Our reporter sat down with Pastor LeClare Litchfield, of Chattanooga, TN, who recently conducted the Week of Spiritual Emphasis meetings from Sept. 12 to Sept. 16 in Pioneer Memorial Church.
Did you always want to be a minister?
When I was probably in third grade I would stand on a piano bench and preach to my Grandmother. When I got older I was the good little boy in church; a few more years pass and I believed you had to be a cookie cutter preacher and things had to be done a certain way. After this I said, “This is not for me,” and I shifted to majoring in business in college. I got within three credits of finishing a business degree, dropped out, was depressed, came back and studied psychology and social work to try and figure myself out. I was going to be a probation officer in Atlanta, Georgia; one day I walked back to the boy’s dorm in Southern University and saw a little scratch paper that said “Get your airfare together, fly to England for a year, all expenses paid.” I thought to myself, “Travel? no work? It must be God’s will.” So I went over to England to try and breathe life into a couple of churches; I joined Save England and found a new relationship with God. I eventually attended Newbold, which is right outside of London, and took theology. There I learned that I don't have to be like you and you don't have to be like me; I can be my own self and not be a cookie-cutter preacher, but the best way for me to do that would be to work with young people because there's more hope for you guys. Personally I believe, the older you get the less hope there is.
What is something about you that’s different and not a lot of people know about?
I don’t think it’s different, but there were nine months in my life where I was depressed; I dropped out of school and quit my job. Later on found out she had dropped me and I blocked it out. It’s not a part of my life I advertise a lot, but I do talk about that sometimes in a public venue. I haven’t been depressed since but I do still worry about getting depressed again.
How did you come about your perspective on God?
Basically I'm a slow learner. I've chosen many different people in my life, like Tony Campolo, Chuck Swindoll, Morris Venden, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, all kinds of guys who are asleep now; I read their books and I guess growing up growing up in a Seventh-day Adventist home around the General Conference I found out that people get into a position of from one of three ways: either (A) they are workaholics, (B) they know somebody, or (C) God wants them there. So if I can be delivered from being judgmental of judgmental people I can do better in my own walk with God. I'm a child of the 60s, which means I question everything. I think it's been a journey to hammer out, not what Mommy and Daddy believe, not what my church tells me I believe, but what I believe and hope is biblical. I can believe and be in crazy-land, saying “I hope it's biblical” and when someone asked me what I am, I say I'm a Christian-protesting Seventh-day Adventist. Protesting meaning you’re not going to think for me, I'll be polite to you but you're not going to think for me.
Why do you think this is relevant to our church today?
Most institutions, whatever kind of Institution, (Google, Apple, Exxon, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church) wants, I feel, stability, and says “Just don't rock the boat.” They have a mentality of “Just get the prophets, get the membership up, keep the tithe up.” I think your generation, which is what we need, wants authentic openness. Even though your generation is full of hypocrites too, you don't like hypocrisy.
What are major ideas that our church will/should uphold?
I know these sound like clichés but number one, ”Jesus, I give you my life, I give my heart to Jesus.” Number two, ”Jesus fill me with your Holy Spirit,” and number three, ”deliver me from myself; because the biggest battle every single person on this planet has it selfishness.” Have I said I have arrived at these things, no, these are the three things I believe that are essential in my journey. The fourth one I've added just recently is “Deliver me from being judgmental to judgmental people.” That makes me the same as they are. God did not say go out into all the world and judge the world, He said go out and take my love to the world. That means I don't have to judge anybody about anything but that doesn't mean I condone what they do.
If a guy breaks into my house will I love him? Probably not, but I’m learning that I should. Do I condone what he does? No. Can I say he's a burglar? Well his activities appear to be that way, but I cannot look on the outside (like we all do) and make a determination about the inside and that's what we do. We got Christians in the name of God doing that and it's not biblical. Did Jesus agree with prostitution? No. Did he love the prostitute? Yes. Did he just agree with the Pharisees? No, but did He love the Pharisees? Yes. To love and to accept does not mean I agree with it. Often to a Christian, if you don't agree with them they will treat you like dirt.
What do you hope Andrews University can take away from your time here?
Kellogg’s used to have a commercial that said “Try Kellogg's Corn Flakes again for the first time.” My prayer for six weeks before we came was that God will use this cracked jar right here (myself) to encourage someone to try Kellogg's Corn Flakes—try God again for the first time. In other words your relationship with God can't be what Mommy and Daddy tell you and it can't be because you’re required to be in Chapel. Ask yourself, “Is God in me and if He is, what do I need to do? Not to get salvation, but because I'm in a saving relationship.” I think that's my hope.
Is there anything you would like to say to the students of Andrews University?
I think I've already said it throughout the week. Number one would be “Don't get God and the church confused.” God is never boring, God is never a hypocrite, and God is never irrelevant. Number two, don't look at people from the outside. When I look at you I get depressed and when you look at me you get depressed. A Christian is made of the same raw materials as the guys that are presidents. We’re sinners, we’re selfish, we’re arrogant, we're proud of opinion and we think we have all the answers. But if I look at people as broken, hurting and in pain and I find someone who's a little bit more vibrant then that’s great, but it goes right back to the judgmental thing. God does not call me to preach to you or change you; God calls me to love and care and he pours his love and blessings; and the ones that are the most difficult to love are the ones that treat you like jerks. Number three would be, as much as your personality will let you, be honest and open with people and don't live a charade. We all live a charade and we all have a personality for different places and different people that were with. I guess finally would be, “Don't give up on the church.” If John F. Kennedy were alive, I think he would say, “Don't ask what the church can do for you, ask what by God's grace you can do for your church.”