November 5, 1990.
I ditched school that Monday morning. I had a funeral to preach.
For the first half of the year, I preached the 11:00 AM service at my father’s church on first Sundays. But the first Sunday in August was the last time. I preached a sermon that Sunday, entitled, “Waited Time On God Is Never Wasted Time” (Job 14:14).
In a meeting after the service, it was decided that I should not be allowed to preach any more until after the church called a new pastor. I was also asked to meet with pulpit committee. The committee members made it clear to me there was no way I would be considered to pastor the church. “You don’t help a poor man by giving him a fish,” a sister told me. “You should teach him to fish for himself.”
The funeral was the first time I preached at my home church in three months. Afterwards, all the talk was about the meeting to call a new pastor that would take place that night.
“Are you coming to the meeting tonight, Junior?” I was repeated asked. I planned to go to bed early and sleep through the meeting. “Call me when it’s over and tell me what happens,” I answered jokingly.
Right before the meeting, I changed my mind. I did not want to see them call a new pastor to my father’s church. But I was a member of the church too. So I hitched a ride to the meeting – being a 17-year-old who did not know how to drive – to cast my vote.
My father’s friend, Dr. E.V. Hill, led the meeting. The committee presented its three nominees. For some reason, the congregation predetermined to take open nominations. I was nominated from the floor. Some people laughed when my name was called.
When it was time to cast my vote, a deacon objected. The congregation had also determined that no one under 18-years-old could vote. Pastor Hill could not help but note the irony. I was not old enough to cast a vote on a ballot on which I was a nominee.
The church selected me as their new pastor that night. Dr. Hill called me to the front, preached an impromptu sermon, and prayed for this new pastor and people.
I ditched school again that Wednesday. Dr. Hill had summoned me to his office and gave me sage advise about how to begin as the new pastor of the church. I think it was during this meeting that it finally dawned on me that I was the new pastor of the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church.
Though only a boy preacher, the journey began smoothly. By the time I was 21, however, I was engulfed by a major storm. Some members in strategic positions fought to have me removed. Being a typical young pastor, I made several big leadership decisions too fast.
Disgruntled members gave me the butt-kicking they would have never tried to give my father. It became a court battle that lasted four years. By God’s grace, I weathered the storm. And it made me a better person, preacher, and pastor.
Coming out of the storm, I married my wife Crystal. I was 25. And the next 10 years of my ministry were blessed, fruitful years.
The church agreed to relocate. I took a friend to see the location we were considering. And I asked him to pray. I was desperate for this transition to take place. “If the Lord wants me to pastor this congregation going forward,” I said through tears, “I have to get off of Gramercy Place. We have to move!”
Within months, the congregation moved from its longtime location to a new facility. Within months after the move, I moved from Los Angeles to Jacksonville to pastor the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. I went from pastoring several hundred people to several thousand. I was 35-years-old.
Unlike my first pastorate, I walked right into a storm. A spiritual hurricane had rocked this Florida congregation. It was a tropical depression when I arrived. And I fully expected that flash floods would sweep me out of this church within three years.
By God’s grace, I weathered the storm. And this week not only marks twenty-five years of pastoral ministry, it also marks seven years I have been privileged to pastor the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. The Lord has been good to me. And these are blessed, fruitful years of ministry.
I do not know what is down the road. But this seems to be a good place to pull over for a minute, look down that long road behind me, and give thanks to the Lord for twenty-five years of pastoral ministry.
To God be the glory!