By Robert Earl Houston
Hello everyone. It’s been a while. I’ve just been super-busy in life lately and I don’t want to fall down the “gotta put something out” rabbit hole every week. I pray you’re doing well.
Many years ago I served in a community on the west coast and there was a pastor of a rather good sized church who had a strange paradigm – he was ridiculously complimentary of any church and pastor that was “at his level” or larger . . . But when it came to “smaller” pastors and churches, he was dismissive even to a point of being nasty about it.
I think one of the problems in the pastoral ranks is that we’ve starting ranking pastors. I appreciate the T.D. Jakeses, the Joel Osteens, the Paul Mortons, the Joseph Walkers, the Kenneth Ulmers . . . But there are pastors right in my community, my state who have preached just as fervently, love their churches just as passionately and they may not have grand stages, they are making a difference in their communities.
In my home community of Portland, OR, there was a pastor named Jerry G. Myers. Pastor Myers came up through the ranks at my mom’s home church, Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, and he pastored a congregation, 50 miles away in Longview, Washington. Pastor Myers was faithful. Man, I don’t know if I could have done it, but he made the distance to that church, even sometimes when it was just him and a handful of people who trod out in the snow. He was well respected and lived to be over 100. He was celebrated by his peers. No, he didn’t see 500 a Sunday. No, he didn’t have a choir and excellent organist. No, he didn’t appear on CBN or TBN or The Word Network. But Jerry Myers was faithful.
You can learn (and appreciate) the work and ministry of any pastor – no matter the site of his church. I’ve lived long enough to hear people equate crowd with blessings . . . But it was a crowd that rebelled against Moses in the desert. It was a crowd that put David on the run when Absalom was after him. And we all know, it was a crowd that cried out “crucify HIm” against Jesus, our Christ.
So this is my appeal – celebrate EVERYONE. Even if you have to do so on credit until you get an understanding of their circumstance. Birthday? Celebrate them. Anniversary? Celebrate them. Accomplishment, large or small? Celebrate them. To not celebrate a colleague is to create an impression that “you’re too big” or “two shallow.”
Maybe the reason why people don’t rejoice with you is because you don’t rejoice with them.
Consider this. Paul never pastored but he heaped praise upon those who did. Selah.
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
I have never understood why some churches are adversarial with their pastors. To me, it’s akin to boarding an aircraft looking at the pilot and saying “I hope you crash” while you make you way to 28D and not understanding that if the pilot crashes, you crash.
Something happened at worship today that I want to pass along in the hope that it may encourage some pastor some where.
As I extended the Invitation to Discipleship, we had several members come for prayer. One member shared that her grandmother and herself were both having health challenges. Another member shared that he and his grown daughters were having health challenges. But there was a third individual (actually the second one who spoke) and I am paraphrasing was he came forward for:
The Lord had led him forward to ask the congregation to pray for Pastor Houston. He said that our pastor is busy, he preaches out his heart each week, he visits the sick, counsels with families about funerals, has multiple meetings and today, the Lord told him that the congregation needs to pray for him, and each other.
It was spontaneous, caught me off guard, and following prayers for the other concerns, then much church prayed for me. One of the Golden Girls of our church led the prayer by my request (and how she prayed). I sat there for a few moments in awe of what God had done that morning.
I think it goes without saying that many of us who serve congregations experience the congregation serving the server. My goal is to serve the Lord continually and my church thought enough of the ministry that I provide to them, and as he said, not only here, the community, the state and the nation. It was touching because I’ve had some experiences that were not always that pleasant in the past areas that I’ve served (and all of us in ministry have that), but I would hope that the people of God that I serve would appreciate the service of their pastor – outside of a calendared anniversary.
Sunday proved it.
This reminds me of an old adage: If you want a better pastor – pray for the one you have. If you want a more loving pastor – pray for the one you have. If you want a better preaching pastor – pray for the one you have. If you want a more blessed pastor – pray for the one you have.
Prayer sure beats argumentative, hostile and woundings from an out-of-control business meeting. Thank God, we don’t have those – because we are believers first and foremost.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOMED
Preachers . . . lend me your ears.
Let’s start a social media campaign to honor the life and legacy of the late Dr. Albert Louis Patterson, Jr., who went home to be with the Lord.
I’m hoping we can get at least 2,000 preachers and laypersons to honor Dr. Patterson, one of the greatest pulpiteer of this generation, by simply placing his photograph as your profile picture on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, until his homegoing service on Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Below is a picture you can use or use any other photos of Dr. Patterson. We want the nation and world to know that a great (preaching) man of Israel (the Word of God) hath fallen.
+Pastor Robert Earl Houston
To view the Victory Celebration program for Dr. Winters, click on the link below:
TIMOTHY WINTERS PROGRAM
by Robert Earl Houston
This year I’m trying to see all of the Academy Award Nominated films. So far I’ve seen Lee Daniels’ The Butler; American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Gravity; 12 Years a Slave; and Nebraska. I’ve yet to see Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street.
In a very good movie, Nebraska, there is a scene that sticks with me. In the movie and elder father thinks that he has won a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes. He is determined to leave from his home in Montana (if foot by necessary) and is aided by his sons and, reluctantly, his wife. His younger son, sensing that his father doesn’t have long to live, drives him from Montana to Nebraska, a trip that should have taken less than 8 hours. However, due to his father’s drinking and injury which required hospitalization, it took 2 or 3 days for an 8 hour trip, not to his destination, but to his small hometown where his siblings and family members live. During the sit down (to watch TV, a family tradition) his brother’s sons ask his son “How long did it take you to get here?” They knew it only took hours and he said “two days” and they started laughing.
That stuck with me because in a few days I’ll be celebrating being called to this church 5 years ago and I’m celebrating this years 36 years in ministry. I have been blessed tremendously – but it wasn’t overnight. It took time.
Unfortunately in this generation, everything is on fast, quick and in a hurry. The self-imposed timetables that we as pastors place upon our work can be deceiving and frustrating. We point at pastors who have mega-churches and mega-situations and we are determined to replicate what God is doing in somebody’s ministry – not understanding that in order to get where that pastor is at, you may have to visit some painful places, tragic circumstances and hellish scenarios.
A few weeks ago a young minister told me, “Pastor Houston, I want to be like you.” I was flattered and then I told him, “Go through cancer, go through trouble, get lied on and talked about, suffer some painful situations, get sick without any insurance, and oh yeah, go through church trouble and you’ll be just like me.” You should have seen the look on his face.
I believe that ministry is not some 100 yard dash. It’s a marathon. Some of us have been on the track for 35, 45, 55, 65 and even 75 years and if we all be honest, we haven’t seen it all and each experience is going to be different. I remember talking with a pastor who wrestled with his call and for the first 30 years of his ministry his congregation numbered less than 50 and all of a sudden, the Church grew into a thriving congregation of 2,000. He said “I was eager, but I wasn’t ready. God had to show me that I’m on His timetable and not mine.”
The truth of the matter is that my first 30 years of ministry prepared me for my current ministry. I have a wonderful congregation and I’ve learned how to pastor with a steady hand, loving heart and open spirit. I’m now in the age of being called upon by other pastors for advice. I’ve been able to create a fellowship and dialogue with many of our local elected officials and this afternoon I’ll have the privilege of offering prayer to open this afternoon’s session of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Senate.
But it wasn’t overnight. I have pastored four congregations (and served on pastoral staff at one) since 1989 and full-time since 1991. It’s been a journey. I admit there were low points and high peaks. However, this journey is not given to the strong, nor the swift, but to the one who endures to the end.
For those pastors who are trying and trying and working and working and praying and praying. Keep at it! Bring your best to the pulpit – even if you have more pews than people. Even during moments of anxiety and frustration, bring your best, share your heart, be there for the people. Don’t look for the “next move” – be faithful in wherever the Lord has planted you in this season – if there’s a move it’s better to let God do it than you create it.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
There is a little-known procedure that is fulfilled during the filming of television programs and movies – it’s called “product placement.” When an actor is drinking a cola and it happens to be a Coke – it’s not there by accident. The makers of Coke have paid for the right to put that Coke in that movie or television program.
When the closing part of a movie calls for the hero and heroine to fly off into the sunset and they board that American Airlines jet – again, it’s no accident that American’s jets are featured. American Airlines has paid for the privilege of getting their brand there at that time.
Earlier this week, one of the friends of our church was on her way to work and as she and a co-worker headed into work, a terrible wreck was on the side of the road. If memory serves me right, the car had hit a tree and the safety inflatible bags deployed, and apparently the driver was injured. She pulled her car to the side of the road and she and the co-worker began to assess the situation and help the driver. But check this out – they were both nurses and they were on the scene long before Paramedics could arrive.
That’s product placement.
God has a way of putting people in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s that pastor who preaches week in and week out; or that Sunday School teacher who drops a word of confirmation during a class; or if someone is in need and a believer happens to be there, even though they weren’t even scheduled to be there.
That’s product placement.
I want to say to you my friend that if you’re available – if you just make yourself available to the Master’s will – He will place you. The qualifications of man can be overruled by God when He has assignment written on your life. I’ve seen pastors placed in churches to the awe of friends, family and fellow preachers – because they were placed there by the Lord. I’ve seen divorced men (including myself) get called to churches – because there was something that God needed for that church at that time. I’ve seen barriers broken at churches that were steeped in traditions because the Lord had someone ready to break the status quo and to put the church or organization where He wanted it to be.
So, the next time you wonder – why am I here – remember, that’s product placement.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
The news has been filled this week of the unfortunate story of a young African-American pastor in Macon, Georgia, who committed suicide on this past Sunday in front of his home, in between worship services. It has been not only heartbreaking but it’s become an instrument of speculation, catharsis and intraspection.
I am amazed how some in the Christian media have taken a 15 second sound bite from a three year old sermon that he preached and tried to contemporize it to his act. The misleading headlines suggest also that it was his final sermon when, if you watch the entire sermon, he was attempting to convey the message that even ministers and pastors question God, and have their moments of loneliness and fear.
The purpose of this blog is not to go through the whys and wherefores. Frankly, that’s not only none of anyone’s business and it’s not necessary to publicly second-guess the young man or discuss knowledge, limited knowledge, any knowledge or no knowledge in deference to his wife and children, and church family, whose hearts are hurting. I’d rather want to share my own viewpoint that this is a time to grieve, even if you didn’t know him for yourself.
We should grieve because a successful ministry is now re-categorized to the annals of history. Whenever anyone does what he did in his years at his congregation and was in the midst of planning future ministries – it’s appropriate to grieve what could have been and yet pray that the congregation continues forward in the spirit of the vision that was given to them by their pastor.
We should grieve because it could have been any of us. Death has no litmus test nor does it have parameters. This year, I’ve buried several pastoral colleagues who were 50 years and younger – which will leave a void in those who could have been voices of encouragement for the next generation of preachers to follow. I look at myself at 53 and begin introspection and say to God, “it could have been me” – no matter the circumstances. I am alive today not because of earned goodness or excelling personality. I’m alive because of the grace of God.
We should grieve because another one of us have gone home. I mean another pastor. I reckon that about 100% of our churches will experience a change in leadership in the lifespan of their churches and unfortunately no sudden change of leadership is an easy transition. I spent time last night just praying for the leadership of that church as they not only bury their leader but being the grieving process and ultimately the arrival of their new leader. The bottom line is that a faithful preacher and teacher is no longer among our ranks.
Charles Wesley wrote a hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive?,” that talks about weeks like this. I was introduced to the hymn by Dr. E. Edward Jones, president emeritus of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International through one of his Presidential writings. I’d like to share it here as well:
1. And are we yet alive, and see each other's face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace! 2. Preserved by power divine to full salvation here, again in Jesus' praise we join, and in his sight appear. 3. What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last! 4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above. 5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more. 6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain, and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
For some strange reason, this week I’ve been ministering to several pastors who are on the precipice of giving up. Two have larger congregations than the one I serve. Two have similar sized congregations. And two have smaller sized congregations. They have expressed different reasons and they all have (paraphrased) the final bullet point: “My storage is empty.”
Pastoral ministry is not all glitz and glamour. Would to God that it is, but it is like being the captain of a great ship (no matter what size the church is numerically) on the sea. Sometimes the water is calm. Sometimes the storm is raging. Sometimes the rudder gets stuck. Sometimes mutiny is in the air. Sometimes the road map is tossed aside. Sometimes the captain gets ill. And sometimes the Pastors becoming weary of sailing again.
Three observations about pastoral ministry:
THE PASTOR NEEDS AN ENCOURAGER
Surprise! The encourager-in-chief needs an encourager. He or She needs somebody who can break from the ranks of the naysayers, skeptics and silent saints and muted members who can encourage the Pastor.
In my church there is a couple that never ceases to be an encouragement to their pastor. I’ve been on the road preaching quite a bit lately. In the last three weeks, I’ve had the burden of preaching through a series on “The Blood” and preached a Revival and preached three annual days and then a wedding. When I came home on Sunday morning after flying into Louisville early Sunday morning, went straight to the pulpit, attended a fare-thee-well for two of my ministers who are moving to another city, and then preached at an annual day 40 miles away. I literally had to crawl up the stairs and went to sleep for over 12 hours and woke up not refreshed but exhausted. My wife had laid out my mail that I received and there were two notes – one was a Pastoral Appreciation Month card and the other was a Marriage Anniversary card for me and my wife, along with a gift in each. The amount is meaningless, but the sentiment was priceless.
I don’t care what size the congregation is – the pastor needs somebody to encourage him or her to keep on keeping on.
THE PASTOR NEEDS SOME TIME
No, I’m not talking about vacations. I’m talking about the time that it takes to be renewed and refreshed. After talking with many pastors across the country I’ll let you in on a secret – many pastors have developed terrible prayer and study lives because they are over-scheduled and over-committed.
One of the blessings of being a full time pastor is the premise of the promise of time. However, I’ve seen pastors with the time who wrap themselves up with conventions, community activities, athletic events and then come to the pulpit or teaching moment exhausted because their priorities were out of order.
The Pastor needs time to not only pray for his flock – he or she too has a family that needs prayer, prayer is needed for financial issues, prayer is needed for direction, and prayer is needed even for discernment and developing a sense of spiritual timing. The Pastor needs time when the phone is off, the computer is off and is cut-off from all forms of media and social media to release the mind. I take a day a week and get in my car and drive – sometimes near some water – where I can just free myself of burdens and issues.
THE PASTOR NEEDS A PASTOR
I never have understood this new fangled (or should I say tangled?) concept that the Pastor only needs Jesus. That argument is the same argument we bristle at when we hear it from our church members – but some pastors model an ungodly, ungrateful and rebellious attitude when it comes to being pastored.
There has never been a period of time in my life when I didn’t have a person that I could point to and say “that’s my pastor!” From a child getting introduced to Jesus, the late Rev. Sylvester McCullumn, who founded the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church while serving as a shipyard foreman, was my pastor. When I became a teenager, the late Rev. Dr. Arthur Bernard Devers, I, not only was my pastor, but because of the divorce of my parents, he was a father-figure for me and nurturer. In my late 20s, the Rev. Dr. Johnny Pack, IV became my pastor and under his leadership I discovered a preacher – Robert Earl Houston – that I didn’t know existed under the weight of trying to be like others. When I moved to Fresno, California in my early 30s, the late Rev. Dr. Carl J. Anderson, founder and builder of the historic St. John Missionary Baptist Church became my pastor until his passing. I had the privilege of being one of his sons and Pastor was always kind and took out time to see how I was doing. After his death, I united (in long-distance fashion) with Bishop Darryl S. Brister of the Beacon Light International Baptist Cathedral in New Orleans. Bishop is a “thinker” in Biblical Exposition, prolific writer, and I was honored to be counted as one of his sons. I then united with the Greater Trinity Missionary Baptist Church after almost walking away from ministry, and I was put to work by my pastor, Dr. Clyde Elliott Gaines – who would not allow me to fall off the face of the map.
Then I moved to Nashville at the request of my current pastor, Minister Barton Elliott Harris, who not only was my pastor in name, he was my pastor and still is, in deed. Pastor Harris has led Westwood Baptist Church, University Center for over two decades, but he has been the person I call with questions, advice, and encouragement. I left Westwood to come to Frankfort four years ago and every year, we renew the fellowship – he preaches my pastoral anniversary and I preach their Church Anniversary. He has never failed to be a factor in life issues that I’ve had – surgery for cancer, death of Jessica’s dad, the burning of my home church, and other situations and circumstances.
No matter what your title – Reverend, Doctor, Bishop, Apostle, Overseer, etc. you need a pastor. And churches should encourage pastors to find a pastor. You can join the local church (if you think that’s necessary) but you still need a pastor. Don’t fall for the trap that you need a pastor who pastors more folk than you do – sometimes the pastor who has the smaller congregation, with wisdom in his visage and heart, is priceless.
These are just three suggestions to help somebody get back on track. Many pastors have “Hallelujah Sundays” and “Depression Mondays” emotionally because of humanity. I do know this – pastoring is a long distance course and not a sprint. Don’t let your pastor go through the process of pastoring by him or her self.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
Today marked the end of a 40 year pastoral career in San Diego, California. Today is the final Sunday as pastor of the Bayview Baptist Church for my friend, and friend of all preachers, Dr. Timothy James Winters.
I met Dr. Winters many years ago. I knew of him from afar and became one of his colleagues at the California Missionary Baptist State Convention and then we became quick friends when the Lord moved me to San Diego in 1995. Dr. Winters was president of the Baptist Ministers Union and one of the first pastors in the area to reach out to me and welcome me to the area.
We exchanged pulpits on several occasions. My congregation was about 1/10th of the size of Bayview, but that was never an issue in our fellowship. When I came to San Diego and people were joining there by the droves, Dr. Winters spoke highly of it, and I think he respected the fact that I wasn’t try to “sheep steal” but just preach and let the Lord send whomever He would send.
Matter of fact, when I decided to leave my congregation in San Diego – Dr. Winters was one of the first to hear it and he gave me great counsel. He encouraged me, brought me back to Bayview on several occasions to preach. And when he was in the area, I made it a point to find him, if for nothing else, to break bread. He is a walking encyclopedia of pastoral knowledge.
I appreciated the honesty in his counsel. He was the pastor that encouraged me to step out on faith, especially in the area of personal stewardship. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have no problem with giving – at my church, in my General Association, even in my National Convention – and it’s because I watched Timothy J. Winters – even in his building programs, be one, if not the, biggest givers in San Diego.
He reached out to younger pastors. When I came to San Diego in the 1990s, it was known for having the “younger pastors” who had at least 10, 15, and 20 years of experience. He was a city-wide icon – but he still had time for younger pastors like myself, Charles E. Price, G.A. Williams, E.M. Williams, Edward Johnson, and others. He added me to the staff of the Baptist Ministers Union, when he was President, and we served together in the Progressive Baptist District Association.
I never will forget he was the guest speaker for New Hope Friendship Baptist Church’s Church Anniversary. The place was packed. During the offering he said this – “We can’t celebrate the bride (the church) without celebrating the groom (the pastor) . . .” and he reached over and gave me a generous check. It brings tears to my eyes because he didn’t know how needed those funds were.
In ensuing years, I’ve been a guest of Dr. Winters and Bayview (and of course his wonderful wife, Betty Winters) and he never put me up in a Motel 6 type of hotel. He was always generous and put me in beautiful hotels and great venues.
Dr. Winters’ monogram is easily that captain’s cap he wore around the country. You always knew that Dr. Winters has a love for being near the ocean and from the highest point of Bayview, you could look down and see the ocean. He planted congregations with the “view” name attached, all thriving to this day.
An author and lecturer on Church Growth and a specialist on Stewardship. He took stewardship to another level and taught “grace giving” that meant that giving should not be restricted to just the tithe. In his tenure, Bayview built a beautiful sanctuary (and recently did a major remodel) and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Building that houses offices, classrooms and a world-class dining hall. Additionally, the church owns significant amounts of property in the neighborhood. It’s a far cry from the day he became the pastor 40 years ago.
I pray that my friend will enjoy his well deserved retirement. He has hosted some of America’s best preachers. He has been a denominational leader within National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International, and supporter of causes. He is an entrepreneur of the saved kind. And knowing him, retirement means he’ll have more time to devote to writing, travel (especially to Greece), and spending his golden years with Sis. Betty.
Whatever his next chapter will be, his gospel will remain the same . . . giving.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.