When God Builds the House





Even as a child, Bishop B. Courtney McBath knew he was called to pastor. What he didn't know was how God would someday use him to impact a community, oversee churches around the world and encourage other pastors in the ups and downs of ministry.
It's 7 p.m. on a Friday night, and the parking lot at Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk, Virginia, is filling with cars. Inside people are praying, which is all they'll do this night. For the next couple of hours, those assembled will walk the aisles praying in tongues, groaning and crying out to God to transform their Hampton Roads community. This, according to their pastor, Bishop B. Courtney McBath, 43, is how the church grew from 21 in 1990 to more than 7,000 today. It is what enabled them to finance a $12 million facility and birth ministries that feed and clothe hundreds of families each month, train and mentor teens, and educate 400 youth in grades K-11.

Since 1998 when the church moved to its current facility, they have seen nearly 4,000 people come to Christ. There was no special campaign. "We fasted and prayed and asked God to save people," McBath says.

But where some pastors would stop to bask in wonder at what God has done, McBath, who oversees roughly 110 churches in his Calvary Alliance ministerial fellowship, is urging his people to seek God for more. Revival, the way he sees it, equals community transformation, a process that begins with saving individuals, who reach their families, who touch their cities.

"Why do we think that God asks other people to sacrifice their time and their meals and their family and stay on their face and pray until there's a move of God? And why do we think we can just go duplicate that by following some methods, reading a book or watching a video? Why would we think God would honor that?

"I think what He honors is when a pastor gets a vision from God, stays on his face long enough to hear from God, and then inspires a shared vision so that other people can join into that prayer and into that vision, and God begins to move."

The progress thus far, what some would consider "success" in ministry, has merely laid a foundation, McBath says. The feeding and mentoring programs, the school and ministry alliance--they all serve as a net to catch an emerging harvest.

McBath knows he is not entirely unique. He sees God raising up dozens of other ministers with similar visions. But his passion is for this region, which has grown nearly 10 percent in the last decade. And while observers describe him as a gifted preacher, with Vinson Synan, Ph.D., dean of Regent University's divinity school, saying he is "typical of a new breed of African American TV preachers," McBath doesn't put confidence in those things.

"I just don't feel capable," McBath says, "and I've tried to teach the people to feel inadequate to do the work of the Lord without the help of the Lord. So though we're a faith church, we speak the Word, we declare the Word and all that, but we know that if the Lord doesn't show up, if we don't have Him, we can't do this."

FOLLOWING THE CALL

Those feelings of inadequacy aren't exactly obvious upon first impression. Standing at 5 feet, 6 inches tall, McBath is casually confident, with a warm, friendly demeanor. And when he sits down with Ministries Today, he makes a somewhat unusual first request.

"We cannot come out like I'm this great pastor who's built this great work, and so when other pastors read it who don't have 7,000 or 8,000 people in their church, they feel that somehow they don't measure up to God's standard. That I can't be a part of."

A graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a former engineer, McBath could easily be braggadocios. He pastors one of the largest churches in the region and oversees ministers around the world. When he was 8, his third-grade teacher encouraged him to consider becoming president, his leadership ability already surfacing. But he told her he already had a calling: to pastor.

He began speaking by age 10, then preaching by age 13. By the time he was 17, he had officially entered the ministry. In college, he led the Black Christian Fellowship and later founded a church, New Covenant Christian Center, with his pastor at the time, Bishop Gilbert Thompson.

In retrospect, he can see God was grooming him all along, but the call to Norfolk still came as a surprise.

In 1981 he married Janeen Brown, then moved back to his hometown in Tennessee in 1984 with a cozy engineering job. There he connected with the man he calls his pastor, Richard Hilton of Calvary Church in Johnson City, and McBath served as his associate pastor for nearly seven years.

Then in 1989, en route to Ahoskie, North Carolina, on a ministry trip, McBath flew into Norfolk for the first time. "And here's the interesting thing: When my plane landed, the Holy Spirit said to me, 'This is where I want you to pastor.' And you've got to know me; I am not prone to impulsive decisions. I'm an MIT-trained engineer, and I'm thinking: OK, Lord. You've got to help me on this one because I'm not even really sure where I am."

He and his wife bathed the idea in prayer, then consulted Hilton. He encouraged them to stay in Tennessee one more year, then sent them out to Virginia in July 1990. Calvary Revival's first service was held in a hotel ballroom, with 21 people attending, including McBath's children--born and unborn. Within two weeks, they outgrew the facility, then in another four weeks, they outgrew a second building. After 10 months, the church had grown to 300.

"I'm thinking: OK, Lord. This is weird because it's really not supposed to grow this fast."

Reluctant to go into full-time ministry, McBath tirelesly searched for jobs without success. He was trying to become a prayer counselor at the Christian Broadcasting Network when he finally got the hint. The interviewer stopped in the middle of their interview.

"He said: 'You know, Pastor, I have the strangest feeling that by hiring you, I'm in the way of what God is trying to do. I don't understand it. The job is yours, but in my heart I feel like I'm doing something wrong by hiring you.' I said: 'That's it. Don't worry about it. That's OK.'"

GROWING AND MENTORING

In 1991 Calvary Revival Church moved into its first permanent facility and grew from 300 members to 3,000 in roughly seven years. Initially, the increase was largely transfer growth.

"In the first couple of years there were a lot of people who were Christians who couldn't find a church home," McBath says. "There were people coming who were just so hungry to be ministered to with just a solid Word. They accepted me with all my immaturity...because they loved the Word.

"And then the lost people started coming because [members] started bringing them...and those people started getting saved, and then it kind of mushroomed from there."

Norfolk has a rich history being part of a region where the first English settlers landed in the 17th century. But McBath won't speculate on God's purposes for bringing him to the area.

"I think God equips and prepares a man or woman for a place and prepares that place for that man or woman. And I think Norfolk was that place that was prepared for me, and I was prepared for it. He caused my ministry to flourish because I was where I was supposed to be at the time I was supposed to be there."

Now McBath has directed his focus to serving other pastors through Calvary Alliance, which oversees ministries worldwide. The fellowship seeks to bring some accountability to independent ministries, plant churches and invoke more involvement in world missions among independent congregations. Commissioned senior overseer in 2000, McBath is a big proponent of pastoral mentoring. He says every pastor needs a pastor, and he believes that in submission to pastoral authority, ministers will find strength.

"Remember Jesus' little interaction with the centurion (see Matt. 8:5-13) when he had the sick [servant] and came to Jesus? The centurion realized that because he was under authority, he had authority to speak. And he was saying the same thing about Jesus--'and I realized that you, too, are a man under authority, so I know that you can send your words, and they'll go do what you tell them to do because you're under authority.' I think a lot of pastors, their words lack influence because they are not under authority."

McBath believes submitting to Hilton's pastoral leadership in his life has caused the church to have an unusual number of men and has protected him from making some mistakes, especially in the early years. "I really believe that one of the reasons why I'm able to lead so many men and garner their trust is because they see that I'm also a man under authority," he says. "And they realize that I'm not asking them to do something that I haven't already done and am not currently doing.

"And then I think of the safety and the security of 'in the multitude of counselors there's safety.' I think there are wrong decisions I would have made if I hadn't had a pastor; wrong actions, impulses that I would have moved on if I didn't have somebody to ask."

He encourages every pastor to find his or her pastor (see related story on page 26), and his congregation knows he is submitted to Hilton. Yet Hilton, who is white and leads a mostly white church, is also part of Calvary Alliance and considers McBath his bishop. Hilton counsels McBath on issues related to his personal life and local church, while Hilton submits to the financial accounting and doctrinal standards of the alliance.

"I really tried to talk him out of it," McBath says. "He said: 'I know this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm going to serve you. My goal is for the rest of my life, I'm going to serve you.' And, I guess probably other than my relationship with my wife, it's probably one of the most rewarding relationships I have."

BUILDING BRIDGES

Though Calvary Revival is predominantly black and McBath is passionate about empowering the African American community, he is committed to building bridges and tearing down walls. His congregation has grown more diverse through the years, but he acknowledges that there is still a racial gap. Much of his TV audience is white, but they won't attend his church, he says. Other African American pastors have had similar experiences.

"We live in a country that has never repented of slavery," McBath says, "and so we're not healed, and we're still in it. That's why we will, as African Americans, flock to predominantly white churches and submit to white pastors and love them and honor them. I did it. But for whites to turn and do the same, it's a different issue. They have to resolve some things in their hearts."

Hilton says his decision to become part of Calvary Alliance was, in part, an effort to address this racial divide. At 47, Hilton is older than McBath, yet willingly submits to his leadership. When he appointed McBath as his associate pastor years ago, he and McBath were forced to hold some "awkward meetings" with congregants who suddenly thought it necessary for Hilton to preach against interracial marriage and similar issues.

"I still feel there is a battle against prejudice in Christianity," Hilton told Ministries Today. "My prayer is that God will enable Bishop McBath and I to continue to fight against it. When [McBath] comes to this area, we pack out across those racial boundaries. It's a testimony. The devil is losing."

McBath has seen more nonblacks attend his church in recent years, with membership at 10 percent to 15 percent. That's not unlike other prominent African American ministries. But McBath is sensing a greater release of the prophetic voice of African American pastors, which will likely see those percentages rise even more.

Besides the attractiveness of African Americans' preaching style, McBath says their history has earned them "Ph.D.s" in many vital areas of ministry. "God has walked us through economic oppression, drug addiction, homosexuality, alcoholism, spousal abuse, teenage pregnancy," McBath says. "We get these 'Ph.D.s' in all this stuff. But now what's happened is white folks are experiencing the same thing. We experienced it first because our economic conditions created a natural breeding ground for some of those areas of what I believe are sin, but they've bred fast in our communities because of some of our economical and educational conditions.

"Now what white people tend to discover is that drug addiction wasn't in Harlem only because black people were in Harlem, because now drug addiction is in the suburbs of Denver and Atlanta and everywhere else. And they need help. We've been divinely positioned to help them to cope with the issues that they're facing...Now our messages mean a whole lot more to them.

"...Those things, coupled with September 11, which has stripped everybody of all their natural sense of security based on wealth, color, educational status, social status, etc., I think are priming the body of Christ for a real move of the Spirit."

This move of God is characterized by salvation and eventual community transformation. To McBath, that means families will have a meaningful commitment to Christ and the local church; children will excel academically; parents will feel adequately prepared to parent; senior citizens will feel like a viable part of the community, and there will be strong economic development and empowerment.

At Calvary Revival Church, new members are taught financial management along with the principles of tithing and giving. Real estate courses are offered periodically, and the church offers GED classes and teaches people how to write résumés and prepare for job interviews. He says these are all efforts to improve members' quality of life.

"In my life, part of my calling is to bring African American people into their full inheritance," McBath says. "And a great deal of the community transformation is my way of saying with action that we need to help our people get where they're supposed to be. I just don't like sitting around talking about it and preaching about it. I want to see something happen."

This concept, particularly the economic empowerment aspect, is touted frequently in African American circles, but McBath says a number of nonblack pastors are fusing an oral preaching ability with a tangible compassion for the lost and unchurched.

For the last 12 years, McBath says he's been hesitant to focus on numbers, but lately he and the congregation have been asking God for more. Back at the prayer meeting, McBath tells those assembled to look around. "Look at the empty seats. Look up in the balcony. I want you to look around, because there won't be an empty seat in here," he tells them.

His faith is coupled with works. Though much of the groundwork is laid, McBath is planning to set up 1,000 care groups, which will be able to minister to a 15,000- or 20,000-member congregation. He's going to continue developing leaders, and he hopes to plant new churches domestically and abroad.

He's being stretched--in all the ways a pastor can be. "I have some inhibition about talking about numbers in terms of church growth and size, but as of late the Lord has really challenged me to stretch out and trust Him to minister to people," McBath says. "If that means a certain number of people, then as long as I keep all that in perspective, it's OK."

As McBath focuses on pursuing his calling, many outside Norfolk will be watching to see what happens in a city when a church asks God for more.


Adrienne S. Gaines is an associate editor for Ministries Today and Charisma magazines.
How to Find a Ministry Mentor

A mentoring relationship is one of the most vital keys to successful ministry. Here are four steps you can take to connect with the spiritual father who's right for you.

Bishop B. Courtney McBath, pastor of Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk, Virginia, has an unusual relationship with his pastor and mentor Richard Hilton. Though he openly regards Hilton as his pastor, Hilton is also submitted to McBath as his bishop through the Calvary Alliance McBath founded in 1998.

The two say their mutual submission has brought them strength in ministry. And though they admit their relationship is not the norm, they don't believe they should be perceived as an exception.

"I'm kind of narrow-minded and dogmatic in this, [but] I believe every pastor needs to find his pastor," McBath told Ministries Today. "Every pastor needs to go on a search and find his pastor."

Hilton says the need for accountability in ministry extends beyond its impact on individual pastors. When pastors in his area have compromised morally, the broader Christian community suffered as a result, as non-Christians began to distrust the church.

"We're deluding ourselves [as pastors] if we ignore the need for accountability, someone to confront us," Hilton says. "[The absence of that person] is the breeding ground for moral compromise. If a pastor is rejecting that, they're saying their views and behavior will always be right. No one can live up to those self-expectations. We all have the potential to err."

McBath encourages pastors to seriously pray about finding a pastor of their own. Those who have experienced past spiritual abuse must seek healing and eventually be willing to open their hearts to someone. He says the right leader will be a humble servant, accountable to someone and a person of integrity in their home and finances. A pastor's pastor also must have a heart to serve others in ministry, McBath adds.

Ministers need not assume their denominational leader is their pastor, he says. It may be another pastor in their cities. McBath says the individual must be someone with whom the pastor can develop a relationship.

McBath understands a pastor's need to be independent. "Our job forces us to be that way because so much of what we have to do, we have to do alone." But he adds that pastors cannot ask their congregations to do anything they're not willing to do themselves. "That's a problem," he says.

Hilton encourages pastors to follow these steps for finding the right ministry mentor:

1. Identify a senior minister for whom you have a great deal of respect, both in his doctrinal position and lifestyle.

2. Approach the person about developing a relationship. "Genuine accountability is birthed out of relationship," Hilton says. Developing a relationship also helps ministers "cement the deal," as they begin to see whether their talk lines up with their walk.

3. Ask him to serve as a mentor. "The accountability will not work if the person is not willing to invest in your life as a father," Hilton says. If they do not agree, go back to step one and continue to bathe the issue in prayer.

4. Make it official. "The person needs to have genuine authority that's not in word only," Hilton says. It needs to be in the bylaws, and it should be made known before the congregation.

Hilton says a healthy pastor-pastor relationship will mimic a good parent-child relationship. The leader will not try to take advantage of ministers financially. "It's the responsibility of the parent to lay up for the children. If you have a pastor who is trying to manipulate you financially and control you, that's unhealthy."

And he won't burden pastors with unwanted control. "When your children are grown, you have to express confidence in their leadership and decision-making," Hilton says. "I think a good pastor will do the same. He is not controlling, not manipulative. The father should be seeking for the best, 'What can I do for my son?' He needs to be concerned about the growth of the son."

Maximizing the Ministry Marriage

In his new book, Maximize Your Marriage, B. Courtney McBath shows how serving together in ministry can strengthen a pastoral couple's relationship.

Human self-centeredness, what might be called a "grasping mentality," dominates our world. People cling fiercely to things, as if their lives depend on what they own. The life of many an American could be summed up in a financial statement.

Jesus clarified the consequences of the grasping mentality to His disciples: " 'He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life'" (John 12:25, NKJV). In other words, the secret to a prosperous life in the things of God is letting go. Jesus emptied Himself, and so must we empty ourselves. Upon this--a life of giving--do our lives and marriages depend.

When Paul quoted Jesus' words in Acts 20:35 about it being more blessed to give than receive, he was talking about the blessing of service, or ministry. Helping the weak, meeting the needs of others--these were the types of activities Paul had in mind when he referred to the blessing of giving. We might read the words of Jesus at the end of the verse this way: It is more blessed to serve those in need than to be served oneself.

No principle could be more vital when it comes to marriage. As I link arms with my spouse and bless the brokenhearted, feed the hungry or clothe the naked, I am heaping the riches of Christ Jesus upon my marriage. Indeed, as my wife and I go about God's business, He looks after our business. And I would much rather have God meeting my needs than waste time grasping to meet them myself.

All of us have a collection of key memories that undergird our married lives. Here is one of mine: I am 17. My pastor from college and I are sitting in our church's small foyer. A beautiful young lady walks by us. Before I can remember to be spiritual, I ask, "Who is that?"

I ask the question for several reasons. First, because the young woman is gorgeous; second, because she appears to be about my age; and finally, because she is leading a group of young people for whom she is responsible in ministry.

This lovely woman later became my wife. God used ministry to bring us together, and He uses ministry to keep couples together. Serving with one another has brought my wife and me great joy and satisfaction for the 20-plus years we've been married.

Serving in ministry to those in need can keep couples from becoming self-absorbed. Self-centeredness warps your perspective and can erode your relationship. Corporate selfishness as a couple leads to individual selfishness, and when each spouse gets wrapped up in his or her own universe, the marriage buckles. As you and your spouse minister to others, you will release God's blessings into your marriage in abundance.

I've devoted my life to finding children who need a father, college-bound students who need assistance and struggling folks I can encourage. This is the work that brings me the most joy. Building grand church sanctuaries and preaching to thousands of people are not the endeavors I live for. I live to be a blessing.

As you share your life with others through ministry, giving becomes a way of life. And you enter a wonderful cycle of giving and receiving. God gave us His only Son, Jesus, that we might live. Giving is His nature; it's what makes Him God. As you and your spouse engage in ministry, you too will take on the heart of giving, the heart of our God.
B. Courtney McBath
Adapted from Maximize Your Marriage by B. Courtney McBath, copyright ©2002. Published by Creation House Press. Used by permission.

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