Updated: Sep 3
Dr. Demetrius A. Russell, Sr.
With everything that’s been happening I forgot that I am celebrating fifteen years of preaching. Fifteen years ago, I stood at the Rocky Ridge Baptist Church, Cadiz Kentucky, in front of a packed church and nervously attempted to preach from James 1. I’ve struggled because I thought I should be more advance but when I look at many of my fellow clergy, even if we are the same age, they’ve been preaching much longer and consistently than I have. So I’ve learned and am still learning to appreciate where I am. Also, I have learned many lessons as a young preacher that continue to shape how I approach ministry. I would like to share some things that I’ve learned through the years. I will not share everything because space and time will not allow.
1. BE YOURSELF!
This is one that I’ve had to struggle through. I’m from western Kentucky and in the black Baptist Church culture, period, most people equate good preaching with closing or whooping. Some even feel that it’s not good preaching unless the preacher speaks a certain way, inflecting their voice in ways that moves the listener. Well, I struggle doing all of that. I love everything about my culture. I’m probably the most pro black Church culture person you’d meet but I rarely close when I preach. I’ve studied the art of black preaching, used to attempt to close every sermon (in my early years) and worked hard to develop a close, but since I began serving as Pastor, it all changed.
What do you mean? I believe that I wanted so badly to fit the mold that I was not allowing God to develop me into what he’s called me to be. He was trying to develop me for a specific demographic of people. I spent so much time listening to preachers like Clinton McFarland, Jasper Williams, Jr., H.B. Charles, Jr., Tolan Morgan, Maurice Watson, Shalmon Radford, Cedric Cheatham and others who are great expositors but can shut it down as well. I wanted to be accepted by preachers and others but I have learned and honestly am still learning to... BE MYSELF!!!!
Not everyone will like the style/presentation of my preaching but I’m learning to be ok with that. As I have heard time and time again, you can’t go wrong being who God has designed you to be. So I encourage all my fellow clergy (regardless of how long you’ve been in the ministry because I’ve witnessed people over 20 years in ministry, doing the same thing) to learn how to find your own voice as God leads. There are certain people you are expected to reach. You can’t reach some of them trying to be someone else.
I know, you may not get that engagement. Your ministry may not blow up but we aren’t preaching for self gratification and glorification. We are preaching to point people to Jesus’ redemptive work on Calvary and His resurrection that gives us the opportunity to experience Salvation and a new life in Him. So please, be yourself.
2. The ministry, especially serving as Pastor, is A LONELY CALLING.
If you have never served in this capacity, you may not understand. Let me explain from my perspective. People sometimes will be kind but have ulterior motives. You know, I’m going to do this for you (buy this or make this) in hopes of making a person feel obligated to make decisions in their favor. If you’ve experienced hurt in the past, it’s easy to construct barriers to protect your heart. Ultimately you keep everyone at a handshake length. I’ll get close enough to be your Pastor but that’s it. How do you get past loneliness? I think we all have different ways but the best thing for me was having that one preacher/Pastor friend that we are able to encourage each other and serve as accountability partners. Make sure you pray before selecting pastors because not all can be trusted.
3. LOVE PEOPLE, EVEN IF...
Learning to love God’s people came easy especially when I was called to Pastor. Though it became easier, I still had to face the reality that not everyone would like me and/or show love. I’ve been talked about numerous times but guess what? I still have to love those individuals. I always tell the Pleasant Grove Church, “It’s funny because as soon as God started leading me here, I fell in love with y’all as a people and church family. It’s different but that’s how God must work when it comes to giving Pastors.” If pastors fail to show love when people wrong them, it sets a poor example for parishioners.
4. REMEMBER MY FAMILY IN ALL THINGS.
This is difficult because the examples showcased by clergy is to leave their family because they have to do the work of the ministry. Or, my parent’s example; take the kids with you... ALMOST EVERYWHERE. Now that I’m an adult, I asked my mother what was their reasoning for taking us to all those places? From what I understood it was there way of having the family together. I got to watch my parents minister to people first hand and I thank God for the example, but I concluded that I would not force my kids to go through that. I try to spend time with them and make choices that will not result in their resentment of me, the ministry and ultimately God.
5. THANK GOD FOR AND ENJOY YOUR DEVELOPMENT.
I saved this for last because so many people want to move expeditiously through this process to preaching in front of thousands. In fact, they may not be consistent and ready to handle preaching to 15. If you can’t be thankful for the opportunities in the small rural church or store front setting, you aren’t ready to preach in mega churches. Allow God to prepare you for what your assignment is. Trust that he knows what’s best and remember ministry is about Kingdom, not connections for engagements. You are not who you are by the amount of opportunities. You are who you are by how you allow and trust God to develop you.
As I mentioned, this is a condensed list and there’s more that I could share. What advise would you give to fellow clergy? We would love to hear from you. Your additional experiences will be a blessing to many pastors and ministers.