by Robert Earl Houston
Three years ago this week, my father in the ministry, Dr. Arthur Bernard Devers, I, senior pastor of the West End Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas, went home to be with the Lord. As a son, I mourn his death to this day. I’m heartbroken but I rejoice knowing that He is with Our King. He taught us how to grieve in the Lord and to have a hope in Christ.
I was asked by his widow, Wanda Devers, to speak at the Memorial Service and these words ring just as true today as they did as I stood in the pulpit where “Dad” stood after standing in pulpits in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and literally around the nation:
This is like talking after being in a 10.0 earthquake. There will be some rough spots. There will be some tears. I need your prayers.
For all of the sons and daughters in the ministry of Dr. A.B. Devers, I – it all started in the office. Coming to tell him that either you were a minister at another church and you wanted him to be your pastor or you were a nervous wreck coming to him and saying that the Lord had called you to preach.
In 1977, I stepped into his office and we talked. Well, he talked and I listened. He told me it was his job to be my teacher, I had to trust his guidance and he promised to do whatever he could to help me in ministry. He said to learn from everything he did and even his mistakes. From that cold winter night in December 1977 until a cold winter’s morning in December 2009, Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, has been my father in the ministry.
As a father he would teach you from the word and he even allowed you to come to the office and just watch him do his job. I’m sure many of us have had this experience of coming to the church after school or work and just watch him handle phone calls, eat, open the mail, eat, draw up schedules, eat, write class notes, eat, work on his sermon and eat.
Rev. Devers never ate without offering you a bite. He would take you to his favorite restaurants – The Pagoda, Hung Far Low, and yes, Denny’s. He treated you like his own flesh and blood. He took care of the check because during that meal you were going to go to Advanced Studies in Theology as taught by him. Sometimes the class was thirty minutes and sometimes the class was five hours. But it was never about cloning himself. He wanted his preachers to be the best “you” that “you” could be.
He could love you, hug you, praise you – but he also knew how to correct you. You knew it was coming. He would bend his head to one side, tighten his eyebrows, clear this throat, and you had to take it. Sometimes it would sting. Sometimes it would make you want to quit. But you knew that he never would jack you up, I mean, correct you without a good reason and you knew, a few days later, he loved you.
I remember he asked me to pray when I was in my 20s. I thought I was doing a good job until he said “ahem…let me talk to you.” He brought me into the office and he gave me a note pad and said I want you to hear this recording of the service, and want you to take a tally of every time you said “Father God” in your prayer. It turns out I said Father God about 125 times. The next time I said the Lord’s Prayer and sat down.
He wanted us to be PREACHERS. Not imitation preachers. Not uneducated preachers. Not doctrinally unsound preachers. He wanted us to be the kind of preacher that God would be proud of and pleased with. He invested himself into us. He wanted us to be prepared preachers. He told us to always have three sermons available – one in your head, one in your heart, and one in your pocket. He wanted his preachers prepared like Dr. C.E. Williams prepared him.
He was proud of his preachers. I have no doubt that he was proud of all of us. On last Sunday I picked up the phone and was about to do what I normally do about once every week or so, and that was to dial his cell phone, to chat with him, swap some jokes, get his advice, run some things by him. I dialed the numbers and was about to push “CALL” until I had to remind myself he’s not going to pick up that phone.
But what’s interesting is that the phone wasn’t labeled “HOLLA” or “MAKE IT RING” – it was labeled “CALL.” The Holy Spirit reminded me that Dr. Devers’ life was about THE CALL.
It was the call that He received to preach the Word. It was the call that He received to train a generation of young men and women who pastor and preach from the emerald city of Seattle to the rose city of Portland to the red clay streets of Alabama to the peach state of Georgia to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to the cowboy capital of Pendleton to the Golden State of California to the State of New York to the Great State of Texas. It was the call that He used as a measuring stick of your potential. It was the call that took him from Seattle to Portland back to Seattle and then to San Antonio.
And on December 6, 2009 it was the call, we didn’t understand it and tell the truth some of us still don’t understand it, but I remember Doc had a line in the church bulletins that read “To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill, O may it all my powers engage to do my master’s will.”
The Call took him from San Antonio to the Streets of Glory.
The Call took him from the arms of loved ones into the arms of Jesus.
The Call took him from sorrow into joy.
The Call took him from teaching and preaching to resting from labor.
To paraphrase Edward M. Kennedy, Pastor Devers is gone, but the Call lives and the Call never dies! The teaching never dies! The laughter never dies! The caring, the nurturing, and the preaching never dies! And the Legacy that he implanted in us will NEVER die . . .
by Robert Earl Houston
We’ve had some great Sundays and this is not hyperbole, this was the best Sunday since I’ve been in Frankfort. The weather was cloudy, then rainy but the temperature in worship was HOT.
It started at 8 a.m. service which was one of the largest since we started the service. I couldn’t help wondering if the 11 a.m. service was going to be light due to all those in attendance, but the atmosphere was pure worship. We baptized a young adult male which I know brought joy to his mom and dad that were in attendance (more on that coming). Minister Sheniqua Roberts set the tone for the sermon by singing, “Because He Lives.” I preached from Matthew 2 and talked about “Herod Wants To Kill Your Child.” It was probably one of the best sermons I’ve preached at First Baptist in three and a half years. I’ve been getting away from preaching “points” in a sermon. I’ve just been rolling through the text in expository fashion and I don’t think it requires set aside points. One of the preachers I’ve enjoyed through the years has been Dr. Warren Wiersbe and I don’t recall him ever using a focus point. He just exposes the text!
During the sermon I talked about Herod’s demands that the Wisemen go find Jesus so he may worship him (although he wanted him dead) and I suggested never have someone send you to worship – tell them they need to worship the Lord for themselves. Then I talked about their finding the child (not the baby) Jesus (not in a manger) and how they worshiped Him (commercial break: He is worthy of worship), and how they laid gifts upon him from their substance. Finally, I focused in on the Holy Spirit’s work on the lives of Joseph and the Wisemen and then on “gold, frankincense and myrrh.” It was a very spirited message and one that will live on in the lives of believers. The mother of the young man that I baptized united with the church! Communion was very spiritual and emotional. We ran over time but no one seemed to mind.
At 11:00 a.m. the Magnificent Mass Choir sang songs from their weekend long workshop and blew our socks off. The Lord blessed with two KSU college students joining under watchcare. And just like 8 a.m., the worship experience was high energy and communion was absolutely, in the words of my friend, Rev. Michael Robinson, “bananas.” Last week the men sang Dr. Patrick Bradley’s song, “I know something about God’s grace” and we sang it during communion and how this song ministered to our souls was incredible. We wound up taking a praise break after communion – it was dancing, shouting and rejoicing! I came home and fell out “under the bed.” Wiped out from a very good and productive morning.
At 5:00 p.m., my wife and I blessed our Sons and Daughters of the Ministry with a Christmas Fellowship. The catered food was off the chain: Turkey, smothered pork chops, greens, mac-n-cheese, green beans, cake, punch, water, and it went on and on. We walked in and we waddled out! (smile). I appreciate the men and women of the church that have submitted themselves to pastoral leadership in their preaching ministries and we sat around, talked, shared, and I believe, grew even closer in the Lord. I went home feeling really good about them as a group and the church in general. God gets all of the glory and praise.
Football? Didn’t see a game. Too wiped out.
BCS – only heard that Notre Dame and Alabama will be playing for the title. Should be a good game. Need to find out how Oregon and Oregon State faired.
by Robert Earl Houston
Due to the nature of our vocation, there comes times when all of us are pastoring under pressure. For some it’s due to a misunderstanding in biblical authority within a local church; For some it’s a miscommunication or misunderstanding by a member toward the pastor or vice-versa; For others it can be a continuation of a fight that began years before your advent as pastor and now you’re caught in the middle of a “Hatfield vs. McCoys” battle that has killed other pastors throughout the history of the church; For others it’s an old fashioned personality conflict or even, spiritually, a battle between two spirits.
The end result is that the Pastor is angry.
I am far from exempt from feelings of anger. However, I’m thankful for the congregation that I pastor that understands that their pastor is growing and that the church itself is growing – both are maturing in the Lord. Whenever there has been occasions of correction, it is done quickly and I never repeat it again. Honestly, I try not to even bring it home – and I live next door to the church. That way the church doesn’t have an angry pastor on its hands and the pastor doesn’t have to needlessly continually fighting a battle.
However, there are times when a pastor gets angry. I want to make five suggestions on what to do when you find yourself filled with anger and these suggestions are borne on the tightropes of tension that I have experienced in 34 years of ministry and 21 years of pastoral experience.
#1 – FIND SOMEONE TO TALK TO QUICKLY. Anger within a preacher can be a dangerous thing – especially when you don’t utilize wise counsel. I have found out that the mistakes I’ve made were due to the fact that I reacted without talking with someone who could have given me another way of looking at an issue. In San Diego, that person was Dr. Willie James Smith, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, who is now in Glory. Willie (please forgive the informality) was great because he was a Mississippian with a heavy southern drawl and he had pastoral experience, a summa cum laude from Bishop College and had a doctoral degree in dealing with church conflicts. He would remind me “Houston, that ain’t worth a hill of beans” or “Houston, slow your roll,” or “Houston, stand your ground.” A pastor needs another pastor – not a person who would sign off on everything that comes to your mind – but someone who will be objective enough to say “NO” or, when needed, “HELL NO” without risking losing the relationship. Sometimes, that person has to be found from without your immediate ranks. But find someone to talk to before you say something you will regret for the rest of your ministry.
#2 – DON’T PUT IT IN WRITING. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake that some pastors make and take the fight from the church and finish it off on Facebook. That NEVER works. Repeat, that NEVER works. For the hard of hearing THAT NEVER WORKS. Here’s why: What may be a one on one clash can now become a “Twilight” fight. In the movie series, “Twilight,” fans were either Team Edward or Team Jacob. Fans chose Team Edward or Team Jacob even though they would never engage in personal combat. That’s how some people will view a pastor’s rebuke online – they’ll be Team Pastor or Team Member instead of becoming Team Jesus. I’ve had the opportunity lately to counsel several pastors, some who I don’t even know, when I read their “blowing off steam” posts on Facebook. Even in a private room for preachers, you have to be careful. The best quote is this: “You can’t misquote silence.”
#3 – DON’T TAKE IT TO THE PULPIT. Never, ever make the pulpit into your personal battle station. I know that’s the inclination but remember, the pulpit does not belong to you. It belongs to the Lord and on Sunday morning people come to hear a word from the Lord. Now, that’s not to say that there are not times when a pastor has to do some rebuking – that is biblical. However, you can rebuke outside of the context of your sermon and not try to take a scripture out of context to hammer somebody over the head. Now, if someone in the church tries to “read between the lines” that’s on them. But if you’re preaching the gospel without a fight in the back of your mind, the Holy Spirit will stand up and protect the preacher. Dr. Melvin Von Wade, Sr. is an advocate of this and several years ago in our State Convention in California, he recommended preaching from the gospels during a fight – but leave the personal stuff out of the sermon. Remember, there are those who gather every Sunday to hear us that really don’t care about church politics. They come there to hear a word from the Lord and not from the Lord’s angry preacher.
#4 – DON’T MAKE YOUR FAMILY PAY. I know a pastor who went through a hellified business meeting. His wife was at home praying for him throughout the meeting. He came home and when she asked how it went, he proceeded to curse her out and beat her up. When taken to the hospital and the doctor was examining her, he asked her what happened and she said, “He couldn’t beat them, so he beat me.” Pastors must make sure to draw a line in the concrete, not in the sand, that no matter how angry the parishioners make you, that you don’t make your wife or your children or even your pets become surrogates for your anger. The spouse has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with your fight. Your children have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR FIGHT. When its all over, you wind up with a bigger scandal on your hand than before. If you feel a need to strike or hit someone – hit the books. If you feel a need to step to someone, step to the Lord in prayer. If you feel the the need to curse someone out, get in a room BY YOURSELF, grab a mirror, and CURSE YOUR OWN DAG-GUM SELF OUT, get it all out of your system, and love the family that God has blessed you with.
#5 – GET A LIFE. I don’t mean any harm but many pastors are just . . . pastors. They have no hobbies. They have no interests. They are pastors 24/7, 365 days a year – and there’s nothing wrong with that – except, you need some time to yourself. You need to grow as an individual. You need some interests. I’ve seen pastors who you couldn’t talk to them about football because that’s “unholy.” Or talk to them about jazz because “that’s the devil’s music.” Please. Every pastor needs an outside of the church interest. For me, it ranges from travel to sports to politics to horseback riding to movies to cooking to architecture. When I was in San Diego one of my best friends was (is) Dr. A.B. Vines. Vines was a pastor in the community and both of our churches were rapidly growing even though we had different backgrounds. I was National Baptist, he was Southern Baptist bred. He’s from the East Coast, I’m from the West Coast. He had kids growing up in his house, I didn’t. I was a hooper, He was a lecturer. We were (are) best friends. We would call each other on Sunday nights to compare notes on how our services went and we were competitive with each other, but in a non-threatening way. We would laugh about the craziest things. However, we were movie fans and we would go to opening nights of movies together and hang out. I remember one night we went to see Star Wars Chapter 3 on opening night and we were dressed casually as we sat among Princess Leia and several Wookies and Chewbacas. You cannot keep your sanity without having an outside interest. So get a life – learn how to swim, learn how to play the piano, drive in the country. But please, get a life.
I hope that this will help some pastor, somewhere to keep cool when others are losing their minds.