Monthly Archives: January, 2013

Casual Shots: Disney Wild Animal Kingdom (2008)

Dear Pastor: Visit the Sick

black-pastorby Robert Earl Houston

In this new age of ministry there are now “one church, multiple locations” and satellite campuses and even “online campuses.” There is multiple-staff and staff-pastors. For example, there are Assistant Pastors or Assistants to the Pastor; Pastor of Worship; Pastor of Music; and many churches, when seeking a pastor, look for a “Senior Pastor” not just a “Pastor” with the expectation that the church wants to have a multi-faceted ministry. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve had and have currently several individuals on staff. Soon, I’ll be adding an Assistant to the Pastor, Lord willing, to help me in the ministry of the church. I have 13 associate ministers, including one former senior pastor, whose perspective I glean much from. I have Deacons, Trustees and concerned members who help facilitate ministry within the local body – all of this so that the church is not a one-man operation.

There is an area I refuse to abdicate. I want to visit the sick.

In the African-American Baptist church tradition the visitation of the sick and shut in (which is our words for those who are incapacitated or unable to come to church or sit through an entire worship service) is tantamount in the hearts and minds of the parishioners. In some cases, the Pastor’s work is judged by some people by his compassion for not only those who are present but those who are not in the worship experience.

I love visiting the sick. I calendar visiting the sick at least once a week – not all of my members, but a handful and within a month’s time, I usually have visited all of the members of our “sick and shut in list” (Definition: those names of members of the church who appear in the weekly church bulletin).

I’m no longer in an urban area – I’m in a urban/rural hybrid – so some of my members are in the immediate area and when they have surgeries or tests, they can be in Lexington (45 minutes), Louisville (1 hour) or Danville (1 hour, 15 minutes), however the distance is worth the drive for me professionally and personally.

In addition, visitations sometimes have to occur on a Sunday in emergencies, either immediately before or after my sermon.

I want to give Pastors, no matter how large or small the congregation, reasons for visiting the sick:

#1 – Members want to see the Pastor

A member who loves their pastor wants to see their pastor in those difficult places of their lives. There is almost an unspoken expectation that in times of illness, the Pastor is part of the medical team that ministers to the ill. The doctors are vitally important; The nurses and orderlies are very important; But the Pastor is equally important, in my opinion, on the spiritual and mental welfare of the patient. There have been times when doctors and nurses have explained things to a member and they were upset or angry or even violent, but when the pastor is present to help explain or comfort, the patient will calm down. And that moment of prayer with the member helps him or her in ways that are not known by science. A church member will tell you – they want to see their Pastor.

#2 – Unconvinced Members need to see the Pastor

When I was a younger pastor, I had a member that I knew did not care for me. Matter of fact, the reason I knew that is one day one, that member talked to me and said, “you’re their pastor, but not mine.” Then the member had to have open heart surgery and made it a point not to tell me about the surgery. The member’s wife told me, with tears in her eyes, “Pastor, please pray for my husband. He’s having surgery the first thing in the morning.”  The night before the surgery, I showed up at the hospital, he looked up – absolutely shocked – and we talked and then I prayed with him. When I finished praying, he had tears in his eyes. When I prepared to leave he said, “Pastor, you’re now my Pastor.” He had a successful surgery and during my tenure, he became a staunch supporter.  The point is that some members of the church haven’t yielded themselves to accepting the Pastor on day one. But as a shepherd, you have to love on them anyway and then the Holy Spirit will do what a title can’t do.

#3 – The Membership Needs to Hear of the Pastor’s Visitations

My former pastor, Dr. Johnny Pack, IV, would routinely tell the church every Sunday of the sick visits he made. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now. The membership needs to know that their pastor cares about the sick and shut ins.  I do this semi-regularly now at my church and there are some other things that I do as well:  (a) When out of town for a few days, I make it a point to send my members on the sick and shut in list a postcard from that area. On the card I normally write, “I’m in (city) and I want you to know that I’m praying for you.  Love, Your Pastor.”  Normally the cards beat me back home, but when I visit the members they thank me for the cards and for thinking about them.”  (b) Every now and then, I will send a financial love gift (normally around the holidays). I have very generous members who bless their pastor at Anniversaries, Christmas, Birthdays. But some of the sick and shut ins have no family, get no birthday celebrations, no remembrances at Christmas. In some cases, their siblings are deceased, they have no spouses or children. If God has been good to me, then why can’t I be good to someone else?  It’s an investment that has untold spiritual dividends.

I am not ready to abdicate this role completely to someone else. Don’t let your mega ministry make you micro when it comes to those who are sick and shut in.

Just a few cautionary words: (a) If you’re not feeling well, don’t visit them – don’t go because you can make them ill or you can become ill in some cases. (b) If you’re having a rough day and have an attitude, don’t visit them – reschedule. (c) Try to bring a Bible (even on your phone or iPad), church bulletin (in some cases, the member still wants to connect with the church) and an offering envelope (some want to support the church financially). (d) Bring pen and paper in case you have to leave a note if they’re not in the room or in surgery.  I’m having fold-over business cards printed as we speak that will say “sorry I missed you . . .”


IMG_2329by Robert Earl Houston

I was raised on gospel music. My mother, Naomi Houston, made sure that we were exposed to gospel music literally seven days a week. On Sunday morning, we had a steady diet of Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, the Caravans, Rance Allen, GMWA, and other gospel groups. As a result every member in my family was gospel-musically inclined. My father, the late Minister Phene Houston, played the bass guitar. My mother was a Choir Director, lead soloist, and dabbled in some piano. My sister, Phyllis, is a church pianist/NFL mom. My sister, Nora, is a soloist and bass player.

However, my tastes in music are no longer limited to just gospel music, but, gospel music are my roots! I love jazz, pop, R&B, opera – just about everything except for rap (just don’t like it – or at least most of it). I’ve lived long enough to understand than gospel music has genres – traditional, quartet, praise and worship, contemporary, instrumental, rap (yep, rap), and other forms of expression.

One of my favorite forms is praise and worship. Tonight, while watching a DVR of “The Stellar Awards” I watched (and wept) as Israel Houghton was leading a chorus of “Moving Forward” – one of the most powerful worship songs I’ve ever heard. The lyrics caused me to reflect on what was a very personal sermon from me on Sunday. I dealt with DELIVERANCE. I broke several “preacher rules” on Sunday – most of all, we didn’t have a traditional Invitation to Christian Discipleship. Instead, we had an altar call and asked people to come forward – not for church membership, but for deliverance.

It was a cathartic moment because for me, deliverance had just come about in a profound way lately. I’m no longer bound. No longer tied up. No longer tangled up. I’ve been set free. Yes – even Pastors can be strong in their delivery of the way and still have some spiritual issues they wrestle with. As I preached Sunday – if there is something that you’re dealing with and you provide the solution – it’s victory, but when the Lord steps in and provides the solution – it’s deliverance. I have experienced not victory, but deliverance.

Those words of Israel hit me like a flood tonight. Especially as he walked off stage and audience was lifting the rafters, spontaneously, and kept recording this chorus:

You make all things new
Yes, You make all things news and I will follow You forward, oh
You make all things new
You make all things new and I will follow You forward

I’ve come to declare that if God has either allowed you to discover victory or deliverance – go forward. Don’t look back at your past! Don’t grab or create any “souvenirs.” Whether it was from a sinful circumstance that you created or were dragged into; Whether it was from a relationship that was toxic or you were the toxicity in the relationship; Whether it was from a past habit or sin that you thought you could never break; GO FORWARD!

You don’t owe  an explanation or elaboration. Matter of fact, I can tell you this from the last few weeks – that which God has set you free from will be that which God will allow you to help others realize that same freedom.

Brother or Sister Pastor – GO FORWARD!
Brother or Sister Church Leader – GO FORWARD!
Brother or Sister Layperson – GO FORWARD!

God will allow you to experience a peace that you’ve never experienced, by His grace!

Casual Shots: 2013 Presidential Inaugural, Washington, DC

Sermon: “How Not To Juggle” (Matthew 6:33) – Sunday, January 27, 2013

<p><a href=”″>FBCtv – Episode 5</a> from <a href=”″>Robert Earl Houston</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Casual Shots: Winter in Frankfort, Kentucky (2013)

Casual Shots: Portland, Oregon (Part 2), 2012

Casual Shots: Portland, Oregon (2011)

Casual Shots from Nassau, The Bahamas (January 2013)

Homegoing of a Saint: Rev. Vernon Dobson, Baltimore, Maryland

From Radio:

The Rev. Vernon N. Dobson, longtime pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore died Saturday Morning.  Dobson was a member of the “Goon Squad” and a co-founder of BUILD.  He also founded the Food Bank of Maryland.

According to a bio on the church’s website, Dobson graduated from Frederick Douglass High School before joining the Navy in 1940.  He qualified for Officers Candidate School, but Dobson was not allowed to participate.  His squadron would ultimately be chosen to march at the inauguration of President Harry Truman.

A graduate of Howard and Harvard Universities, Dobson was installed as pastor of Union Baptist Church in 1967.  He led the congregation for four decades before handing the reins to the Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway in 2007.

He was 89.

Funeral arrange
ments have not been announced.



by Pastor Robert Earl Houston

H.B. Charles Jr.

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