by Robert Earl Houston
Several months ago, I introduced a list of 10 of the Best Preachers I’ve Ever Heard and I received a lot of comments about my personal list – “who should have been on the list.” Now, a few short hours from Thanksgiving, I want to issue a Part 2 to that list.
On the original list, I noted the ministries of Pastors E.V. Hill, Donald L. Parson, Robert H. Wilson, Sr., E. Edward Jones, T.D. Jakes, A. Louis Patterson, R.A. Williams, Jr., E.K. Bailey, Melvin Von Wade, Sr. and Gardner Calvin Taylor. You can see that list and accompanying videos by clicking here now.
I want to now add ten more preachers. Unfortunately, some of the ministers don’t have any video online.
DR. ARTHUR BERNARD DEVERS, I, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - Dr. Devers was my father in the ministry who introduced me to the ministry and especially manuscript preaching. When he was called to the New Hope Baptist Church in Portland in 1975, the saying was if you went to hear him you needed two books – a Bible and a Dictionary. He taught me a love for words, sentence structure and was actively preaching in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International as he served congregations in Portland, Seattle and San Antonio.
DR. O.B. WILLIAMS, PORTLAND, OREGON - Simplistic, but profound. Low tech methods but high tech impact. Dr. O.B. Williams, one of the pioneers of the Northwest stood flatfooted and preached, with his manuscript paper clipped to sections of the text and preached folk crazy from the 1940s to 1991s. “Dr. O.B.” as he was affectionately called, pastored the church he founded for 45 plus years, served as “President for Life” of the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest, and was a stalwart of the NBCA and one of the founding fathers of the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. He opened up his sermons with the words, “Is there any word from the Lord? Yes My dears, there is always a word from the Lord.” His smooth, sing-song method of sermon closure was imitated by generations in the Northwest.
DR. FRANK E. RAY, SR., MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - I was one of the co-chairs of the San Diego City-Wide Revival when the name “Dr. Frank E. Ray, Sr.” was suggested as our evangelist. And when I met him, I learned to respect, admire, and frankly, covet the preaching gift encapsulated in Dr. Ray’s preaching. To say he has a photographic memory is an insult – he is completely absorbed in the Word and listening to him preach is like watching a sponge squeezed and whatever is stored within him is released. His close of his sermon is the template for a generation of young preachers and his argument has won him respect across the nation. He’s one that you must hear before you go to Glory. Tremendous pastor of the New Salem Baptist Church.
DR. ASA W. SAMPSON, SR., HOUSTON, TEXAS - When I was a young associate minister, my pastor had just invited Dr. Asa W. Sampson, Sr., of the legendary Sampson brothers legacy of Texas, to stand in the pulpit of New Hope Baptist Church. I was tremendously impressed. He was dapper, long curly hair, overtly kind and courteous (he would always use “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” to the elderly sisters of the church), and his preaching (another manuscripter) was absolutely incredible. I never shall forget the sermon, “Looking At the World Through the Eyes of Jesus.” Years later, he brought me to preach for him at the Hopewell Baptist Church and I was a nervous wreck because I was standing in the pulpit where Dr. Sampson stood week after week. I still consider him a life-long friend and he is one of the best. Son of a preacher and father of a preacher.
DR. WILLIAM J. SHAW, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - Dr. William J. Shaw is different. In the scheme of things in the Baptist world, he’s not flamboyant. He’s not loud. He doesn’t major in singing. He doesn’t minor in singing. He’s intellectual but he’s dynamically spiritual. I heard Dr. Shaw for the first time at the E.K. Bailey Conference in person and I was mesmerized. His handling of the text impressed me and just as meekly as he approached the sacred desk, he descended in same order. Dr. Shaw is perhaps going to be written in history as one of the best 25 black baptist preachers in history. He not only was a preacher’s preacher, he also served as President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. during one of the stormiest periods in her history.
DR. STEPHEN JOHN THURSTON, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - I met Dr. Thurston as well at the New Hope Church in Portland and I believe he was in his early 30s and I said to him “one day you’ll be president of the National Baptist Convention of America.” I was so impressed because I had never heard that kind of preaching, fervor, zeal, singing and he brought it night after night after night. Unapologetically conservative in his theology, you won’t find Dr. Thurston hunting theological rabbits, but he is always solid in his theology. Not some times. Always solid. He blends in all facets of preaching and his strong point is his series preaching, which has led to the construction and occupancy of a massive sanctuary of the New Covenant Church in Chicago. He’s a President who doesn’t have an entourage to discourage him from mingling with the masses.
DR. KEVIN WAYNE COSBY, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - I would do myself an injustice not to include Dr. Cosby to this list. His an academic, pastor, preacher, planner, theological school president, and one of the greatest sons that Kentucky has ever produced in preaching. Pastoring the same church, St. Stephen Baptist Church, since his early 20s, the congregation has blossomed to over 17,000 on roll, with three locations – Louisville, Jeffersonville (Indiana) and a recent third location (Elizabethtown, Kentucky). He is the honored President of Simmons College, which has made strides in accreditation and partnerships with academic, church and business institutions throughout Louisville. However, to me, the humility of how he handles the text is incredible. He stands as an academic, kills you as a theologian and then like grandmama says, “a good steak will always make it’s own gravy.”
BISHOP PAUL SYLVESTER MORTON, SR., ATLANTA, GEORGIA - He introduced the words “Changing a Generation” at an almost filled to the rafters Louisiana Superdome and the rest is history. Bishop Morton, who has led the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International for 20 plus years, is without a doubt one of America’s best preachers. His closing musical intonations are one part old fashioned gospel preacher with one part contemporary gospel artist with one part musical hymnologist. His close: “Is there anybody here?” with a drop of keys is impressive and everyone shouldn’t try this at home. He took Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Orleans from a couple of hundred to over 20,000. When Hurricane Katrina hit the area, many of his members relocated to Atlanta and he planted “Changing a Generation Church” there, turned over the pastoral duties of GSS to his wife, Pastor Debra Morton, and he continues to plot a course. His records, albums, business acumen is to be respected, but there is nothing like the preaching of this man of God.
PASTOR MARCUS W. COSBY, HOUSTON, TEXAS - I heard him here in Kentucky for the first time and I had never seen a room explode in celebration of preaching like I did when this man of God preached. He dresses old school (black and white), he has old school mannerisms, but he has the strength and agility of a team of young school preachers. His context analysis is eye popping. His ability to allow the Holy Spirit to completely encapsulate his presentation is unbelievable. And physically, his body contorts and literally he leans completely backward without fear of falling. His ministry at the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church by way of Chicago has exploded and he is one of the nation’s best preachers.
BISHOP GILBERT EARL PATTERSON, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - Bishop Patterson was a groundbreaking minister. He not only built one of the first megachurches in the Church of God in Christ, he also bought a radio station AND had an international television ministry. THEN he became the presiding prelate of COGIC. He was a literal preaching machine and he impressed me with his knowledge of the Old Testament. He could take a complicated text and unravel it and still retain the meaning. He is sorely missed on the preaching landscape today.
by Robert Earl Houston
I recently was made aware of something that I mentioned on Facebook, but I believe it needs some elaboration here.
A minister was ordained to preach before even uttering one word. That’s right – even before their first words of the gospel are uttered, they had already been ordained to the Gospel Ministry. I have a few opinions on this:
FIRST, IT CHEAPENS THE MINISTRY
The preaching minister of Jesus Christ is not an “add water” movement. Too many churches and pastors are “in a hurry” when it comes to the preaching ministry and would rather “microwave” an unqualified minister in the hopes that they’ll be “just fine” after while, instead of “cooking” like momma used to – on the stove of experience, no matter how long it takes, and then serving it when it’s “just right.” Those who say God has called them on Monday have no business being ordained Wednesday night. It makes a mockery and it cheapens the ministry – the process is valuable. Even Jesus’s disciples went through a process. Even the Apostle Paul went through a process. And I’m sure 99.99999% of those ministers who will read this understands that this “instant ordination” cheapens the integrity of the process.
SECONDLY, IT HURTS THE MINISTER
Several years ago, I preached a revival for a senior minister, of which I was then and still are grateful for the experience. As I sat in the study waiting to come to the pulpit, I was praying and stood up to get ready to walk out of the door and glanced at the wall. The Pastor had his educational degrees on the wall – his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree and his doctorate degree. Strangely, they were all dated on the same day – meaning that he was awarded the degrees at one time. I never asked him about it (none of my business) but I’m sure for many who saw it, it didn’t win over any hearts. The same can be said of any minister who is ordained prior to preaching – it makes them a punchline instead of a headline. It creates an unnecessary lack of credence to a minister even before they open their mouth. And it prepares the soil for arrogance, hostility and self-importance.
THIRDLY, IT HURTS ORDER
I learned order as a child. For example: A, B, C, D . . . For example: 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . For example: God, Family then Church. And I also learned (and this is written from the perspective of a baptist minister) – confession of the call, preparation of the initial or trial sermon, then licensure and then ordination. This is not a case of getting the cart before the horse – it’s a case of getting the cart out and forgetting the horse. There has to be an order – a method to this gladness. For me, I still treasure that meeting with my pastor, Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, to confess my call to preach. I still cherish those 5 months he gave me to prepare my first sermon (which I must have rehearsed 100 times over and over). I still cherish that one year and five months of waiting until I was licensed (man, that taught me patience), and then I cherished the time (and I never pushed the issue) of between licensure (1979) and ordination (1984) and that was AFTER serving as Co-Interim Pastor at my home church and serving as candidate for pastor and/or acting pastor in several congregations. There has to be an order for ministry and any minister who “jumps the line” and goes from call to ordination cannot be taken seriously.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
On Sunday, July 14, 2013, I faced what most pastors faced – crowds of people that were disillusioned by the verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman case. It cannot be understated that most African-Americans feel that this was a mis-carriage of justice. And I concur – the verdict was not justice. Justice is getting what you deserve in spite of personality. He received mercy from the jury. Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
I had a sermon already prepared to preach but my congregation was hurting. Hearts were shaken and a fundamental belief that justice is blind was shaken in a way that I haven’t seen since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But I’m a pastor of a great, historic church in Frankfort, Kentucky, many miles from Sanford, Florida, but I have something to say about this – “I’m Angry.”
I want to share this sermon from this past Sunday and I hope it will at least offer a voice in the dialogue that we’ll all having, of all colors and hues, this week. I pray that we can protest without violence taking over. I pray that we remember that honoring Trayvon Martin is not done by looting and exercising violence upon the innocent bystander. God, have mercy.
I am now 40 days removed from successful cancer surgery. As part of my procedure, a two inch diameter of skin was removed from my right foot and replaced with a skin graft of skin from my right hip. I have been blessed beyond measure and you have no idea what it felt like to be back in the worship at the First Baptist Church and in the pulpit one more time.
Prior to this surgical procedure I had a very busy schedule. I’m the senior pastor of a great congregation here in Northern Kentucky, I’m a member of one of the largest District Associations in Kentucky, I’m the State President of the Kentucky State Convention of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC), I’m Chairman of the Publishing Board of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, Member of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship and Board Member of the PNBC as well as their webmaster. I don’t list all of these for purposes of bragging . . . this story is going somewhere – hang on!
As much as I’d love to give great attention to all of these responsibilities and keep up with my preaching engagements and calendars – right now, I just can’t do it. I feel like a frustrated prophet – I want to be there, I want to preach and preach and preach and preach . . . but there is something called common sense.
I’m not out of the woods by any estimation. This surgery requires rest. I’ve actually stopped going to bed at 2 and 3 a.m. I’ve learned that I can’t eat on the run anymore. I’ve learned that I’ve got to slow down. I’ll let you in on a secret – my body will not give me any other choice. When my foot says “whoa” – it’s whoa.
Today I had to call a son of FBC, Dr. William Calhoun, of whom we are all very proud. He was licensed and ordained here by my predecessor, Dr. K.L. Moore, Jr., and we serve together as members of PNBC. Months ago he invited me to preach for him on this coming Sunday at his church in Baltimore. Had the plane ticket, he had made hotel reservations. Baltimore/Washington is one of my favorite areas and I was looking forward to going to Largo, Maryland and dine at one of my favorite seafood establishments. Plus I love history and enjoy going to see the monuments and the Washington mall.
But when we talked today, I had to tell him that I couldn’t make the trip. My foot is immensely sore, I still have an open wound on my foot, and I don’t have a lengthy timespan to be able to stand. When I preached at FBC on Sunday, I literally sat through most of the sermon (and oh yeah – you can be seated and preach). After worship, my wife and I hosted our graduates – from kindergarten to high school to trade school to college – at Hometown Buffet in Louisville. Since then, my foot has been killing me.
It’s just 40 days from surgery. I’m trying to get in the swing of things again, but I realize this is not going to be a quick sprint – it’s going to be marathon and patience is required. I’m looking at my calendar and looking at several events upcoming – a district association, a general association and a national convention – and thinking if I attend, I’m not going to be there gavel to gavel – I need to take it easy.
Pastor Calhoun made a common sense statement – “there will be another time.” That’s what my goal is – to finish this season with some common sense and be around for those “other times.” Cancer and Surgery is nothing to play with and I have to do what’s in the best interest of myself, my wife, my family, and my church family – and I can serve them best by exercising common sense.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
Let me begin by saying the photo has nothing to do with this article. No inference. No suggestive references. Nada. Nothing.
Kinda like some preaching . . .
I’m a student of preaching and preaching styles, but, nothing boils my blood worst than to hear a minister, dressed and coiffed, hit the pulpit, read a scripture, and then commit preaching which does not engage, expose or elaborate upon the selected text.
Again, it’s like this picture of Cee Lo Green and his cat, Purrfect – it has nothing to do with this article.
A few years ago Carole King wrote a memorable song, “You’re so vain . . . you probably think this song is about you . . .” The reality is that preaching a sermon should emanate or at least be anchored by a text.
Preaching is not ranting and raving. Preaching is not trying to score points. Preaching is not about “finding” a scripture to back up a cute phrase you heard on television. Years ago, I heard a preacher preach a sermon “My savior has a first name, J-E-S-U-S” – I literally had to excuse myself from the worship (I was playing the organ that Sunday) because I couldn’t stop laughing uncontrollably. I would like to suggest three things here:
FIRST, ASK THE HOLY SPIRIT TO GIVE YOU A TEXT.
I know that sounds trivial, but the basic premise of preaching is that you preach the Word of God. The Scriptures. Whether it’s a scripture just for the next preaching event, or a series – it all begins with a text. You need to ask God, who is the author, for the text. Even if you don’t understand it at the initial point, get to know the text.
SECONDLY, REMEMBER SOMETHING IMPORTANT ABOUT THE TEXT.
Understand that the text is not for your benefit primarily. God is using you to speak through to touch the heart, soul and mind of a listener or a group of listeners. Therefore, the primary purpose of preaching is to proclaim what God is saying to that person or group. While they’re going through their seasons of life, you need to stick to the text. While they’re going through transitions, you need to stick to the text. Illustrations and ideas might be okay, but if they remember your story more than they remember the text, you’ve missed the mark.
THIRDLY, THE TEXT SHOULD BE GIVEN DUE DILIGENCE
Expository preaching is not easy. It’s work. You’re going to have to deal with context, culture, language, history, syntax, grammar – you know, all of that stuff you hated in school. You cannot adequately approach the text and proclaim it without doing your homework. I will forever be indebted to Drs. R.A. Williams, Jr., Larry L. Harris (deceased), and George Waddles, Sr., whose conference, WHW (www.whwministries.com) opened my eyes to expository preaching. The ending sound of a sermon is hollow if you haven’t exegeted the text. A loud noise may excite the crowd but they’ll go home hungry and an hour later they won’t remember the sermon. They use to have a saying “dig your own well” and I say that to you today – dig, dig, dig.
Dig until your eyes hurt.
Dig until you’ve wore your computer out.
Dig until you’ve looked at every aspect of the text.
Don’t go to the pulpit with a word from the Lord and they leave with a word from you.
Your comments are welcomed!
Sermon by Pastor Robert Earl Houston, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky, preached at Historic Pleasant Green Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, Dr. Thomas H. Peoples, Jr. for their Women’s Day, Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.
by Robert Earl Houston
GARY, INDIANA - For the third consecutive year, I’ve had the privilege of sharing in the Gary Simultaneous Revival. For those who are not aware of it, it is one of the few cities in the nation that run a successful Simultaneous Revival.
The pastors and churches come together for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. Then worship begins at 8:00 a.m. (locations rotate from year to year). The noon-day worship begins obviously at 12:00 p.m. Then the churches break off into their individual worship services that evening. Lately, there have been attempts to start a late night service for “church-a-holics” who may have to work during church hours.
I am here at the invitation of Pastor Marlon C. Mack and the Sweet Home Baptist Church. Pastor Mack is also the General Secretary of the host Baptist Ministers Union of Gary and Vicinity. It is one of the places I really enjoy preaching at throughout the year and his people are very attentive and appreciative for the word. They have one of the up and coming ministers in Gary in Pastor Mack. God bless his ministry there!
For the second consecutive year, I’ve been honored to preach the breakfast session. I’ve be standing on Thursday morning, a day after my friend, Pastor Terry Brooks of Bayview Baptist Church, San Diego will be preaching on Wednesday.
Gary is a dually aligned city – many of the pastors are either PNBC or NBCUSA churches and some of them are dually aligned (members of both conventions). Despite the economic fallout that this area has experienced since the 1960s, this is still a “CHURCH-TOWN” and the church is the vital heartbeat to this city and the survival of its people. Gary is a city of beautiful church buildings and facilities.
I’ve preached for several churches here and was actually called to one church here years ago (I turned it down). But I have great ties with the Pastors and Churches of Gary.
Evangelists include Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, Dr. Elliott Cuff, Dr. Leroy Elliott, Dr. Steve Bland, Jr., and other outstanding pastors from throughout the nation. For preachers, this is a great week to take off and just be preached at. That’s what happened to me today, Dr. Bland preached (my, my, my) and it helped ME today.
Recently I have been embroiled in a controversy not of my own making. A denominational leader called me out for bringing in guest preachers for our Good Friday Service. I was basically told that I was wrong for bringing in non-baptist preachers and fellowshipping with non-baptists, and that I should have “stuck with the script” and used Kentucky baptist preachers only.
I was floored.
I was angry.
I was grieved.
I was angry.
I was annoyed.
I was angry.
I was raised in ministry by Dr. A. Bernard Devers, who is now in Heaven, and he trained us, taught us, and primarily he taught us of the autonomy that we have in the Baptist Church. His father in the ministry (who I claim as my grandfather in the ministry), the late Dr. C.E. Williams, was chairman of the Ministers Conference for the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest and he regularly hammered into our head “Conventions don’t make churches; Churches make conventions.” In other words, what I heard in 2013 greatly differs from what I was taught in 1978.
I invite in who the Holy Spirit tells me to – PERIOD.
I have always enjoyed fellowship with other Christian Denominations. I admire the A.M.E.’s for their dedication to Christian Education. I admire the COGICs for their tenacity of praise and worship. I admire the United Methodists for their reverence of worship. And yes, I am baptist born, baptist bred, and when I did baptist dead – BUT, I was a believer before I became a Baptist. I am Baptist by choice. However, I am not confined to the baptist way of doing things and frankly, there are some flaws in our baptist polity that some of us have chosen to ignore rather than enforce.
There is no “baptist way” of worship. Matter of fact, there is no printed order of worship throughout the Bible. The early church didn’t have an order of worship with “Baptist” written across it. Stunningly, someone sent me an email and suggested that the Baptist Church was what Jesus instituted when He called the twelve. If that’s the case, there’s a Judas in every camp.
There’s nothing wrong with being proud to be Baptist – but there’s some wrong when that pride turns to exclusivity. It’s akin to going to Waffle House every morning for breakfast and passing by 100 other restaurants and saying, “Waffle House” is the only folk that makes real breakfast. It’s a narrow interpretation of scriptures that do not exist.
Some good has come of this. On Facebook, I started a “KENTUCKY PASTORS AND PREACHERS & FRIENDS” page that has caught fire – over 100 pastors and preachers, tired of the non-biblical tradition of separatism, have latched on. I’m not using that platform to start a convention nor association (that’s what they call what most of the country calls state conventions here). However, I am interested in fellowship with those who I will eventually re-unite again with in heaven.
Somebody has to make a stand against this mantra of “us’s only.”
by Robert Earl Houston
I want to lift up the names of preachers who have made an impact in my life. This is part one of a series. These are not in any particular order . . .
DR. E.V. HILL, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - Dr. Hill was one of my favorite pictures. He was one of the first black preachers on national television and his sermons were profound yet simple; elegant but practical. He preached for our state convention, the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest, for several years:
DR. DONALD LEE PARSON, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - The first time I heard Dr. Parson, he was the guest evangelist for my home church in Portland, Oregon and from that first night, I was hooked. What a tremendous preacher and even now, some 35 years later, Dr. Parson remains not only a mentor, but a friend.
DR. ROBERT H. WILSON, SR., DALLAS, TEXAS – If you grew up in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., you had to know and meet Dr. Bob – Dr. Robt. H. Wilson, Sr., who brought the Foreign Mission Board into the millions of dollars of donations and was one of the premier preachers. Impeccably dressed, he was the style standard for many young pastors and preachers.
DR. E. EDWARD JONES, II, SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA - I was a child when I first heard “The Tall Angel” Dr. Jones. I still remember his sermon “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and to hear him and know him was a privilege. He remembers everyone by name (still don’t know how he does it) and don’t let him snap those suspenders while preaching…
BISHOP T.D. JAKES, DALLAS, TEXAS – Bishop Jakes has changed black preaching forever. What E.K. Bailey did for expository preaching, Bishop Jakes has done for a new style of preaching that mixes expository, extemporaneous and exegetical into a perfect blend of style and soul.
DR. A. LOUIS PATTERSON, HOUSTON, TEXAS – I am a sold-out A. Louis Patterson fan. Whenever he’s in the area, I make it my business to hear the Prince of Preachers. I remember the first time I heard him, I was mesmerized by his theology and vocabulary skills. I met him personally when I served as his Facilitator during the Bishop College L.K. Williams Ministers Institute in his class on preaching. I’ve never been the same.
DR. R.A. WILLIAMS, JR., LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – What I am as an expository preacher is the “fault” of this preacher. Dr. Williams, who I knew as a teenager, took preaching to a new level, mixed it with whooping (and he was the first to be non-apologetic for the craft) and blew my mind. For many years in Portland, at the St. Mark Baptist Church, he was the preacher we wanted to hear in Revival.
DR. E.K. BAILEY, DALLAS, TEXAS – Dr. Bailey and I met in Portland, Oregon when he did revivals at the Morning Star Baptist Church and I went to the early years of his conference in Dallas (I plan to return soon). He embraced me as a young pastor and every time we ran into each other, he always wanted to know how was I doing. I was with him at the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America shortly before his passing and a picture of him and I is one of my most precious photographs. He is responsible for black expository preaching being the standard.
DR. MELVIN VON WADE, SR., LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Another one of the preachers that Dr. E.C. Wilder brought to Portland, Oregon. Manuscript Preachers love Melvin Wade because he has taught us that you can be expository, lyrical and poetic at the same time and still preach from a manuscript.
DR. GARDNER CALVIN TAYLOR, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – In my mind, no list is complete without the Dean of Preachers. I’ve met Dr. Taylor on several occasions and he is one of the greatest black preachers to have ever walked in the land. From his humble Louisiana roots – he never personified New York preaching, he created it; he set the standard for preaching and humility as a way to climb high. I’m glad that he saw his dream in Nashville – all four of the major National Baptist conventions come together not once, but once again in Atlanta.
by Robert Earl Houston
One of the facets that cannot be ignored during this month of Black History is the affect of prophetic preaching in the African-American experience.
If it weren’t for those voices who preached about social justice, sometimes all by themselves, Lord only knows where we would be today. Preachers like E.V. Hill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., Adam Clayton Powell, Gardner Calvin Taylor, Ralph David Abernathy, William Augustus Jones, J. Alfred Smith, Sr., and others, who sounded the alarm to awaken the social conscience of not only black America, but of the entire nation. They challenged this nation during a time of war, social unrest, discrimination, and other maladies. They challenged not only those who heard them in the comfortable confines of their churches, but they led peaceful protest of governmental policies in the streets.
They preached against the marginalization of the negro.
They preached about the lack of adequate housing and employment.
They preached about strengthening of the family structure.
They preached about unjust verdicts received by the negro in court cases.
They preaching against the violent methods of protest.
Fast forward to 2013 – what has happened to prophetic preaching?
Before I delve into this matter, I will confess that I am not called to a prophetic preaching ministry. I am an expository pastor/preacher/teacher and I’m quite comfortable where God has placed me. I’m in a community where a goodly amount of people gather and it is necessary for me to address some issues, events and circumstances within a biblical context. However, at this point, I’m not called to preach prophetically, however, there are times when the prophetic utterance occurs within the context of a sermon.
I think that those men and women of that day were called to that ministry. By divine reckoning, their personalities and ambitions complemented the prophetic preaching ministry. None of these men were afraid of the consequences. Their reputations were never “on the line” and they were not concerned about opinion polls or how they would be perceived by Associations or Conventions. In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was publicly fired from denominational office by National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. president, Dr. John Harrison Jackson, which was one of the major factors which led to the formation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Prophetic Ministry means that you depend not upon a pulpit nor denomination for survival. That speaking out against injustices is your passion. Dr. King showed us that speaking out does not have to be laced with profanity nor ignorance. He showed us that non-violent demonstration is how you affect change that can be lasting. Dr. King and the “fathers of the movement” showed us that eloquence defeats ignorance, that prayer defeats strongholds, that social justice trumps injustice.
What has happened to prophetic preaching?
I think what has happened is that prophetic preaching is not a priority in most of our ministries. Using the words of Tip O’Neill, “all politics is local.” And if you live in an area where the people are not suffering as a whole like in other parts of the country, God may not have called a minister to that mantle. I was asked by the Chairman of an initiative of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., who wanted to know if I wanted to sign onto a project to combat teenage pregnancy, especially among church teenagers. The shock in his face when I told him, “to my knowledge, there are no young teenage girls in my church that have been pregnant in four years.” That’s true. However, in his area (Washington, DC), it’s an epidemic.
Everyone is not called to preach prophetically. I don’t think it’s wise to beat a drum that nobody will hear. For example, to demonstrate and “speak truth to power” when there is no one of power in the room and then go and brag about “I really told that Sarah Palin off today” is missing the mark if Sarah Palin was not in the house.
I recall from the civil rights marches of the 1960s that the “powers that be” heard the voices of the prophetic. They couldn’t help but because the prophetical voices were not tethered to pulpits and ivory towers of churches. They took to the streets, they grabbed bullhorns, they marched (not in gators), and made headlines until President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and President Richard Nixon heard their voices.
They were brought into the White House not to preach prophetically, but because they already had.
I applaud those who are called to speak on behalf of the defenseless, the poor, the destitute, those who suffer injustices within their communities and in this nation. Somebody has to speak for the Lord and for His people in times of great injustices. However, I firmly believe that you have to be called to it. The Church of God in Christ has a “theme song” that says: “This is the Church of God in Christ | This is the Church of God in Christ | You don’t join it | You must be born in it | This is the Church of God in Christ.”
I feel that way about prophetic preaching. It has to be birthed from the preacher given the times. God bless those who speak prophetically to our cities, states, nation and world.
I welcome your comments and discussion to this blog below.