In walks Pastor Tommy Deuschle and out scurries every popular cliché of what a pastor should look or act like. Deuschle’s MTV ready fashion sense and bloke from down the road demeanor belie his role as a pastor and creative director at Celebration Ministries International, a local church with tentacles reaching across and beyond Zimbabwe.
Unfettered by the grey conservatism long associated with “church”, the young pastor is painting a brighter future in bold pastels of business and media innovation. Might this be the pastor for a restless young generation seeking leaders whom they can share a milkshake and a few words with? The Standard Style’s Nyasha Dhliwayo (ND) caught up with Deuschle (TD) who spoke about his “African-American” childhood, being a pastor, bouncing back from business failure, as well as a couple of hard questions about God and faith.
ND: In Zimbabwe, people mind their language and generally try to be on their best behaviour; well, at least until the pastor has left. How do you usually respond to the censored speech and “playing it safe” that greets you once people find out that you are a pastor?
TD: Yeah, I think the term mufundisi [pastor] is sometimes used flippantly around here. For me, the function of being a pastor is more important than the title. I mean Jesus wasn’t title-driven, he wasn’t “Pastor Jesus” or “Apostle Jesus”, and he simply was Jesus. When I’m around people who are not Christians, I let them know that I am not there to judge them and when I am among Christians, I believe we must all reverence each other and show respect for what God is doing in us. If, however, someone calls me “pastor” in a sarcastic way, then I ask them just to call me Tommy.
ND: What are some of the experiences and influences that made you decide to become a pastor?
TD: The role came way before I was ordained as a pastor. Way back when I was nine, Lester Sumrall [an American pastor who is now late] prayed for my family at our annual church conference which is called Action. When he prayed for me, he said that I would become a pastor. After that, I pretty much carried on being a normal nine-year-old and during my teen years, I definitely acted as any other teenager. It was at age 18 or 19 that I felt a shift and the beginning of a deep desire that nothing on earth could satisfy like loving and ministering to people.
ND: During these childhood years, did you ever yearn to be just like the “other kids” and experience the trademark “buck wild” teen moments?
TD: I went “buck wild” in my own ways! Not drugs or anything like that, but riding motorbikes, fishing, mountain biking and things like that. I had lots of fun growing up, but I didn’t feel the need to lose my moral compass, because I believe once you know the truth, why should you compromise it?
ND: You grew up straddling two distinct cultures — American and Zimbabwean/African. In terms of personal identity, how do you view yourself?
TD: I tell people that I’m “African-American”! My father always says that when you become a Christian, “…you are no longer confined to a physical country, but you are now in the Kingdom of God”. As cheesy as it might sound, it’s true because I have met people from all around the world and yet I still feel at home around them.
ND: What are some of the unique values from each respective culture that you have adopted?
TD: I love the culture of innovation in the United States. The country was founded on principles based on Holy scriptures and some of the things they have achieved are because of this. At the same time, I love the friendliness and humility of people in Africa. There are always a lot of people willing to help and get behind something.
ND: In your opinion, are pastors born, or with the wealth of information and resources now available, any “average Joe Bloggs” can be developed into a pastor?
TD: It comes down to calling and even then, the Bible says those who are called to be pastors must “count the cost”. People look at being a pastor simply as an occupation, but even if it is considered as an occupation, it’s an occupation that works hand-in-hand with a calling from God. If you are not called, it can easily turn out to become the worst occupation in the world for you!
ND: Your father, Pastor Tom Deuschle, has made and continues to make some pretty monumental achievements at different levels. How do you deal with the pressure of living up to such a legacy and having to step into elephant-sized boots?
TD: I have been to meetings where people were expecting my father. I mean, they set out snacks and go all out, only to become very disappointed when I walk in. My dad and I, however, have a very good relationship. He has managed to model multi-generational success, which means that if he succeeds, I succeed and inversely, if I succeed he succeeds as well. I don’t want to be the “big dog” and I don’t see it as a competition between us. We complement each other and we are happy to be a team. This is the type of game we play.
ND: How are you making your own way in the world so that you are seen as being more than just “Pastor Tom’s son”?
TD: Our gifts are different. Dad’s big on vision and training leaders. He thinks globally whereas at this point, I am focused on speaking at university outreaches and I’m also into the media industry. So you can see our points of focus are different. Oh and by the way, my wife’s name is not Bonnie but Rachel.
ND: Talking of unique approaches, your style as a speaker is very chatty and informal. How did this come about?
TD: Jesus told stories to catch people’s attention. I also love telling stories to reach out to people. Scripture is alive to me when I read it and it’s not just words on a page, so I also want to bring it alive to other people.
ND: What are some of the things you have learnt in American business schools?
TD: Seth Godin [American author and entrepreneur] says that business school should teach you two things, which are how to lead and how to solve problems. Harry Beckwith [American business author] says that “Culture is more important than strategy”. In Zimbabwe we come up with great strategies but we are unable to transform them into action. For example, ZimAsset is a great strategy, but what is lacking is a trust and love culture and the ability to adapt to a fast-moving world. A textbook can’t teach you how to deal with people or how to love someone.
ND: What valuable life and business lessons did you learn from your business endeavours?
TD: The first company I created was pinned on my identity and when it didn’t succeed it was really tough for me. I, however, learnt that it’s okay to fail. I learnt how to deal with people you owe money. There really isn’t a right way of doing this, but it’s important that you communicate with your creditors. It taught me how to face my fears when it came to the very real possibility of being sued. I also learnt that it’s very important to do business with people who share the same values, ideals and vision. In business and in life, if you find yourself in bed with someone who just wants money then you are in the wrong bed.
ND: Should Africa bother with spirituality when the world’s richest continents are abandoning it?
TD: Well, what is progress? Yes in the United States there is rapid progress in the economy, freedom and technology, yet at the same time the use of anti-depressant drugs is at an all time high because people are clinically depressed. They are experiencing a rise in the abuse of drugs, breaking apart of families and generally the social fabric is unraveling. It also is true that in Africa we are more prone to disasters and suffering now more than ever. However, I believe that at a human level, we are on the right track because we have a greater affinity to love.
ND: Where then are we getting it wrong?
TD: The Bible says faith without works is dead. Our faith must be complemented by works. The simplest way to get God’s attention is to honour Him and love His people. When we love each other truly, things like corruption will go down.
ND: What role, if any, do you believe the church can play in the African renaissance?
The early church created pockets of excellence and people were drawn to them. Our churches today have the opportunities to create communities where there are pockets of life where each member addresses their own spheres of influence. In the Bible, Daniel stepped up and proved the power of God in his community.