’re either called or your not.
For those of us who are called, ministry is not performance. We don’t seek public affirmation of what the Lord has led us to do or preach. We don’t gauge this week’s sermon by last week’s sermon. We view a “flunk” in preaching as a bump in the road and not the reason for resignation. We view our ministries in terms of seasons instead of years.
I don’t know whatever happened to those guys. But I do know what happened to the one who is writing this blog – he is a minister.
by Robert Earl Houston
I’m going to give a disclaimer right off the bat. I am unapologetically old school when it comes to ministerial training. My father in the ministry, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, of Portland, Oregon was trained by one of the best, the late Dr. C.E. Williams of Seattle, Washington.
When I came to him 35 years ago to tell him that I had been called to preach, I entered into sacred covenant with him. I literally put my life (and my preaching career) in his hands. I had to trust his judgements, decisions and even if I thought I didn’t agree with him, time would be the ultimate judge. He was not infallible, but he was correct and as a 17 years old preacher with zero experience, my job was to be that sponge to learn from and of him – both right and wrong. I became a disciple.
Having said this, there is a phenomenon that is occurring in the Black Baptist church that did not appear 35 years ago – and that is the minister with an earring. I’ve seen young preachers with them. I’ve seen young pastors with them. And not to be outdone, I’ve seen middle-aged preachers with them and even senior aged pastors with them.
I want to first say that there is no biblical command in the New Testament concerning ministers and earrings. Matter of fact, the Bible is quite clear about jewelry and females (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, for instance) however there is not anything spoken of regarding men and earrings because it was not custom of the day for men to wear earrings, which were normally worn by women.
However, in this day and time, because of the influence frankly of athletes, rappers, and entertainment figures, more men are wearing earrings than in any other time in history. Also, it is not unusual for a young male baby to have his ears pierced as a female would be. Culturally, things have changed.
Initially, in some communities, the thought of a man wearing an earring was supposed to represent something non-masculine. However, who will walk up to Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan or Denzel Washington and hurl that charge today? It has become acceptable in our societal culture.
But what about the pulpit? Again, this writing is not about the pew, this is about those of the male gender who have been called to preach. I want to make three observations and obviously these are not directives, these are suggestions:
1. NOT IN THE PULPIT
I’m old-fashioned on this. If you have an earring, don’t wear it in the pulpit – whether you are preaching or not. Wearing an earring doesn’t not make you “hip” or “more relevant” to those who will hear you. It will make you look more vain than anything else.
I found this nugget from the Reformed Church of God:
Also, jewelry of this type for men only appeals to VANITY. Human beings naturally want to be accepted by the world around them. But what does God say about this? “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15-16). Christians must come out of the world (Rev. 18:4). And people should remember them for their CHARACTER—not whether or not they bought into the latest fad.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve moved away from the loud colored suits and into less fashionable attire. Many years ago, a minister of national renown used to hit the pulpit with huge rings on his fingers and a starburst diamond garnish to hold his tie in place. It literally was so bright under the lights that 30 years later, I remember his clothes and not one word he preached.
Truth be told, as preachers, we can get a little too worldly in our attire and too vain to where it not only is a distraction to the congregation, it’s a discouragement to preachers and pastors who may not “measure up” with you.
I have found out that a $700 pair of shoes doesn’t help you preach any better. A $1,500 suit doesn’t exegete the text better. And a huge rock in your ear may cause deafness in the pew.
Secondly, IF YOU GOT ONE, WEAR IT LATER
Paul’s discourse about “if meat offends my brother” (1 Corinthians 8:13) is applicable here. If that earring is going to cause someone to stumble (spiritually) or tune out your sermon (no matter how much whooping sauce you apply), don’t wear it.
Look, it takes all of ten seconds to remove that earring (or earrings) out of your ear (or ears) before you hit the pulpit. This is just not for those who are preaching, but for preachers on the platform or even (hang on) in the audience.
The truth is that some of our seniors just won’t understand, period. I don’t expect a “Miss Jones” (fictitious) who has been “baptist born and baptist bred” to break from everything that she knows about preaching and her expectations of preachers to all of a sudden have an epiphany about your style choices. Don’t make her work that hard, put them away.
You have every right to wear what you want to wear. But consider this – why don’t you hit the pulpit in a swimming outfit? Why don’t you come to the pulpit with a fifth of alcohol? Why don’t you just come to church naked, you won’t be on the platform? You know the answer – because whether you sit under the lights or in the audience there is a certain decorum that is expected of those who preach the gospel.
Lastly, WEAR THEM CASUALLY.
I know, you paid for them. They were a gift. Well, then wear them away from church. Wear them at your secular job. Wear them at home. Wear them at social events. But not, my brother, at the church.
The story is told of a woman that was on her deathbed. She was blind and the doctors had informed the family that she had little time to live. She asked for the chaplain, who worked at the hospital to come in. He arrived and started to pray and prayed until the tears ran down her cheek. She asked him to come close to hear and she reached up to touch his face. Her expression changed and she said: “Oh . . . I thought that was a preacher. When is he getting here?” Point made.
You have more than enough opportunity to wear your earring. Enjoy the use of them, you paid for them. But, in my opinion, the male preacher of God can go a little while, from Sunday School to the Benediction of worship, without his “bling bling.”
One thing I noticed. When it’s “showtime” – Shaq doesn’t wear his; Michael didn’t wear his; and Denzel didn’t wear his (unless his character called for it).
I welcome your comments and observations.
by Robert Earl Houston
There is no doubt that the images and video from this ordination service has blown up like wildfire across the body of Christ. No matter if you’re black or white, PAW or Baptist, young or old – these images have created a controversy within the Body of Christ.
I want to look at this, not in sexual terms. In the church we have this bad habit of equating a lot of things in a sexual connotation. That’s not my desire, so if you’re looking for some salacious reading material – move on to the next blog.
I want to look at this in terms of what Consecration and Ordination are about and mean. I was 24 years old when I was ordained. I preached my first sermon in April 1978 at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, then pastored by the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I. I, along with my brother-in-the-ministry, Walter Monroe Brown, Jr., served as Co-Interim Pastors of New Hope for six months in late 1984. When the new pastor arrived, Dr. Johnny Pack, IV from Texarkana, Arkansas, the church wanted to reward our faithfulness and voted to ordain us into the gospel ministry.
Dr. Devers had actually started the process with us and you should have seen our eyes when he gave us a copy of the 750 plus question catechism. When Dr. Pack arrived, he gave us his version of a catechism and it was simply less than 50 questions. He explained to us, “you’re not ordained because of what you don’t know, you’re ordained because of what you already know.”
I remember vividly our ordination service. The place was PACKED. Portland hadn’t seen a multiple-minister ordination. The late Rev. Eugene Boyd, Jr., who was Moderator of the Union Baptist District Association, served as Chairman of the Council. We faced the audience as we were publicly quizzed by leading pastors and ministers in the area – Dr. T.L. Lewis, the late Rev. Robert C. Hill, Dr. James Clarence Edward Faulkner, Rev. George H. Merriweather, Rev. Edward Dobbins, and Rev. Donald Frazier. After examination, the council retired, tabulated their voices, returned and Dr. Faulkner gave report of the council. We knelt before the altar, the Pastors and Ministers laid hands upon us and we were officially ordained as Baptist Ministers. Following the prayer, they greeted us, and then we were presented with our Ordination Certificates by Pastor Pack, who then took us downtown to have our paperwork registered with the City of Portland Clerk’s office.
No “cloth burial.”
No “special method of ordination.”
I think that many of us in the Church have a problem with this because of the lack of Biblical justification. The contact that is mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:22 says “lay hands on no man suddenly.” For the life of me, I only see the words appoint, or transference of authority – but that’s not done in the manner that we’ve seen.
My problem with this is that it has become a mockery of ordination and for those who are in the bishopric, consecration. I was led to believe that one of the facets of being a bishop was to uphold the mysteries of the kingdom, but not to write the mysteries as you go along. Again, there is no Biblical justification for an ordination that we’ve seen.
Further, any ordination that I’ve seen or authorization of ministry that I’ve seen is done by either anointing (of oil) or laying of hands. Ordination should not be turned into a mystical event. Ordination should never raise more questions than it answers. Ordination should never turn that which is sacred into that which is open to ridicule. Ordination should end with a celebration of what God is doing in the candidate’s life and not a scar that will follow him the rest of his ministry.
Pastor Jackson has a right to conduct services however he sees fit. That’s the Baptist in me talking, because I believe whole heartedly in autonomy of churches and pastors. I would never tell him or any other pastor, without their permission, what I think should happen in their churches. That’s a line that should never be crossed. However, by the same token, it should be understood that however you conduct a sacred service, you cannot silence questions by throwing a blanket answer as if to say “this is spiritual y’all and it’s deep – if you can’t see it, that’s because you’re not spiritual” (my words, not his).
The last time I read an explanation like that, it was by a naked king who was sold an invisible garment.
I know we operate in the spiritual realm – but operating in the spirit should never negate or overrule the words of Scripture. Unfortunately, the Church is like a bad drug addict, looking for that next “ecclesiastical high” whether it’s titles, practice or attire. Instead of going higher in the Lord, we are headed to the abyss.
I have 13 associate ministers. I reckon at some point, if the Lord allows, I will be recommending some of them to be ordained. But ordination is not done lightly. The testament of that at FBC is that I have yet to perform an ordination service. Licensing of ministers used to be on-the-spot, but after reflecting over the process, it’s now done after one year of faithful service. Again, it should be with the goal that ministry is a long-distance race and not a fast-sprint.
Walter and I just celebrated 28 years of ordination this past February. Walter has pastored and served churches in Portland and preached throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and his native state of New Jersey. God has seen fit to allow me to serve five churches in pastoral ministry, preach across the country. For us, ordination was not supposed to cripple our ministry – it was supposed to endorse it. Ordination was our springboard and not our tombstone.
What the world has now witnessed could never be interpreted as an endorsement, but rather as a crippling event.