Rev. John Brown spent his youth surrounded by people who served the community. As the youngest of nine children, Brown looked up to his older brothers, who had a significant impact on him. So did his father, a deacon for a Seventh-day Adventist church in Sanford, where Brown grew up.
Brown did not start with the dream of being a pastor.
“When I left [home] and went to school, I just didn’t go to church as much as I should have. And once I graduated from college and started a family, it matriculated back into my roots of being involved in the church,” Brown said. “After becoming a Sunday school teacher, I was an officer within the church, and one day, sitting in worship service, I just felt the need to do more for the Lord.”
But first came a 42-year career as a teacher in Columbia County. In 2019, he was ordained as a minister, and he now serves as the pastor at St. Paul AME Church in Gainesville.
The following are excerpts of a recent interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of being a pastor?
A: It’s knowing that you are there for the people, and to bring people into knowing Jesus. There’s a lot of people who really don’t believe in the gospel, and just to see those people come to know Jesus and to get baptized and become a part of the ministry, a part of the church—it is very rewarding.
Q: What would you say is the hardest part about being a pastor?
A: The hardest part, I would say, is the attitude that some of our young people take toward religion. I have always been teaching of some sort and involved with young people. Even when I was teaching, I felt like I was preaching and knowing that you had the opportunity to touch a young person’s life. When they didn’t accept and did not turn from the error of their ways, it really bothered me.
I always felt everybody deserves a chance to learn about the Lord and to gravitate toward being saved. And when they don’t utilize that opportunity, I feel like a failure. Although I do realize and know that the Bible says that we can’t change people. It is the Lord that changes people. We can plant seeds and we can water the seeds, but it is him that makes the increase, which is the change that comes in people.
Q: What do you think is the role of a pastor in the wider community?
A: The role of the pastor is to be a shepherd for the people that you serve and the people that you serve are part of the greater community that’s out there. The Bible says that we are to serve all the people, not just the people that are members of our congregation.
It’s important that a pastor is seen in the community, not just in the church. Those people that are in the church know about Jesus, and they’ve joined the church, but there are a lot of people in the community outside of the church that don’t know Jesus. And that’s where you’re going to find the fishes that need to be caught.
Q: What do you think your church has done that has had the greatest impact on the community?
A: We have gone to a tent city to feed the homeless. We go into prisons and teach and preach to those who are behind bars—those who a lot of people throw away and right off. We have had celebrations. We are a part of anything that goes on in the city. My church is a sponsor of the Great American Cleanup. We have held a health fair, promoting COVID-19 vaccines among seniors. We are a member of the Chamber of Commerce. We’re very involved in the Ronald McDonald House. In other instances where we see a need, we just try to do it.
Q: What’s an example of that?
A: There is a park in Gainesville where many people congregate. The Lord put it on my heart to go into that park and feed the homeless and minister to them. If we leave there and one person turns to the Lord, you know, we feel like we have done something for the community. So that is one thing we are working on as we speak now.
That came about after I was talking to one gentleman and he was peeking through the window of my car, and he saw my breakfast bag. He said, ‘Is there anything left in that bag, and can I throw that away for you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, just a couple of tater tots.’ And he said, ‘Do you mind if I have them?’
That just kind of touched me that there are people out there who are hungry and don’t have money to buy food. That’s real in our society. We live in the comfort of our homes and drive nice cars. We pass by those people, and we see them, and we say, ‘You know, they can get a job just like me,’ but that’s not the case for a lot. They really need help, and if the Lord has blessed us so we can be a help to somebody, then we should do it.
If you go:
What: St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church
Where: 95 NE 132nd Terrace, Gainesville
When: Bible Discover Hour at 8 a.m.
Service: 9 a.m. (or call the church for live stream link)
We love you Brother Brown. Thank you for your consistent and tenacious care as our advisor in college. You kept us involved in supporting the sport events for the Special Olympics, a deserving group and rewarding experience. I speak for your Kappa brothers from the late 90s when I say, we are better men because of your love and prayers.