Pastors Enter Public Service To ‘Be A Light In Our Community’

By Diana Chandler

Local mayor and pastor Michael Evans developed a heart for public service when he was 8 years old.

Early each morning, after his mother and great-grandmother boarded the bus to work, he had to prepare breakfast, get his 3-year-old sister Michelle on the bus to preschool and walk himself the two miles to class without getting in trouble along the way, as he told it to Baptist Press.

“My mother depended on me. I saw her cry too many times because of what we didn’t have,” said Evans, mayor of Mansfield, Texas, and senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church there.

Paducah, Ky., City Commissioner Raynarldo Henderson, who has pastored Washington Street Missionary Baptist Church in Paducah for more than 30 years, was inspired for public service during his early adulthood in Chicago when the late Harold Washington was mayor.

“There were fights on the (City Council) floor. I remember one alderman … standing up on the table,” Henderson told Baptist Press. “Those first four years for Harold Washington were rough. They gave him a hard time. And it was watching those city council meetings that it was like, ‘Wow. I can be a solution. I can make a difference.’

“I was taught that if you see a problem, you be the solution.”

Both Evans and Henderson are fulltime pastors who concurrently serve in elected office in the public square. Both see their pastorates and their elected governmental posts as godly callings. Both express the ability to uphold the laws of the land while also exhibiting godly behavior as the Lord’s ambassadors.

“There are some people who think pastors shouldn’t be in politics,” Henderson said, “but obviously I think the exact opposite, because we do get an opportunity to impact” communities.

Evans, a Houston native elected to his second mayoral term in November 2022, came to the office after holding various public posts as early as 2007, including terms on the Mansfield Independent School District Board and the Tarrant County College District. He was a commissioned officer and reserve chaplain in the U.S. Navy from 1990-1998.

Evans, who eventually became the oldest of six children when his mother remarried, experienced both provision and lack during his childhood, he said. His birth parents divorced after his father returned from the Vietnam War.

“When you see people hurting and you encounter people who are hurting – and I was blessed to have grandparents on the maternal and paternal side that held us up while our parents were going through,” Evans said, “so when you have those experiences, you say Lord help me to pay back, because I know that it’s been given to me, so help me to give it back.”

Bethlehem Baptist Church elected him pastor when he was 24 years old, when Mansfield was a rural community of just 15,000 residents.

“They helped me grow up here as a young man,” he said of the congregation that averaged 1,200 in worship before the COVID-19 pandemic and draws 600 in worship today.

Evans sees himself as exposed to a diversity of public opinion as a mayor, but covered by God as His servant.

“Character counts. I believe people will read you before they read the Bible. I’ve got to love and serve even those that don’t like me. I learned that in the pastorate,” he said. “Bethlehem got me ready for that. I praise God for giving me a covering, and it is here at Bethlehem.”

Evans doesn’t compromise God’s Word, he said, but upholds the state and U.S. constitutions he’s sworn to uphold as mayor.

“My job (as mayor) is to not allow you to be mistreated or discriminated against because of the way you think. That’s just right to do. I cannot stand by and allow any person to be mistreated,” Evans said. “I believe that the best way to save a person is for the people to see Christ in the (other) person. And they can’t see that with me hating them. …

“[I]n regard to society, you’ve got to know that I’m going to respect your position. I don’t have to accept your position, but I have to respect it and I have to protect it and protect you, because I made a vow to do just that. To do otherwise would be dishonest. I shouldn’t even take the oath if I didn’t mean to be right.”

He sees integrity as a way of sharing of Gospel.

“You share it by being fair to the parties that come before you,” Evans said. “You share it by loving those who you know hate your guts because you’re Black. You share it by demonstrating condolence when bad things happen in the city. It’s lifestyle evangelism.”

Henderson’s road to elected office included three campaigns before his winning run as city commissioner in November 2020.

“I’m just not a quitter. You don’t stop, my mom always taught us, you don’t stop because you come to a wall,” he said. “You go over the wall, under the wall, around the wall.

“I kept on going because I knew that was what God had for me. Because I believe that in my heart, I kept pressing. If God has called you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”

Today, Henderson is known affectionately as “Pastor Commish.”

Henderson enjoys his public office, particularly frequent opportunities to offer the invocation at public meetings.

“I get an opportunity through my prayer to set the tone or the atmosphere of meetings. If a meeting goes well I feel like it has had something to do with what I prayed and how I asked God’s presence to be in our meetings,” he said. “I get an opportunity to say to our other commissioners or mayor, I feel God is leading me to do this.

“I have an opportunity to be a witness or to be a light in our community. Obviously, I don’t stand on a street corner with a megaphone, but just my presence. People know that I’m a pastor. People know that I’m a preacher. And therefore they call upon me on many cases.”

Henderson leads Washington Street Baptist Church to be active and present in the community. Among its ministries are feeding ministries, outreaches to the elderly, and a warming center with resources for the homeless on cold nights, offering showers, a bed, food and clothing.

“I ask our church often,” he said, “If Washington Street Church were no longer here, would this community know the difference and would they even care?

“I believe that the church has a responsibility to be in the community. We have a responsibility to impact the community. And just being the commissioner gives me an added opportunity to make an impact.”

This article was originally published by Baptist Press.