‘The Lord prepares you’

Editor’s note: People of Faith is an occasional question-and-answer series spotlighting leaders in the varied local faith community.

The Bible is as rich in agricultural symbolism for the Christian life as the Rev. Tony McClendon is surrounded by rural, wooded beauty at Columbus’ Faith Ministries. So he and his wife, Pat, frequently glance out the nondenominational church’s generous windows. And they paint spiritual word pictures using scenery right in their 15-acre back yard.

“Take a look outside,” Pat said, seeing a blanket of snow making the scene look like a perfect Christmas card. “Notice that everything is so diverse.”

“And yet, it all works together in harmony,” the pastor chimed in.

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The two see that as a way that grace-filled Christians can be a light of love and live alongside those seemingly different from them — people of other faiths, people of no formal faith, people of a different sexual orientation in a diverse community. They see the 15-year-old church as a tool to remind others that “all people are precious to God, and Christ’s love is revealed through us,” as the pastor’s business cards read.

The 62-year-old clergyman is just putting down roots as Faith Ministries’ new pastor, following founder the Rev. Jarvis Cooper, who stepped down at the end of last year. The new head man quickly made it clear how he views his leadership.

“Christ is the shepherd of this church,” he said. “I am just the under-shepherd.”

How did you prepare for your new role?

Really, it’s the Lord who prepares you. I knew I might one day be called to be pastor of this church or another church.

You talk a lot about the importance of outreach via Faith Ministries, which already strongly supports such efforts as Love Chapel food pantry and a visitation program at nearby GreenTree at Columbus assisted living facility. What else do you want to do?

That’s an open book that we as a church are still seeking guidance on and still writing.

You also have a heart for young people in the community. How does Faith Ministries view teens or twenty-somethings?

I grew up with the idea that I would be in church every Sunday, and that was considered the norm in my day. With a lot of young people today, that is no longer the norm. Whether we like it or not, for the church to remain relevant today to the younger people, we are going to have to understand that that is no longer the norm for them. So we can look at other ways, including tools such as Facebook and Twitter and other things other than just Sunday morning, to find ways to reach them.

What is a basic perspective with how Faith Ministries views people?

Pat: Scripture says to love thy neighbor. There’s no qualification or exception to that.

Tony: Martin Luther King said that love is the greatest and only weapon that can make your enemy your friend. We cannot beat people into salvation or scare them into salvation.

Your church sits in one of the fastest-growing areas of Columbus. What does that mean for ministry?

No. 1, we’re interested in doing what we are called to do because of Jesus’ Great Commission, and that is to make disciples of all people. But with the city’s growth, we aim to be a source of social and spiritual impact, and to attract people to come and fellowship and worship with us because we feel we have something unique to offer.

We’re always praying for greater clarity, asking, ‘Lord, how can we be used in a God-sized way?’”

You believe in being right in the middle of the challenges of everyday life?

Yes. It’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain. You have to be where the problems are to be effective in ministry.

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Position: New part-time pastor of Faith Ministries, following founder the Rev. Jarvis Cooper of Columbus. His previous position the past seven years was associate pastor.

Another role: School diversity coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Education: Economics degree from Dartmouth College.

Age: 62.

Hometown: Atlanta.

Wife: Married to Pat for 39 years.

Family: Daughters Samantha McClendon and Alexandria Donaldson, both of Indianapolis.

Past community role: Football coach at Columbus’ Central Middle School.

A favorite Scripture: John 3:17 — “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”