Special Tender Lions Interview with Pastor James Brooks

This week’s blog is a brief interview with a man who was instrumental in Jeff’s life when my relationship with him was fractured. James provided stability, encouragement and tough advice to Jeff when he didn’t want to listen to me. Thank you Pastor James for your wisdom and investment of time in my son when it was sorely needed!

James is a husband and father of two daughters. He’s also the pastor at Harmony Community Church, (North Lawndale) Chicago & Chief Ministry Officer at Lawndale Christian Health Center

Brian: Describe your dad. James: Supportive, humble, kind, very encouraging, fully present for me, tenacious, loving, sometimes vulnerable. He had 13 siblings and was the meekest of them all. The family migrated to North Lawndale while I was growing up, during a time of racial tension. My father founded a church called Howard Chapel. It was a little run-down white shack with cardboard on the windows. It looked like it should be condemned, but he said, “This is where God is calling me.” This was during my freshman year of high school, when appearances meant a lot.

Brian: What did you most appreciate about your dad? (James’s dad died on July 2018 at age 74.) James: His love of the Lord was genuine, and there was no contradiction between his public life and his private life. He did what he said he would do. His love of family and how he made sure we stayed connected with family reunions.

Brian: Did your dad do anything that drove you crazy at the time, but now you appreciate? James: The way he just loved people, I thought he was being walked all over, and I said I would never let people walk over me. But now I find myself being more empathetic. I understand people and I love them. He would always say, “These are God’s children and therefore we should love them, we are called just to love.”

Brian: Are there things you wish he’d done differently? James: My dad wasn’t college-educated, so he wasn’t able to help me navigate some of the nuances of education, or get a sense of direction in that area, but he was always supportive.

Brian: What do you think you’re going to miss most about him? James: His consistent validation of me. I didn’t realize it was there and he was doing it that often, but now every time I preach a sermon or any time I attend an event, I remember Dad would always give me that vote of confidence and let me know he loved what I am doing.

Brian: You work in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the US – if you were raising boys right now, what would you want to make sure you were pouring into them? James: I think faith is the foundation of everything. My dad poured that into me–making sure they understand faith and making sure I love my wife well. Dad was always gentle with my mom, he never talked against her and he loved her and she loved him.

Brian: What magic wand would you wave to change things in your neighborhood? James: I would put fathers back in the home. We have, I believe, more young men incarcerated than in the community right now, so I would definitely put fathers back in the home because it’s critical.

Brian: What do you see in the young men you get to know well just in terms of temperament? James: I deal with a lot of young men whose fathers are either deceased or incarcerated and I see how much they need validation, a constant presence, and support in their life. They have been let down since they were born by men in their lives, maybe unintentionally or intentionally, so they need someone to validate who they are and to be consistent in their lives.

Brian: It would be easy to lose yourself in all that you do. What keeps you grounded? James: I have people in my life–a great wife, great people that hold me accountable and self-stewardship, I call it. A friend that works with me was telling me, “Pastor Brooks, you are pouring out of your own strength and you aren’t designed to do that. This is the Lord’s work. He uses our hands and you’re trying to do it all on your own. It’s just a matter of time before you burn out.” This was a couple of years ago and I will never forget it. I’m intentional about being around people that can speak truth to me. I put my marriage first, making sure my daughters and my wife Jackie are doing well. My first ministry is to them. If my marriage is strong, then my ministry will be strong.

Brian: What do you want your two daughters to find in the men they may marry? James: I hope they see how I love their mom, and I have set the expectation for what they want in a man, and then anything other than that they will not accept. A lot of our young men in the community are really struggling, so it behooves me to really work with the young men and help build them up, because there are young ladies out there who will need them. As a father raising girls, there’s a balance because you want to teach them to be independent, but also to understand the balance between law and grace. You have to extend grace because no one is perfect–no male will be perfect.

Brian: What else is important? James: Part of parenting, and I see this almost as a formula for success, is that parents can’t do it alone. I had other men and women surrounding my daughters who they could go to–a supportive circle around them because they won’t come to their parent for everything. You need that youth director, pastor, coach, mentor, all of these circles around them. You need people who you know will lead them and will not send them in the wrong direction.

Brian: Thank you James for your continued leadership in your home, your church and your community at a time when strong male leadership is needed so much. May we all be inspired to be the Tender Lion you are! 

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This blog is an edited excerpt from Tender Lions: Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son

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