“God uses all kinds of people to reach all kinds of people.” This simple, yet profound statement was made several years ago by my friend and brother, Rev. Andre’ D. Waller. I think a lot of us in ministry would do well to remember this. While some preachers sound similar, there are others that sound very different. God has blessed me to be in a number of ecumenical spaces where I’ve had the opportunity to listen and appreciate voices that are vastly different from my own. It is very easy to fall in to the temptation of believing that Gospel preaching can only sound one particular way, but God is a lot more eclectic than we realize. As Rev. Jean Daniel-Williams once said, “An infinite God is not solely expressed through one style of music or one style of preaching.” While people have styles they prefer to listen to or use, the fact is that God can reach people in ways that we can’t even imagine. We’d do well to learn this quickly.
I raise this topic because unfortunately, a number of my teammates seem to be under the impression that if a preacher’s voice doesn’t match theirs, then God can’t use them. In other words, they live their lives in a theological echo chamber, and anything that sounds different cannot be of God. If someone doesn’t have the same extensive vocabulary, the same rousing oratory, or the same passion/focus for social justice, then they haven’t truly preached. Others contend that if you don’t close your message with Jesus’ death on the cross and Resurrection, then you haven’t truly presented the Gospel. These statements have created a clear divide within the church and a split amongst preachers as to what exactly constitutes Gospel preaching. I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 4:18, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then Paul tells Timothy in II Timothy 4:1-5, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” These are specific instructions that all of us must adhere to, and this can done through various styles.
My overall point is this, we need to learn how to allow space for voices that don’t match ours. One doesn’t have to be a clone of us in order to be effectively used by God. God has given each of us our own voice, and there are spaces that those voices will take us to that other voices may never go. I once heard it said that, “God will go wherever He has to go to get whoever He has to get.” And in order to get who God has to get, He uses a variety of different voices. I strongly believe that one can’t be faithful over their assignment if all they do is focus on someone else’s. We need to be faithful over the voice and calling that God gave us, and let Him handle everyone else’s. God can use anyone to do anything, even if it doesn’t make sense to us, and mistreating those whose voices don’t match ours have never helped anyone get closer to God. And I would dogmatically assert that it never will.
Rev. Joseph T. Howard, Sr. is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and currently resides in Atlanta, GA. He serves as the Youth Coordinator at Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA under the leadership of Dr. R.L. White, Jr. Additionally, he serves as the Youth Pastor at Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Rockmart, GA under the leadership of Pastor Cord Franklin, Sr.
Rev. Howard is a recent graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree.
Rev. Howard is married to the love of his life, Rev. Bianca Robinson Howard, and together they are the parents of their daughter, Rose Victoria and their son, Joseph, Jr.
When asked why he preaches, Rev. Howard says, “I preach to bring souls to Christ and to use my gift to the glory of God. I’m going to do it until I can do it no more!”