Drama in life can also play out in the church. In our last story, a conflict at Jericho City of Praise began with the death of the pastor. The rise of Houston’s Ralph Douglas West began with the stress of a birth and led to a congregation of nearly 20,000 people.
The story of this church began with the birth of its pastor’s child 25 years ago. Ralph Douglas West was an assistant pastor at a small, family church in Houston when a conflict arose over the direction of that church. Just as his wife was about to go into labor, he was fired. He lost his salary, his health insurance and his way — but just for a moment.
MR. MARTIN: Drama in life can also play out in the church. In our last story, a conflict at Jericho City of Praise began with the death of the pastor.
Well, in our next amazing story, the rise of Houston’s Ralph Douglas West began with the stress of a birth and led to a congregation of nearly 20,000 people.
[BACKGROUND FOOTAGE OF WORSHIP.]
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): It’s Palm Sunday at Brook Hollow Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, also known as The Church Without Walls; and Pastor Ralph Douglas West is teaching the Gospel.
PASTOR WEST: Open your bibles to Luke, Chapter 19, beginning at verse 28.
[END OF FOOTAGE.]
MS. TIFFANY DUGGAR: Pastor West is a true expository preacher. He takes his message straight from the Bible. Hegives you something to keep you going through the week. He makes you feel the Holy Spirit. He makes you feel like you’re walking through the pages of the Bible.
[BACKGROUND FOOTAGE OF WORSHIP, ETC.]
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): The story of this church began with the birth of its pastor’s child 25 years ago. Ralph Douglas West was an assistant pastor at a small, family church in Houston when a conflict arose over the direction of that church. Just as his wife was about to go into labor, he was fired. He lost his salary, his health insurance and his way – but just for a moment.
PASTOR WEST: Yeah, it was one of those defining moments in my life. Some 25 years ago, I pastored a church in Houston, and it was a[n] issue of leadership style. I saw church as growing and people expanding and reaching, and the church where I pastored was more of a community church. It was more of a family church, and it really just posed a threat that “these people who are here are about to take over our domain.”
And that wasn’t my purpose, and that caused a strict conflict, you know. And the only way that people know to deal with conflict [is] they start lashing out different ways and verbally lashing out, you know, and cutting – [chuckles] – insurance, not getting paid – things like that.
And these are not evil people. They’re not wicked people. I think folk who stand outside the church looking in, they really don’t understand the matrix of the church – that these communities are made up of people who have prayed, struggled, given, worked. And then you get a young guy like me – at that time, in my 20s – who c[a]me in, and some of the decisions I made were not the most mature decisions. If I could rewind, I would’ve made those decisions, but I would’ve made them quite differently. I would’ve had conversations. I would’ve asked about the history. And that was some of what birthed a lot of anxiety.
MR. MARTIN: But as a young pastor, surely you had to be standing there going, “What is going on here? You cut the insurance off. My wife is having a kid.”
That’s the last thing you would think church folks would do.
PASTOR WEST: Yeah, yeah. I did. I thought that. [Chuckles.] It was kind of embittering at the moment, you know, in some ways. It was. Made me a little testy.
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
PASTOR WEST: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: Coming out of that, for you, were you struggling with, “Man, do I want to go through this stuff again?”
PASTOR WEST: Yeah, that is the pastoral conundrum right there, because I really wanted to just get out of pastoral ministry – not ministry. I was very clear that God had called me to Christian ministry for a lifetime. I was clear on that, and I knew that preaching ministry was what God had called me to. But the pastoral ministry – I did question whether that was where I was supposed to be.
MR. MARTIN: For you, it was a question of, “Wait a minute. I didn’t come here to be a caretaker” –
PASTOR WEST: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — “but I still have a vision in terms of how we can grow and move and prosper.”
PASTOR WEST: Absolutely. One of the great pastoral passages that helped me with that is the story of Israel, the Old Testament church on the move. They’ve been liberated. They come to this real crisis point, and that is, “Do we stand still, look at the Red Sea? Do we go back to Egypt in oppression? Or, do we move forward?”
[FOOTAGE OF PASTOR WEST TRAVELING FROM CHURCH CAMPUS TO CAMPUS.]
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): Pastor Ralph Douglas West is a man on the move.
PASTOR WEST (VOICEOVER): We have six services each Sunday, three campuses. The services are 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. So, I’m traveling back and forth from north to south on the campuses. That’s where our members are, you know? They were there, and so I’m just going to where they are. For so many years, they came to where I am. Now, I’m going to where they are.
[END OF FOOTAGE.]
MR. MARTIN: So, now you have this back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth.
PASTOR WEST: Yeah, it’s rough. [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: You know, it’s like a track meet –
PASTOR WEST: Yeah. [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: — every Sunday.
But the reality is when you now think back to the drama in that first church –
PASTOR WEST: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — to going to Beaumont; to starting a church in a living room, then a hotel; then all of a sudden now, do you even sometimes sit back and go, “Okay. This is unbelievable”?
PASTOR WEST: Yeah. Yeah, you know, I’m asked often, “Did you ever think it would be like this?”
No, because I didn’t grow up in anything like this.
MR. MARTIN: So, what is now an existing church will become – what – for the children and youth?
PASTOR WEST: No, we’re building another building. Yeah, building a whole ’nother building for children and youth.
PASTOR WEST: Yeah, we call it a “mega church.” I don’t think our church is a mega church. We might fit the model in terms of numbers and size, but I just like to call it “the church.” You know, I’m not trying to be adversarial about that. I just like calling it “the church.”
There’re times I sit down, and I marvel at the mystery and the glory of God – what he’s done and that he would use somebody like me to do it. That’s not self-deprecation. I really, really mean that – because the Lord could use anybody he wants to do whatever he wants to do. That’s the first thing.
And then the next thing is I think back on those dramatic moments. I mean real tension moments in my past as a young pastor, and now I know that those were the fires that really burned and purified me and made me a pastor. I’m a lot more tolerant, a lot more patient, more understanding of people and their past and their history. I’m really, really tolerant of that.
And what I’m trying to do now is to nurture and mature our congregations.
MR. MARTIN: Now, are you going to get rid of one of those services? ’Cause, you know, you[’ve] got three here, and you[’ve] got two over there.
PASTOR WEST: No, I’m trying to keep all of them, actually.
Well, we followed a blueprint, God’s biblical blueprint for the Church. You go into the world. You preach the Gospel. You teach. You baptize. You just hope and pray that, if I reach people, people will start reaching people.
[FOOTAGE OF WEST IN THE PULPIT.]
PASTOR WEST: If I can show somebody that they’re traveling wrong, then my living won’t be in vain.
[END OF FOOTAGE.]