by Robert Earl Houston
I’m personally saddened by the news reports of death among clergy. As many people know, for years I’ve been running a newsletter/web page that reports on the clergy who have died. I do this because I believe that we honor sometimes the wrong people in death. Pastors who have served the Lord’s people are deserving of honor.
In the words of one of my friends in Fort Worth, Texas, “Houston, I check your list to make sure my name is not on it.” When my lists first came out, for many of us, it was the only way to know that a colleague had died instead of the traditional way of going to the baptist conventions and hearing the names of the dead called in the Memorial Service (which most conventions no longer operate).
The recent reports of pastoral suicide has troubled me. It’s not like it’s never happened before, but with the advent of electronic media, you not only hear about it, but you hear details, rumors, and you can even watch live-streaming of the service via the internet. You can be in Maine and hear the news. You can be in Hawaii and hear the news. You can be in Florida or Washington states and hear the news. Not months later, but in a matter of minutes.
All of this has led me personally this week to devote a large portion of my prayer week in lifting my pastor, Minister Barton Elliott Harris, senior pastor of the Westwood Baptist Church, University Center, to the Lord in prayer. I pray seven things to the Lord on his behalf and maybe this may help you in praying for your pastor:
1. I pray that the Pastor is well physically. He is only a few years older than I am, but I pray for his physical health. I pray that he takes care of himself.
2. I pray for his mental health. I pray that his mind (and he has a photographic memory) is alert, strong and sharp. I pray that he has someone also to confide in and pray with as well.
3. I pray for his joy. That’s right – I want my pastor to be happy. I especially want him to be filled with joy so that the same joy may be shared with the people he encounters.
4. I pray for his family. I pray for his wife Carolyn Washington Harris. I pray for his entire family especially his siblings and nieces and nephews. And for those he has grafted in as his extended family.
5. I pray for his help. Not only do I pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to be with him. I pray that the Lord would raise up supporters and give voice to members to support their pastor. It’s sad that some churches say “we want a leader” and then refuses to submit to leadership.
6. I pray for his travels. I want my pastor to be free to travel and minister as the Lord directs. I don’t want my pastor shackled. I want him to do what God has blessed him to do and to give him safe journeys as he travels and knowing that wherever he stands, he stands as my pastor.
7. I pray for his leisure. I pray for his hobbies. I pray for his competition as he plays board games. I pray for him as he shops. I want my pastor to have a life outside of the pulpit, so that his life is not shortened in the pulpit by stress.
I pray you will join me in praying for your pastor.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
I want to introduce my readers to Dr. Leonard N. Smith’s excellent article, “Brace Yourself For the Next Clergy Suicide.” Dr. Smith is the senior pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia and Chancellor of the Richmond Virginia Seminary. In light of recent news events, I wanted to share his words.
by Dr. Leonard N. Smith
While many of us in the “Church World” were still processing the recent headlines regarding a pastor’s suicide in Georgia, two days after his funeral, we were once again taken back by the news of another pastors’ suicide.
Both clergy and non-clergy were shocked to hear of theses occurrences, but the news of these suicides isn’t what’s shocking. What is shocking is that we are only just now beginning this conversation. The unfortunate truth is that we have been down this road before; and sadly, we are destined to travel this road again. While this may sound a bit cynical, it is not. Suicide among clergy is very real, and it is not new!
In 2009, journalist Greg Warner wrote an article in USA Today entitled, “Suicide: When pastors’ silent suffering turns tragic.” In it, he wrote, “Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable. Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem.”
While statistics may suggest that clergy suicide is uncommon, when it happens, it is an extraordinary event. It gains the attention of the masses and makes media headlines, but all too soon, our momentary infatuation with the suicide event fades as the next days’ headlines take center stage—until the next time.
In the New Living Translation of the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9 says:
“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”
If Solomon’s words are true, and I believe they are, brace yourself for the next clergy suicide … and the next and the next, and the next … So just what is the cause of this painful reality? Depression!
Warner puts it this way, “Being a pastor — a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success — can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors.”
I don’t know anything about Mr. Warner, or the pastoral counselors he alluded to in the article. However, I know more than I care to admit about depression!
Depression for those who serve in fulltime ministry is often preceded by feelings of hopelessness, hurt and burnout. Many tend to believe that clergy are immune to depression or that they are living in sin if they are depressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depression is an overpowering clinical condition that can lead to many things including physical illness, anger, sadness, addiction, and in some cases suicide.
Most congregants can’t recognize depression in a pastor because they are too consumed by the glory of ministry. After all, that is what people want to see, and pastors show it well. Who wants a depressed looking and sounding pastor laying over the pulpit on Sunday morning whining about how bad their life is? No one does. People go to church because they want to be uplifted; they want to be encouraged. The pastor feels an obligation to fulfill that need. It’s the pastor’s role to ensure that the congregants return the next Sunday – and if they leave downtrodden, they’re unlikely to come back the following week.
Therefore, pastors force themselves to get up every morning and dress up in their invisible Super-Spiritual-Man/Super-Spiritual-Woman suit. Once properly attired, they attempt the impossible feat of living up to the many unrealistic expectations bestowed upon them by people who could never personally reach those standards themselves. Even worse, some pastors literally exhaust themselves trying to achieve similar self-imposed unrealistic goals. Too often, pastors begin to see their role as their parishioners see it.
Behind the persona of holiness and humility that the public sees, are pastors who secretly wage an almost daily struggle with the dark side of ministry. A great part of that dark side is isolation and loneliness.
In the article by Warner, he quotes Steve Scoggin, president of CareNet: “It’s a job that breeds isolation and loneliness — the pastorate’s greatest occupational hazards.”
Scoggin says what those of us who serve in pastoral ministry know all too well. The silent struggle is real!
Here are three things worth remembering:
- Depression is typically seasonal. Seasons come and go, but while you’re in the season of depression you need therapeutic intervention to navigate through the season.
- It takes a person that’s been there to truly understand it, but not everyone who has been there can help you. Being able to relate to your plight is one thing, but professionally helping you to get through it is another.
Allow someone you can trust to walk with you through the season of depression, in addition to the professional help you receive. Choose someone who loves you and can be trusted with the intimate details of your life and season. Be sure that they are emotionally healthy, otherwise they can unknowingly cause you further isolation and pain.
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
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
This morning when I rose, thankful to God to see another day, I had an announcement in my e-mail concerning the organization of a new group that was forming. It is the third such notice I’ve received in the past three weeks and unfortunately, split happens.
When I began in ministry in the 1970s, there were just (for Baptists) three major baptist conventions – the National Baptist Convention, USA., Inc. (NBCUSA), the National Baptist Convention of America (called “The Boyd Convention” or NBCA) and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Incorporated (PNBC). Each convention was distinctive – the NBCUSA was the largest and numerically a powerhouse with members throughout the nation, especially strong in the east and north. The NBCA was strong in the south and was making strides in missions and evangelism. The PNBC was “the thinking man’s convention” where many of the baptist educators and social crusaders made their denominational home.
Churches and Pastors identified rapidly with one of the three. NBCUSA and NBCA met the first week of September, religiously and PNBC met in August, although there was a sizeable percentage that were “dually aligned” with PNBC and one of the other two conventions. Convention halls were packed. Schools were benefitted (although in retrospect it wasn’t strong as it should have been). Properties were purchased or developed in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and other parts of the country.
However, today there is a plethora of “national bodies” or fellowships or partnerships or ecclesiastical groups that have been borne out of conflict, burden, personal vendettas, election fall outs – and the end result is that we are in a time of where conventions increasingly no longer matter, enthusiasm for said conventions is waning and it’s becoming a game of political leapfrog (hopping from one group to the next) for a generation of preachers – which leads to the next generation of pastors and preachers rebuking all of it because of all the disunity.
State bodies are not exempt. District or City bodies are not exempt. It is a spirit of division that has taken hold in the black baptist community and if you tick off the wrong person, a “reformation” will be formed with cassocks and titular hats to replace cooperation, trust and team building.
When NBCA split in 1988-1989, I had just been called to my first church in Portland, Oregon and I remember the pain of not being able to see my friends that I “grew up with” in the conventions since my teenage years. It was an ugly, needless split and the division lines were not blurred, they were sharp. I remember saying to my pastor “why does the convention have to split?” He simply said, “split happens.” In those two words, they were both analytical and prophetic.
What can stop the hemorrhaging? I believe three things:
a. It’s going to take a meeting of the minds and some acceptance of either other’s differences. To tell the truth, we all complained, rightly so, about the divisiveness of the Tea Party, but they may have gotten some of their training from watching how we as baptists operate. We need common goals – saving Bishop College should have been the clarion call that kept three bodies together. We missed a golden moment.
b. A Moses. The Black Baptist Church needs a Moses. Someone who can, by the strength of the Lord and a strong personality, to pull us together. The patron saints of the Church are resting in the couch of nature’s night. Who will be the next generation of leaders that want to see Pastors and Churches come together as a tool for good and social justice, instead of being pacified with a Conference that meets in a Super 8 Hotel conference room that holds 50 people and declaring “we’re worldwide.”
c. It’s going to take some failure. Some of these groups, honestly need to fail. There needs to be some serious assessment and then foreclosure of some of these groups who have started out so that the Baptist Church can come home. Is being a Bishop worth tearing up a group that was feeding the hungry? Is being an Adjutant to the Ninth Presiding Elder of a 40 church “International and World Wide” fellowship worth destroying years of fellowship on the local level?
I am 53. Most of my years are now behind me and I’m starting to feel like Dr. Gardner Taylor used to feel. Dr. Taylor had the desire to see all the of the Baptist Conventions meet jointly one time before his death (thank God it did happen and Dr. Taylor is still alive). My desire is greater, I don’t want us just to come together. I want us to stay together, to break a spiritual curse.
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
Being a shepherd within the Lord’s church is an honorable position. I’ve been pastoring since 1989 and I’ve had memorable experiences, made some lifelong friends and some enemies on the way, and I’ve learned that sheep are best led when the shepherd leads, as intimated by Psalm 23.
Leadership in the Lord’s church, I admit, is not the easiest thing in the world. When a young man or woman comes right out of seminary or the educational system and is placed or called into a pulpit – they come into the pulpit with high expectations, great plans and ideas and often time discover that it is rare to have a congregation of equal expectation. I’ve been blessed, the five congregations that I’ve served wanted to grow, wanted to go forward, and weren’t afraid of trying things that were new and different. That is not always the case.
There is something that has crept into the Lord’s house: It is this desire of some shepherds (pastors) to want to absolutely control the spiritual AND personal lives of their membership to a point of where it’s almost difficult to distinguish pastoring from patronage.
I spoke with a church member of another denomination who opened up about a ministry that they were involved in. They had to sign a “non-disclosure form” – of where they could not discuss any matter or ministry of their church without direct permission of the pastor. They were given instructions that if the Pastor gives you a list of names of who not to ever have contact with again – you are not to talk to, phone, nor email that person or those individuals – even if they were family. They were told to bring their payroll stubs to the church within a week of joining the church. And then to cap it all off, they were told if they have any baptist or methodist or traditional Christianity friends – they were to sever all ties and communication with them immediately because “they ain’t saved like us.”
Call me crazy but it seems to me that this is not being a pastor. I’m not sure if there is a biblical command to pastors to “be thou stupid and controlling.” I’ve learned in 35 years of ministry that a pastor can encourage, cajole and suggest – but the individual member will either accept or reject said encouragement, cajoling and suggestions. In other words, if they were free moral agents before salvation, they will still be free to make decisions – and that’s not always rebellion, it’s just human nature.
Being told what colors to wear each day . . .
Being told what day or days to have sexual intercourse . . .
Being told what type of car to drive . . .
Being told not to wear a hair weave . . .
Being told to divorce your spouse because “I said so” . . .
It goes beyond the pale of pastoral ministry. To tell someone who is new in the faith that our Christian faith is one of division and exclusion of other denominations it petty and petulant. I’ve had people join my respective churches from all Christian faith traditions, and I’ve never told them, “You know you’re not saved because you are methodist.” I’ve never said “you’re not saved because you’re Apostolic.” Matter of fact, I think it’s childish to ignore or belittle another pastor or refuse to fellowship just because they’re not in your Christian faith tradition. To add insult to injury, to tell your congregation “we don’t fellowship with them baptists because they don’t have the Holy Ghost” is probably a sign that you’re lacking in some spiritual maturity.
Maybe there is a psychological diagnosis for this type of disorder. There is a remedy which many have used – they just leave – sometimes it’s the church, and sadly, sometimes they are so turned off from this type of pastoral deportment, they stay home and never darken the church doorway again.
This is not to say that a pastor shouldn’t teach the Word. He or she has every right to do so – but this is beyond the realm of preaching and teaching. Preach the word! Teach the Word! The Holy Spirit will change behavior – that’s HIS job!
You’re not a strong leader because you bully people. You’re a strong leader when you advocate the principles of God’s word. I want to see church members GROW, DEVELOP, MATURE, SHINE, DO GREAT THINGS FOR GOD . . . not to be subject to my own selfish and egotistical wishes. They are not my sheep, they are HIS. It’s difficult to fly when someone is standing on your wings.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
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