My Covid 19 Reflection

My Moment to share my reflection from the last several months

It has been a minute since I have written anything on this page and although I have had many thoughts that have been put to paper, they have not made the cut to publish. Each day of this pandemic and sheltering in place has been challenging for the entire world. Although we have history on our side regarding humans surviving major viral epidemics, there is for us today a more intense sense of uncertainty, unrest, and impatience for this to come to an end soon. Countries around the world are seeing people protest their government’s decision to actualize shelter in place orders. In the US, leaders in some faith communities have been openly defying orders against large gatherings for religious and non-religious purposes and even bringing lawsuits against their state leaders citing the First Amendment right to assemble and freedom of religion. It has also sparked intense political actions with the hopes of one side beating the other with propaganda for or against more government spending and fully opening the country before an economic collapse happens.

On a more personal note, it has made me more grateful for each breath I take and each day I am afforded to live. Hearing of the deaths of acquaintances, friends, loved ones from the COVID-19 virus and the thousands of others who have contracted the virus and are fighting for their lives or have recovered has certainly made life more sobering. The biggest challenge for me has been making the adjustment of being a virtual pastor. While doing video and teleconferencing  is nothing new to me, virtual preaching has certainly been different. I was fortunate to have begun the process of live streaming services some time ago, I am one of those pastors who understood the future of those services but was unprepared to have to begin it under such conditions. The congregation I have been blessed and privileged to under shepherd is thriving and even growing despite not meeting in person. They certainly inspire me to continue studying to show myself approved as an unashamed workman of Christ.

I am certain that historians will look back upon this moment in time and mention the tenacity of the people in the world amid a global pandemic. Even after we are back to some sense of normalcy, it is still my goal and obligation to be an empowering and liberating voice of justice for those who are in need of hearing it. It is my goal and obligation to continue serving this present age my calling to fulfill.

Conceal or Reveal: Is there ever a right action?

After conceding having an affair on his wife, Pastor John Gray of the Relentless Church, took to the pulpit to defend himself. In an article by Paul Mason published in the Empowering Everyday Women (EEW) Magazine, Gray in a sermon titled “Graveyard Shift states” I saw people—bless their hearts—online talking about, Pastor John talked about suicide. I didn’t say that I went and got a gun. I didn’t say I bought pills. I said the enemy put thoughts in my mind, and people tried to make that like I was out of my mind…“And you know what’s funny? It wasn’t devils that made me feel that way; it was people.” Gray went on to quote scriptures from Genesis and Proverbs as a defensive response to those who chose to speak out about his situation. In both quotes, Gray misappropriates scripture towards those he sees as not being faithful Christians for not concealing the matter. While I am all for keeping home business in the home, this is not one of those moments.

Gray raised his profile from lowly preacher to mid-level celebrity after co-starring on the daytime television talk show “The Preachers” alongside Dr. E. Dewey Smith, Dr. Jamal Bryant, and Orrick Quick. From there he and his wife have starred in their own reality television series on the OWN network. It was these and other church platforms that propelled him into the national spotlight and brought the added scrutiny of his public and private life. Going from preacher to pop culture shifted the culpability of his actions to full public commentary. This is not to say that he is entitled to such, but it comes with the territory (and should I ever get to the level that he is I should expect the same).

Scripture presents us with case scenarios of how we should deal with individuals who have failed because of public or private sin of some kind. While the Old Testament provides plenty of case studies in the human frailty of highly gifted persons, the New Testament provides better insight because Jesus of Nazareth and Paul the Apostle both had personal interactions with those people. In John 4, Jesus was brought a woman who was caught in the act of adultery to which he responded to her accusers by writing something in the sand and giving the famous quote “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He later meets a single Samaritan woman at a local well, engages her in conversation, and after telling her of her past and current relationship status, helps empower her to become an evangelist on his behalf. It appears that Jesus was more concerned about the victim being oppressed than those who would call out the cause of their oppression.

Apostle Paul seemingly has a different approach. In his first response letter to the church of Corinth, he directly addresses an issue of sexual immorality and stated that “although absent in body but present in spirit, I have already judged him who has committed this as though I were present” (I Corinthians 5:3). Paul had proclaimed appropriate condemnation and punishment for the individual even though he was not physically present to do so. He had written that because the Corinthian church had more pride in themselves they had chosen to not adequately address the direct inflammation of sin that had become a part of their church body. Paul later writes in Galatians that individual believers should be so interconnected that whenever one sees another brother or sister overtaken in any trespasses that we should reach out to that person regarding our own sensitivity and culpability to sin in like manner (Galatians 5:25-26, 6:1-10).

This dichotomy presented by Paul is what we see being played out in the contemporary church. There are those who would love to call judgment and justice for the moral failures of church leaders and there are those who will not be so quick to act or condemn because they are aware of their own human frailty. We live in an age where social media intrudes on the private lives of everyone. Social media has a way of complicating the nuances of personal and public interactions. Choosing to conceal or reveal is up to individual choice. We all know someone in church leadership who has had a moral failure. We can be discreet in addressing it to those we care, or we can be proud and self-righteous in addressing it. While both can be seemingly done in love, one leads to self-fulfillment, and the other leads to repentance for all.

Anointed, Gifted, and Toxic

toxic-logo

After nearly 30 years in ministry I’ve come to discover that I have spent a great deal of my ministry life being simultaneously anointed, gifted and toxic. Like many preachers, I spent years developing my craft, shaping my preaching style and personality, and developing a philosophy of ministry that I hoped would be beneficial to those I ministered to. I also discovered that with that development came a lot of personal moral challenges that all my ministry grooming could never quite prepare me for. Because I began preaching as a teenager, I was instructed to take Proverbs 5-8 to heart and “ preserve discretion and keep knowledge on my lips”. I had plenty of ministry mentors who had gone down the path of immorality in one form or another and they did their best to admonish me not to make their mistakes.

While I have never been removed from a pulpit, publicly corrected or rebuked, or ever had any inappropriate behavior publicly exposed and scrutinized, I have had my share of moral failings that have caused me to turn inwardly for reflection and repentance. I went through a divorce that had me emotionally unbalanced for over a decade. I had a relationship at one time that although was innocent, was in hindsight inappropriate. I had been in romantic relationships where I did not maintain sexual purity and continued to preach weekly to wondrous reception. I continue to struggle with general anxiety and feelings of inadequacy despite my training, education, and accolades. I have been the toxic person in relationships that led to others involved being more hurt than helped by me.

There are thousands of other preachers just like me. They don’t make the national church headlines with their routine toxicity. They sit in pulpits or pews with the task of ministering to someone else despite their own misgivings. They are aware of their giftedness and toxicity but are only allowed and encouraged to express the former over the latter. It is quite emotionally ravaging for them. They, like me, are not spiritually or emotionally healthy. They are called upon to be God’s vessels of healing and wonder, leading to the salvific knowledge of Christ the Redeemer, and a life of abundance on this side and eternity on the other. It is a duplicitous life at best and certainly an intoxicating one when the ministry gifts are on full display for people to be in awe and wonder of the individual in praxis but not the toxicity attached.

This is why we find it hard to minister to those ministers who have fallen hard to the duality of their anointing and their toxicity. It’s no different than that of Noah getting drunk and being inappropriately exposed to his grandson after having followed God’s plan of successfully building, servicing, and replenishing the earth. It’s also David having to witness the death of a child birthed out of his coveting another man’s wife and successfully conspiring to have that man murdered. It’ Solomon, who after soliciting the Lord for wisdom, receiving it and the wealth that accompanied it, giving himself over to all the vanities of life and causing his successor to be just as foolish in turn leading to the eventual destruction of the House of David. It’s Peter, the great Apostle, denying Christ before those who sought him executed, or the Peter who chose to be hypocritical in his praxis of faith in front Gentiles or Jews.

The point I hope to get across is that as ministers, preachers, prophets, apostles, pastors, evangelists, teachers, or any other title one wishes to utilize, we are well acquainted with our anointing and our toxicity. There are those of us who are more disciplined in our concealment of it than others, but it is still very present. Scripture assures us that we have an Advocate in our toxicity. We have a Christ who wholly identifies with us yet can shield the wrath that our toxicity incurs. The author of Hebrews in 4:12-16, reminds us that our Advocate is one who is fully aware of us in our entirety. He through our engagement of the scriptures, can discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. He beholds the nakedness of our humanity, encouraging us to hold fast the profession of our faith and calling, and empowering us to boldly come to Him to obtain the mercy and grace to help in our time of need. It is ok for us to be anointed and toxic, but we must always know that God is our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast of our anointed and toxic lives and ministry, but most of all, He is our Eternal Home.

2016 End of Year Reflection

I can honestly say that 2016 has been one of the most productive years of my adult life. It was the first full year in my 40’s and it was full of rewarding and humbling moments. I began the year with high expectations and I end the year with confidence knowing that I accomplished much of what I desired. One of the biggest things from 2016 that I have experienced was a great sense of loss. This came from the untimely death of my beloved nephew Kevin Neal, Jr. and the deaths of so many people who had a grand part in fashioning my youth and young adult development.

Like many persons at the end of the year, I take a moment and reflect on the totality of the year. There is a wonderful exercise that I have been using to accomplish this. I’ll share this year’s with you. How wonderful it is to know I’ve come this far by faith and God’s grace and have yet a ways to go. I’m grateful for all the people, places, and experiences I been graced to have in 2016. As John Newton writes in the third stanza of Amazing Grace ” Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. T’was grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me on.”

10 Highlights (Accomplishments, Best Memories)

  1. Passing Doctoral Qualifying Exam and becoming an official doctoral candidate
  2. Serving as a presenter at the Black Non-Believers 5th Anniversary Celebration
  3. Serving as a Delegate to the 50th Quadrennial General Conference and 200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  4. Being appointed the new Dean of Ministerial Instruction for the South Mississippi Conference Board of Examiners
  5. Becoming a Spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Survivors Engagement Lead for Everytown for Gun Safety
  6. Lobbying with Clergy for Prison Reform
  7. Lobbying at US Capital with National Council of Churches
  8. Attending Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE)National Pastor’s Policy Summit
  9. Celebrating five years as pastor of New Bethel AME Church of Jackson
  10. Joining a local community choir

 Disappointments (Failures, Missed Opportunities)

  1. Not spending enough time with my nephew Kevin before he passed
  2. Not maintaining regular spiritual discipline
  3. Not going to the gym consistently
  4. Not promoting book, ministry and radio show
  5. Indecisive about romantic relationships
  6. Not making time for self
  7. Not traveling for pleasure
  8. Not managing finances well
  9. Not reading more
  10. Not aggressively ministering to youth and young adults at the church

3 Game Changers (Unexpected Events that shifted my priorities)

  1. Being featured in the upcoming Exodus documentary
  2. Getting back in school and passing my DQE, attending Residency II in Atlanta, and beginning the journey of writing my dissertation
  3. Church Promotion and exposure in local and regional media outlets

3 Things I focused on (What I put the most of my time into

  1. Gun Safety and Advocacy
  2. Criminal Justice reform
  3. Returning to doctoral program and completing my dissertation

3 Things I forgot (What I didn’t get around to)

  1. Self Care-poor diabetes management and little rest and didn’t journal consistently
  2. Complete writings I started
  3. Didn’t engage my creative side-didn’t compose music or write enough poem

Jonah and the realization of reluctant ministry

The book of Jonah is an interesting one. We find the story of a reluctant prophet who would rather see an entire nation of people destroyed than receive the mercy of the Lord. We see an individual with a divine mandate intentionally attempt to not carry out that mandate. The prophet Jonah boards a ship heading in another direction gets entangled in a storm that forces him to admit his flawed attempt to evade ministry, and eventually gets him the in belly of a large fish that forces him to rethink his relationship and purpose with God. Jonah is indeed one good read. I have found myself in Jonah’s shoes on a number of occasions. I had rather see some persons retained in their messy affairs of life than deal with the mandate of God to minister to them.

What is disturbing about Jonah isn’t that he was swallowed by a large fish or that he reluctantly repents and carries out his mission. What is disturbing to me is the way the book ends. It ends so abruptly. Jonah speaks as if he were the biggest disappointment to his call as a prophet of Jehovah. He had been sitting outside of the city of Nineveh angry at God and himself for feeling as if he had been manipulated by God into carrying out God’s mission. He had understood God’s mercy and benevolence towards mankind. He had experienced firsthand when he was on the boat headed to Tarshish and after he had been thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish. In spite of all of this, even though he was repentant and grateful, he was still reluctant.

For many, reluctance is a big burden of ministry. Those who have been in ministry long enough have encountered individuals they were reluctant to minister to. While there are plenty who rejoice in being called to prison ministry, pastoral care ministry, and especially the pastoral ministry, there are more who are very reluctant to serve “the least of these.” Service requires both the desire to go and the need to follow. What Jonah experienced was nothing short of simply being human. Reluctance is more present in ministry than many pastors and church members would care to admit. It can be challenging when confronting our own biases and prejudices about those we are commanded to serve and minister to.

What makes Jonah’s narrative interesting is the way he confronts God about regarding His immediate compassion upon seeing the Ninevites turn from their evil way. I would argue that there are plenty of clergy just like Jonah. We would rather see God’s judgment and condemnation on people we have deemed undeserving of His grace. Perhaps this is more succinctly seen in contemporary political and religious freedom movements. There are those standing by their right to religious freedom condemning others choosing to express the same. It is destructive and does not demonstrate the character of God to non-believers.

Another interesting thing about this narrative is that while Nineveh likely had early connections to the ancient Jews, that connection had long been lost by the time of Jonah’s mission there.  The question then becomes why did Jehovah even desire for them to hear from Him and repent? It was clear that the great city of Nineveh was enjoying prosperity without God and He apparently tolerated it for generations. This could have contributed to Jonah’s reluctance. Think about the number of times pastors have preached in communities infested with crime of all kinds and not one person responds to the invitation to abundant life (not even after funerals lol). Yet immediately after hearing the cry from the reluctant prophet about an imminent overthrow of their great city in 40 days, they all believed God from the youngest to the oldest.  Even the king made it a public law that everyone cries out mightily to God so that His anger would be turned away from them. If only people would heed that message now and produce similar reaction, what a marvelous change this country and world would see!

In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, the people still received. It begs the question of how much our reluctance matters when it comes to God’s mission. We may feel like pawns in God’s game of repentance, but ultimately what He desires for individuals gets accomplished. We may go into and come away from a divine ministry assignment throwing a big tantrum, but the reality is we are still being used to the glory of God the Father. Reluctance in ministry does not take away the need for ministry. There will be moments in service to the Father that we will utterly despise, but when the seed has been planted, watered, and grows, it will be one that will bring forth fruit for generations to come.

Elections, Violence and Church Responsibility on Zera Today

Coming back off break, Pastor Lorenzo Neal returns with discussions on current topics including domestic violence, breast cancer awareness month and how the black church leadership can handle incidents of violence among church leadership and celebrities. Pastor Neal also discusses how the November midterm elections could affect the black church and black community. Tune in and be blessed
http://tobtr.com/s/7050771

Spiritual Abuse cloaked as Pastoral Love

Recently, Dr. Jim Standridge, Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church of Skiatook, OK preached a sermon that is going viral on the web. In the sermon, Dr. Standridge publically chastises two male members of his congregation: one for falling asleep while he was preaching, and the other for not being a faithful attendant. While chiding both young men, he attempts to cloak his belligerent rant by saying that he loves them. He even went so far as telling one young man that he wasn’t even worth 15 cents! It is apparent during the sermon, that few if any of his members condemned the pastor for such an outburst of contention.
Here is the clip of the abuse: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/videos-for-pastors/168559-pastor-s-angry-tirade-caught-on-tape.html
You can listen to the entire sermon here: http://www.ibcskiatook.com/index.php?option=com_preachit&id=585:may-19th-2013-morning-service&view=video&Itemid=232

Since I’ve been in ministry, I’ve been in services where the pastor/preacher has used the opportunity to share the gospel as a means of expressing their personal vendettas against members or others who may not be on board with the pastor’s personal agenda. Now scripture does appear to indicate that public rebuke is necessary at times. Jesus alludes to this in Luke 17:3-4. Paul addresses it in both his letters to the Corinthian churches. Paul further publically rebukes Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. There are several other places where this is eluded to however Pastor Standridge does not appear to consider this as he calls out members throughout his sermon even at one point telling a wife that she’s not as wise as her husband.
While some may applaud Pastor Standridge’s actions as that of a pastor addressing an issue as it was happening, I see it as an incident of spiritual abuse. Like so many other Christians, I’ve experienced pastoral spiritual abuse under the guise of pastoral love. The pastors would admonish their parishioners to tithe or be thrown out the church, to only dress a certain way, or to never attend another church lest they lose their salvation. I am sure that there are many other harsher examples (particular those individuals who are members of cults or cult-like churches the leadership dictates just about every action of their members.
As a pastor, I make it a point to address conflict in a manner that is firm and direct but does not create abuse on my part or hurt on my member’s part. Pastoring (particularly in the black church) can be a challenging occupation. A good pastor addresses issues from the pulpit in a way that is edifying and not divisive. The moment of preaching is not the place to air out the preacher’s personal anger towards an individual (even if it is righteous anger if there is such a thing). The preaching moment is to be an empowering one that even when addressing conflict in the ministry can be done so that it builds the ministry instead of tearing it down.
Personally, I would never do what Pastor Standridge does to the young men in the video. If I were the parents or relatives of those young men, I would certainly address the pastor for being rude (if it had been a black church, there would have been some walking out or much worse). The pastor should have the heart and speech of a shepherd as reflected in Jeremiah 3:15. Several New Testament scriptures admonish pastors to have a heart for the people and not be lords over them (Titus 1:7, I Tim 4:12, and I Peter 5:3 just to name a few). It is one thing for a pastor to rebuke the members in love in hopes of enabling them to be better stewards, more connected with God, and more empowered to share the gospel of Christ and another thing for the pastor to rebuke members in anger because they simply are not serving up to the pastor’s desires or expectations.
We’ve got to get it right. The church is driving the very people she was called to draw away because of the foolishness of some of her leaders and pastors. We are to love enough to not condemn but to correct and reprove with the heart of Christ at the center. If we do anything less as pastors, we are simply acting barbarically against the people who God loves unconditionally.

You Need Money for What?

Photo of a Collection Plate

I recently came across two interesting solicitation support letters from a couple of relatively prominent pastors.  Thanks to the folks over at Church Folk Revolution www. preacherpimp.com for sharing these stories. The first involves Dr. Mark Barclay, is a televangelist who is often affiliated with Kenneth Copeland. He is not a pastor of a church, but is the leader of a network of pastors and ministers throughout the country and the world. In his most recent support letter, he asks his partners to pledge funds to repaint his jet. No I’m not kidding. Here is the link to the leaked support letter:

www.pimppreacher.com/Dr-Mark-T-Barclay-ask-members-for–79k-for-new-paint-job-on-Jet.html

Matthew 6:19-21

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In the letter Dr. Barclay states that if the jet is not completely repainted, it will lead to corrosion (thus the rust and moth corrupt reference in Matthew) and could further lead to the plane being grounded and at worse, the ministry and the people benefitting from the ministry in deeper need or possibly missing out on God’s blessing (that last part is completely inferred and not directly implied). This solicitation comes with the recognition that the plane Actually belongs to God and not Barclay therefore by assisting him in the maintenance; you are assisting God in up keeping God’s jet plane. While the cost is only $79,000 USD it would be going to a very worthy cause because ministries such as his needs a fully functioning and well painted jet to be effective in the kingdom of heaven. Well to some idiot, that may be true, but to people like me, I simply say save the money and fly first class. It’s the same luxury. Or sell the plane and occasionally charter a jet for less. That’s my simple suggestion but alas what do I know?

The other prominent pastor is Dr. I.V. Hilliard, pastor of New Light Church in Houston, TX and the spiritual mentor for hundreds of pastors around the country and the world. I personally have long admired Dr. Hilliard’s teaching style and delivery. I’ve even purchased a few of his teaching series and have heard him live on several occasions. While I don’t agree with his version of prosperity, thousands gather weekly on six campuses in three cities and online to hear him. He recently sent out a support letter for assistance in maintenance on his ministry helicopter.

Here is the link to the letter and news report video: http://www.pimppreacher.com/Bishop-IV-Hilliard–52-Tranportation-Seed-For-New-Helicopter-Blades.html

The troubling part isn’t the solicitation for assistance. The troubling part is the beginning of the letter itself. The letter begins by asking if the receiver needed better transportation, car repair or replacement, or desires to purchase a luxury vehicle. From the initial reading, it would imply that the individual reading this letter would be receiving some sort of assistance in those needs, but that comes at a cost. A $52 cost to be exact. By assisting the ministry’s aviation department in replacing the blades on the ministry’s helicopter, the readers would be eligible for supernatural favor for their transportation needs (and apparently wants).

While the bishop issued a letter of apology to the general public and members, it still raises the question of ministry waste and stewardship. Why should supporters and members bear such an expense? How necessary are some excesses by both large and small ministries. Coming from the perspective of a mainline denominational pastor, there has to be a line drawn on the leadership and the members regarding the stewardship of the pastor and staff. I have been at churches where it was almost sacrilegious to ask for funds to travel to annual conferences or other church related meetings! If the letter hadn’t gotten leaked, it would be safe to assume that he would’ve have gotten financial support for this nonsense. I could write more about this, but it wouldn’t amount to much. As pastors, clergy, and church folk, we’ve just got to do better.

An Affirmation

Rise to the Light of the Sun
Flow with gentleness of the wind
Make each step meaningful for you and others
Be at peace at the days end with the knowledge that all that could be done has been done
All that will be done shall be done
You are light climaxing til twilight’s end
You are all you need to be right now

Namaste