Ministers Who Marked My Ministry

Memphis, Tennessee is a city of churches. Always has been and always will be. At one time, it was listed as the city with more churches per capita than any city in America. Churches large and small dot the landscape of my hometown, but the denomination that is perhaps the king of the hill in Memphis is the Church of God in Christ whose international headquarters are based in the city.

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world with more than 6 million members worldwide.  On November 14, 2000, the city of Memphis was excited because Bishop Gilbert Patterson, for years one of the most creative religious forces in the city, was elected Presiding Bishop, the top position of leadership in the church. The world was about to see what we’d seen for years. Bishop Patterson was a unique gift to the body of Christ that doesn’t come around very often.

In the late 70s, I was home for the weekend from Oakwood College and we decided to catch a Friday night service at Temple of Deliverance church. It was the fastest growing church in the city at that time and Bishop Patterson was the pastor. I had attended the church on a number of occasions, mainly for concerts and choir rehearsals, but I’d never met Bishop Patterson. So it came as a complete surprise to me as we walked into the balcony of the church to hear his words directed at me from the desk, “Good to see you Reverend.”

No formal introduction, but he obviously knew more about me than I was aware. Ironic, because I never had the opportunity to explain to Bishop Patterson how his ministry influenced mine. Let me share it with you. These are some Patterson characteristics that influenced me.

He had a heart for social justice

In 1968 Dr. Martin King came to Memphis to support the sanitation workers strike. It became the setting for his assassination on April 4 of that year. Bishop Patterson was a major player in that strike that changed the city and tragically impacted the world. He was never a very visible or vocal front line civil rights figure in Memphis, but he was always strategically and financially involved.

He was an amazing administrator

Bishop Patterson began his ministry in his teens. He became the co-pastor of the Holy Temple COGIC with his father W.A.Patterson in 1962.  He left that little church in 1975 to establish the Temple of Deliverance near downtown Memphis. The membership grew to 15,000 people with an active membership approaching 7,000.

He seemed to be able to juggle a number of prominent projects at the same time; day care, Podium Records, WBBP radio station, academy, radio broadcast, and television ministry. In 1978, the congregation opened its new sanctuary to accommodate the explosive growth. At the time Jet Magazine noted that it was the first million-dollar church built by African Americans in Memphis.

He was a gifted preacher

Before he passed in 2007, Bishop Patterson was one of the most sought-after speakers in the country. He turned the stereotype of the uneducated, unprepared Pentecostal preacher on its head. His specialty was unpacking the narratives of the Old Testament. And for those who don’t appreciate the African American folk art and spiritual passion of “ whooping”, they’ve never really listened to Bishop Patterson.

He was a strategic church programmer

In 1996 the book Natural Church Development by Christian Schwarz was released. It became an international manual for growing healthy churches. It identified characteristics and growth factors that most healthy, growing churches possess.

Two of the growth factors are energy transformation and interdependence. The idea is that church ministries and programs are not islands. They function best when the energy and resources of one program seamlessly lift up other programs. Some pastors have a gift for creating a church calendar that is not just busy but creates a tide that takes other ministries up with it. Dr. Carlton Byrd is an example at the Oakwood University church. Bishop Patterson was a master.

The church calendar was carefully choreographed to generate movement and momentum. It kept the staff and volunteers busy but it created an atmosphere that attracted visitors and kept members connected, excited, and involved.

Those are just a few of the characteristics of Bishop Patterson that marked my ministry. We never really know the impact our lives have on others. Next week, Pastor Robert Willis.

Comments