Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his socially conscious ministry at 26, an age we now consider a millennial. With that in mind, the Defender sought out four millennial members of the clergy to get their take on the big issues of the day, and how those issues impact how they do ministry.
Rev. William Cumby from the Fountain of Praise shares his thoughts.
Defender: What are the challenges unique to a young minister?
William Cumby: I believe that anyone who claims Jesus as their Lord and savior carries the distinction of a minister because our lives are a living testimony. However as someone who is young minister, I believe that the greatest challenge and opportunity is our perception. Because of the outstanding convenience of Social media, individuals in ministry are like fish in a 360-degree tank. Every move is seen and even if you are not saying what you are doing, there is a chance that someone else is saying what you are doing. Therefore the unique challenge is that we must not only remain visible on social media as a tool to share the gospel but also remain mindful of perception.
Defender: What are the opportunities unique to a young minister?
Cumby: There are many great opportunities for today’s young ministers. The advances in technology now allow individuals with enough drive to create a huge platform with just a few clicks. Podcasting, audiobooks, YouTube, InstaStories, and Video blogging allow you access to people around the world. Yet, that access is more than a platform to share it is also a portal to obtain knowledge from foremost theologians. Studying to teach is easier and the wealth of sources is immeasurable.
Defender: How do politics and social issues (police brutality, Black Lives Matter, immigration reform, #MeToo, LGBTQ issues, healthcare access, etc) frame and/or impact your approach to ministry?
Cumby: It is imperative that teachers include current events in their messages. The Bible teaches us that we are to be in the world and not of it and Jesus expresses, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). My point is that current events directly affect the way we live and as a minister we have a responsibility to remain relevant. Ministers share hope and help provide navigation in turbulent times.
Defender: What is the biggest (most important) political issue impacting the U.S. and/or members of your congregation?
Cumby: I serve as a youth pastor and although the youth I serve cannot vote, they are affected by who is chosen. I make a point to teach the youth I serve about the importance of being involved in elections. Knowing the candidates for them means knowing how will that elected official’s decisions affect their way of living. We just had a major overhaul of judges through the election process and a radical change to the mayor of Missouri City. That was a great opportunity to talk about change and possibility. We also discuss how to manage the decisions that we don’t prefer.
Defender: What are your thoughts and positions on the current president, his administration and his policies?
Cumby: He is the leader of The United States of America and we are taught to pray for our leaders. There are aspects of His leadership style and decisions that I do agree with but I would rather put my energy into working with the negatives to make better pictures than just complaining about what I don’t like. Our nation is built on the back of fighters, survivors, and believers. Together we will continue building the America that everyone calls great.
Defender: How big or small a role does your blackness (Black history, pride and heritage) and attacks upon your blackness (white supremacy/racism) have in your approach to ministry?
Cumby: Cultural awareness is extremely important and just the same is cultural sensitivity and inclusion. We cannot turn a blind eye to inequities nor fully reject opposing nationalities. America is a melting pot of cultures. We must carry as we climb. Sharing about injustice while becoming empathetic with those those that don’t look like us or believe what we believe benefits everyone.
Defender: For Rev. Dr. MLK Jr., a young minister who became a pastor at 26, fighting for civil rights and later economic equality were big drivers of his ministry. Is there one or two political or social or cultural issues that drive your ministry?
Cumby: I have two issues that I am very adamant about. The first of those addresses young men who are raised without a father in the home or a positive male influence. Young men need consistency and direction. Last year I helped produce an event called Manhood Camp. The camp was an overnight event that partnered churches and mentor programs in an effort to encourage young men from single parent homes. That event helped link over 150 boys to positive influences and gave them insight on changing a tire, anger management, physical fitness, why they should abstain from sex, and more!
The other platform I drive is literacy and continued education. There is power in knowledge. Knowledge is something that no one can take from you. The marriage of literacy and continued learning yields a lifetime of successes. The Fountain of Praise has a fantastic summer reading program for kids and a unique college program that connects recent high school graduates with current high school students for a realistic snapshot of college through college tours, seminars, and college prep classes.
Defender: How do you balance commitment to your ministry with your marriage (relationships)?
Cumby: My family is my first ministry and my motivation. Although my career is demanding I have to make time for what matters. I intentionally schedule time to be home, I take pride in making breakfast and dropping my kids off to school, and I look for moments when I know my wife could use a break just to get away. It takes work to keep a fire going. If the flames have turned to embers, then its time to shake things up by working with what’s still hot. Then, you have to do the little things to build it up again and throw in a big log (special event) occasionally to really make the fire intense.
Defender: If a parent, how do you balance commitment to your ministry with parenting?
Cumby: I have three children, my wife is an elementary school principal for HISD, and I am a youth pastor. Most of my church and outside activities include children. When there are events or engagements that take me out of town, my wife and I do daily face time calls with the kids. Plus, the occasional airport gift helps a lot. An additionally advantage of serving in youth ministry and having children is that I have a live-in audience and individuals to feed me material for messages. My children are very important and as often as I can, I like to do individual outings with them so that each one knows their significance in my life. My Pastor taught me to ask myself when accepting opportunities away from home, “How much does it cost to be away?” This is how I determine what I will and won’t do for work.
Defender: With society in general becoming less religious (less committed to a particular denomination; less committed to one specific church home; etc.), how does this impact your ministry?
Cumby: I see it as an opportunity to get creative. It is vanity to think that people are going to show up to see you just because you opened the doors and turned the lights on. The pulpit is portable. The message of the Gospel is love and my definition of Love makes it an action word. We must love out loud by serving people where they are. Going to games with my students, providing breakfast for teachers, participating in prison outreach programs, mission trips, community programs in schools all of that is ministry and all of it is impactful. If I show you how I live and do it without selfish intention then it isn’t difficult to show you where I worship.
Defender: How do you respond to the criticisms many millennials voice about religion in general, and the Christian church in particular? (i.e. it is anti-intellectual; often treats women like second class citizens; ignores or downplays culture and social issues, etc.)
Cumby: A lot of people have been hurt through experiences they have had at a church. But, the church didn’t hurt them; the people at that location hurt them. Rightly, we hold pastors and people who serve in ministry to a very high standard. However, I believe that the perceived standard is greater than the expectations that many accusers have for themselves. Here is the point. We are the church, the building is where we serve, and the preacher is the vessel God uses to lead, edify, educate and inspire at that location. Our greatest relationship should be with Jesus because through Him we can serve in the correct capacity at the divine destination He chooses. Additionally, churches are moving from the traditions that are off-putting to many millennials. The more commonly relaxed atmosphere, the enhanced worship experience with multi-generational as well as multi-cultural music, and the incorporation of visually appealing aesthetics in nontraditional locations has drawn a new wave of churchgoers. These items aren’t trends it’s a paradigm shift in the church going experience. Our competition is not other churches or athletic programs, it is apathy. We have to get the heart of the millennial before we can get their committed attendance.
This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network.