If you ask the Reverend Doctor Tony Davidson a question, the pastor of Chicagoland Christian Center will always give you a straight answer.
He might, however, take a little time to get there. He will often begin his answer, and then something he says will make him think of something else, making him take a little conversational detour. He always gets to his destination, but he tends to take the “scenic route.” His mind always seems to be multi-tasking.
Perhaps that is because he is almost always doing more than one thing at a time. In addition to being the pastor of his congregation, Davidson is now or has been a marriage counselor, radio personality, a performer of weddings and a broker of car sales and purchases.
“When I was a student at Northern Baptist Seminary,” Davidson said, “a visiting professor told us that if we were in a church of less than a hundred people, we needed to be bi-vocational, meaning we needed to have some other job than being a pastor, because the church cannot afford to support us and our families. I’ve been pastoring for 25 years, and I’ve never forgotten that.”
The advice from the visiting professor resonated with Davidson, who grew up on a farm in Ohio and knew all about hard work. He was raised in a family which did not expect entitlements, and before becoming a pastor he ran a janitorial service which employed up to thirty people. “I have had people who are Christians come to work for me, and they would want to talk about God instead of work. And I would say to them, we’ll talk about God during break or lunch, but I’m paying you to work.”
In addition to being pastor for his congregation in Forest Park, Davidson performs weddings and has several people who refer couples to him. For example, a retired judge started the Old Town Wedding Chapel in Bloomingdale, and when a couple wants a minister of the gospel to preside at their exchange of vows, Davidson is called in. “Two weekends ago I did three weddings there,” he said. “A few years ago the judge went back on the bench for awhile, and I did 85 weddings that year. I’ve been part of a lot of peoples’ lives.”
“Now another thing I’ve done,” he continued, “because my Master’s degree is in pastoral care and counseling, I do a lot of counseling.”
Rev. Davidson contends that many people enter marriage without any preparation for what it takes to maintain a healthy relationship. He said, “See, if you go to get a job you have to get training to do the job effectively, but in marriage two people come together and they say, ‘hey, we’re in love,’ but they’re really in lust.”
He sees his job as a marriage counselor is to help a couple see “a message out of their mess,” to solve their problems before they get to the point of divorce. “Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t,” he said, “because they can be just as bullheaded as we pastors sometimes are. I look at it this way. I’ve done marriage counseling for fifteen to twenty years. I was divorced after 22 years of marriage and remarried now for 17 years. I don’t have to have gone through everything myself to help you, but I’ve been through enough that if you listen to me even a little bit there is some knowledge that you gain from your mistakes and even from watching other people.”
Tony Davidson had a call in counseling program on WYCA off and on from 1989 till 2003. “In 2000 we were doing four hours a day on the radio, because the world out there is hurting, and they need somebody who will tell them the truth. And one thing about me that everybody knows is that if you ask me a question I’m going to give a straight answer.”
“And something totally different than all of that,” he said with a grin. “I fool with cars.” Davidson helps people buy and sell cars, because he finds it a great way to both make money and provide a service to people.
“I can sometimes make more money on one deal than on all the other stuff I do,” he said, “so that helps pay for a lot.”
His experience is that many people do not have the time or the knowledge to get a good deal on a car. He even sometimes provides a kind of “car buying counseling” to his clients. “Too many people buy cars on emotions,” he said, “and too many car salesmen don’t care a rip about you. All they want to do is get their commission.” So Pastor Davidson helps his clients understand how much they can afford and makes sure the cars they are buying are in good repair before he closes a deal. “I don’t want to have a shady reputation,” he said. “What I know how to do is cut through the red tape and get to a fair price. I like to help people.”
And, oh yes, sometimes Pastor Tony Davidson receives some compensation from his congregation. . . if it is available. “I am the president of the not-for-profit corporation, the Chicagoland Christian Center, and my name is on the mortgage. From the offerings we receive first the mortgage gets paid, the musician gets paid and the gas, light and water bills get paid. If there’s anything left, I get some.”
That means that Davidson has the final word on all financial decisions and the ministry ultimately belongs to him in a legal sense. But it also means that he in the end bears all the risk. That doesn’t seem to bother this minister who wears “many hats.” “The Lord is the supplier,” he said. “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. Right now I’m driving an $85,000 car that I didn’t pay for. Somebody donated it. I can testify how good God is.”
Many jobs, one vocation
Tony Davidson does not see his life as fragmented or without a unifying center. “I go as a minister wherever I go,” he declared. “When your heart is right, when all you want to do is serve God, He’ll allow you to do that anywhere you go.”
For a biblical precedent he points to the Apostle Paul who was a tentmaker by trade and paid for his expenses by plying his craft.
“Paul didn’t go into a town looking for the Christian folks to take care of him,” Davidson said. “He had a side thing which was making tents, so he could be in the marketplace working, making money, but he could also be witnessing. That’s all I’m doing. I’m a tentmaker.”