Sixty years of ministry and 54 years of marriage have given Charles Cook a unique perspective on life and family. Whether it is as a traveling evangelist, a pastor of churches in three different states, as president of the North American Christian Convention, professor at Manhattan Christian College, or as a teacher of missionaries in countries throughout the world, Cook has lived up to what he would like to be remembered for: “just being the real thing.” He currently serves as the associate in pastoral care at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland (a church he once pastored). He and his wife, Barbara, have three children and six grandchildren.
What makes the foundation for a great church? What’s at the very core?
In my opinion the core is strong, dedicated, visionary leaders. No church is ever going to rise above the level of its leadership. When you have deeply committed, visionary leaders you’re going to get a strong church.
How do you transfer your passion and skills to other leaders?
You build trusting relationships. You commit yourself to grow with these leaders in developing life principles. As you grow in spiritual maturity alongside them, you truly become partners with them in this whole venture. The result is a mutual trust and respect. This enables you to lead with integrity.
What is the most significant cultural shift you’ve seen in more than five decades of ministry?
We are seeing a major disintegration in the way we regard the family in America. I don’t think you can preserve any kind of meaningful society without stable families.
How can the church respond?
We need to begin to model for the world what real family life is. We need to build strong ministries to couples to help them identify what produces lasting, fulfilling marriages. Then we need to provide mentoring to couples and families as they make that journey.
Has the church changed adequately to meet the culture in general?
I think the church is trying to. I’m optimistic about many things right now. I’m particularly pleased with the way younger men are providing leadership. Some of them are a bit impatient, but they’re trying to present the gospel in a way that connects with the struggles of life every single day.
Are the struggles of everyday life purely spiritual in nature?
I think Christianity has a social conscience. If we will allow that conscience to motivate and guide us we will get involved in society’s needs. Instead of being a place people come to, the church should be a constant influence in society in whatever we do. It used to be that “liberals” were accused of preaching a “social gospel.” The gospel is social. The whole essence of Christianity is that it affects all relationships. We must be sensitive and involved in social concerns.
On the practical ministry front, did the week in, week out task of sermon preparation ever drive you a little crazy?
I was in ministry a long time before I figured out how to deal with that kind of thing. Instead of setting my own agenda I was allowing a lot of other things to set it for me. Until I set aside the time I needed for spiritual nurture, preparation, and reading, it was difficult. The last 25 or 30 years of ministry I began to get that figured out.
What was the toughest part of your job as a minister?
Probably the most difficult thing for me was to fulfill my role and responsibility as a husband and father alongside my responsibilities as a leader of the church. The other was to maintain appropriate priorities in my life. I had to learn to nurture my own soul. If you don’t do that you’re going to run dry and fail in your calling.
You’ve been a Bible college professor and a preacher what are the most important things our Bible colleges should be teaching young ministers?
They need help in learning how to develop mature strength within how to nurture their souls. This is what Paul prays for in Ephesians 3:16. The second thing they need is to learn to lead with integrity. You’ve got to be the same guy, no matter what the circumstances are. I suppose this is the idea of helping ministers make the connection between these great theological truths and life experience. When a minister is able to help people make that connection, between God’s truth and life’s realities, it’s a very powerful thing.
You’re a part of the “heart and soul” of Christian Missionary Fellowship. How did you get connected with CMF?
I was invited to serve on the CMF board in 1954 and have had some kind of role with CMF ever since. I knew the founders of CMF; I had personal association with them. After I retired in 1994 I worked with CMF part time in the area of member care for 10 years. Barbara and I traveled all over the world doing spiritual retreats and team building for missionaries.
Do people accuse CMF of being another United Christian Missionary Society?
That was true in the early years, but it has changed. I think the change in attitude occurred over time because of the approach of CMF. We didn’t believe we were the only ones doing good work in missions. We just felt we needed to provide a service to both the missionary and the church. When people saw we were just providing a service, we were no longer perceived as a threat. The general mood of our brotherhood began to move away from that time when we were so preoccupied with territory.
What’s the difference between a ministry taking place in an overseas culture vs. here in the U.S?
In many cultures it’s a pretty basic kind of ministry you take to people. It’s very much the basic elements of the gospel that are involved. In some cultures, the church is grappling with issues similar to our own. This is particularly true in major metropolitan areas where missionaries are serving. One of the challenges is missionaries are there only on a temporary basis. They are working toward that time when they can relinquish leadership, and I think that’s a very good thing.
You recently faced some serious health issues. Did that change your outlook on life?
I think it caused me to stop and take a look at what is really important to me. The things I had always believed and taught became very personal. I began to reflect on the benefits and values of suffering in a personal way, not just in a philosophical way. I found myself affirming more and more the things I had always believed and I would share those with other people; people in the hospital, my doctors even people I didn’t know.
From what I understand you had quite an extraordinary recovery.
I’m taking an oral chemo drug that has been FDA approved for only two years and is quite specific to my type of cancer. It has had a remarkably positive effect. But more importantly, people around the world have been praying for me.
When you have the best that medical science can provide and you have what only God can do that’s a pretty powerful combination. I am truly blessed.
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.