Through our new weekly feature, we’ve gotten to know eight of the Madison area’s Christian community leaders. As the year comes to a close, let’s revisit some of their most insightful answers to our questions.

Adam Clausen, Senior Leader at Life Center Madison: Bishop TD Jakes is one of your mentors. What are two things he has taught you that really have impacted your life? Bishop Jakes is unlike any other leader and pastor I’ve heard or been around. It’s one of my greatest honors gleaning from His wisdom.

The first piece of advice that most influenced how I have lived was him asking “Are you called to your denomination or the nations?” His point was that we often stay confined to the circles where we find comfort, but our influence and maturity will be minimized unless we embrace the discomfort of perspectives, conversations, and culture that are unfamiliar.

The second piece was when I asked him how he was able to manage all of the responsibilities and relationships he stewards at such high levels. He said, “Everyone will lose. Just make sure it’s not the same person all of the time.” There will be times you’ll need to choose your family over your job, and times your job demands over your family; your wife over your kids, and your kids over your wife. We just have to make sure the same people aren’t always losing.Listening to Bishop is like drinking from a fire hose. Love him!

Marcus Allen, Pastor, Mount Zion Baptist Church: How would you define a good marriage? Well, every marriage is different. Each marriage presents different dynamics that produce a “good marriage.” The strength of a Christian marriage is that it is bonded together by Christ. That means that both husband and wife is connected to Christ, which in turn connects husband and wife to each other. Ecclesiastes 4:12 “A three strand cord is not easily broken.” Marriages that are connected to Christ last.

In my pre-martial counseling classes I often draw a chart with Christ in the middle connecting wife to husband. Whenever it’s only a connection between husband and wife and Christ is left out, that marriage is able to be broken.

Christ strengthens marriages. Knowing how to love Christ will help you love your spouse. If you love Christ you will devote your life to prayer. Likewise, when you love your spouse you know how to communicate to them. If you love Christ you will commit to reading the Bible that you may know more about the God in which you are trying to serve.

Likewise, you must learn who your spouse is. If you know them you know what makes them happy or sad; therefore you will do things that pleases your spouse and not hurt your spouse.

A good marriage is one that is bonded together by Christ.

On the first Sunday of each month, Mt. Zion asks if anyone is celebrating an anniversary in the upcoming month to please stand and state how long they have been married. My purpose behind doing this is to prove to singles in the church that marriage still works. Many marriages in our church have lasted multiple decades. This is great for all to hear when even in the Christian church the divorce rate is high. However, when couples attend church together and are active in their faith marriages last longer.

Rev. Breanna Illene, Pastor, First United Methodist Church: Do people change the way they treat you once they find out you are a pastor? When I tell people I’m a pastor, they are often surprised and I usually get a response like, “You’re so young,” “You have tattoos and a nosering!” “You’re drinking a beer!” They often get a little uncomfortable, but as they get to know me they realize that I’m no different than them. I just try to be myself and open to others and let they know that pastors come in all shapes and sizes.

Collier McNair, Presiding Pastor at Zion City Church and gospel musician: You have a new album out called Intimacy. Why that title? As I think about each song I want my listeners to know that a relationship with God should be more than just lip service and/or what you see on the surface. God wants to know us deeply and He wants us to be open and honest with Him about every aspect of our lives. That’s why Jesus died. It was unconditional love that said I’ll do anything to be with you. I’d even die for you.

What are we willing to do to be in relationship with Him? To get spiritually intimate with Jesus?

Toya Johnson, Director of Community Impact – Self-reliance & Independence, United Way of Dane County: What scripture really defines where you are today in life and why? I think that the scripture that defines where I am in life today is Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

I say this because those who really know me know that I like to plan EVERYTHING! I have always planned what I would do with my life, how I would do it, the road that I would take to get there. The successes that I have accomplished have not at all been executed in the way that I had planned.

Being a highly motivated and driven person myself, it was my dream to go away to college, graduate with a degree in science, and take this world by storm as a great scientist. I would then travel and make a difference in the world. God had a different plan. While I accomplished graduating from a Big Ten University with a degree in Chemistry, obtained employment and received high honor and recognition at one of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world, a life partner was being groomed for me to help support and make a difference in the lives of others at an enormous scale even bigger than I had imagined.

My plans remained the same. However, I had to be opened to a different way of accomplishing them. My steps were definitely ordered and now God has allowed me to give of my time, talent and treasure and be the change that I want to see.

Jon McNary, Lead Pastor, Heartland Community Church: What is the church body doing well and what could we improve on? I think the church is starting to do a good job of cutting the BS out of our ministries. We have started to recognize that people don’t want a pretty, all-put-together ministry that you discover to be fake when you look behind the curtain. Let’s be honest about things, and all come together to understand accurately what Jesus called us to, and how that gets lived out in the 21st century.

There are a lot of things I think we could improve on. For starters, the Church will always be tempted to become an inward-focused group, an “us-vs-the world” mentality where we see society as trying to encroach more and more on our faith. But I don’t think that’s the right mentality. In the end, we win. Christ has already won the battle. Evil has been defeated, and He brought the Kingdom of God to this planet. So now, let’s spread that Kingdom. Let’s advance the Kingdom. Jesus promised us that He would build His Church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. So let’s get to work building, with confidence and love.

I also think we have to do a better job of engaging in the ministry of racial-reconciliation. It won’t happen fast, and it won’t be easy. But Christ has called his followers to love one another as ourselves. And, especially in America right now, there is not a lot of that happening. We need to change that.

Honorable Everett Mitchell, Dane County Judge, Pastor, Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church: Being a judge and seeing a lot of negative issues with people who come into your court. How do you keep your faith? I don’t see a lot of negative issues with people. I witness a lot of broken systems that really don’t know what to do with broken people, especially broken children. Faith for me is a reminder that every individual is given power to make change or speak up or to ask questions. I am often discouraged listening to the pain of victims who lose a sense of safety and peace because of what has been done to them or a loved one.

I keep my faith because I realize and believe in the endless potential of human beings to transform their lives if given the tools necessary to do so. I continue to witness children who fight and despite all odds survive to fight another day. They learn how to show empathy and concern for others during this process.

b. Marcell Williams, Director of Business Development and Marketing Communications, Lighthouse Christians School: If the Madison Christian community could put one event together in 2018. What type of event would it be? After reading this question over and over again and asking God to guide my thoughts on this … I would say that in 2018 the Madison Christ followers should do an informal mixer.  An event where churches unite and invite people that may or may not attend a church here in Madison to the mixer.  The mixer would consist of people from all walks of life simply getting to know one another …. meeting each other … so I guess it would kind of be somewhat of a mass “Meet Up.” – where people can interact with each other and connect.  I was thinking all of these big ideas to type up for this question …. and then the Holy Spirit said to me, “I just want them to unite.  To meet one another on a heart level.” So, that’s our answer 🙂

Read all of their answers at the Selfless Ambition Blog Word Pulse, and watch for more in the new year!