by Robert Earl Houston
I have had the joy of having one or two associate ministers to over 15 at one time. It’s like being a coach, advisor, and air traffic controller at the same time. Right now I have four active associate ministers and one of them is preaching at several churches this month, with my blessing, because I know that over the past five years, he has been faithful in his attendance at the church where I serve and he’s traveling with my prayers and spiritual support.
There is something amiss with an associate minister who is gone all of the time – especially in those crucial developmental years – the first three. Let me relay a story to you. I had just finished my first sermon in April 1978 and saw my “grandfather in the ministry” (my pastor’s pastor) the late Dr. C.E. Williams, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church of Seattle, in Tacoma, Washington at our General Baptist Convention of the Northwest Spring Board Meeting. He asked me how my first sermon went and I told him, and then I pulled out a sheet of paper showing all of the churches I planned to visit and fellowship with since “I’s a preacher now.”
I had on that list I was going to visit several churches in the city, churches in Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, Boise, Spokane, Pastor, and of course, his church. Dr. Williams, who I deeply respected and loved dearly, stood there gnawing on a toothpick, as was his custom. I gave him the grand presentation of the list and he looked up (he was about 5’8″ and I’m 6’2″) and said “are you done?” I said “yes sir.” He proceeded to share a few choice, harsh words with me and basically said, “You need to keep your crazy behind at home.” He walked away. My pastor was sitting in the car and I was riding with him. I came to the car in tears running down my face. He looked at me and said “Doc gave you the speech didn’t he?” I said “Excuse me?” He said, “He gave me the same speech years ago.”
My pastor was a gifted singer. He was young in his 20s and Rev. A. Bernard Devers had joined the Electrifying Mighty Warriors of Seattle. He quickly became one of the lead singers and even produced and was featured on two albums. He came to church one Sunday after being gone for several weeks and Pastor Williams kicked him out of the office. His words to my pastor were chilling – “when you decide if you were called to preach, you can come back.”
That’s when I learned the value of staying home.
One of the best things that ever happened to me was that encounter with Dr. Williams. I had to have someone who cared for me to tell me, straight up, that an associate minister is in the incubator of ministry. You haven’t arrived and you really don’t know your way around the pulpit or preaching ministry just because you preached one sermon. That first sermon is that – it’s first, but if you intend to preach again, it takes the humility of submission to a pastor to validate the learning process.
I saw my pastor deal with a multiplicity of issues, events and actions that I would have never learned on the road. Sometimes, I admit, I was chomping at the bit to preach, but my first ministry as an associate is to be an apprentice. To learn, to hear, to accept, to be challenged, to be stretched and to learn by observation.
I’m afraid of this new crop of preachers that preach one sermon and they are out on the road doing something else. Your job is not to go support another associate minister preaching, visit other churches, establish your own ministry, pass out business cards and start networking. You need to develop a Kizzy Spirit (from the Roots series. Kizzy means “stay put”). You can lose valuable insight and preaching opportunities because you’re never at home.
Again, I have a group of associates that I’m very proud of. This current group is consistently there. When they are out, it’s generally for reasons of illness and not “looking around” or “making themselves a name.” That will come with time. I strongly believe that the reason I was candidating for congregations to consider me as Pastor at the age of 18 was because I thought it not robbery to stay under my pastor’s wings and “learn of him.” I learned that I didn’t want to be singer who happens to preach or a musician who happens to preach. I wanted to be a preacher who happens to sing or play an instrument.
Remember, there is a benefit in staying home.
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