November 5, 1990: The Beginning of an Excellent Adventure

November 5, 1990.

This is a date indelibly sketched in my heart and mind.

It was a Monday evening. The congregation at Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles gathered to select a new pastor.

My father, H.B. Charles, Sr., served the church for four decades. Eighteen months later, the church was ready to call a new pastor.

I had no plans of attending this meeting. I thought it would be too difficult to sit through a meeting where a new man would be called to the church my father served for so long. But I changed my mind the day of the meeting.

In a strange providence, the church selected me as its new pastor that night. I was seventeen-years-old. Of course, I do not recommend that churches call a high school senior as pastor. But this is my testimony.

IMG_0273For eighteen years, I had the joy of serving Mt. Sinai, until I heeded a call to Jacksonville five years ago. This week, we celebrate five years of service together as pastor and people at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

I turned forty this past February. And it was a shock to my system! But that I have been a pastor for more twenty years is even more shocking.

It has been a long journey filled with difficult paths, steep climbs, and unexpected turns. But I am grateful for the journey. And I pray this excellent adventure will continue to the glory of God!

Thank You, Mt. Sinai!

1264876_10201052570611173_2063649772_o 2This week I taught and preached at the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles, where George E. Hurtt is the pastor. The meeting was a part of the congregation’s 71st anniversary celebration. I taught a class on expository preaching and was the main speaker for the evening services.

My personal and spiritual roots are in the soil of this congregation.

My Father – H.B. Charles, Sr. – led this congregation for more than four decades. All I saw my father do was serve this church.

I met Christ and was baptized in this church. I was called to preach and trained for ministry in this church. I was called to succeed my father as pastor of Mt. Sinai in 1990. I was 17-years-old, still a senior in high school. For the record, I do not recommend calling teenagers to pastor a church. I am sure I was not ready (I still feel I am not ready, at times. And it is somewhat embarrassing to admit that I have pastored for 23 years. But it is my story. What can I say?) I was married in this church. My three children were born in this church. My… You get the picture.

Mt. Sinai took a risk on this boy preacher. And they determined not to see me fail. For almost 18 years, this wonderful congregation of saints nurtured me just as much as I nurtured them. In 2008, the Lord reassigned me to the Shiloh Church in Jacksonville. But Mt. Sinai has continued to love, pray for, and support me, my family, and my ongoing work from the other side of the country.

It is an amazing privilege to be invited home to preach. This is only possible because of the bigheartedness of Pastor George Hurtt. He does not owe me anything. Yet he continues to show great kindness to me and my family. I am grateful.

I am what I am by the grace of God. But he has used Mt. Sinai to his favor in my life. I will forever be indebted to this great congregation for his love to me. They are my family.

I owe this congregation everything. And even though these simply words do not seem sufficient, I am moved to say…

Thank you, Mt. Sinai! 

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. – Philippians 1:3

Remembering a Life-Changing Meeting on November 5

Twenty-two years ago today, the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles took a chance on a seventeen-year-old boy preacher.

It was a Monday night. November 5, 1990. It was about eighteen months after the former pastor, my father, died. The church gathered to select its third pastor.

For the record, the church did not meet that night with to select a high-schooler as its new pastor. I was not on the agenda that night.

After a yearlong search, the pulpit committee presented three names for the church to consider. (I was not one of them.) And they would recommend one of the three to the church.

The committee was so sure the congregation would select their recommendation that they instructed the moderator, Dr. E.V. Hill, to take nominations from the floor. I was nominated, along with several others. (The was audible laughter when my name was offered.)

Anticipating this meeting for months, I did not plan to attend. I even made alternative plans to make sure I would be preoccupied. But I changed my mind in the last-minute. I wanted to see what happened firsthand. And I wanted to vote for the man who would be my next preacher. I planned on voting for the one I would most want to listen to preach each week.

During the meeting, I was not allowed to vote. The voting age was 18.

So I sat back and watched. And I could not help but notice that most of the people were writing names on the pre-printed ballots. After the votes were counted, I handedly won over the other five candidates. However, the bylaws stipulated that the pastor had to be elected by 75% of those in attendance.

So they voted again. This time, there were just two names. Me and the committee’s recommendation. I handedly won again.

Let me be clear. This is a testimony, not an endorsement. I would not recommend any congregation to make a teenager its pastor.

I had preached weekly for the past two years. And I was eager to have a permanent preaching assignment. But I was not ready for pastoral leadership. Actually, I still feel that way many weeks. Who is sufficient for these things?

Yet the congregation made this radical call and did not look back.

For almost eighteen years, the Mt. Sinai Church family loved me, nurtured me, and encouraged me in my work among them.

They refused to let me fail. They refused to let me down. When I tried to resign, they even refused to let me quit.

Mt. Sinai was not a perfect church. And it was not an easy assignment. Some of the worst days of my life were the challenges I faced as a young pastor trying to lead the congregation.

When I turned 21, a group of leaders even rose up to put me out! But the overwhelming love of the congregation suffocated every move they made. In response to every thing done to hurt me, the congregation made a definitive statement to affirm their love and support.

Four years ago, I had to stand before that congregation and announce that the Lord was sending me away to my present pastoral assignment. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Yet the congregation’s love and support and prayers never changed, even though their hearts were broken. So was mine.

I could easily write a post every day about the ways Mt. Sinai blessed my life, family, and ministry.

The Lord used these precious saints to make me a man, a Christian, a preacher, and a pastor.

Today, my heart is filled with grateful praise for the precious saints who took a chance on this young preacher.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. – Philippians 1:3

Happy 70th Anniversary to Mt. Sinai

This weekend, the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles celebrated 70 years of Christian witness and ministry.

The Rev. J.D. Richardson organized Mt Sinai. He led the congregation for six years.

The second pastor of Mt. Sinai was my father – Dr. H.B. Charles, Sr. He led the congregation for more than forty years. He was an outstanding preacher, charismatic leader, and passionate civil rights advocate.

The congregation grew tremendously under my father’s leadership. It also experienced various ups-and-downs. Yet the congregation remained strong through various transitions.

I was introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ during my father’s pastorate. I was converted, baptized, and discipled there. I was called to preach as a boy in Mt. Sinai. My ministry training and experience took place in and through MSMBC.

My father died when I was sixteen. The church went through an eighteen-month search for a new pastor.

I was not a part of this search process. I was a teenager, grieving his father’s death. I was a young preacher, in every sense of the word. And many determined that no one else named “Charles” would pastor the church.

Yet as the process moved forward, I was convinced that I would be in full-time ministry as a result. I did not expect it to be at Mt. Sinai. A door was open in Detroit and another was opening in Long Beach. I fully expected that I would walk through one of these doors as soon as Mt. Sinai made a call.

The Lord had different plans.

Unexpectedly, the congregation called me to be its new pastor.

As I began my pastorate, I was really only in charge of the pulpit on Sunday mornings. This was God’s wise providence. I needed time to grow. Likewise, this season taught me that prayer and the ministry of the word should be the pastor’s primary priorities.

Several years into my work, conflict erupted. It was primarily over changes in Sunday school, along with other leadership transitions. The decisions I made were right. But they were still rookie moves.

When conflict ensued, I did not fight back. The older men knew how to fight. I did not. I assumed they would win and I would be put out.

The Lord had different plans.

This extended season of conflict hindered the numerical growth of the church in some ways. But the church grew spiritually during this time. So did I. We made it through this season. And the Lord continued to bless the church.

At a certain point, the leaders began to discuss a possible move. The church had been in the same site all of my life. But it was time to move.

I thought it would take years for the congregation to agree to a move. But as soon as I brought it up, the congregation was in agreement.

We found a new place. The auditorium was not as large. But it was more property and a new start. It was also an answer to prayer.

We moved into our new facilities. Initially, we met in the fellowship hall, as the auditorium was remodeled.

The Sunday before we were to move into our new auditorium, I preached in Jacksonville.

When I returned, we celebrated our new home. I was so looking forward to the great things the Lord would do through our work in this new spot.

The Lord had different plans.

Three months later, I was moving to Jacksonville. In fact, the congregation’s 66th anniversary was also the end of my almost eighteen-year ministry to the church.

A week later, the congregation called George Hurtt as its fourth pastor. George is a strong preacher, a visionary leader, and a strategic planner. And the church has grown tremendously under his leadership over these past four years.

I am blessed to be a part of a wonderful congregation in Jacksonville. I hope and pray the Lord will grant me to finish my ministry at Shiloh, after decades of fruitful labor. But I still have deep roots in the Mt. Sinai Church.

I am glad to hear the praise reports of how the Lord continues to work in and through this great congregation. And I pray their dreams are even greater than their memories.

Happy birthday, Mt. Sinai!!!

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. – Philippians 1:3

To God be the Glory! Still!

I’ll give you one guess who that handsome young man to the left is.

Before I go any further, let me answer your burning question: Is that a Jheri Curl?

Answer: Absolutely not! I only use juices and berries on my hair.

Bonus Q&A: Yes, those are Gazelle glasses I am wearing. What you know about that?!?!

This is a newspaper clip I found recently in a book. It is from local church newspaper in Los Angeles called the A.C.C. (R.I.P.) I was just eighteen-years-old.

It is an advertisement for my first pastoral anniversary celebration at the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, where I had the privilege of serving for almost eighteen years.

As I read the names of the pastors and churches that would participate in the celebration (which may be hard for you to see), it overwhelmed me.

Many fine pastors from the Los Angeles area saw something in this young man. They invested in me and encouraged my ministry along the way. Half of the names listed are now blessed memories. Others continue to serve the Lord at the very same churches, after all these years.

The headline really gripped me: “To God be the Glory for all the good things He has done.”

Indeed.

I began my journey in pastoral ministry almost twenty-two years ago. I was a seventeen-year-old rookie, a JV player who should have sat the bench for many more years before received a varsity assignment.

Yet the Lord was gracious to me. He upheld me. He surrounded me with loving people who nurtured me. He used me. And he protected me from the enemy – including myself! To God be the glory.

From 1991 to 2012, the Lord continues to smile on me. I am just glad to still be in the game. Yet, more than that, the Lord has opened many great doors of opportunity for me.

The Lord has transplanted me from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, where I now serve the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

I continue to be blessed to pastor a great church, to be surrounded by loving people, and to preach the word to receptive congregation.

To God be the glory! Still!

 

Speaking @ Mt. Sinai in Los Angeles

I am on my way to Los Angeles to speak for three night at the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, where George Hurtt is the pastor.

Yesterday, the Mt. Sinai congregation celebrated its 67th church anniversary. My brother, Kevin Willis, who pastors the New Life in Christ Church in Mississippi, was their guest speaker. The celebration continues tonight with three nights of worship and the ministry of the word.

I am honored to have been excited by Pastor Hurtt to be the guest speaker for this meeting. Pastor Hurtt is one of my best friends. And Mt. Sinai is the church in which I met the Lord Jesus Christ and was called to preach the gospel. I also served as MSMBC’s senior pastor from 1990 to 2009. So this entire congregation is family to me. And it is a privilege to be invited home again for this special time of worship and fellowship.

Please remember this meeting in your prayers. And pray that the Lord would use me to exalt Christ through the faithful exposition of the word of God.

A Prayer Request for a Long Day

If the Lord spares me, tomorrow will be a really long day for me. I trust it will be a good day. But it will be a long day, nonetheless.

I plan to close out my series on Luke 15, “Lost People Matter to God,” in both of the morning worship services at Shiloh. The past two weeks I have preached on the parable of the prodigal son – one week on the lovesick father, one week on the wayward son. This Lord’s Day, I intend to focus on the elder brother. I have labeled the message, simply, “Lessons from the Elder Brother.”

In between our two morning worship services, I will be teaching the Bible Study Fellowship hour for our adults. I planned to teach four lessons this month on the subject, “A Call to Prayer.” But I did not even make it through half of the opening lesson last week. So I will continue to teach on “Pray for the Lost” in the morning.

Likewise, I am anxious and excited about the fact that we will begin streaming our worship services on Streaming Faith in the morning. Shiloh has been streaming its services through the web for some time. But this will be our first week with Streaming Faith. I really look forward to us taking advantage of the various benefits that I trust will come from moving to this major, Christian web streaming service. Our Wednesday services will be streamed live at 7:15 PM. And our Sunday morning services will be streamed at 8 and 10 AM. There will  be a replay of our 10 AM service on Mondays at 12 noon. And several on-demand messages will be available for viewing 24 hours a day.

Way cool.

As soon as I finish preaching our 10 AM service, I will have to rush to the airport to catch a flight to Los Angeles. I have a layover flight that should put me in Los Angeles somewhere around 5 PM. At 6 PM, I am scheduled to preach at Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. My friend and brother, George E. Hurtt, will be officially installed tomorrow as the congregation’s fourth pastor in its 66 years of ministry.

I am extremely honored that George invited me to come and share in this service and bring the message. But, naturally, I am a little sensitive about the whole matter. While I deeply love the wonderful congregation the Lord has called me to; I am still grieving the fact that the Lord called me away from the precious congregation that is so dear to my heart. My family and I miss them excruciatingly.

So it will be a little hard for me to preach, I am sure. But I would not miss this for the world. I am so proud of George and the entire leadership and membership of MSMBC. I expect God to do great things in and through them. And how many pastors leave a congregation and are invited back to preach their successor’s installation? Truly, this says much more about George and MSMBC than it says about me. This is a great partnership of pastor and people. I pray that God will richly bless their special day tomorrow. And I pray that the Lord will use me to challenge and encourage George and the congregation. It should be a great time.

Please remember me in prayer tomorrow, that the Lord will grant me traveling grace, physical strength, and preaching power. And please remember Crystal and the kids in your prayers, as well.

Soli Deo Gloria (“to God alone be the glory”)

George’s Sermons Are Online

Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles is still updating its website. But they have already made a great improvement. The sermons of George E. Hurtt, the new pastor of MSMBC, are now online and downloadable for free.

Since the last Sunday in September, George has been preaching from the book Psalms.

I encourage you to take advantage of MSMBC’s generosity and take a listen to George’s sermons. You will be greatly blessed.

click here for to access George’s messages.

Continue to pray for George and the entire leadership and membership of Mt. Sinai.

Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church has a New Senior Pastor!!!

Last night, I had one of the most unique, special experiences of my life. I was invited by the Church Council members of Mt. Sinai – the church that I served for almost 18 years – to return to Los Angeles and moderate one more church meeting. In this meeting, the Church Council, functioning as the pastoral search committee for the congregation, unanimously recommended George E. Hurtt – the man who has served as my pastoral assistant the past several years – to be the next senior pastor of MSMBC. And the congregation, in a brief, prayerful, and joy-filled meeting, overwhelmingly elected George as its new pastor. Praise the Lord!

The last time MSMBC met to select a pastor was on November 5, 1990. The church had been without a pastor since June, 1989, when my father went to be with the Lord. During the intervening months, the congregation heard many pastoral “candidates.” More than I can remember. There were many contentious church meetings. And the church had remained “vacant” long enough for some unhealthy things to develop in the life of the congregation.

Fast forward eighteen years. After my final Sunday at MSMBC, the congregation lived without a senior pastor all of eight days! George preached this past Sunday. And yesterday, the church met to select him as the fourth pastor in this great congregation’s 66 year history. And this coming Sunday will be a very special Sunday at MSMBC, as George and the congregation celebrate their first Sunday together as pastor and people.

George Hurtt is a man of God. He is chronologically young, but spiritually mature. He lives a life of blameless integrity. He has a firm commitment to sound doctrine and Bible exposition. He loves the Lord Jesus Christ. He loves the church. And, more specifically, he loves Mt. Sinai. Born and raised in Detroit (We won’t hold that against him), George moved to California as an officer in the Navy. He joined Mt. Sinai while living 29 Palms, making a two or more hour drive to church – one way. And in a great step of faith, George laid aside a promising military career to go to seminary to prepare for pastoral service. During this time, George joined my staff on a part time basis. After George finished seminary, earning a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Masters’ Seminary, George took on full time responsibilities at the church.

During these past several years, it has been my great privilege to be a close-up witness of George’s spiritual and ministerial development. He has grown into a strong, solid preacher – as the Lord has opened many opportunities for George to preach at Mt. Sinai and many other churches. His leadership skills are sharp. For the past three years he has been a professor at the Los Angeles Bible Training School. The past two summers, he has participated in short-term mission trips to Haiti to train pastors. More specifically, he has been a capable assistant to me, who has borne the burden of the pastoral work at MSMBC with me. And his spiritual progress has been evident to the congregation (1 Tim. 4:13).

In the early months of this year, when people would ask me about George, I would say to them that my only complaint is that George would probably not be with me by the end of 2008. I fully expected some church to snatch George up by year’s end. The ironic providence of God is a funny thing, isn’t it?

George was the first to tell me about the pastoral vacancy at Shiloh. And when he did, I didn’t believe him. And I remember all of the (wrong) predictions we made about who would be the next pastor of Shiloh. Last night, as we had dinner together after the meeting, we reflected on the roller coaster events of these past months. Who would have thought that I would be the new pastor of Shiloh? Who would have thought that George would be the next pastor of Mt. Sinai. We didn’t. That’s for sure. But our God is an awesome God!

I am very proud of George. He is a cherished friend, true brother, fellow soldier, prayer partner, and trusted counselor. I am so excited about what God is doing in his life right now. And I am so proud of Mt. Sinai. To God be the glory for the maturity, prayerfulness, and unity of this beloved congregation! I believe they will be a witness to churches around the country for many years to come. And God be praised for the Church Council, a band of brothers who have demonstrated the importance and fruitfulness of the local church being led by a plurality of godly men.

As I make my way back home to my family and congregation in Jacksonville, I do so with fervent prayers and great confidence in the Lord for the future, growth, and ministry of MSMBC. May the Lord richly bless this new union of pastor and people. And may their dreams be even greater than their memories!

Please remember Pastor George E. Hurtt and the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in your prayers.

Notes from My Final Weekend @ MSMBC

Thank you for praying for me, my family, and Mt Sinai this weekend. The Lord blessed us. It was a long, busy, special weekend. There was a lot of laughter. A lot of tears. A lot of hugs. A lot of pictures. And a lot of farewells. Not good byes. Just farewell for now.

This week, my family and I will be moving to Jacksonville, Florida, to begin a in earnest my new pastorate at the Shiloh Church. But I do not believe I would be able to making this transition and follow the Lord’s leading to this new assignment without the prayerful, grace-filled, and encouraging way Mt. Sinai sent us away with their love. I owe Mt. Sinai a great debt that cannot be measured, much less repaid. The wonderful saints of this great congregation are my family. And I love them. I will miss them. And I won’t stop praying for them.

Thank you, Mt. Sinai, for being you. I am very proud of you. The Lord has done great things in us and through us. And you still have every reason to embrace dreams that are infinitely greater than our wonderful memories!

Saturday afternoon, there was a luncheon to give us an opportunity to fellowship outside of a corporate worship service. It was well attended by both MSMBC members and well-wishers. And it was great to have the opportunity to chat with members and take a lot of pictures. (Hey, send us some of those pictures! You know who you are.) Admittedly, I did not think it was a good idea to have the luncheon. I protested, but the staff insisted. And I am so glad they ignored my objections and went on with their plans. The luncheon was a very encouraging time for me and my family and the church.

Pastor Iverson spoke from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. I appreciate the sacrifice he made to be with us for the luncheon.

Many of our family members came to worship with us. I was glad to have them there for our final services at Mt. Sinai.

For better than ten years, I have dismissed our congregation from worship services by announcing  God’s blessings on the congregation with the words of the Aaronic Benediction recorded in Numbers 6. I chose this text, verses 22-27, for my final message. I entitled the message, “A Great Blessing for a New Beginning.”

I was prepared to preach. But I was bracing myself for the possibility that I would not be able to great through the material I had prepared. I think I got out the heart of what was needed to say.

I preached hard both services.

I think everyone was spent after the second morning service. I really did not expect many to return for the afternoon service. And, frankly, I was not going to hold it against them if they did not come. It had already been a very taxing weekend But the congregation came out in a great way for the closing service. And it was a good time of worship and fellowship, even as the tears flowed.

My pastor, Dr. Melvin Wade, preached the afternoon service. Oddly, he started preaching and did not call a text or give a title. He just plunged into the story of the providential workings that separated Jacob and Laban. For most of the sermon, which was only about 20 minutes, I sat there wondering where Pas was going with this. I was also riveted as I watched Pas work through this handwritten manuscript, as he preached this text and sermon for the first time. Finally, he got the the end of the story, where Jacob and Laban part ways for the last time. He then asked, “What should we say at a time like this, as the Lord sends H.B. away from us?” He answered with the words of Genesis 31:49: “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from another.” (NKJV).

Again, we took a lot of pictures. I will post some of them over the course of this week.

I grabbed my things and was finally ready to go home for the day. But when I crossed the street to leave, there was a small group standing outside the church. Crystal had started them reminiscing. And by the time I made it across the street, they were ready for impersonations. Boastfully, I claimed how “blessed” I was to pastor there for almost 18 years without one credible impersonation. I guess I spoke 20 minutes too soon. Funny.

The Dallas Cowboys stomped on the Green Bay Packers 27-16. My team is now 3-0.

The Jacksonville Jaguars snatched victory out of the claws of defeat with a last minute field goal to beat the Indiapolis Colts 23-21. What’s going on with the Colts?

Sunday marked another bittersweet farewell. My favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, played their final game at Yankee Stadium, where they have played since 1923. The team will move across the street next season to play in a brand new, billion dollar stadium. The House That Ruth Built will be demolished. A park with be erected in its place.