Pastor Profile Pastor J. Wendell Davis, Ph.D. • New Jericho Baptist Church

Q: What was it like growing up?
A: I was raised in South Central L.A. in a part of town we called the Eastside Bottoms. There was a lot of crime, violence, broken homes, gunshots, and a lot of suppressed people, so to come out of that area is just a miracle. I was involved in gangs, running around the streets, hustling and raised by a single mother with five children. It was tough.

I got baptized when I was seven but that didn't stop me from living an unsaved life. I attended church on Sundays and Bible study during the week but I was still gang banging.

Q: What were you doing when you received the call to preach?
A: I was in Louisiana on vacation. I was drinking and partying. I passed out in my hotel bathroom and God said to me, “Either you stop or I’m going to kill you.” That's the message I got.

I was deacon of a church. People thought everything was together with me but I was wrestling… My wife was beating on the door because she heard the shower running for 45 minutes.     That was only the beginning because we left vacation early and three to four days later I woke up in a cold sweat. I’ll never forget it—I wrote it in my Bible ‘the Lord said preach or die’. And each time I would say, “No, you don't want me to preach,” I couldn't breathe. That was nineteen years ago.

So I sobered up. I didn't go to a treatment program. I went from the extreme left to the extreme right. Finishing education became very important to me. I really focused on my family and doing the right thing. It was tough on my wife. She said “I didn’t marry no preacher” but she came around.

Q: What did you do before founding New Jericho?
A: I used to pastor a very historical church in Los Angeles called McKinley Avenue Baptist Church with some of the most prominent pastors ever in California. When I got there, that was the longest tenure for them in thirty-two years—four years and ten months. I decided to merge that church with another church in L.A., but when a scandal broke out against the other pastor, and I asked him to step down, he wouldn’t. I couldn't afford to risk it so I left. I wouldn't return anyone’s calls after that. Then five years and six months ago we started a church one stormy Sunday with the fifteen people who showed up and after one year we bought a building.

Q: What is your preaching style?
A: I would describe it like my church’s logo: real, relevant and relational—my style would be traditional Baptist and also charismatic but dogmatic and blunt.

Q: What are the challenges?
A: The challenges in Los Angeles are the Lakers, the Clippers, the Kings, amusement parks and Hollywood. The church has to compete with all those activities. The challenge is: how do you hold the people you have, how do you grow and how do you continue to be creative in the mecca of states?

Q: What inspired your book “Healing A Wounded Leader”?
A: It’s inspired by, more than anything, personal experiences in my seventeen years of pastoral leadership and what is needed today in ministry and in effective leadership. It deals with the methods of healing and transforming someone or yourself into an active and effective leader. It’s a resource of tools to help identify wounds and classify wounds as emotional behavior or psychological, physical, sexual or poor lifestyles and hatred.

When we don't properly heal and we find ourselves in a position of leadership, those wounds are exposed. It’s really written open to anyone who is dealing with life issues because all of us suffer with some type of wound.

I tend to write more controversial things that nobody wants to talk about, like addressing the crisis of addiction within the church family and the pastor needing to deal with his issues—then maybe people will understand why so many churches split, why there’s so much gossip on the pastor and so much infidelity, because hurting people hurt people and wounds that are not healed are going to flare up again.

Q: You are very active in the community, what nonprofits are you involved with?
A: I’m Vice President of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Los Angeles—I’m over Community and Civic engagement and I’m President of the alumni association of the USC Cecil Murray Center. I’m also CEO of Trinity In His House Foundation where we provide two childcare centers (in Compton and Lynwood), a women and children’s center and a men’s transitional housing in Pomona. So I deal with a lot of wounded people everyday.

Q: How do you not take it all home at the end of the day?
A: I’m a counselor and a leader. I have to remain ethical and have moral standards. And because I was raised in such a traumatic environment—my mom being an alcoholic, drug addict and single parent—I overcame so much as a kid. So now dealing with the community, because the church is the whole community, a hospital full of sick people, my own personal healing comes through working with people. Healing people helps heal. It’s very therapeutic.


Pastor Profile: Bishop Maurice D. Johnson, Sr. • Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship

Q: What were you doing in the moment you got called to preach?
A: We were in revival at my local church. I was 14 years old. Prior to that I would feel inspiration and could hear the Lord speaking to me in reference to teaching and preaching. I received a strong confirmation during that revival. I accepted my call when I was 20. I became a pastor at age 29.

Q: When did you begin pastoring this church?    
A: I began school to prepare myself and I served very diligently at my home church as a Sunday school teacher, youth pastor, choir director, a deacon and youth usher. I did a lot of ministry work in training before I became full fledged in ministry.

I’ll give you a little history about how Kingdom Life came to be. I started a church in Long Beach in 1993 called Newness of Life Community Church. I pastored that church for five years and then I pastored a church in L.A. called First United Christian Church. When they selected me as their lead pastor I merged the two churches together and in 2003 we changed the name to Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship.

Q: What is your preaching style?
A: I would say because of my pulse on the heartbeat of God and where I see people are today, I’m probably right in the middle between history and destiny, some kind of bridge between the old school and the new school: I understand the Kirk Franklin age, yet I embrace the old James Cleveland style. I have a strong balance as to ministry being relevant. I believe God is, and can, use me to touch the heart of seniors as well as young people.

Q: What do you consider your biggest strengths?
A: I’m considered a leadership coach. I’ve just recently been consecrated a Bishop in my organization. There are at least three pastors that are directly trained from me and now have their own churches. It comes from my educational background and my personality. As I began to realize I was gifted to encourage and motivate people to reach their full potential, no matter how others see a person I’ll see greatness in them and I try to tap into that greatness and push them forward.

Q: What are the challenges in ministry?
A: We live in a day now where people aren’t as committed as they used to be years back. So here you have a lack of commitment and consistency in church attendance. People are in church one week and are not there next week. Sometimes it can be discouraging but as parishioners we learn to stay focused on what it is that God has called us to do and we’re responsible for being faithful to God.

Q: What was it like growing up Christian in Compton?
A: Coming up in that era of time there were a lot of temptations. There were some things that I fell into but the Lord’s hands were on me and he seemed to always protect me from going too far out there. I always had a sensitive and repentant heart. Even when I made mistakes somehow the Lord would bring me back and put me on focus. The influence of drugs and gangs was there and though my mother was a single parent we had a strong family backing, my uncle, aunties and my church family was very influential. I had a good child life.

Q: As a survivor of a ‘bad neighborhood,’ what is your advice for young men facing a similar upbringing?
A: My advice is to give your life to the Lord while you’re young and not allow yourself to get entangled with the temptations and the vices of the world that will lure you in. I believe we live in an anti-God generation and the enemy is using all sorts of devices to deceive our youth and cause them to go astray. But if they keep their hands in the hands of the Lord and stay focused on him He will guide them, bless them, and show His favor in their lives.


Pastor Profile: Pastor Nisan Stewart • Greater Emmanuel Temple

Church: Senior pastor of Greater Emmanuel Temple of Lynwood ­­­
Inglewood, CA
Career: A
noted drummer, record producer and songwriter
Six years to first lady LaToya Stewart; three children, including an infant daughter
Church Website:

Q: What were you doing when you received your calling to preach?
A: I was in Miami in 2004 working on Missy Elliot’s album “The Cookbook.” We were at the beginning of the album. My mother was sick and my brother called, “You need to get home now.” On that plane ride home I remember looking out the window, tears streaming down my face, I asked the Lord: “If you heal her, I’ll preach. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”

He said, “No you’re going to preach my Word anyway.” I accepted it. When I got to my mother, she just said, “The Lord is going to use you to reach people that others won’t be able to reach.”

And I can say from that moment on that there are times when I get calls from people that I work with, they call me saying “I need you to come talk to me” about things related to Christianity. I’m glad to hear and witness those things come to pass.

Q: Were you running from the call before that flight?
A: I wouldn’t say I was running I was just working. I was into the flow and sometimes that’s hard to stop. I did always assume I’d be a pastor, but I didn’t want to do it because of the responsibility. I had told my father “Don’t be handing the church to me because you want to keep it in the family.” My father founded the church in September 1965. We’re going into our 40th year. But after his earnest praying, he came to a decision and saw that I was the one for the job. I wear it with honor, integrity and humility. Now I’m just looking for great things to happen.

Q: How do you balance your music career with your role as pastor?
A: My number one priority is my family and pastoring the church. I’ve been pastoring since February 2012. Since then when anybody asks me to be their musical director, they know nothing’s going on Sunday morning and nothing’s going on Wednesday night. A client just called me and I had to tell him I can’t go on tour, and I can tell they were kind of upset. I definitely have control over my time. It’s just about me getting used to saying no. Because I make great money at what I do but of course the ministry is first for me.

The Lord uniquely took me on this journey. When I look at how it was set up for me and how I started, it doesn’t happen that way. I don’t know of anybody where after writing their first couple of songs, one of them is a number one record. That was ten years ago and I’m still getting paid for it.

Q: How did you get into music?
A: I started out playing music in my daddy’s church. I was a drummer. I didn’t ever think I was going to make a career out of it, I was going to play football, but it didn’t go that way. Immediately after college, Randy Jackson from American Idol got me my first gig. As it happened, Warren Campbell — we were great friends growing up — Warren was doing something for Randy Jackson and Warren told him about me and brought me in.

Q: What happened after your big break with Randy Jackson?
A: I was 22 or 23 and I always liked to have concerts at the church. One concert in 1999 I called “Take Me Back,” we had people do a tribute to a bunch of different artists. Missy Elliot and Brandy were in the audience. Pastor Shep Crawford, a songwriter and producer, was doing work for Def Jam, and he asked our band if we wanted to work with Timbaland, when he first came out as an artist. We did that. We did all his TV shows, and after one experience Tim said “I’m not doing any no more shows without you guys.”

So we traveled the world touring. Artists going on tour would call me and ask me to put bands together for them. And then being in the studio with Timbaland, watching him create music, I wanted to do that too. My first record was a number one record that me and Timbaland did with Missy Elliot. It was all happening so fast.

Once I saw the type of money I was making, and could make, how blessed I was to tour with some major artists and become their music director, after that I also got into song writing and producing.

In 2000, I got a call one night, one of my buddies said, “Here, someone wants to talk to you” and it was Diddy—Puff Daddy—and he was like, “Yo, I heard some of your music man. How can I get in on what you’re doing? Can you come to New York?” And I said “Sure, When? Like next week?” And he said, “Can you get on a plane in a few hours?” He sent plane tickets and we went to New York.

We negotiated a deal and we became part of the Hit Men, which is his production crew, and also appeared on his MTV show “Making The Band.” Next thing you know I’m touring with Beyoncé playing the drums with her band and then Jay Z before they were together. I was Jay Z’s musical director and then 50 Cents. I’ve worked with just about every body in hip hop and R&B. I put Jamie Foxx’s shows together when I can. Now I have the liberty to send out whoever I want for me.

Q: What are your challenges as a new pastor?
A: The challenges are getting people who have been there since the start to understand that, hey, trying something new is OK. We never change the message. Methods we change, but the original message we don’t change. My goal is to deliver the message that has been established for us as all. The challenge is also bridging the gap between the young and the old. I try to pray for that perfect fusion of things.

Q: What is your preaching style?
A: I’m not necessarily the guy that makes you run and shout and do cartwheels. If that happens so be it, but my thing is I deliver a word where people feel like they can work it out so they can build on themselves. We’re all building. As long as we’re living and breathing we’re building. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I never want to lose the traditional side of it, but we definitely have a modern feel. I want to give a practical word that people can take adapt to their lives.


Pastor Profile: Rev. Vernon S. Burroughs • Grant A.M.E. Church

Q:  What was it like growing up in St. Louis?
A: I’m the next to the youngest of six boys. The last three of us were the closest and felt that we were in competition with the three oldest. My parents raised us together. This was in the ‘50s. Growing up was good but it had its challenges. I didn't know that we were poor until I was an adult. A lot of people can’t figure out how I didn't realize that. Can you imagine six boys and parents living in a two-bedroom house?

I was 19 when I moved out to join the Air Force. I Served in Southeast Asia during Vietnam. Returned home to the job I had before I left, working for the National Personal Records Center. I worked 40 hours a week and went to school in the evening trying to get my degree. Much as I disliked school I knew I had to go and that's what I try to share with young people. I didn't like school at all but my career and future were on the line. So I went to school.

Q: Were your parents’ religious?
A: We all grew up in St. James AME church. We participated in everything and as busy as my father was, he took time with us. I was always looked upon as the one who was the strongest because I was in the ministry, so a lot of things were left on my lap.

Q: When did you receive the call to preach?
A: I may have been 27. In 1977 I just got this call and this urge to preach the gospel. I asked one of the associate ministers there, “how do you know if you’ve been called to preach?” He said, “Well it’s almost like a hound dog from heaven.”

I said, “What do you mean by that?” He said, “It’s a feeling that you know it’s something that you have to do. It keeps bothering you until you do it.”

I went to my pastor and explained to him what was going on inside of me. He told me to go back and pray about it. I prayed about it and it just wouldn't go away. I just felt like I had this urge to be a witness to tell somebody about Jesus and God and just tell the story.

My pastor confirmed and said, “Well it sounds like you’ve been called to preach”. I studied, went to seminary. My first church was in Hannibal, MO for three years. My second church was in Omaha, NE for three years. Then I went to Denver, where I served for two years, Tacoma for five years, and from Tacoma I went to Berkeley, CA, and I served that church for 11 years.
After that I was promoted to presiding elder where I served for six years, supervising churches and pastors. But I knew my calling was to preach and pastor so I asked Bishop Kirkland could I go back to pastoring. He sent me here to Grant. I’ve been here four years.

Q: Your wife also ministers?    
A: She’s an assistant minister at Berkeley. Not only is she a preacher she’s also an elementary school principal. She received her calling in Berkeley in the mid ‘90s. Since she was still at the elementary school I told her to just stay there and work as a principal. Once her twice a month she comes down here and serves. I go out there sometimes too.

Q: Some pastors have themes: traditional, uplifting, youth, do you have an approach or theme?
A: I’m a manuscript preacher who preaches with power and authority. Along with that is teaching. I do the introduction and then I teach and then the persuasion. Then the real preacher—the holy spirit—will come in and take us over.

Q: What is your philosophy on the best way to build a church?
A: In terms of members the best way to build a church is two-fold. It's up to the members to spread the word, invite people to come to the church and its up to the pastor to preach Jesus. With the AME church, the bishops have their hands full with trying to match the right pastor with the right congregation. To find out the needs of that congregation and make sure you have the right pastor that has the skills, ability and education. Not just masters or BA but as far as they can go because there is a lot involved in serving people.

Q: What have been some challenges that you’ve faced since becoming pastor?
A: One of the major challenges was when I built the church in Berkeley from the ground up. You’re dealing with people who are saying it’s not going to work, they’re not going to support you and there’s a lot of negative connotations from both sides—people you serve and even from people who serve as pastors. There is jealousy and competition. In some cases they wish they had your church. Some of them hope you don't succeed. The challenge wasn’t even me building a church the challenge was me dealing with the frustrations of the negative comments from my own brothers that are in the ministry. But the church went up, beautiful sanctuary in Berkeley.

Then I got here and there was a lot of financial challenges. The church was being foreclosed and they had filed for bankruptcy. I prayed about it before coming here and God told me “if you go I’ll go with you.” As of this date maybe a year ago we reported that we were no longer in bankruptcy and no longer in foreclosure. We did it.

Q: What would you characterize as your biggest strengths?
A: Administration and preaching. I’m basing that on what I’ve been told. My background is business administration. I know how to budget and handle finances and be accountable. I have the pastoral skills of visiting the sick, knowing how to love people and sometimes that doesn't come easy because you’re dealing with a whole lot of personalities.

The Bible tell us that the pastor’s ministry is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, cheer up the fallen, help the unemployed find jobs. And it goes beyond the congregation to the community.

Some things you learn as you go. I learned from my current Bishop, Kirkland, and from Bishop Brookins who were involved in the community. In some ways you’re preaching a social gospel because you’re dealing with people’s needs while they’re on this earth as well as with their soul and their spirit. You got to get them to glory.


Pastor Profile: Rev. Welton Pleasant, Christ Second Baptist Church Long

Q: How long and where have you been a pastor?    
A: This is my second pastorate. I pastored 15 years in a South L.A. Baptist Church. I’m now in my third year of pastoring my second church. It’s been a great transition to such a historical church. I believe God opened up the door and called me to Long Beach.

Q: What kind of kid were you?
A: I grew up all my life in the Christian context but my salvation experience really took place around 13 years old when I heard Dr. E.V. Hill preaching on TV. In that moment I accepted Christ as my savior. I was a good kid, studious, never had an encounter with the law. The only time I left the church was when I was running from my call to preach. I have a twin brother who is also a preacher. He answered the call after me and took longer because he didn't want people to think he was preaching because I was preaching. He pastors in Phoenix.

Q: When did you receive the call? What were you doing in that moment?
A: I was called to preach at 16 years old. I believe I had a very dramatic calling. I saw a light and I heard a voice that said, “Preach my word.” It was a voice I’ll never forget and a light that was so bright I couldn't look at it. It gripped me in a paralyzing fear and I said, “OK Lord I’ll preach” and went right back to sleep. The next morning it dawned upon me what had happened. So I started praying and I told God, “If this is really what You want me to do, I want You to show me.” For two weeks  every time I went to sleep I dreamed I saw myself in the pulpit preaching. After four months of dealing with that I made the decision, ‘OK Lord I know you want me to preach, let me finish high school.’ God gave me peace with that until the day I graduated from high school as I was in line to shake my principal’s hand, I heard the voice of God say “You’re a preacher now.” I ignored it because I didn't want to do it.

Q: So what did you do until you accepted the call?
A: I went to school and I made sure to work on Sundays so I wouldn't feel guilty about missing church. I stayed out of the church five years. I started feeling really convicted about my lifestyle I was just struggling.  I felt that he was playing with my heart until I went and talked to my pastor. He ignored me until finally one day I  said, “Look, I’ve been called to preach and I don't know if you believe me or not but if I don't preach I think I’m going to die.” He set up an opportunity for me to give a testimony about my calling to the church. Two months later I preached my first sermon. Then I became a youth pastor at my church.

Q: What is your preaching style? What does your personal ministry focus on?
A: I think I have a blend of traditional and contemporary. I do expository application preaching–I believe in taking a biblical text and explaining what that text means but also helping people in the 21st century understand what the red sea experience means.

I have a heart for lost souls, I really have a heart to reaching African American males, trying to build boys into men and building men into the image of Jesus Christ.

Q: What have been some challenges in ministry? What have been some personal challenges?
A: My greatest challenges have also been my greatest rewards. I have to deal with all types of personalities and people and their issues. But it's also been the greatest reward because watching people change and their lives develop into who Christ wants them to become is also the most rewarding experience.

Dealing with the death of my parents is a very sobering experience for me in terms of seriousness in life and that life is not something you play with. Life is fleeting and I understand what the Bible means that we are here for a moment–we’re here for a purpose and have only a season to fulfill and be serious about our relationships. My father died when I was 13. He was in my life. We lived in the same home. That was probably the toughest part, growing up without my biological parent. Fortunately I had men in my life I could depend on but there still was a void. He died at a critical time. That was a struggle growing up without him.

Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: My wife is a pastor’s daughter living in San Francisco. Her father invited my brother and I to preach a youth day at their church. I kind of knew her because we grew up in the same state convention but for the first time she caught my eye. I was 27. We had a mutual friend and my wife inquired about me. They connected us and after talking on the phone my phone bill was outrageous so I said, “Somebody’s going to have to move” and she said “I’m only moving if you change my name.”


Pastor Profile: Rev. R. Darnell Dyson

Greater Faith Baptist Church

Q: When did you get saved? Did you always want to be a pastor?
A: I was saved at the age of nine, which would have been 1980. I accepted Christ at the Saint Mathew Baptist Church under the leadership of Dr. Charlie Green.

No, but I knew I was called to preach when I was 13. I didn’t accept the call to preach until I was 19. I had no desire to preach. I had no desire to pastor but as it happened, God orchestrates your steps. Sometimes you really have no choice but to go the way He directs you.

Q: When did you receive the call? What were you doing?
A: I was playing Little League Baseball. I was very outgoing, very friendly. I liked being around people and I think that has to do with the fact that I’m an only child. A lot of people at the time would say that I was always concerned with helping people think better of themselves. An elder member at the church actually said to me, “Boy you know you’re one day gonna be a preacher.” I said, “Nah, I don’t think so.” I didn’t think so but it has always been a desire of mine to help people and look out for the best interest of people and see people be the best that they can be so I believe that part of my personality
navigated me towards preaching.

Q: Was anything holding you back?
A: When I was in my sophomore year of college I knew at the time I was supposed to be preaching, but I was running from it. Then life experiences happened that actually caused me to try to commit suicide. It was as if, while I was waiting there, trying to die, that God said, “No. It’s not time for you to go yet. I have things for you to do.” It was at that point that I just said, “yes”. It was one of those circumstances where God orchestrates everything in your life to where you could only come to Him and in doing that it was like, “ok I’m tired of going through this. I’m tired of the pain. I’m tired of all the stuff. So let me just go on and do what He has called me to do.”

I had to go through all that mental stuff with the trying to commit suicide. At the time I was in Northern California and moved back to Los Angeles to my home church and a month later talked to my pastor and announced my call publicly to the church. Two months later I preached my first sermon in 1991.

Q: What were you doing before you became a pastor?
A: At the time I was still going to school. Still trying to complete my undergraduate degree. While I was doing school I got a job with a division of Time Warner in post production editing commercials and making sure the shows had the proper space for the commercials to go in. That lasted for about ten to eleven years.

In 2006 I got called to Greater Faith Baptist Church and, although I continued to work and pastor at the same time because it’s a small congregation, I was wrestling with whether or not to preach part time or full time, but again, God orchestrates our steps and I was laid off my from job and it was like okay, I have to do this fulltime now and we’ve been growing.

Q: Are you a traditional pastor? Why or why not?
A: My preaching style—it’s amazing even though I am a city guy—a lot of people say that my style of preaching is more of the country style with the hoop and everything like that. But I’m also an expositional preacher, which deals with the fact that I allow the Bible to speak for itself. With expositional preaching I have to study the word and the historical context.     I would say I’m a combination of a traditional more a contemporary guy because I like to, within the context of my preaching, bring in current day themes and ideas so that it’s not just for the older crowd but so that the younger crowd can also understand. So every now and then I bring them song lyrics or I’ll use popular slang in the context of my sermon, just so that I can make sure that I’m able to reach every generation within my church.

Q: What have been the challenges with being called to preach?
A: One of the major challenges, what I believe every pastor has to deal with, is to be able to balance the fact that you are human and getting individuals to understand that.         Often people think you don’t make mistakes. They think you don’t hurt. They think everything is perfect for your life. One of the challenges for me is to get people to understand that the same thing that hurts them hurts me. The same thing that makes them cry sometimes makes me cry and the same thing that makes them happy makes me happy. I have the same aspirations as anybody else. I want to have a healthy family. I want to have a comfortable life. Yes, we’re called and used by God, but we’re human just like everybody else. And that means we have mistakes, we have frailties, just like everybody else.

And even before I started to preach, I was trying to balance my walk with God with the fact that I still wanted to enjoy life. That to me was the biggest challenge because sometimes when people find out you go to church they’re like ‘oh, we can’t do this around them’, and you’re like, ‘why not? I enjoy it too’. And that doesn’t mean I water down my faith. So the challenge is the balance. I think that’s going to be until I die. You’re a pastor but you still live in this world, you still have desires, you still have aspirations, you still want the same thing that anybody else wants.

Q: What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were a young adult?
A: That things work themselves out. That time brings in patience and I still wrestle with patience. I’m learning that there’s not real need to worry about things that you can do nothing about. That was the biggest thing, even with me trying to commit suicide. I didn’t think at the time that the situation I was going through was ever going to change. I didn’t think anything was going to get better, but eventually, things do get better and that’s something I wish I would have learned earlier in life because I believe it would help me deal with a lot of things in my life a lot better.

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