The Rev. Powell Lemons recently reached a big milestone: 40 years as senior pastor of Bethel Christian Center near Fashion Fair mall in Fresno.
At age 30, Lemons became the fifth pastor in his church’s 102-year history.
Hey says his calling came early, while praying to God at age 15. In his 20s, he pastored a church in San Bernardino County for a few years before becoming Bethel Christian’s pastor on March 14, 1976. Lemons is also a father of three and husband of Martha Lemons.
He once considered leaving his post to pursue a career in teaching after losing his first wife, Virginia Darnell, to cancer in 2000, but a powerful experience reaffirmed his work.
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“I don’t mean to be sentimental, but this is very tender,” Lemons says before sharing a story:
“I was in Colorado Springs at the World Prayer Center looking out over the mountains … weeping, about a month after my wife had died. And I felt God say to me, ‘Were you a Christian before you were married?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Did I call you to preach before you were married?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Then what has changed?’
“It was God’s way of telling me, ‘You’re still the guy I called, go back and do it.’ ”
It was God’s way of telling me, ‘You’re still the guy I called, go back and do it.’
The Rev. Powell Lemons
Lemons has been a mentor for many. Over the years he’s had 15 to 20 associate pastors or assistants, and he is proud that 75 percent of them are still in the ministry.
“I feel like I did my job.”
He also has done a lot of mission work in the Philippines. This fall will be his 40th mission trip.
Lemons says he has seen a number of changes over the years:
Music and dress: Bethel Christian now has a band led by keyboard compared to a past dominated by piano and organ music.
Still, not everything goes.
“Our worship is contemporary but a little dated because we’re not quite doing all the current-level songs. We’re a little bit choosy about that. We want them to say something as well as be enjoyable.”
As for dress, “people are still hung up quite a bit on the external things.” Lemons says it’s important to remember that being a Christian is “not the way you dress or hair length or the color of your skin or anything like that. It has to do with character and morality.”
Focus: “We used to be very adult-oriented. We are now very child-focused. If you don’t have a top-grade child program of some sort, you simply will not keep families.”
We are much more child-oriented than we were.
The Rev. Powell Lemons
Volunteerism: Lemons says because of the economic climate, the church has increased its reliance on volunteers in recent years. In a way, it’s a return to Bethel Christian’s roots.
“We want the lay people to be the church, step up more.”
Training: There are many more trainings and seminars available to pastors than there were 40 years ago.
“I think that leadership is better. I could put it like this – the competition is stiffer,” Lemons says with a smile.
Hot-button issue: “The whole issue of marriage and abortion – that’s dramatically changed.
“It has not changed in the conservative church, but it has changed in the moderate to liberal church. We would be clearly described as conservative.”
Unity: Lemons says Christians aren’t as divided by their denominations as they once were.
The ‘free church’ mingles together much more greatly. The charismatic movement has actually swept the world.
The Rev. Powell Lemons
One example: On Tuesday mornings Lemons facilitates a prayer meeting at Bethel Christian attended by 25 to 35 pastors and faith leaders representing a variety of religions.
But through the changes, some things have stayed the same, like what he loves most about being a pastor:
“People coming to the Lord, children growing up in the faith, marriages that are the salt of the earth, the friendships that I have enjoyed with the ministers in town, they are greatly cherished.”
History of Bethel Christian Center
▪ The church opened in 1914 as Thomas Avenue Mission and became Bethel Temple Pentecostal Church soon after.
▪ It moved from central Fresno to its current location at 4665 N. First St. in 1965. “This was the way north end of town back then,” the Rev. Powell Lemons says.
▪ Around 10 years ago, the name changed to Bethel Christian Center. Lemons says the word “temple” was confusing – some community members were unclear if it was a Christian church.
▪ The church has around 90 members, with recent attendance as high as 400 on Easter. ▪ Lemons says Bethel Christian’s chapel also is used by Persian and Indonesian churches led by other pastors.