A conversation with Jamaican pastors
Editor’s note: In our quest to highlight the critical role that pastors of multichurch districts fill—and to express appreciation to them for their often overlooked ministries—we occasionally publish articles based on conversations with pastors from various parts of the world. The first such article was written by Reger Smith Jr. (“One Church, Many Pastors,”August 2006), and was based, in part, on interviews conducted by the Ministry editors during a visit to Nairobi, Kenya, and by Reger Smith Jr. in Pennsylvania.
Associate editor Willie E. Hucks II had the privilege of attending the “Pentecost and More” worship services in Kingston, Jamaica, in March 2008, at which time he met with five pastors to discuss their lives and ministry on the island. They are (in order of ministerial experience) Wezley Gayle, 39 years of ministry, currently pastoring seven congregations; Thomas Bryan, 26 years of ministry, currently serving as the stewardship director for the Adventist Church in central Jamaica; Enroy Ferguson, 26 years of ministry, currently pastoring two churches; Stephen Drummond, 10 years of ministry, currently pastoring seven congregations; and Robert Williams, 8 years of ministry, who, at the time of the interview, was pastoring four churches in eastern Jamaica but has since relocated.
My time in Kingston was brief— less than 48 hours from my late-Friday arrival to the Sunday-afternoon departure. I had three assignments to complete within a 24-hour stretch of time: interview pastors, preach to a group of highly motivated pastors and elders, and conduct a workshop for them. I was impressed by all of the events of the weekend, but I was most impressed by my fellowship with the pastors during the interview, while gaining a better understanding of what has been done to achieve the explosive growth of Adventism in Jamaica.
Keys to growth
After spending time getting to know one another better, we reflected on the large number of people baptized earlier in the afternoon in downtown Kingston—whether that was an anomaly or just normal. I suspected that baptizing and retaining high numbers of people was normal in light of the fact that 9 percent of the Jamaican population is Adventist. I thought to myself, How many Adventists would there be worldwide even if only 9 percent were Adventist? The answer: five hundred and forty million.
So I asked if there were any keys to growth that were unique to life in Jamaica or if such keys were universal in scope. Thomas Bryan, the first to respond, spoke of the assertive nature of the pastors, local church members, and other church leaders throughout Jamaica. Wezley Gayle added, “We organize the church members into small groups, and that becomes the early focal point of much of our evangelism. It is not uncommon for both pastors and church members to conduct public, open-air evangelistic efforts.” Robert Williams chimed in, “And this is an annual event. Each church expects such efforts of itself.”
I wondered what role the local conference administration plays. Stephen Drummond saw it as pivotal. The pastors could not be in a position to know how to lead their congregations were it not for the guidance and support that comes from their leadership. He continued with the theme of leadership on the local level, saying, “We, as pastors, organize our local elders, who essentially serve as assistant pastors. We stay in constant contact with them, teaching them how to preach and lead out in the absence of the pastors. Most important, we deputize them to conduct the work that needs to be done.”
With so many churches to pastor, it made sense to me that these pastors have to give a certain amount of autonomy to their local leadership. But I wondered, how much contact did these pastors have with their church members? The consensus was—since most of these pastors have four or more churches—that they have to divide each Sabbath among some of their churches. For example, they might teach the Sabbath School class at one church or just stop by to extend greetings, then go elsewhere to preach. Or they may spend most of the day at one church, then attend youth meetings at another. As Bryan said, “Each church has its own culture so the pastor learns to adapt their approach to that particular setting.”
Joys and challenges
When I separately inquired about what excites and concerns them about ministry, the joys clearly outweighed the sorrows. Indeed, the concerns were born out of their intense burden for serving the people. Enroy Ferguson spoke of the freedom that church members have to express themselves—because they have to take greater ownership of their local congregation. Williams spoke of the opportunities that the church members have to grow spiritually as they cooperate with nearby churches. “The diverse experiences that churches enjoy while working with other churches is wonderful. Their strengths and weaknesses are balanced out, with the effect not being one of weakening either, but strengthening both.”
Gayle spoke of the benefits that come as a result of churches having to take care of themselves without constant pastoral oversight. He spoke of a “cadre of workers” thus developed, leading to that sense of God accomplishing much, through more than just pastors. Bryan spoke of the excitement that pastors and church members experience on days such as the one we were witnessing: days when people are baptized. “Reaching the goals that you and God set for the district—that’s wonderful,” he said.
Drummond approached the question more from the perspective of the benefits for the pastor when he said, “Having so many churches adds flavor to my ministry. There is no time for boredom, and I don’t find ministry boring. Therefore, I sense less of a chance of burnout.”
The challenges that these pastors cited didn’t center on personality conflicts, unrealistic expectations of conference leadership, or financial strains. The factors that frustrated them were mostly external and often out of their control. These factors ranged from bad roads and long commutes, to not being able to be there for every church member at the time when a crisis arises, to conflicts with schedules—clearly unavoidable when so many churches are involved.
Keeping life in balance
All the pastors there were married and had children—except one, and he, at the time of the interview, was expecting his firstborn. Intending to spend some time talking about life outside the watchful eye of church members, I prefaced my next question by saying, “Pastoral ministry can present unique challenges to pastoral families, especially to the children. How do you maintain a balance between ministry and family?”
Ferguson answered, “I have made it a practice to always take a day off each week. If something happens that means I can’t take that day off, then I reschedule it.” He continued, “In all things, my family should be a role model before my churches and that includes how I treat them.” Drummond added, “When it is time to work, I work. When it is time for my family, I spend time with my family.” Williams spoke of the need to always maintain clear priorities—which he identified as “God, family, and church.”
Because family life and church ministry need not be seen as mutually exclusive, several of the pastors spoke of a team ministry with their wives and children, and found that, when properly done, it was also a means of family bonding.
Spiritual and physical development
I had one final question for the pastors, “In the light of your busy pastorates, how do you make time for prayer and Bible study, as well as study for personal edification and a schedule for physical fitness?” The answer, in one word: intentionality. Concerning staying physically fit, Williams said, “For me, it’s a matter of being very deliberate.” Ferguson added, “It’s something I just have to do. I have to fit it into my schedule.” And Drummond stated, “I have my personal worship early, then I go to the gym, then I come home for family worship. After that, I can take time for personal study, visit members, and other things.”
The general sense that I garnered from all the pastors was that the key to getting everything done was time management, more specifically, focusing on matters that had to be addressed and then focusing on issues that were optional.
The interview session lasted less than an hour—abbreviated because the day was getting late, and some of the pastors who had traveled from as far away as Montego Bay had to drive their newly baptized members back to their homes, then return to Kingston for meetings on Sunday morning. After the interview was over, I had an opportunity to observe the interactions between some of the pastors and their church members. I saw what I have seen so often in so many places from so many pastors—whether their churches were large or small, single church districts or multichurch districts—pastors who genuinely love their church members, and church members who appreciate their pastor’s selfless sacrifices on their behalf.
And, at that time, I understood the essence of the weekend’s schedule. “Pentecost and More” was not just a one-day event. “Pentecost and More” was a lifestyle—a lifestyle embodied by pastors, other church leaders, and church members—made possible by a burning love for Christ and a commitment to His calling.
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