by Robert Earl Houston
I have never understood why some churches are adversarial with their pastors. To me, it’s akin to boarding an aircraft looking at the pilot and saying “I hope you crash” while you make you way to 28D and not understanding that if the pilot crashes, you crash.
Something happened at worship today that I want to pass along in the hope that it may encourage some pastor some where.
As I extended the Invitation to Discipleship, we had several members come for prayer. One member shared that her grandmother and herself were both having health challenges. Another member shared that he and his grown daughters were having health challenges. But there was a third individual (actually the second one who spoke) and I am paraphrasing was he came forward for:
The Lord had led him forward to ask the congregation to pray for Pastor Houston. He said that our pastor is busy, he preaches out his heart each week, he visits the sick, counsels with families about funerals, has multiple meetings and today, the Lord told him that the congregation needs to pray for him, and each other.
It was spontaneous, caught me off guard, and following prayers for the other concerns, then much church prayed for me. One of the Golden Girls of our church led the prayer by my request (and how she prayed). I sat there for a few moments in awe of what God had done that morning.
I think it goes without saying that many of us who serve congregations experience the congregation serving the server. My goal is to serve the Lord continually and my church thought enough of the ministry that I provide to them, and as he said, not only here, the community, the state and the nation. It was touching because I’ve had some experiences that were not always that pleasant in the past areas that I’ve served (and all of us in ministry have that), but I would hope that the people of God that I serve would appreciate the service of their pastor – outside of a calendared anniversary.
Sunday proved it.
This reminds me of an old adage: If you want a better pastor – pray for the one you have. If you want a more loving pastor – pray for the one you have. If you want a better preaching pastor – pray for the one you have. If you want a more blessed pastor – pray for the one you have.
Prayer sure beats argumentative, hostile and woundings from an out-of-control business meeting. Thank God, we don’t have those – because we are believers first and foremost.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOMED
Preachers . . . lend me your ears.
Let’s start a social media campaign to honor the life and legacy of the late Dr. Albert Louis Patterson, Jr., who went home to be with the Lord.
I’m hoping we can get at least 2,000 preachers and laypersons to honor Dr. Patterson, one of the greatest pulpiteer of this generation, by simply placing his photograph as your profile picture on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, until his homegoing service on Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Below is a picture you can use or use any other photos of Dr. Patterson. We want the nation and world to know that a great (preaching) man of Israel (the Word of God) hath fallen.
+Pastor Robert Earl Houston
To view the Victory Celebration program for Dr. Winters, click on the link below:
TIMOTHY WINTERS PROGRAM
by Robert Earl Houston
This year I’m trying to see all of the Academy Award Nominated films. So far I’ve seen Lee Daniels’ The Butler; American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Gravity; 12 Years a Slave; and Nebraska. I’ve yet to see Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street.
In a very good movie, Nebraska, there is a scene that sticks with me. In the movie and elder father thinks that he has won a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes. He is determined to leave from his home in Montana (if foot by necessary) and is aided by his sons and, reluctantly, his wife. His younger son, sensing that his father doesn’t have long to live, drives him from Montana to Nebraska, a trip that should have taken less than 8 hours. However, due to his father’s drinking and injury which required hospitalization, it took 2 or 3 days for an 8 hour trip, not to his destination, but to his small hometown where his siblings and family members live. During the sit down (to watch TV, a family tradition) his brother’s sons ask his son “How long did it take you to get here?” They knew it only took hours and he said “two days” and they started laughing.
That stuck with me because in a few days I’ll be celebrating being called to this church 5 years ago and I’m celebrating this years 36 years in ministry. I have been blessed tremendously – but it wasn’t overnight. It took time.
Unfortunately in this generation, everything is on fast, quick and in a hurry. The self-imposed timetables that we as pastors place upon our work can be deceiving and frustrating. We point at pastors who have mega-churches and mega-situations and we are determined to replicate what God is doing in somebody’s ministry – not understanding that in order to get where that pastor is at, you may have to visit some painful places, tragic circumstances and hellish scenarios.
A few weeks ago a young minister told me, “Pastor Houston, I want to be like you.” I was flattered and then I told him, “Go through cancer, go through trouble, get lied on and talked about, suffer some painful situations, get sick without any insurance, and oh yeah, go through church trouble and you’ll be just like me.” You should have seen the look on his face.
I believe that ministry is not some 100 yard dash. It’s a marathon. Some of us have been on the track for 35, 45, 55, 65 and even 75 years and if we all be honest, we haven’t seen it all and each experience is going to be different. I remember talking with a pastor who wrestled with his call and for the first 30 years of his ministry his congregation numbered less than 50 and all of a sudden, the Church grew into a thriving congregation of 2,000. He said “I was eager, but I wasn’t ready. God had to show me that I’m on His timetable and not mine.”
The truth of the matter is that my first 30 years of ministry prepared me for my current ministry. I have a wonderful congregation and I’ve learned how to pastor with a steady hand, loving heart and open spirit. I’m now in the age of being called upon by other pastors for advice. I’ve been able to create a fellowship and dialogue with many of our local elected officials and this afternoon I’ll have the privilege of offering prayer to open this afternoon’s session of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Senate.
But it wasn’t overnight. I have pastored four congregations (and served on pastoral staff at one) since 1989 and full-time since 1991. It’s been a journey. I admit there were low points and high peaks. However, this journey is not given to the strong, nor the swift, but to the one who endures to the end.
For those pastors who are trying and trying and working and working and praying and praying. Keep at it! Bring your best to the pulpit – even if you have more pews than people. Even during moments of anxiety and frustration, bring your best, share your heart, be there for the people. Don’t look for the “next move” – be faithful in wherever the Lord has planted you in this season – if there’s a move it’s better to let God do it than you create it.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
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
The news has been filled this week of the unfortunate story of a young African-American pastor in Macon, Georgia, who committed suicide on this past Sunday in front of his home, in between worship services. It has been not only heartbreaking but it’s become an instrument of speculation, catharsis and intraspection.
I am amazed how some in the Christian media have taken a 15 second sound bite from a three year old sermon that he preached and tried to contemporize it to his act. The misleading headlines suggest also that it was his final sermon when, if you watch the entire sermon, he was attempting to convey the message that even ministers and pastors question God, and have their moments of loneliness and fear.
The purpose of this blog is not to go through the whys and wherefores. Frankly, that’s not only none of anyone’s business and it’s not necessary to publicly second-guess the young man or discuss knowledge, limited knowledge, any knowledge or no knowledge in deference to his wife and children, and church family, whose hearts are hurting. I’d rather want to share my own viewpoint that this is a time to grieve, even if you didn’t know him for yourself.
We should grieve because a successful ministry is now re-categorized to the annals of history. Whenever anyone does what he did in his years at his congregation and was in the midst of planning future ministries – it’s appropriate to grieve what could have been and yet pray that the congregation continues forward in the spirit of the vision that was given to them by their pastor.
We should grieve because it could have been any of us. Death has no litmus test nor does it have parameters. This year, I’ve buried several pastoral colleagues who were 50 years and younger – which will leave a void in those who could have been voices of encouragement for the next generation of preachers to follow. I look at myself at 53 and begin introspection and say to God, “it could have been me” – no matter the circumstances. I am alive today not because of earned goodness or excelling personality. I’m alive because of the grace of God.
We should grieve because another one of us have gone home. I mean another pastor. I reckon that about 100% of our churches will experience a change in leadership in the lifespan of their churches and unfortunately no sudden change of leadership is an easy transition. I spent time last night just praying for the leadership of that church as they not only bury their leader but being the grieving process and ultimately the arrival of their new leader. The bottom line is that a faithful preacher and teacher is no longer among our ranks.
Charles Wesley wrote a hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive?,” that talks about weeks like this. I was introduced to the hymn by Dr. E. Edward Jones, president emeritus of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International through one of his Presidential writings. I’d like to share it here as well:
1. And are we yet alive, and see each other's face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace! 2. Preserved by power divine to full salvation here, again in Jesus' praise we join, and in his sight appear. 3. What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last! 4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above. 5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more. 6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain, and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
For some strange reason, this week I’ve been ministering to several pastors who are on the precipice of giving up. Two have larger congregations than the one I serve. Two have similar sized congregations. And two have smaller sized congregations. They have expressed different reasons and they all have (paraphrased) the final bullet point: “My storage is empty.”
Pastoral ministry is not all glitz and glamour. Would to God that it is, but it is like being the captain of a great ship (no matter what size the church is numerically) on the sea. Sometimes the water is calm. Sometimes the storm is raging. Sometimes the rudder gets stuck. Sometimes mutiny is in the air. Sometimes the road map is tossed aside. Sometimes the captain gets ill. And sometimes the Pastors becoming weary of sailing again.
Three observations about pastoral ministry:
THE PASTOR NEEDS AN ENCOURAGER
Surprise! The encourager-in-chief needs an encourager. He or She needs somebody who can break from the ranks of the naysayers, skeptics and silent saints and muted members who can encourage the Pastor.
In my church there is a couple that never ceases to be an encouragement to their pastor. I’ve been on the road preaching quite a bit lately. In the last three weeks, I’ve had the burden of preaching through a series on “The Blood” and preached a Revival and preached three annual days and then a wedding. When I came home on Sunday morning after flying into Louisville early Sunday morning, went straight to the pulpit, attended a fare-thee-well for two of my ministers who are moving to another city, and then preached at an annual day 40 miles away. I literally had to crawl up the stairs and went to sleep for over 12 hours and woke up not refreshed but exhausted. My wife had laid out my mail that I received and there were two notes – one was a Pastoral Appreciation Month card and the other was a Marriage Anniversary card for me and my wife, along with a gift in each. The amount is meaningless, but the sentiment was priceless.
I don’t care what size the congregation is – the pastor needs somebody to encourage him or her to keep on keeping on.
THE PASTOR NEEDS SOME TIME
No, I’m not talking about vacations. I’m talking about the time that it takes to be renewed and refreshed. After talking with many pastors across the country I’ll let you in on a secret – many pastors have developed terrible prayer and study lives because they are over-scheduled and over-committed.
One of the blessings of being a full time pastor is the premise of the promise of time. However, I’ve seen pastors with the time who wrap themselves up with conventions, community activities, athletic events and then come to the pulpit or teaching moment exhausted because their priorities were out of order.
The Pastor needs time to not only pray for his flock – he or she too has a family that needs prayer, prayer is needed for financial issues, prayer is needed for direction, and prayer is needed even for discernment and developing a sense of spiritual timing. The Pastor needs time when the phone is off, the computer is off and is cut-off from all forms of media and social media to release the mind. I take a day a week and get in my car and drive – sometimes near some water – where I can just free myself of burdens and issues.
THE PASTOR NEEDS A PASTOR
I never have understood this new fangled (or should I say tangled?) concept that the Pastor only needs Jesus. That argument is the same argument we bristle at when we hear it from our church members – but some pastors model an ungodly, ungrateful and rebellious attitude when it comes to being pastored.
There has never been a period of time in my life when I didn’t have a person that I could point to and say “that’s my pastor!” From a child getting introduced to Jesus, the late Rev. Sylvester McCullumn, who founded the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church while serving as a shipyard foreman, was my pastor. When I became a teenager, the late Rev. Dr. Arthur Bernard Devers, I, not only was my pastor, but because of the divorce of my parents, he was a father-figure for me and nurturer. In my late 20s, the Rev. Dr. Johnny Pack, IV became my pastor and under his leadership I discovered a preacher – Robert Earl Houston – that I didn’t know existed under the weight of trying to be like others. When I moved to Fresno, California in my early 30s, the late Rev. Dr. Carl J. Anderson, founder and builder of the historic St. John Missionary Baptist Church became my pastor until his passing. I had the privilege of being one of his sons and Pastor was always kind and took out time to see how I was doing. After his death, I united (in long-distance fashion) with Bishop Darryl S. Brister of the Beacon Light International Baptist Cathedral in New Orleans. Bishop is a “thinker” in Biblical Exposition, prolific writer, and I was honored to be counted as one of his sons. I then united with the Greater Trinity Missionary Baptist Church after almost walking away from ministry, and I was put to work by my pastor, Dr. Clyde Elliott Gaines – who would not allow me to fall off the face of the map.
Then I moved to Nashville at the request of my current pastor, Minister Barton Elliott Harris, who not only was my pastor in name, he was my pastor and still is, in deed. Pastor Harris has led Westwood Baptist Church, University Center for over two decades, but he has been the person I call with questions, advice, and encouragement. I left Westwood to come to Frankfort four years ago and every year, we renew the fellowship – he preaches my pastoral anniversary and I preach their Church Anniversary. He has never failed to be a factor in life issues that I’ve had – surgery for cancer, death of Jessica’s dad, the burning of my home church, and other situations and circumstances.
No matter what your title – Reverend, Doctor, Bishop, Apostle, Overseer, etc. you need a pastor. And churches should encourage pastors to find a pastor. You can join the local church (if you think that’s necessary) but you still need a pastor. Don’t fall for the trap that you need a pastor who pastors more folk than you do – sometimes the pastor who has the smaller congregation, with wisdom in his visage and heart, is priceless.
These are just three suggestions to help somebody get back on track. Many pastors have “Hallelujah Sundays” and “Depression Mondays” emotionally because of humanity. I do know this – pastoring is a long distance course and not a sprint. Don’t let your pastor go through the process of pastoring by him or her self.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
Today marked the end of a 40 year pastoral career in San Diego, California. Today is the final Sunday as pastor of the Bayview Baptist Church for my friend, and friend of all preachers, Dr. Timothy James Winters.
I met Dr. Winters many years ago. I knew of him from afar and became one of his colleagues at the California Missionary Baptist State Convention and then we became quick friends when the Lord moved me to San Diego in 1995. Dr. Winters was president of the Baptist Ministers Union and one of the first pastors in the area to reach out to me and welcome me to the area.
We exchanged pulpits on several occasions. My congregation was about 1/10th of the size of Bayview, but that was never an issue in our fellowship. When I came to San Diego and people were joining there by the droves, Dr. Winters spoke highly of it, and I think he respected the fact that I wasn’t try to “sheep steal” but just preach and let the Lord send whomever He would send.
Matter of fact, when I decided to leave my congregation in San Diego – Dr. Winters was one of the first to hear it and he gave me great counsel. He encouraged me, brought me back to Bayview on several occasions to preach. And when he was in the area, I made it a point to find him, if for nothing else, to break bread. He is a walking encyclopedia of pastoral knowledge.
I appreciated the honesty in his counsel. He was the pastor that encouraged me to step out on faith, especially in the area of personal stewardship. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have no problem with giving – at my church, in my General Association, even in my National Convention – and it’s because I watched Timothy J. Winters – even in his building programs, be one, if not the, biggest givers in San Diego.
He reached out to younger pastors. When I came to San Diego in the 1990s, it was known for having the “younger pastors” who had at least 10, 15, and 20 years of experience. He was a city-wide icon – but he still had time for younger pastors like myself, Charles E. Price, G.A. Williams, E.M. Williams, Edward Johnson, and others. He added me to the staff of the Baptist Ministers Union, when he was President, and we served together in the Progressive Baptist District Association.
I never will forget he was the guest speaker for New Hope Friendship Baptist Church’s Church Anniversary. The place was packed. During the offering he said this – “We can’t celebrate the bride (the church) without celebrating the groom (the pastor) . . .” and he reached over and gave me a generous check. It brings tears to my eyes because he didn’t know how needed those funds were.
In ensuing years, I’ve been a guest of Dr. Winters and Bayview (and of course his wonderful wife, Betty Winters) and he never put me up in a Motel 6 type of hotel. He was always generous and put me in beautiful hotels and great venues.
Dr. Winters’ monogram is easily that captain’s cap he wore around the country. You always knew that Dr. Winters has a love for being near the ocean and from the highest point of Bayview, you could look down and see the ocean. He planted congregations with the “view” name attached, all thriving to this day.
An author and lecturer on Church Growth and a specialist on Stewardship. He took stewardship to another level and taught “grace giving” that meant that giving should not be restricted to just the tithe. In his tenure, Bayview built a beautiful sanctuary (and recently did a major remodel) and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Building that houses offices, classrooms and a world-class dining hall. Additionally, the church owns significant amounts of property in the neighborhood. It’s a far cry from the day he became the pastor 40 years ago.
I pray that my friend will enjoy his well deserved retirement. He has hosted some of America’s best preachers. He has been a denominational leader within National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International, and supporter of causes. He is an entrepreneur of the saved kind. And knowing him, retirement means he’ll have more time to devote to writing, travel (especially to Greece), and spending his golden years with Sis. Betty.
Whatever his next chapter will be, his gospel will remain the same . . . giving.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors.
In an informal survey of pastors, I asked a simple question:
What do you wish you had been told before you became a pastor?
Some of the responses were obvious. For me, a few were surprises.
I note them in order of frequency of response, not necessarily in order of importance. After each item, I offer a representative quote from a pastor.
- I wish someone had taught me basic leadership skills. “I was well grounded in theology and Bible exegesis, but seminary did not prepare me for the real world of real people. It would have been great to have someone walk alongside me before my first church.”
- I needed to know a lot more about personal financial issues. “No one ever told me about minister’s housing, social security, automobile reimbursement, and the difference between a package and a salary. I got burned in my first church.”
- I wish I had been given advice on how to deal with power groups and power people in the church. “I got it all wrong in my first two churches. I was fired outright from the first one and pressured out in the second one. Someone finally and courageously pointed out how I was messing things up almost from the moment I began in a new church. I am so thankful that I am in the ninth year of a happy pastorate in my third church.”
- Don’t give up your time in prayer and the Word. “I really don’t ever remember anyone pointing me in that direction. The busier I became at the church, the more I neglected my primary calling. It was a subtle process; I wish I had been forewarned.”
- I wish someone had told me I needed some business training. “I felt inadequate and embarrassed in the first budget meetings. And it really hit home when we looked at a building program that involved fund raising and debt. I had no clue what the bankers were saying.”
- Someone should have told me that there are mean people in the church. “Look, I was prepared to deal with critics. That’s the reality of any leadership position. But I never expected a few of the members to be so mean and cruel. One church member wrote something really cruel on my Facebook wall. Both my wife and children cried when they read it.”
- Show me how to help my kids grow up like normal kids. “I really worry about the glass house syndrome with my wife and kids. I’m particularly worried that my children will see so much of the negative that they will grow up hating the church. I’ve seen it happen too many times.”
- I wish I had been told to continue to date my wife. “I was diligent in dating my wife before I became a pastor. I then got so busy helping others with their needs that I neglected her. I almost lost my marriage. She felt so alone as I tried to meet everyone’s needs but hers.”
- Someone needed to tell me about the expectation of being omnipresent. “I had no idea that people would expect me to be at so many meetings, so many church socials, and so many sports and civic functions. It is impossible to meet all those expectations, so I left some folks disappointed or mad.”
- I really needed help knowing how to minister to dying people. “Some of those who have terminal illnesses have such a strong faith that they minister to me. But many of them are scared and have questions I never anticipated. I was totally unprepared for these pastoral care issues when I first became a pastor.”
How do you respond to this list? What would you add?
Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.
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.