Q: Did you always know that you were going to be a pastor?
A: It’s definitely not something I always knew. I can’t even say it’s something I really wanted. I love people and I love being able to serve, but I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it—and the way I wanted to do it was in the flying world.
My father is an air traffic controller so as a child I remember being in the tower and seeing a plane go by and thinking I want to do that. I became a pilot for the Air Force and I’d just gotten hired by American Airlines—when Pastor [E.W.] McCall said ‘No, I want you to be my successor here,’ and I thought no, I have plans.
Q: Did he know something you didn’t?
A: He did see something in me from the beginning.
Q: Did he tell you?
A: Not early on, but later on he did. He said, ‘You know I may retire,’ and I said well when you retire, that’ll probably be close to when I’ll be going to the airlines and I’m gonna make my switch. And he said, ‘No, you’re going to retire from the military and come here as the senior pastor.’
Was he grooming you?
That was his plan, yes. St. Stephens is extremely unique. We have a large congregation of about 3500 members, but we have a very small full time staff. He’d never hired a full time minister prior to me and he was here 37 years so it was all on him. However, he is the best at orchestrating lay leadership. So we had members who gave three, four days a week without batting an eye.
I was the first person he brought on staff as a minister and we used to call ourselves Batman and Robin. He is a father, a best friend, a boss, a mentor and a confidante.
Q: Your church puts almost as much emphasis on Sunday school as service?
A: We have a huge Sunday school—about 900 people every week—for everyone. And that’s really our hub. Pastor McCall used to have a cliché we still hold on to, —that Sunday school makes church folks Christians. So our Sunday school has been our flagship from birth.
Q: Pastor McCall was sure of you as senior pastor, when did you become sure that this was the right move for you?
A: I remember the exact day. It was December 31st of 2008. When the Lord gave the vision of the church moving forward. That’s when I knew, this is it! Because I was executive pastor all of 2007 and so everybody’s like okay we know what’s going to happen and they’re trying to kind of push you forward and find out what’re you gonna do, and I said, I’m not even thinking about what we’re gonna do—we have a pastor right now. I’m not trying to have a vision. I’m not trying to see what we’re going to do. Right now I’m executive pastor and I’m following a vision that we have.
But as soon as Pastor McCall passed the baton—and we did it out in front of the congregation—it was like the floodgates opened. I tell other minsters this as well—it wasn’t a moment before, it wasn’t years before, it wasn’t days before; it didn’t happen until that moment of moving forward that the vision and illumination came.
Q: What are differences in style between you and your predecessor?
A: In a lot of ways other than age, we’re very similar. Pastor McCall, he knows how to drop the hammer if there needs to be a hammer dropped. I consider myself like a velvet hammer. I am smoother, more easygoing than Pastor McCall. We’re both expository Bible preachers, so we’re going to walk through a test and make it applicable to you. Not fire and brimstone, just contextual. Every month we have a theme. This month we’re transitioning into kindness. So we’ll preach on kindness. So people learn kindness.
Q: What have been the challenges over the last six years?
A: You have some members who literally want everything to change and then you have some members that want nothing to change. It’s knowing what to do and when, but also how to implement change in a way that’s not distracting.
Q: How important is it for you to have a voice in what goes on outside of the church’s four walls?
A: A lot of pastors would shy away from controversy, but we have to keep our voice and deal with hot button social issues. We can’t be silent on homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia—all these different things we can’t fall silent on. We have to be proactive in missions—global missions and local missions as well. It’s easy to get passive and focus in on our own congregation only, but we have to reach out.
We actually celebrate lent, which a lot of Baptist churches don’t, but Ash Wednesday is the biggest Wednesday service we have the whole year and we make covenants and commitments together as a church, about what we’re gonna do.
Q: What is the biggest joy for you?
A: It’s that “ah ha” moment when someone gets it—someone gets saved—when you can help somebody to transition, to transform, renew, or to forgive. Unfortunately, you see more of the downside because that’s when people call you the most. So you probably don’t get it as much as you want, but there’s enough.
God allows some to plant and some to water, but it’s Him that gives the increase. I tell our leaders that you may never see the increase, but we got to keep planting and watering, so I don’t allow the increase to be my motivation. I like to see it but I don’t need it. You just kind of do what you’ve got to do and let God do his part.