Pastor Michael J. Fisher began his ministry at 18 years old, teaching at the formerly known Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church. His father was the founder, pastor, and builder of the church, who found inspiration from his father, who built and pastored eight churches throughout the country in the early 1930s, in the time of Jim Crow.
Fisher’s authenticity stems from finding who you are in accordance with God, as freedom is found when embracing yourself. He discovered this through his own experience of altering himself in attempts to meet his family’s standards. But, Pastor Michael said, “I found this does nothing for you but bind you.” His life journey is now “to set other people free and to bring them into an awareness of who they are in God.”
He is a man who has also been ushering justice by taking on the responsibility of speaking and advocating for the unheard by bringing up their needs. Pastor Michael said his faith plays into this, as God cares for the underdog and the oppressed. Pastor Michael also has a passion for spiritual, mental, and physical health. This is because when you are solid in each aspect of life, everything lines up and you are able to radiate in all that you do.
LASM: Can you tell us about the history of your church?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: My father organized and built this church. It used to be called Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church. He started it in 1954. It is the first Black church in Compton, CA. I took it over in 2005. I was just 25 years old. Then, I changed the name, with his consent, to the Greater Zion Church Family, because we both felt like the church needed to respond to what the culture needed — and what they needed was less denomination and more of a safe haven where they could feel like they were part of the family.
LASM: I’ve heard a lot about pastor’s kids who struggle with the idea of what faith means to them and stepping into those shoes. Can you share your experience?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: Yeah. Number one, I didn’t want to be a pastor. Any pastor’s kid will be like that because we have seen our fathers and mothers struggle to give up so much of themselves for people that sometimes don’t come back to say thank you. But God led me to pastor the church. I didn’t have any seminary training. My degree came from Cal State Long Beach, which wasn’t a Bible college. So, I went to the Lord and I said, “Okay, God, if this is where you’re taking my life, then this has to be the deal: You have to allow me to be authentically me. I don’t ever want to take on this look or image of what the church says I have to be because I believe I’m going to be reaching authentic people.” He’s allowed me to do that. Then I said, “Lord, the ministry you’ve given me, it’s got to serve people. I don’t want to be locked inside four walls.” Now, 15 years later, I’m really proud to say that we have built a place where the community can find shelter in times of need.
LASM: How has ministry and your faith impacted the way you view the injustices in our nation?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: I think it’s my responsibility to speak for the unheard: to advocate for the people who will never be able to get into those rooms or never be able to be interviewed by a magazine or a news outlet, to speak on their behalf, to bring up their needs, because based off of the Bible, you see God caring about the underdog and the oppressed. The whole mission of Jesus, which is what I love about him, is that he tends to always go towards the people who were forgotten — the lepers, the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well. So, I believe that it is my duty that I use my faith to lean towards the people who are seeking justice.
LASM: Has pastoring a church as a Black man ever come with challenges in itself?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: Oh, God, yes. Being a pastor you struggle with the same questions that your parishioners struggle with. Sometimes we don’t understand where God fits in a plan, when you see a young man gunned down and you have to do the funeral. We have the same struggles [as] everyone else, but the same word we preach oftentimes provides us with the same comfort.
“I’ve been privileged to travel the world because of what I do. When I get up to speak at a different location, the first thing I say is, “Hey, my name is Pastor Michael J. Fisher, and I pastor the Greater Zion Church Family in the beautiful city of Compton, California.” Everyone is always like, “What?” But, I just used that platform to change their narrative of Compton. So, I tell everyone, don’t feel as if being born in Compton is a strike against you. Actually, it is just an added weight that makes you stronger to be able to compete at a higher level than the rest of the world.”Pastor Michael J. Fisher
Being a Black pastor in Compton is also hard, because there’s a lot of resources that I have to go through 5,000 different hoops to get to, where some of my White counter- parts don’t. Because of that, there’s times when I don’t say I’m from Compton, because I know that it’ll close certain doors, and they’ll just find out I’m from Compton later. You would think it would be different in a church setting, but it’s not.
LASM: Being that you’re based in Compton, how does that change the conversations you guys have within the church?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: Well, I tell people we have an opportunity to play into the stereotypes, or to do the opposite and wear the name of Compton proudly and change people’s thoughts about our city.
LASM: You’ve mentioned the Daniel Fast and how it changed your life. Can you talk about that?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: Well, one day I noticed, within the Black church, that obesity is rampant. You got everybody loving God, but they’re destroying the temple, which, according to Corinthians, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, I started my own journey, because I believe in not just being healthy in your spirit and being focused on the afterlife, but I really believe in being healthy while you’re alive in this body.
I struggled with my weight all my life. I tried every quick diet and starvation diet. I would go to the gym hours a week and then fall off after week three. But then around 2014, I did the Daniel Fast: 21 days of just vegetables. Up until then, I always dealt with hypertension and high blood pressure; [after the fast] I literally dropped from 215 pounds in three weeks down to about 188. I combined it with exercise and I had never felt better. After those 21 days, I stuck with it. Plus, I have no heart issues anymore. I have no signs of high blood pressure at all.
LASM: What else is happening in the life of Pastor Michael J. Fisher?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: For me, first and foremost, I am excited. I’m a new dad. I have a son, and I thank God for him daily. The second thing, though, is I’m excited for partnerships. I told my church, 2020 is going to be the year of partnerships and connectivity. I had no idea that COVID would hit and it would drive us back to a place of longing for connection.
I also want to start a garden near the church to teach our young people how to garden. Planting, sowing seed, reaping the harvest, and all of that is intertwined with spiritual principle. Also, this will teach them how to survive if by chance Facebook and phones go out. I’m also excited about our mentor program called “Young Visionaries.” It started three years ago and we mentor our young men of color: Black, Latino, ages 12 to 18. We teach them how to write up proposals and to do interviews successfully. We teach them how to brand themselves properly on social media, how to cook, and how to be healthy.
Lastly, I’m excited about our partnerships with various health organizations. When I became a vegan in 2014, it was hard. If you stepped out in L.A. County looking for vegan food, you starved. But now, the world is looking for a better way of life. So, I’m really excited to see how we can reform and have a rebirth within our community, especially within the city of Compton.
LASM: Is there a book that’s captivated your interest you’d like to share?
Pastor Michael J. Fisher: Yes. So, a book that completely changed my life is written by Beth Moore; it’s called “To Live is Christ.” It really digs into Paul and how Paul went
through all those struggles; but no matter how much he was beaten, cast out of cities and towns, he never lost focus of what he was called to do. It’s giving me my drive. A book I’m currently reading is written by John C. Maxwell; it’s called “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork.” It deals with why we can’t work together. We can’t work together because of pride, selfishness, all that bad stuff.
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