people together under Christ
note: Bishop Gilbert Patterson is presiding bishop
of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination
that numbers more than 8 million people. He is founding
pastor of Temple of Deliverance, the Cathedral of
the Bountiful Blessings in Memphis, Tenn., one of
the nation’s fastest-growing congregations with
more than 12,000 members. He talked recently with
Thomas Lindberg, pastor of Memphis First Assembly
of God in Cordova, Tenn.
Bishop Patterson, please describe the Church of God
The Church of God in Christ has its roots in the original
Azusa Street Pentecostal revival that swept America
in 1906-1907. Our founder, Charles Harrison Mason,
was one of those persons who actually received the
gift of the Holy Ghost in that Azusa revival directly
under the ministry of W.J. Seymour. Our church has
spread across this nation faster than any other, and
we have held to our basic Pentecostal doctrines and
traditions. We are closer in doctrine to the Assemblies
of God than any other Pentecostal or charismatic body
that exists in the world today.
Tell our readers how the Lord saved you.
I was born the son of a Pentecostal pastor. My father,
Bishop W.A. Patterson, pastored a church in Memphis
on Wilson Street, and one Sunday in 1951, when I was
11, he simply explained the plan of salvation. I confessed
Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I received the gift of
the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in other
tongues five years later, after we moved to Detroit,
at the church my father pastored there, the New Jerusalem
Church of God in Christ.
Since those early days, the Lord has used you greatly.
Now, as presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ,
what are your duties?
It is somewhat of a dual role. From the civil side,
I’m the president of the corporation. On the
ecclesiastical side, as presiding bishop, I have to
envision what the church’s needs are when there
are different jurisdictional assemblies who lose their
bishop through death. It is the role of the presiding
bishop along with the General Board to appoint new
bishops. The church is divided into about 175 jurisdictions.
The presiding bishop gives direction to those jurisdictions
through their bishops. All of the departments of the
church, auxiliaries and various departments come under
the supervision of the presiding bishop. It is general
leadership and direction to the church.
The Church of God in Christ has a glorious past. What
is your vision for the future?
We have churches in the 50 states and in 56 foreign
countries, but our work abroad is not nearly as strong
as what I would like to see. I want to see the Church
of God in Christ become globally as strong as it is
in the U.S. That is probably the main thrust of my
vision. Having been in office two years, I have not
begun to really deal with that goal. So many things
have to be done first at home. Right now it is a matter
of the renovation of our national properties, historic
Mason Temple. Bishop Mason built it in the early ’40s
here in Memphis to seat about 3,500 people, when steel
was rationed and very few people had any money. At
that time it was the largest facility in the United
States owned by African-Americans, but that Temple
has remained pretty much unchanged from the time that
Bishop Mason built it. Last year, my first job was
really to bring that building up to 21st-century standards.
There are two large dormitory buildings on the campus
to renovate, and we are in the process of opening
our All Saints Bible College, which will be the embryonic
stage of All Saints University. This was a dream of
my late uncle, Bishop J.O. Patterson Sr., when he
was presiding bishop.
What are some of the special ministries of the Church
of God in Christ that the Lord is using?
All Saints Bible College is an undergraduate school
of ministry that our church has not had in its approximately
100-year history. We do have the theological seminary
in Atlanta, Ga., that is a part of the interdenominational
theological center, but that is a graduate school.
We also have the Saints Academy in Lexington, Miss.,
but we have not had a national school of ministry.
Most of the Churches of God in Christ were started
by bold and daring ministers who were willing to invest
their living into planting a church. Those churches
have grown basically from a single effort on the part
of the founders. We are now in the process of establishing
our Church Extension Fund, where the national church
will get involved in the planting of churches. We
have recently established COGIC Charities to assist
churches or members whose homes are devastated by
tornados, floods or other disasters.
Why is it good for the Church of God in Christ and
the Assemblies of God to work together?
It is necessary for us to work together because, in
our day, one of the great evils of this world is racism.
The Church of God in Christ is basically an African-American
body. We are integrated, and so is the Assemblies,
but the Assemblies is basically looked upon as ethnically
white. I believe that the Holy Spirit was given by
God to be the great Unifier. On the Day of Pentecost,
there were people dwelling at Jerusalem from every
nation, and the Holy Spirit came with a gift and an
initial evidence of tongues. Everybody heard these
Galilean Jews speaking in the languages of earth.
It was God’s way of saying that it matters not
where you are from and what language you speak. The
Holy Spirit with His ability to speak all languages
is the unifying force. First Corinthians 12:13 says,
“By one Spirit are we all baptized into one
body.” When we work together across racial and
ethnic lines, lifting up the same Jesus, walking in
the power of the same Spirit, we say to the world
that although America has had deep divisions along
ethnic lines, Pentecostal Spirit-filled brothers do
not care about skin tones. I think we give a testimony
as we work together.
What do you think is necessary for greater cooperation
between COGIC and the Assemblies of God in the future?
We need to watch out for those things that divide
us. In 1994, when we experienced what was called the
“Memphis miracle” — the birth of
the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North
America — our effort was to work together with
all Pentecostal bodies, regardless of race. It was
a beautiful time. The most divisive thing that keeps
white and black Pentecostals apart in the United States
is that we allow politics to supercede brotherhood.
Somehow we have got to find a way to make our brotherhood
more important than our politics. In John 17, Jesus
prayed that believers be one.
Your television ministry reaches all 50 states, and
you receive letters from people across America. What
are the pressing needs out there?
We still have
all of the basic needs that have been there all along.
So many people are experiencing family problems. Many
of these family problems are brought about because
members of the family do not know Jesus and they allow
themselves to get caught up in the drug culture. Drug
abuse is one of the great evils of our society, and
we don’t seem to be making much headway against
it. We have the problem of finances, people who are
trying to live on finances that are not adequate at
all. So many families are broken. We are hearing a
lot about emphasis on reaching men through ministries
like Promise Keepers and Bishop T.D. Jakes’
Manpower. Yet, the majority of the mail I receive
seems to be from women who are trying to live for
God and are wondering where all the men are.
What word would you have for the men across America?
It is time for men to take their rightful place as
the spiritual leaders of their homes. In 1 Corinthians
11:3, Paul says that the head of every woman is the
man and the head of every man is Christ, and the head
of Christ is God, and if the man is not under Christ,
then the link is broken. Most men want to adhere to
the fact that the man is the head of his house, but
they disqualify themselves if Christ is not their
Head. Men must find their proper place under Jesus
Christ in order to be able to be the leaders of their
wives and families.
also such a tremendous insurgence of Eastern religions
invading America. Men are trying to adhere to other
types of religion than salvation through Jesus Christ.
People are even taking advice from their dreams and
from talk shows. We have a tremendous task ahead of
us. When I read a lot of the letters that come in,
I think about what Jesus said, “When the son
of man comes, shall he find faith on earth?”
(Luke 18:8). There are a lot of people joining churches,
but they are joining for so many wrong reasons. In
the majority of megachurches, as they are called today,
they are preaching the gospel of prosperity more than
the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of sound
teaching that we have got to find a way to get over
The cross, what Jesus did on the cross, and then the
Upper Room of Pentecost — are these the focal
points of your ministry?
That is basic. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek
ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you.”
I think too many ministries are majoring on the things
which ought to be added after one establishes a proper
Anything else you would like to share?
Those of our leadership that know your general superintendent,
Dr. Trask, have the greatest respect for him. He’s
a fine brother. We love him and we love your church.
your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.