At the ripe age of 60 Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer is the third pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church. Over the past 25 years he has raised his membership to over 18,000, written four books, purchased the historic Inglewood Forum and become one of the nation’s leading mega preachers.
Just finishing his Annual New Year’s Eve Praise Party which was aired on TV One this month, Bishop Ulmer sat down and conversed with me on lessons learned, the state of the church and his thoughts about the criticism Faithful Central gets for allowing secular affairs to happen at the forum.
Niele: What has been you biggest lesson learned in ministry?
Bishop Ulmer: Well it is the challenge of balancing the church to be authentic but yet stay attractive, without given in to one for the other.
Niele: What has been your biggest disappointment?
Bishop Ulmer: To see men and women give up on God. We have made God our servant instead living our lives to be a servant of God. So when people regard God as being there to serve them, to give them what they want, to do what they want. So then when God is Sovereign and he does what he chooses to do, it’s hard to see men and women give up on God because of a false concept of God. That’s probably the most heart-breaking thing.
Niele: What has been your biggest accomplishment thus far?
Bishop Ulmer: I don’t point at any one thing; I think the biggest honor of my life other than my wife and children, the biggest honor has been to be the pastor of that church and that God would allow me to be a part of it. I by no means would call that an accomplishment, I would call it an honor and a responsibility that I am eternally grateful for. The people who come to that church, that have a hunger for God a thirst for God and they come with sincere hearts and sincere minds and are open to the word of God, they bless me more than I bless them.
Niele: What do you fear?
Bishop Ulmer: My greatest fear is that I would ever do something to make a member be ashamed to call me their pastor.
Niele: You recently released a book entitled “Making Your Money Count.” What is it about?
Bishop Ulmer: I challenge the extreme prosperity theology. There is an extremism that suggests that prosperity is most often defined by money, finances, materialism and things. I challenge that because as the bible defines prosperity it talks more in broader terms. The word prosperity really means to journey well or to have a good journey, a successful journey or a safe journey. It really is a word that has to do with being successful and so I try to challenge the mind set, that narrows the definition of prosperity to just money. I suggest that prosperity is more of how we live and that we live our lives in such away, that we travel through life well.
Niele: If you were not a Pastor what would be your profession?
Bishop Ulmer: Probably something in the music field. I came to ministry through the ministry of music, which always and still is near and dear to my heart. So I guess if I were not a pastor, I’d be on a staff somewhere in a music ministry, as I was for many years before I went into this preaching ministry.
Niele: What are your thoughts regarding the state of the church?
Bishop Ulmer: The church I believe should be the body of Christ the extension of the love of God, the character and nature of God. So that’s the church corporately. The church has not done as well I think in being an extension of the character and mind, integrity and love of God. I think that we have often become so hung up on logos and egos and banners, flags and titles and all that. I think we have presented a distorted image of the church and the body of Christ to the world. I think we have a long way to go. As I said early to be authentic in our representation of Christ yet to remain attractive.
Niele: What are your thoughts regarding all the heat some of the mega preachers are facing today?
Bishop Ulmer: In terms of those colleagues of mine, who have fallen, I think several things. First of all it is a revelation and a manifestation of our own fragilities. Paul says we have treasure in earthen vessels. But more than that, I think it is the issue that all too often we have gotten caught up in the stardom of what we do. The downside of that is we have isolated ourselves from accountability, checks and balances, and we have lost touch with the people we serve and we often feel above them. You know whom much is given much is required and in the last 15 years in the life of the church many who have risen to the top and that celebrity status has been the down fall.
Niele: The Forum is the nation’s largest African American owned entertainment venue. What are your thoughts when the public questions the church, when non-faith based/secular events come to the forum or any church?
Bishop Ulmer: I totally understand it. Their concept of the church is one that is limited to a building. They define the church as a building. You might notice we’ve had that building for seven years and we have never put a cross or stain glass windows in. We never bought that building to turn it into a church. Our philosophy and theology is that the church is never defined so much by a building. The church is the body of Christ. It is not so much how many people are in the church; it’s how much church is in the people. The church is much bigger than a building.
First of all, I understand their criticism, but I think their criticism is from a prospective that views a building as the church. Certainly we do not agree with that. Secondly we believe there is a mandate and call upon our church to be involved in the fabric of a community beyond what you do just on Sunday.
When we have shows in that building there are 500 to 600 people employed. We are providing jobs, economic impact; we are paying taxes to the city. So I understand their criticism, but I don’t think they understand that we are trying to make an impact on our community, our neighborhood and our society beyond just what we do on Sunday morning.
Before we finished I asked Bishop Ulmer if he had a favorite scripture and he replied, “I am haunted by a scripture in Proverbs that says a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s, children. I’m looking at my life from a different prospective, I’ve realized that I’ve probably lived longer than I will live now. I might get to a hundred and twenty but I doubt it (I have some good genes). The bible says that a righteous man, good women look at life beyond themselves. It is what kind of deposit, what kind of inheritance, legacy and heritage you leave not just to your children but also of your children’s children. I have five granddaughters. So my prospective on life now is how can I so impact my children’s children that I fulfill the revelation in that scripture that says if I’m really a good man, a righteous man there’s a deposit that I make.