by Pastor Robert Earl Houston
Last Sunday I celebrated two milestones – one in past tense and one in future tense; Four years as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and 35 years in ministry, marked by April 30, 1978, when I stood before a packed house at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon.
Just as much occurs when you read a funeral obituary and you see the date of birth (dash) date of death. But we really don’t know all that happens between the dashes. In the words of several preachers, “you see my glory, but you don’t know my story.”
So, allow me to share three things that have been instrumental to me over the past 35 years as a Christian minister and 4 years as pastor of this church (and 24 years of pastoral ministry):
1. I’ve Learned That I’m Not In Control
If anyone had told me that on the night of my first sermon that I would leave my beloved hometown of Portland, go to Fresno for four years, then onto San Diego for ten years, then onto Nashville for four years, and then land in Frankfort, Kentucky – I would have said they were crazy.
But the truth of the matter is that the minister of the Lord, if He indeed belongs to the Lord, has no control of his lot in life. I know ministers who are eons smarter than I that have never been called to a church. I know ministers who are greater pedigreed than I that aren’t on anyone’s radar. I know ministers who attempt to make a name for themselves over and over again to be banished to the silence of the sideline. Since God is the one who called us to ministry, He knows the purpose of our call.
I loved Portland (and still do); Going to Fresno was an adventure (first time away from home); Going to San Diego was turbulent but it taught me to trust God only; Going to Nashville was therapeutic for me personally – God took me through those four locations to prepare me to pastor the First Baptist Church in Frankfort.
2. Choose Your Friends Wisely
I never could understand the logic of trying to become a better preacher by hanging around bitter preachers. Young preacher, if you want your ministry to soar, you’re going to have to develop an eagle’s mentality about ministry. As you apprentice under the watchful eye of your pastor, you got to be careful who you hang out with in the fundamental and formational years of your ministry.
As a young associate minister I had a list of preachers I didn’t want to hang out with:
a. Never hang out with bitter or angry preachers.
b. Never hang out with ministers who fight or engage their own pastor.
c. Never hang out with a preacher who has no goals, dreams or desires.
d. Never hang out with a preacher who is constantly using someone else’s material.
e. Never hang out with a preacher who shoots down others and never has self-criticism.
This not only applies to associate ministry, but as I became older, those rules hold for those in pastoral ministry as well.
3. God is Forgiving
This is not exclusive to moral failures. God is forgiving of the sermons that we craft together and come to the pulpit with great bravado only to watch the sermon crash and burn. Then God has the audacity to touch somebody’s heart during the sermon and say to you, “Pastor you helped me today.” God is forgiving!
Even when I haven’t had 40 hours to craft a sermon.
Even when I haven’t had the opportunity to spread all of my books on the table.
Even when I haven’t committed 48 hours to prayer on a sermon.
He looks beyond my frailties and provides preaching power in spite of week that I’ve had. Whether it was sinful or holy, tempted or victorious, healthy or sick – the Lord erases all of that in order that the flock may be filled. Thank God for forgiveness.
And so, it’s on the the 5th year of pastoring this church, the 25th year of pastoral ministries, and the 36th year of preaching.
I welcome your comments and dialogue below.