by Robert Earl Houston
I’ve been producing (at no cost) a list of “vacant churches” for the past 20 years plus. I was inspired to do so by the work of Dr. A.V. “King” Fisher of Fort Worth, Texas, who for years produced a magazine widely read by preachers called “The E.R.R.P. Report.” I found out about the magazine from my pastor, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, and it contained a list of “Vacant Churches.” Since the advent of the internet, way before others did so, I had a list of “vacant churches” for the African-American baptist church community.
I did so to destroy the “old boy” system of placing pastors in pulpit when it was “who you knew” and “who you owed” when getting called to a church. Young pastors would be beholden to older ministers who held “that favor” over their heads for years and years and years. It was a terrible system and I had been exposed to it and didn’t like it and thought there had to be a better way.
I’ve been calling it “vacant churches” for twenty years. Today that stops.
It’s not a church congregation or building that’s vacant – it is the pulpit. 99.9% of the congregations that I know that go through pastoral transition survive. Yes, sometimes in a tense atmosphere. Yes, sometimes during a season of division, political in-fighting and issues. Yes, sometimes when a clear candidate of the pastorate is before them. And yes, sometimes when there is no suitable pastoral candidate on the horizon.
But the work of the church continues.
Worship services still are held.
Preaching is still being preached.
Listening to preaching is still going on.
Singing is still being performed.
Ushers still usher.
Someone once said to me that a “real church is one that has a pastor.” I beg to differ. I do believe that a church should search prayerfully for a pastor. I also believe that a church without a pastor can still be effective in ministry beyond the borders of the building – working harmoniously together, while waiting for the Holy Spirit to fill the vacancy.
If your church is without a pastor – keep on doing ministry. Occupy yourself with ministry. Try to keep as much as possible. Pray more than you ever have. And the supplier will send someone to fill that vacant pulpit.
by Robert Earl Houston
I am a fan(atic) about preaching. I love preaching and love the art and craft of gospel preaching. My portfolio of favorite preachers crosses denominational lines, age barriers, and gender. I just love great Bible-based preaching.
Preaching is not my issue. What I’m concerned about is that we are making unrealistic prognostications over the pulpit that sound like the Will of God, however, it’s not really in His will.
To be in a room full of believers and then promise them that in 7 days they will all be blessed or in 6 months they’ll all have brand new houses seems to me to be in the realm of preaching malpractice.
To be in a Pastor’s Conference and then promise to every Pastor that when you get home your church is about to “blow up” and that you’re about to move into the national arena seems to me to write a promissory note that cannot be cashed.
To be in a conference and tell the room that when you get back home you’re ministry is going to increase and see things that you’ve never seen before and then you return and get put out, it seems like either the prophet was confused or the hearer confused – I choose the prophet.
In an effort to create empowerment in the body of Christ, some of us have forgotten that “the poor will be with you always.” (Matthew 26:11). It’s God’s will, yes, that you would prosper as your soul prospers (3 John 1:2) but if you look at most translations of that original text, it’s conjunctive with health and not wealth.
I have been in services and prophesied over and there have been times when the prophesy just flat footed did not come true – by no stretch of the imagination. I’ve become convinced that to speak “thus saith the Lord” without any authorization or authenticity from the Lord is to basically lie on the Lord in order to score spiritual points with a crowd. It may make good television but it does not make good and faithful believers – and it opens a door to doubt causing serious spiritual damage to the one who receives it.
I’m currently preaching through a series on healing but I also am fully aware that as I preach it, all healing is not in my hands nor in my words. God has the final say so. And people still die. People still get sick. However, I can honestly say that if the Lord wills so, He can heal – and he can heal you with or without the medicine or with eternity.
I vividly remember hearing the story of a minister who had a member come forth during worship, riddled with cancer, and then he prophesied over her and said “in 7 days, God is going to heal you completely.” She died 5 days later. The minister’s daughter went to him and said, “Daddy, I thought you said that she was going to be healed.”
I think it would be appropriate to stick to the book (The Bible). Encourage yes. Placate no. Offer hope in Christ yes. Offer hope in our words no. Be authentic yes. Be a showman no.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
From the American Baptist Newspaper
The First Baptist Church in Columbia, Kentucky is seeking a minister to pastor our congregation. He must preach and teach sound doctrine, without compromise. He must love the Lord and love all God’s people. The Pulpit Committee will not be responsible for any expenses incurred by a candidate, i.e., all travel and lodging expenses. Resumes and letters of inquiry should be sent by October 3, 2014 to:
First Baptist Church
P.O. Box 956
Columbia, Kentucky 42728
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – For the past 48 hours, I have been in San Diego for the home going services for my dear friend, Sis. Mildred Lee Bell, charter member of the New Hope Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, where I served as their pastor for nine years, from 1995-2004.
I’m here by invitation of her family. Mildred and I were close. Not only was I her pastor, but after going through a horrendous storm of divorce and the aftermath of it affecting the congregation, after my resignation, it severed professional ties, but Mildred would not let me go. We stayed in touch. We had monthly telephone calls where we laughed together, mourned together, and encouraged each other.
When I left here in 2004, I had vowed I would never return. I was hurt, bruised, beaten, and broken of spirit. I had been through hell like I had never experienced nor would I wish on anyone else. When I came to clear out my office, I will never forget the glare of the then chairman of deacons and a member who would go on to become a trustee, who came to the church to watch me pack up my belongings. As I single-handedly packed my belongings into my vehicle, I stood on the final step and shook my foot three times – remembering that scripture found in Matthew 10:12-14. I had shaken the dust from my feet.
It’s hard to fathom that 10 years have gone by since that day in 2004. So many things have happened – the great recession, the election of a black United States President, Wars overseas, domestic problems – and for me personally it has been a journey in the hands of the Lord. I’ve preached as a full-time evangelist, worked for a prominent immigration attorney, served as a Senior Project Manager for an international ministry, served as a full-time assistant pastor in Nashville, married an amazing and supportive woman that has no equal in her love, and now, serving what I believe is the church of my dreams, First Baptist Church, in Frankfort, Kentucky. I’ve been tremendously blessed by the Lord.
Why am I sharing this? Because it is true: Time heals all wounds. I stood in the pulpit for the first time in 10 years to preside at Mildred’s services and I was welcomed by her family with wide open arms, and most, if not all, of my former members, warmly greeted me, hugged my neck, wrapped their arms around me, and even those young people who were small children when I became their pastor (many who I baptized) ran up to me and said “we miss you” and “we still love you.”
It says something that sometimes the biggest obstacle to our healing may be ourselves. Sometimes our perception, right or wrong, of how others feel about you, may be building a wall needlessly. Every pastor has supportive people, those who are on the fence, those who are against – but it’s not our job to be popular – it’s our job to feed the flock, and a grateful flock will respond in kind. The many years that I stood behind that pulpit and labored in the word did not go in vain. Even though circumstances were stormy – the storm is not only over, it’s literally water under a bridge.
I suspect that it took the home going of Mildred to bring us all together. It had a feel of a reunion. How an 87 year old woman could accomplish this is only by the grace of God. The current pastor, Rev. Milton Chambers, preached a classic sermon and he went out of his way to welcome me back to New Hope Friendship. When I arrived, the signage was up and we worked together to make sure that Mildred had the kind of home going service that she deserved. I presided. He preached. And God received all of the glory.
So I’m about to pack my bags and I’m eagerly looking forward to coming home to a beautiful, loving wife and a prayerful and supportive congregation, to continue ministering in the pulpit that the Lord over 5 years ago. But I leave San Diego this time with a smile on my face, joy in my heart, and an appreciation of the healing and reunion that took place this weekend.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
by Robert Earl Houston
In this wonderful nation of ours there are over 300,000,000 people who live here. There are 50 states, over 3,100 counties, over 30,000 cities. There are four major traditional baptist conventions, each claiming over 1,000,000 members. There are easily at least one state baptist convention in each state, some have as many as 4 or more. There are hundreds of district associations, state conventions, district congresses, state congresses, general associations, national conventions, local/state/national fellowships, and on and on and on.
So why is it that we only utilize a handful of preachers to speak at these events?
No one will dare say it, but in the hallway of most of our conventions, the same faces and names appear on the program year after year after year. Surely by now there should be some new faces and voices emerging from the diaspora of the African-American church experience. However, it’s the same people preaching conventions all over the nation – basically utilizing the same five sermons – and frankly, it’s tiring.
Our General Association of Baptists in Kentucky had invited a minister to be our guest speaker this year and he fell ill and was unable to be here. Our State Moderator and his wife were on the way to Cancun, Mexico when he received the news – a little less than 3 weeks away from the annual session. After consulting with a friend and praying over it, he selected Reverend Cory Ramont Morris. A minister that most of us in Kentucky had never heard before. However, by the end of the week, he became the talk of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Great theological mind. Young but seasoned. A rare ability to connect with the old, the middle aged, and the young. Tremendous delivery. Friendly and approachable. Not haughty and not stuck up. And yes, a close that could easily be construed as one of the best I’ve heard in recent memory. Outstanding scriptural approach and exegesis. Teaching while preaching.
And we LOVED it.
Maybe our problem is that we look to the stars of the church rather than to the Hills (from whence cometh our help) – and instead of considering those who are solid in the faith, upcoming, and striving pastors – we get the same old soup in a new bowl with all gravy and no meat. My former pastor, Bishop Darryl S. Brister used to say “all you need is one moment of exposure to change your life.” There are a plethora of ministers who if just given the opportunity to be programmed, you may discover what all the fuss is about in their local communities.
Case in point. A West Virginia pentecostal pastor has been attending a Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma for years and gets the opportunity to meet the host. One year, one of the speakers can’t make it, and the host calls him and asks him, at the last minute to fill in. The minister preaches a dynamic sermon and most people had never heard of him. The conference is televised and the owner of the world’s largest Christian television network sees his presentation, picks up the phone, calls him, and brings him to his network studios, and launches him into preaching history. The host was Bishop Carlton Pearson. The event was Azusa. The network owner was Paul Crouch. And that West Virginia minister, who admitted that at one point he was the pastor, musician, usher and janitor, is named Thomas Dexter (T.D.) Jakes.
Because he was given a chance.
I was the recipient of opportunities. Outside of my home church, people like Dr. O.B. Williams, Dr. J.A. Boles, Dr. S.M. Lockridge, Dr. Ray Williams, Dr. H.F. Dean, Dr. Willie T. Snead, Dr. Melvin Wade, Dr. R.C. Williams, Sr., Dr. Clyde E. Gaines, Dr. A.E. Reid, Dr. A. Russell Awkard, Dr. Bernard Crayton, Dr. C.B. Akins, Dr. Walter Parrish, III, and others GAVE ME A CHANCE. They took a chance and gave me opportunity to preach or serve in conventions – even when I was pastoring a storefront church and pastoring for free because the church was not in position to pay me; even when I was pastoring a church and I had to make it to the conventions on my own dime; even when I was fighting for my pastoral life and the storms were raging at full blast; and even at the church of my dreams – I have been the recipient of an opportunity.
I’ve preached for state conventions in Oregon/Washington/Idaho; Kentucky; California; North Carolina.
I’ve preached for district associations in Oregon, California, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
I’ve preached for city-wide revivals in Newark, NJ, Gary, IN, Albuquerque, NM and other places.
I’ve preached in Revival or for special occasions literally around the nation.
Because I was given a chance. Maybe before the next leader of a group invites Rev. Dr. So and So or Bishop So and So or the Pastor who is pastoring the large church over in the next state or many the denominational leader who you know really can’t preach, but has a big name.
There are gifted young pastors, middle aged pastors, even elderly pastors who have never been given the opportunity to preach because they didn’t graduate from a certain school or they didn’t have the opportunity to complete college or they had a family to support and sat under the feet of their pastor or college was not for them – and yet they minister faithfully, biblically and with integrity. They are in every state – just waiting for a chance.
I’ve always prayed, Lord, if I ever get in the position to help someone else up, please help me to do so. I wonder what would happen if our conventions do today what they use to do in yesterday and give an opportunity to young preachers like E.V. Hill, Melvin Wade, Stephen Thurston, A.L. Bowman, Sandy Ray, C.L. Franklin, Jasper Williams, E. Edward Jones – and other young pastors who were given the opportunity to preach nationally at a young age.
When our session in Lexington closed after hearing a session that will live in the annals of history of this 149 year old institution. The name of Corey Ramont Morris will stand in the hearts of minds of the delegates that trusted their Moderator to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. We didn’t know him then. But we know and appreciate him now.
Give somebody else a chance.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOMED.