My father was H.B. Charles Sr. He pastored the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles for 40 years, until his death in 1989. All I saw my father do was serve the church. Whether I became a preacher or not, my father’s example taught me to associate Christianity with serving others.
The Lord called me to preach as a boy. I was 11-years-old when I preached my first sermon. By my teens, I was basically preaching every week. I was 16-years-old when my father died. A year and a half later, I was called to succeed my father as pastor of Mt. Sinai at the age of 17.
My father prayed the Lord would call me to preach. But he did not encourage me to preach. He wanted the Lord to call me, not him. As he listened to me preach, tears would flow down his face. But he treated me sternly, desiring that I take my calling seriously. He would often warn me not to be a stereotype. And he did not want me to be a flash-in-the-pan. He wanted the best for me.
I did not have many years with my father. But he was and is the primary influence on my ministry. Looking back over 25 years of pastoral ministry, I can see more clearly the ways my father mentored me. Most of it was not formal instruction. He took me with him to services, classes, funerals, hospital visitations, and meetings. He taught me along the way.
Here are a few of the lessons my father taught me.
My father was a voracious reader. Many of my mental images consist of him holding a book. He owned thousands of books. They were scattered about everywhere. Yet he guarded his books vigilantly. He lived in a world of books. And he constantly fussed at me about not reading enough. When I would ask my father a question, he would go to his library and get a book for me to read. I would respond by saying, “Never mind.” I am glad that his discipline for reading inflicted me over the years. When I now meet with the associate ministers at my church, I typically begin by asking the question I heard my father ask countless times… “What are you reading?
Take your sermon preparation seriously.
My father preached two different sermons on Sunday mornings. And he taught the minister’s conference on Mondays and the church’s Sunday school teacher’s meeting on Monday nights. Each message was fully handwritten. His secretary would get them on Thursday and type them to return to him by the end of business on Fridays. I never saw him go to the pulpit unprepared. My father also taught a class for ministers on Tuesday evenings. He would give a devotional message and discuss some area of ministry. Then he wanted to know what each preacher present was studying. It didn’t matter if you only preached once a year! His discipline for study and readiness in the pulpit taught me to take my sermon preparation seriously.
My father was a sharp dresser. He loved clothes. Yet he freely gave them away. I still meet preachers who tell me my father gave them their first nice suit or pair of shoes. He found as much joy in giving them away as he did in buying them. This is just one expression of his generosity. I do not remember hearing my father quote the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). But he modeled it on a regular basis. I am blessed by those who are kind to me to somehow repay my father’s generosity to them.
Love your congregation.
There are pastors who love to preach but cannot stand the people to whom they are called to preach. My father definitely loved to preach. But he loved his congregation just as much as he loved the pulpit. I never heard him complain about the congregation. He loved being with them. He was there in times of crisis. He even loved those who were hard to love. My father was a pulpiteer. But when I meet his former members, they don’t talk about his preaching. They tell me about visits, baptisms, funerals, weddings, and countless ways he lovingly shepherded his congregation.
Be a friend to preachers.
My father had 19 associate ministers at his church when he died. He was a friend to the older men. He was a father figure to the younger men. This extended to preachers outside of his congregation. Beyond Mt. Sinai, my father did what he could to help preachers and pastors. He taught what he knew. He shared what he had. Many Sunday afternoons, we would worship with other congregations. Most often he would go to be a help to a small-church pastor who could not return the favor. This is how I had so many preaching opportunities as a boy preacher. Men would preach me out of gratitude for my father’s friendship to them. Because of my dad’s influence, I don’t have a category for preachers who do not like preachers. My father taught me to be a friend to preachers.
Weather ministry storms with faith.
My father was a beloved pastor. Mt. Sinai was a blessed church. His ministry there was fruitful. But his pastorate was not storm-free. The sun cannot shine every day for forty years. My old man endured several ministerial hurricanes. There were times when it seemed the winds would not stop howling and the rains would not stop falling. Yet my father weathered ministry storms with unwavering in the faithfulness of God. “The house may shake,” he often said, “but it won’t fall down.” It never did. Through it all, the Lord sustained him. And he faced betrayals, church splits, financial reversals, opposition, and dry seasons with faith that the Lord would care for him, his family, and the church. His stubborn trust has been a great benefit to me as I have faced my own ministerial storms over the years. I am convinced that things are never as bad as they may seem, when the Lord is on your side.
You can recover after mistakes.
I talk a lot about lessons my father taught. But not every lesson was positive. He also taught me what not to do by his negative example at times. Though young, I saw my father make some colossal mistakes. I had a front-row seat for things he should not have said or done. Yet my father did not hide from his mistakes. He admitted it when he was wrong. I cannot tell you the impact it had on me to see this titanic figure apologize – privately and publicly – when he was in the wrong. Many of his ministry setbacks were his own doing. But by God’s rescuing grace, he would get off the mat and keep fighting. Setbacks would become comebacks. By seeing my father’s mistakes, I learned that failure is not final. God can give you a fresh start, new beginning, and another chance!