MM December 2011
Cover Story: THREE WISE MEN
Although not quite the same three wise men who traveled to Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in honor of the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:1-11), three men who many consider very wise came bearing gifts of the gospel in order to birth Bates Memorial Baptist Church, Canaan Christian Church, and St. Stephen Church in Louisville, Ky. These three congregations were blessed with wise leaders led by God. Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (God’s Game Plan Bible, Heb. 13:7).
Dr. F. Bruce Williams of Bates, Dr. Walter Malone Jr. of Canaan, and Dr. Kevin Wayne Cosby of St. Stephen met together for an in depth round-table discussion, a “first time interview in 30 years”, said Pastor Cosby. The three wise men addressed Mogul Magazine as they were asked a series of questions.
a. What is it like being a Pastor in the 21st century?
Dr. Cosby: “When I first started, the culture was more church and preacher and friendly. Today, the culture is less church preacher friendly. It’s almost like the church and preachers are playing on a team in which they are constantly playing the away game. Now you can win an away game, but you don’t expect the cheerleaders and the band and the fans in the stand to cheer for you. So, I think when I first started, ministry was considered to be a noble thing. I don’t think it has the same level of respect today as it did than when I first started out.”
Dr. Malone: “I would say when I started ministry, there were more people in the pew who had a stronger biblical foundation, who knew the bible so that when you were preaching to the congregation, the people understood more readily the revelation and the messages that you were delivering because they were more informed of the biblical text. Today, preaching is more challenging because in many cases, the congregation that we preach to today are not as biblically informed, particularly the young adult generation that is more given to religious hype.“
Dr. Williams: “Probably one of the phenomenon’s that is different now than before is we probably for the first time have a generation of people in general African Americans in particular who have no association with the church what so ever. In the African American community, there was a time when even if you saw the guy with the brown paper bag in his hand, he might not have been in church but he could at least tell you when he was. He remembers what it was like. Now we have a group of people who have never actually been inside of a church building.”
b. We are all familiar with where we are in the economy. It’s hurting, especially the African American race. How has that affected the tithes and giving within your congregations? Or has it affected it?
Dr. Williams: People have been affected, but we have not seen a significant dip in our giving because it’s leveled out. The church is growing and the people keep giving.
Dr. Malone: The growth brings sustainability. Last year, we took up special offerings quarterly to redistribute to those who had been hit the hardest. “The same God that was with us before the recession is the God that is with us in the recession and the God that will bring us out of the recession.”
c. Pastor Cosby, can you describe in your opinion Pastor William’s preaching style?
Dr. Cosby: “He starts low, moves slow, raises higher, and catches on fire.” He does an autopsy on a text. He is able to take an ancient text and build a bridge to the 21st century.
d. Pastor Williams, how would you describe Pastor Malone’s preaching style?
Dr. Williams: You can tell he is an effective communicator by the number of people that come to hear him. He uses a thematic style of preaching as he is able to pull out themes and weave them throughout scriptures and hold people’s attention. He preaches for transformation, not entertainment.
e. Pastor Malone, how would you describe Pastor Cosby’s preaching style?
Dr. Malone: “If charges were ever brought against him for preaching, he would get life without parole.” His unique style of preaching is evident with his use of antidotes. It makes me wonder if I am reading the same bible. He challenges you to think and read after hearing him preach.
f. A lot of people dance around this topic, but I am going to go there. How do you minister to homosexuals? I’m sure you all have homosexuals in your churches. Sometimes, they may feel persecuted more than someone who may be a thief or a liar. A sin is a sin?
Dr. Williams: Each of us have homosexuals in our churches whether we admit it or not. The church does a horrible job of ministering to individuals dealing with homosexuality. My issue is that I have not been persuaded yet that homosexuality can be confirmed or affirmed by scripture. Like Timothy Keller said when asked about homosexuals going to hell, “Being a homosexual doesn’t send you to hell anymore than being a heterosexual send you to Heaven. The gospel is a gospel of grace. Grace doesn’t mean that you accept people’s behavior, but it does mean that you accept people.”
Dr. Malone: “I don’t condone homosexual lifestyle because of my biblical position. But at the same time, I’m not walking around condemning and I’m not homophobic.” We welcome all people at Canaan. No sin is greater. We love everyone regardless of their struggles.
Dr. Cosby: “Truth is narrow. 2 + 2 = 4. That’s narrow. C-A-T is cat. That’s narrow. That’s the Ohio River. Not the Mississippi, not the Atlantic. Grace is wide. Because grace is so wide, we can affirm the person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we affirm the lifestyle.” Christ loved everyone and we should follow suit.
g. How would you address members in the church who may have concerns about some of the lavish or excessive vehicles that some of our pastors may drive or nice neighborhoods lived in?
Dr. Williams: “No one at this table went into ministry for personal gain. People see your glory, but they don’t know your story. You can’t pimp God and get away with it.”
Dr. Malone: “I don’t believe in a fabrication of the idea of prosperity to the disrespect of a congregation whether in the pulpit or pew.” When I started the Canaan Church, I had very little. No one seemed to have any concerns then.
Dr. Cosby: They don’t know how Walter Malone left church in 1980 from Nashville as an act of faith. “And quite often when you are rich in faith, then what’s going on in the center will manifest itself in the circumference. I remember Dr. Williams, where he started.” There will always be preacher critics about what we drive, where we live. Someone will always find fault.
h. Each of you operate large churches in the community, are you accessible to your congregation?
Dr. Cosby: I am available to a certain extent. The primary responsibility of the pastor is to preach and teach the congregation. Pastors should not be ill prepared for Sunday morning service. The best way for me to use my time is by preparing for Sunday and by having staff, deacons and others to help with the nuts and bolts.
Dr. Williams: “I’m approachable, but I am not accessible. It’s not biblical to always be accessible.” Equip the saints to do ministry. A sign of good leadership is when things are still able to function without the presence of the leader.
Dr. Malone: “Accessible for what?” If someone says, my son just got arrested, they need a lawyer. They don’t need me.
Dr. Malone and Dr. Williams received their calling to preach at age 19 and 18. Dr. Cosby heard God’s voice at age five. In the beginning, these three men tried to elude God’s destiny, but their No’s were no match for God’s YES. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (God’s Game Plan Bible, Josh. 1:9). Because of their obedience, Cosby, Malone, and Williams lead three of the largest African American churches in the city. After more than three decades of sharing the preaching platform in the same city, many seek their pearls of wisdom. They are Louisville’s Three Wise Men.