Category Archives: The Black Church

It’s Not a Vacant Church, It’s a Vacant Pulpit

by Robert Earl Houston

Houston08282013I’ve been producing (at no cost) a list of “vacant churches” for the past 20 years plus. I was inspired to do so by the work of Dr. A.V. “King” Fisher of Fort Worth, Texas, who for years produced a magazine widely read by preachers called “The E.R.R.P. Report.” I found out about the magazine from my pastor, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, and it contained a list of “Vacant Churches.” Since the advent of the internet, way before others did so, I had a list of “vacant churches” for the African-American baptist church community. 

I did so to destroy the “old boy” system of placing pastors in pulpit when it was “who you knew” and “who you owed” when getting called to a church. Young pastors would be beholden to older ministers who held “that favor” over their heads for years and years and years. It was a terrible system and I had been exposed to it and didn’t like it and thought there had to be a better way.

I’ve been calling it “vacant churches” for twenty years. Today that stops. 

It’s not a church congregation or building that’s vacant – it is the pulpit. 99.9% of the congregations that I know that go through pastoral transition survive. Yes, sometimes in a tense atmosphere. Yes, sometimes during a season of division, political in-fighting and issues. Yes, sometimes when a clear candidate of the pastorate is before them. And yes, sometimes when there is no suitable pastoral candidate on the horizon.

But the work of the church continues.

Worship services still are held.
Preaching is still being preached.
Listening to preaching is still going on.
Singing is still being performed.
Ushers still usher.

Someone once said to me that a “real church is one that has a pastor.” I beg to differ. I do believe that a church should search prayerfully for a pastor. I also believe that a church without a pastor can still be effective in ministry beyond the borders of the building – working harmoniously together, while waiting for the Holy Spirit to fill the vacancy.

If your church is without a pastor – keep on doing ministry. Occupy yourself with ministry. Try to keep as much as possible. Pray more than you ever have. And the supplier will send someone to fill that vacant pulpit. 

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Happy (and busy) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Weekend

by Robert Earl Houston

Dr. C.B. Akins

Dr. C.B. Akins

If he were still alive, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have celebrated his 85th birthday. He and my mother are around the same age and who can imagine what life would have been had his life not been cut off by the bullet from an assassin.

This weekend I participated in two MLK celebrations.

The first one was in Frankfort which is sponsored by the Frankfort/Franklin County Ministerial Alliance. I have been a part of that body of leaders since my arrival here in 2009. I’ve been the Chair of this event for the past 3 occasions and hosted one at First Baptist Church. This year we were at the St. Paul United Methodist Church pastored by Rev. Donna Aros. In our Alliance, we welcome all Christian denominations and we’ve been led by Dr. Jackson Brewer, retired pastor of First United Methodist Church and frankly – the man for the job. FFCMA started ROSM (Resource Office of Social Ministries) that ministers to literally thousands through the years with assistance on life’s necessities. We also supply prayer support as chaplains for the House and Senate of the Commonwealth.

Rev. Aros, Dr. Brewer, Rev. Glenn Spaulding of St. John AME Church serve as the program committee and this year (with great input from Rev. Aros) we expanded the setting. We invited our hispanic brothers and sisters to join in the celebration and one of the new pastors, Rev. Maikel Rojas Perez of Tabernaculo de Aviviamiento offered prayer in spanish after Rev. Jermaine Wilson, pastor of St. John AME Church, prayed in english.

Also this year we invited and received partnership with government officials. Mayor William May, Sheriff Pat Melton, State Representative Derrick Graham, Kentucky State University President Mary Sias, and Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes. Not only did they come to speak – they stayed through the entire service. Music was sweetly provided by the St. Paul UMC and St. John AME Choirs.

Dr. C.B. Akins was the guest speaker. Dr. Akins is the newly elected Moderator of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky – the largest baptist body in Kentucky. Dr. Akins has been a great friend since my arrival here and I was delighted to invite him to be our guest speaker. Dr. Akins was off the hook! His sermon was from Exodus 3:1-14 and he used the words of Maya Angelou as his subject, “Arriving on a Nightmare, Praying for a Dream.”  It certainly challenged the audience and he was superb! We also awarded small grants to The Franklin County Women’s Shelter and The BackPackSnack Program.

IMG_8531Today, I was the guest preacher for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service sponsored by the Greater Shelby County Ministerial Coalition (GSCMC) led by my friend, Dr. Kilen K. Gray. Services were held in the newly built sanctuary of the St. John United Methodist Church were Rev. Robert Marshall is the pastor.  It was my first time preaching for this group but I’ve preached in several venues in Shelbyville and actually it’s one of my favorite places to preach at in Kentucky.  I’ve done revivals there and annual days there and this service was awesome.

I don’t take invitations to preach lightly. I realize that there are thousands upon thousands who could have stood at that spot. I even realize there are thousands of thousands of preachers who are better prepared, have a longer resume than mine – however the Lord continues to favor me with invites like this. I’m grateful.

First, it literally, due to the new worship space was double in size. And every pew was filled. Secondly, the worship atmosphere was tremendous. The choir (a mass choir from throughout the city), the soloists, the presentations all lent themselves to a fabulous worship experience.

When I got up to preach, the Lord was kind. My text was based on Genesis 37:21 and my subject was “You Can’t Kill My Dream.”  The Lord was so kind to the worship and I was received very warmly. I’m grateful for the brothers and sisters of the GSCMC.

The Skittles and Iced Tea Communion

by Robert Earl Houston

Photo on 6-19-13 at 10.01 AMRecently I was made aware of a “movement” by some ministers following the tragic miscarriage of justice in the George Zimmerman case. Believe me, I am outraged, angered, shocked, as is most (not all) Americans. However, the stage and platform for the protest honestly has me scratching my head.

The “protest” that is planned is to replace the traditional bread and wine (or grape juice) implements of the Lord’s Supper with Skittles and Iced Tea (or Arizona watermelon juice cocktail, which is what Trayvon Martin actually purchased) and serve it to the congregants of the church on first Sunday (or whenever communion is served in that local congregation). There is a video online (which I will not post here) that shows a pastor leading his congregation in such a communion.

I have problems with this.

First, and I need to confess I am a Baptist minister – this goes against everything I’ve been taught since my first exposure as a child. The Lord’s supper is one of two ordinances of the church (the other being baptism). An ordinance is a law, or a specific command, which Jesus Himself instituted.

Mark 14:22-25 (on the evening before His betrayal):
22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake [it], and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.

23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave [it] to them: and they all drank of it.

24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

Jesus clearly instituted this as an ordinance (law) and he prescribed the manner of it. He symbolically references the wine/fruit of the vine as His blood. He symbolically references bread as His body. Therefore bread = body and wine = blood. It is a law that even Paul says was passed down to him.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the [same] night in which he was betrayed took bread:

24 And when he had given thanks, he brake [it], and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

25 After the same manner also [he took] the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink [it], in remembrance of me.

26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

Again, the emphasis on bread and wine and the law – we are to replicate this law until He returns.

Secondly, the Lord’s Supper is not a protest. It’s a period of reflection and renewal of our relationship with the Lord.

The Lord’s Supper is no more salvific than Baptism. Neither of these laws or ordinances create or cause salvation. However, the law is not for the unsaved, it’s for the saved. And the purpose of it is that we might remember and celebrate the sacrifice that was made for us by Jesus Christ.

No one should misappropriate or diminish that sacrifice and The Lamb that was sacrificed for our salvation. I cannot celebrate at the Lord’s table, anyone else other than Jesus Christ. That’s why we don’t celebrate Paul, John, John Mark, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Eve, Adam – or any other past biblical character nor any past historical or present celebrity – because this is a sacrifice that only Jesus Christ Himself made on behalf of humanity.

The Lord’s Supper is THE LORD’s The Lord’s Supper. It has His blood-stained fingerprints upon it. It has His agony and sweat upon it. It has His pain upon it. It belongs to Him.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Ralph Abernathy, and other civil rights icons did their protesting in the streets, not at the Lord’s Table. They met in sanctuaries to plan and execute plans, but they never misappropriated the use of the Lord’s table in such a manner that would leave any doubt as to who’s legacy we are focused upon and celebrating.

The Lord’s Supper is not a protest piece nor is it speaking truth to power. It should be left alone. If you want to protest, do it at the ballot box. Do it in City Council meetings. Do it when it’s your turn to do jury duty and you accept it instead of weaseling out of it. Do it when it’s time to vote instead of not voting. But don’t create a manufactured protest out of that which is holy (set apart).

Finally, I believe in the three factor. I believe that every Pastor needs to surround him (or her) self with three other ministers – one older than him, one contemporary, and one younger – for wisdom, fellowship, and to dialogue.

I spoke with my younger factor and we’ve been dialoguing on this issue and his words struck me. He suggests that there is a missing link in how ministers are trained today, especially in the seminary setting. There’s a local pastor here in Frankfort that teaches in seminary and I will never forget him saying “many of the guys in seminary don’t even go to church anymore. They hang out in their dorms, they don’t want to preach.”

Maybe the reason why Paul’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper is not being implemented is that a generation of preachers/pastors exist out there now that have never submitted themselves to or have rejected mentoring. A term that was used in my younger days was “father in the ministry” and ministry, as my young factor suggested, was more of submission, instruction and of an apprenticeship. Now there are words used like “coverings” which suggest that if I can put on a cover, I can take it off as well.

There are some things in the faith (I’m not talking about whooping or sermonic presentation) – but the tenents of the faith, the “mysteries of the faith” that have to be not only passed down, but respected. Maybe I’ve become a dinosaur in this new age, but I still believe that on a hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame. I still believe that He was laid on a cross and nails were hammered into his arms and feet. I still believe that He was lifted up between two thieves and that He was the sacrificial Lamb and that my sins were upon His shoulders. I still believe that He died for my sins. I still believe that He was buried in a borrowed tomb and early Sunday morning, He got up with all power in His hand. I still believe that the Word is true. I still believe that the Lord’s Supper is sacred and that Baptism is reserved for those who have expressed a hope in Christ Jesus.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.

Baptist Born and Baptist Bred and When I Die . . .

by Robert Earl Houston

Enough is enough! I’m writing today to express my convictions and enthusiastic support of my decision, made some 37 years ago plus to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior through a Baptist Church.

Nowadays, we’ve been the brunt of jokes, accusations, lies, hating, and really it’s ironic because in spite of some perceived and yes, some cases, real faults, the Baptist Church, especially the black Baptist Church, has continued to serve God while serving humanity. In every major city, there is a Baptist Church. In every small town, there is a Baptist Church. My goal in writing this blog post is to pen an opus to the Baptist Church.

The Baptist Church evolved historically from the loins of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s confession, King Henry VIII’s split from the Catholic Church, and in this nation, the U.S.A., has thrived through the years, even in the midst of history making controversy, separation and divide. We may not be all in the same denominational home, but there is very little that separates us doctrinally. To be honest, the Black Baptist Church denominationally has NEVER split over theology. We’ve split over power, publishing boards and position – but never over theology.

We all believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God. We all believe in the Articles of Faith. We all believe in the priesthood of the believer. We all believe in being led by the Holy Spirit. We all believe in the autonomy of the local church. And on and on and on. The Black Baptist Church were the “holy rollers” of yesteryear; The sponsors of higher education institutions; The front line spokemen of the Civil Rights era and even today important voices in the movement; The largest landowner of church buildings within our race; Entrepreneurs in our communities; Day care owners and operators; and the greatest benevolent endowment for African-Americans before, during and after the Welfare system.

Our preachers are prophetic and practical; Trained and Spiritual; Evangelistic and Personable.  We are the first called to the scene of tragedy, we were the first called to the scene of community unrest and we’re looked to as role models within our communities.  We are there at births, there at weddings, there at funerals, and community events.

Within our pews are professionals, day-skilled laborers, blue collar workers, white collar workers, the gainfully employed and they sit along side of those on Welfare, those who are seeking employment, those who have lost their jobs, lost their families, seeking direction, dealing with psychological and substance abuse issues – and yet these two extremes are always welcome at the Lord’s house and are inter-dependent one upon another.

The Word of God is not our sidelight, it is our main focus. We don’t chase theological rabbits and we’re not seeking the next mystical unicorn. Although our order of worship varies from pulpit to pulpit, one message resonates every Sunday morning, “He died . . . and then early Sunday morning, He got up with all power in His Hand.”  It is effective whether it is preached, shouted, whooped, lectured or taught.

We refuse to say we don’t have as much Holy Ghost as others, in their arrogance, seem to suggest. We are spiritual men and women, boys and girls, who have accepted the fullness of the godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and we recognize the only manual for our faith and practice is the Word of God.

We called each other Pastor, Brother, Sister not in disrespect, but in a familial sense because we call our churches our “church home.”  We musically don’t sit on the back row – Baptists have produced Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, Kirk Franklin, and for years supported artists and quartets who were welcomed into our churches when the Convention Centers, Arenas and Performing Arts centers were off limit to negroes.

Our worship varies – some of us sing reverently and some sing “full blast.” We’ve been known to sing, jump, run, flip benches, cry, weep, shout, and then have our moments of silent reflections.

I am proud of my baptist heritage. I’m glad to be in the line that produced the National Baptist Convention, Inc., the National Baptist Convention of America, International; the Progressive National Baptist Convention; the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America; the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International;  We have branches of Baptist Churches which include Free Will, Regular Baptist Churches, and the like. We were the root of several pentecostal movements, of which we don’t condone attack because we are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

It was in the Baptist Church that I spoke publicly for the first time, sang for the first time, ushered for the first time, preached for the first time, played an instrument publicly for the first time. There are sons and daughters of the church who have gone on to other denominational homes, but they will tell you quickly, they had their start in the Baptist Church.Entertainers, athletes, judges, politicians and others will tell you of their genesis in the Baptist Church.

Finally, we have a rich worship heritage that runs from quiet to loud and we have produced some of the most prolific and practical preaching in the world. Our preachers have set the standard for preaching. I can point at an E.V. Hill, E.K. Bailey, Joseph Harrison Jackson, Gardner Taylor, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Donald Lee Parson, Jasper Williams, the Wade Family, R.A. Williams, Jr., The Thurston Family, The Sampson brothers, Mack King Carter, C.L. Franklin, the Evans brothers, Robert H. Wilson, Paul Sylvester Morton, O.B. Williams, Adam Clayton Powell, J. Andrew Boles, Kenneth Ulmer,  Freddie Dunn, Earl Pleasant, Timothy Winters, S.M. Lockridge, William Augustus Jones, Bernard Black, Robert Smith, Carl Anderson, Warren Stewart, C.E. Williams, and other names of the past and present and then point to the promise of the future in preachers like H.B. Charles, Jr., E. Dewey Smith, James Walter Hills, II, Kevin Wayne Cosby, F. Bruce Williams, Freddie Haynes, and others who will be heard on platforms, pulpits and convention centers – both male and female, and television sets in the future. I don’t know where I’ll fit in history, but I don’t preach for fame, I preach to fulfill my calling.

Our worship rings in the major cities and can stop passer-bys on the sidewalk. Our preachers’ voices ring through the desolate areas of the deep, rural south. Our pulpits are made of glass, steel, and sometimes, homemade wood. Our baptismal fonts are grand modern designs or the nearest creek or riverbed.

I just want to give a shout out to the baptist church. The church I currently pastor is 180 years old which means that before the end of slavery, a baptist church in this community heralded freedom. This church fought, all the way to the State Supreme Court, unjust redlining when African-Americans were not “acceptable” in the downtown area. Our pews are reminders of the spilled blood of our mothers and fathers who believed that “a change is gonna come.”

We’ve built churches, fellowship halls, classrooms, daycare facilities, ball parks, discipleship training facilities on our own and corporately we have been schools, publishing houses, and much, much more. We don’t make a lot of noise about it, because we don’t judge our relationship with God in comparison with our buildings, net work and bottom lines. We base our relationship with God in light of our fellowship, followship and acceptance of Him.

This is not a rant against any other denomination. It’s an appreciation of the rich history and heritage we as baptists share. I’m proud to be a baptist born, a baptist bred and when I die, I’ll be a baptist dead.

I welcome your comments . . .

THE WIRE

by Pastor Robert Earl Houston

H.B. Charles Jr.

About life, preaching, church, books, and other stuff.

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