Tabernacle Community Baptist Church names first woman senior pastor Rev. Dr. Donna Childs

October 8, 2020

By Kathy Gaillard
Special for the Milwaukee Times

Rev. Dr. Donna Childs (center) with other pastors welcoming her during her installation ceremony as Tabernacle’s pastor on September 27, 2020.

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That counsel was more than a notion for Mother Gleneva and Deacon Martin Childs, Sr. Thanks to their obedience, Rev. Dr. Donna Childs and her siblings are poster children for the merits of not just being hearers of the Word, but doers (James 1:22). Dr. Childs’ parents not only raised ten children in a Christ-centered home, but they modeled Christianity in their daily lives. The results are evidenced in the fact that three of their children are now senior pastors of churches, and the other siblings continue to live rich, productive, and fulfilling Christian lives as they serve in various areas of ministry.

“We all grew up in Tabernacle Community Baptist Church; it was a part of the fiber of our lives. In fact, my mother met my father there—he was her Sunday school teacher. I accepted Christ there, have siblings who all presently serve in various areas of ministries here, and my two older brothers who serve as under shepherds of their own churches, continue to regard Tabernacle as their ‘home’ church,” said Dr. Childs.

Perhaps it’s not so unexpected that Dr. Childs would become the first female senior pastor of the almost 100-year old church. The youngest sibling, she admits that early on there was something different about her. Where other children would squirm and become antsy in church, she was attentive and mesmerized by sermons.

“As a child, I couldn’t get enough of preaching and, as I grew older, I could sit for hours absorbing the Word imparted by my first pastor, Rev. Jewel Williams, and others,” she said.

Dr. Childs has never strayed from her spirituality, even as she pursued higher education, a promising corporate career, and as a teacher and principal in the academic arena. After graduating from Marquette University, she worked for a time at US Bank and GE Medical Systems. When she returned to Rufus King High School (her alma mater) to coach the girls’ basketball team, her former teacher and coach became a catalyst and inspiration to pursue a career in education. Dr. Childs worked at Messmer High School for more than a decade— first as a teacher, then Theology Teacher, Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, and Girls’ Varsity Basketball Coach. She left Messmer after accepting a position as Director/Principal at New Testament Christian Academy, where she had the privilege of being mentored and serving alongside the late Joe Kennedy before he transitioned to retirement. She was Director/Principal there for 13 years.

“When I accepted my first teaching position at Messmer, I fell in love with working with youth. When considering my future in the field of education, I contemplated a career as a private consultant or professor, but the Lord had other plans for me. My former pastor, Dr. Don Darius Butler, served as a mentor and when he relocated, I was asked to step in and serve as interim pastor. The Lord began to speak to me about pastoring at Tabernacle. That was not in my plans, but all the while, God had been preparing me for this,” she said.

Besides Pastor Butler’s mentoring, Dr. Childs is quick to credit several others who have poured into her life over the years. She acknowledges two individuals in particular— the late Pastor Pearlie Qualls and Dr. Frederick G. Sampson (Pastor of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, MI)—for being key spiritual mentors and inspirations to her. In addition, Dr. Childs’ siblings, two older brothers (one is Senior Pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Milwaukee and the other is Senior Pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.), Dr. Gloria Pitchford- Nicholas (trustee ministry), Pastor Julius Malone (Senior Pastor of New Testament Church) and Bishop Cheryl Brown (Senior Pastor of Believers In Christ) have been and continue to be mentors and integral members of her ‘village’.

“There have been a plethora of relatives and people— in and outside of my ‘church family’—who have helped guide my path. In addition to my parents, the many church mothers and fathers, pastors, godmothers and my first pastors, the Rev. Jewel Williams and Rev. Robert L. Harris, have demonstrated love, guidance and helped groom me. So many individuals that I can’t name them all,” she said.

As is her nature, having a heart for Christ is important, but she recognized the importance of prayer and preparation for her journey and calling. She earned a Doctorate of Ministry Degree from Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. She also has earned multiple advanced and graduate degrees in educational leadership and business administration.

Holistic health is also important to Dr. Childs—mind, body, and spirit—which led her to found Christian Fellowship Sportz. Blessed with athletic abilities, she was involved in sports throughout middle and high school. She also played basketball with her brothers and admits that she tried to emulate Dr. J (Julius Erving), laughing when she shared that she “was pretty good.” Apparently, she was better than ‘pretty good’ because she was among the first candidates to be inducted into the Rufus King High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame, where she played varsity volleyball, basketball, and softball.

She credits sports for teaching discipline, teamwork, and camaraderie. She also sees it as a way to relate to people to illustrate unique and understandable spiritual analogies.

“I founded Christian Sportz to connect with other Christians and provide opportunities to evangelize. We started out with three churches playing softball in the summer and that quickly grew to 20 churches at one point. Sports can serve as a great connector and equalizer. Using sports terminology and illustrations in sermons provides a relatable connection with people. Sports continues to be a big part of my life,” she said.

As with other businesses and organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Tabernacle. Ever the optimist, Dr. Childs sees the benefits as well as hinderances.

“It’s difficult not having that personal contact. I love visiting our members in nursing homes and hospitals— that has been the hardest part for me. I miss not being able to worship and fellowship together, even though we continue to hold services online. The pandemic has forced us to become creative as well. We’ve expanded our media ministry—live streaming and telephone ministry. Also, early on during the coronavirus, I was able to reach out to every member to see how they were doing. That was such a blessing,” she said.

Dr. Childs’ favorite scripture is Jeremiah 33:3, which reads, “Call out to me and I will answer you, and will show you great and mighty things, secrets you do not know.”

“I have always believed that God has so much for us; things we cannot imagine or comprehend. I try to seek and call out to Him to order my steps and I believe that if I keep seeking God, He will continue to show me great things. He’s the author of everything in my life,” she said.

As for Tabernacle’s future, Dr. Childs is excited about the things the Lord has shown her about the church’s future.

“My prayer and desire are to empower individuals and transform them through the Word of God. Our church is Tabernacle Community Baptist Church. Community is significant. We endeavor to reach out to the community to assist and help. We want to empower families. We don’t want to do it for them but empower them to do it themselves—home by home. We also want to continue empowering our members so that they grow spiritually. We have land that we’ve purchased over the years and other land that may become available. We are praying for God’s leading for how and what to build to benefit our community, in God’s timeline. We are excited about what God has in store for Tabernacle.

“At times God just pours into me when I’m in His presence. That gets me excited. I can see God moving. I am blessed and humbled to be called the seventh Pastor of a church that will soon be 100 years old, and its first female Pastor. That’s God moving. Psalm 118:23 (NIV) reads “the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This is all God’s doing; not mine. The Lord is moving and it’s marvelous to watch,” she said.