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