Pastor Profile: Wendell Oldham • Lewis Metropolitan CME
Q: When you moved here two years ago to take over as pastor, what were the challenges?
A: The biggest was indebtedness. I had not been used to that level of debt in a church. Also, the school—the church had a public charter school—as I got here the public charter school floundered, failed and closed its doors. We had to respond quickly within a month to find another charter school to replace it—and we did. We only missed one month without a school here. The concern was for the teachers and students because it was a sudden and unexpected failure that was traumatic for the students. With my background as a corporate executive, I was usually hired to turn around operations, so when I’m faced with a challenge I just do what needs to be done.
Q: How have things changed over the last two years?
A: We still have a ways to go. Most church people have church down good, but in matters of spiritual development, biblical knowledge, that’s where I find churches have not had the kind of focus people need. I’m a firm believer that the word of God gives us a plan and instructions for our lives. But if you haven’t availed yourself to study it, you’re going on a plan where you’ve picked up a little bit here and there out of the world and decided how to live your life.
Q: How do you differentiate the problem when people who have church down well don’t look like they need much help?
A: The reality of it here is our transition from traditional preaching— with what some denominations call “the hoop” at the end—to teaching on Sundays. That’s a real transition for a lot of members.
One older, very wise, respected older member of our church said, “Pastor, we have been preached to for many years but we’re ignorant.” So each Sunday I teach from PowerPoint and there is an interactive handout. As I’m preaching, the answers are coming up and the scripture is already on the page for you. After we finish the sermon, you fill in the blanks. The sheet then becomes a study guide.
Q: And the response has been…
A: Very good. I’ve had a couple people say, “Can you just preach every once in awhile?” And I say, “Well, when I get asked to preach at other churches, my role is to inspire, but my responsibility to you is to teach you because Paul had told the people I will not have you ignorant.”
I’ve heard people say so many times ‘that was a great sermon’ and if someone asked what he preached on, they’ll say, I don’t know, but it was good.” So they leave all revved up, but without much Biblical knowledge.
Q: How do you know your hard work is paying off?
A: When I hear the testimonies. I had a group of older women in their seventies and eighties tell me they’d learned more here than their whole life in church and how it’s changed their relationship with their children and increased their patience.
Q: What drew you to the ministry?
A: I was 38. I was doing well at our world headquarters at Case Manufacturing (a division of Tenneco that makes farming equipment), flying in corporate jets and limousines wherever I traveled. My next move was Vice President, but the Lord reminded me of a conversation we had when I was 16 and first called to preach. At the time I had been very directed and focused on drafting and later engineering. Before I finished high school, General Motors looked at my drawings and hired me. I went on to become an engineer, manufacturing manager, and later, a plant manager.
So God said, ‘I’ve given you these years to do what you want, now it’s for you to give me what I called you for.’
I went to three different preachers to make sure and all three said the same thing: that I was indeed called. So I went to my wife and told her ‘this lifestyle you’re living is about to change because I’m going to be a preacher.’
She turned to me and said, “I knew 10 years ago, I was just waiting for you.” I turned in my resignation, we moved back to my hometown and I started in ministry.
Q: What are the unique challenges of being a pastor in L.A.?
A: This being Hollywood, we have celebrities on TV and in front of us so much that we want a celebrity pastor.
That’s not what God has called me to be. I don’t have what some preachers call the “it” factor, that charismatic factor that just wows people, but when I listen there’s not a lot of substance.
Church has become a source of entertainment. You have the celebrity preacher, the physical environment you want and the best singers and musicians. All you have to do is sit down and observe.
So yours isn’t the church to go to if one wants to be entertained?
No, you’ll be blessed, but you won’t be entertained.