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