Rory Marshall knew he was called to preach before he knew he was called to pastor. Though his father was a pastor, he had no interest in leading a church: “I was going to be a deacon and call it a day,” he says. Once it was revealed that God had other plans for his life, Marshall had no idea how he would become a pastor – he only knew that he would.
Marshall’s story is one of providence and great unexpectations: an unexpected phone call with unexpected news in a moment of such significance that it could only be the work of the Lord. Rory and his wife Kristan had welcomed their second baby girl into the world only an hour before his phone rang and the caller I.D. said Bishop Marvin Sapp. During that conversation, Sapp told Marshall he wanted to submit his name for a senior pastor appointment. “We had just given birth to my second child, and God was birthing something else,” says Marshall. “I was overwhelmed by the possibility.”
About four months later, Sapp called again – this time to let Marshall know that he had been selected to become the new senior pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Marshall actually succeeds Sapp, founding pastor of the church, who, after 16 years, accepted an appointment at a church in Fort Worth, Texas. Though Marshall was at the top of Sapp’s list, the decision was not made unilaterally. The board of directors at Lighthouse adhered to a process that included candidate interviews and guest preaching. When the process concluded, Marshall was unanimously voted to become the new pastor.
“This was all literally a dream come true for me. I didn’t know how or when or where, but I knew I was going to pastor. For it to happen the way that it did, with regards to a church that has no mortgage, an amazing group of people, and something that I did not go after but was brought to me – I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. It really is a dream come true and I am eternally grateful to Bishop Marvin Sapp for the opportunity that was extended to me.”
We spoke with Pastor Rory Marshall about his fateful journey, life in Grand Rapids and what he hopes 2020 brings for the Kingdom of God.
You’ve been at Lighthouse for three months now. How has it been? What is the congregation and the culture like there?
It’s a lot of work, but it’s been fun. I’ve had a lot of fun over the course of the 12 weeks that I have been in this assignment. The people are receptive of what God is doing through this transition. The culture at Lighthouse is amazing; they really honor and love their pastor and first family. They love me, and it’s been great.
How did you know you were called to preach?
For me, I grew up in church. My father was a pastor, and my mom was in ministry as well. I had always been around church, which was kind of a deterrent to me wanting to be involved. I always loved God, since childhood, but I really didn’t want to have any extra responsibilities with regard to church. I was going to be a deacon and call it a day but, when I was about 19 years old, I was at the Manpower conference in Charlotte, NC. While Bishop Jakes was preaching, something just hit me. I began crying out to God like I never had before in my life. In that moment, God spoke to me and said “I called you.” My answer was “yes, yes, yes.” I told my Dad about it later and he asked me if I was sure. My Dad never wanted his calling to be my calling; he wanted my calling to be my own calling, which I always appreciated. That’s when I knew I was called to preach, but I did not know I was called to pastor until my journey started. Initially, I just evangelized, did youth ministry and things like that. But as I began to grow, I realized that I had a shepherd call on my life.
What do you find most fulfilling about the shepherd call, versus preaching only?
The fulfillment of the pastoring side, the shepherding side, for me, comes from seeing people evolve through process. For example, with the evangelist piece, you go, you preach, you leave, and you don’t know what happens to people after you leave them. To be able to walk with people through life’s challenges and journeys and to see them resilient, to see them grow, to see them have hard moments but still have the faith to keep on going, that’s rewarding. For many people, their church experiences don’t include that. The type of pastor that I am, I walk with people through hard moments and through victories as well. This is very rewarding for me.
How do you describe yourself as a pastor?
I am family and community based. I am concerned about your family; I am concerned about the community that I live in and the community that I serve. Pastors have different responsibilities and assignments. Bishop Sapp, for example, is locally focused but globally assigned. At this season in my life, that isn’t the grace that I have; I am more locally focused and locally assigned. I am consumed and concerned with the people that God has given me in the community in which I am building. For me, I’m the pastor that is going to go to the hospital. I’m the one that’s going to stop by the graduation and things like that. I believe in community and I believe in building families – I believe that we are a family…I find it to be rewarding at this season of my life that I can serve personally.
Who is your pastor, and what is the most profound thing you have learned from that person?
I have had a few pastors in my life. Not because I was church hopping, but my Dad was my primary pastor through childhood. When I went away to school, I had a different pastor. Then I had a pastor when I worked for a church a few years ago. For the last couple of years, my pastor has been (and still is) Bishop William Hudson, III. I have learned a lot from all of them because they have all had very necessary roles in my life. Bishop Hudson has been extremely influential in preparing me for this assignment. One thing that he has always stresses to me is that you have to remain in devotion to God, remain spirit led, and continue to love the people. That advice has been key for me in keeping my personal devotion life together, making sure I spend time with God, making sure my family is good and ultimately being a spirit led pastor. This is something that I am thriving on and the people at the church love, and I in turn continue to love on the people.
You are a spirit led pastor, but preaching every week requires preparation. How do you prepare for sermons?
I am inspired by the word of God, so when I am in my own devotional time God gives me different revelations of things. I heard Bishop Jakes say that you should not study to preach, but you should study to live. So, I don’t necessarily say ‘I have to preach Sunday, so let me go read my bible to find something.’ I pray and ask God what He is saying for the month. God will reveal to me a theme and also give me revelations, bible stories, characters, current events, people, videos and other ways to draw people into moments. For example, I recently preached on David and Goliath, and I showed a video of Mike Tyson fighting Buster Douglas. People were able to see an underdog win a fight against someone intimidating. They saw someone who wasn’t supposed to win, win. Things like that help enhance worship and drive messages home for people.
What is your scripture mantra?
When I think of my life, I think of Jeremiah 1:5: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Not that I feel like I’m a prophet or anything, but I just know that God, based on the story I’ve been told about my life, predestined everything that I am doing and will do. When I was in her womb, my mom prayed that God would give her a son…and if God gave her a son, she would give him back to God; it was somewhat of a Hannah prayer. Then I came along. I was predestined before I was even known and I believe God called me to do amazing things not just locally but globally as well – even though right now my assignment is the local church.
Do you have a favorite song right now?
My favorite song right now is Jekalyn Carr’s “You Will Win.” That song speaks to my heart my, my spirit and my soul. I believe that everything attached to me in this season of my life is going to win.
What are your goals and resolutions for 2020?
My most important personal goal is to become a better man, which encompasses being a better husband and a better father. I cannot be my best for everyone else if I’m not the best for myself and for my family. That for me matters more than anything. Beyond that, I want to continue to extend reach by getting on some boards and being able to affect economic and social change in our city and in our church. I want people to be able to go through transformation in our church. I want them to be discipled into the people that God has predestined them to be.
What is your hope for the Body of Christ in this new year and decade?
My hope and prayer is that we are able to tear down misnomers and ideas of things that are untrue. One of the worst things I hear people say about church now is that everybody is leaving the church, or millennials aren’t coming to church. All of this is not true. Millennials are still going to church. Good things are still happening in the church and God is still who He is. As we forge ahead into a new year and new millennium, I hope that people’s revelation of God will become real to them beyond something that is passed down. I pray that people will come into greater understanding of their Kingdom assignment…and go into marketplace ministry and do amazing exploits. My hope and prayer is that people can find their place in God and affect change and humanity in this world.