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Lisa Thorpe-Vaughn

Lisa Thorpe-Vaughn is from a family with a fine spiritual pedigree and she is continuing the family tradition of excellence in ministry. Lisa’s mother is also part of this year’s Urban Heroes class, and they both provide a fascinating look into the world of family ministry. Lisa has carved out her own niche in ministry and tells us about her journey and her work in this high-­‐energy interview.

JS: Tell us a little about yourself.

LTV: Well, I’m multi-faceted. I love people, I love serving, and I love speaking and sharing information with people that helps them to grow. I believe I am called to those who serve others, so it’s a huge leadership piece of who I am. I love seeing leaders grow as leaders or grow into leaders. That has been a passion of mine for years.

KB: I first met you at Leadership Pittsburgh with John Stahl-Wert. How are you doing?

LTV: I’m doing amazing. That was a great start for me there, initially as their director of training for what is now called “Leadership Foundations of America.” I had the opportunity to put together annual national leadership trainings for them across the country. It was amazing seeing those things happen in different cities. Moving from there and when President Clinton was leaving office, being able to take 300 people into the first community‐based initiative office of the White House. That was exciting and a great opportunity. That was the year we held our leadership training conference in D.C. It was exciting stuff on multiple levels.

The Leadership Foundation afforded me the ability to expand in leadership roles nationally. And then, I also took on the role of creating Amachi Pittsburgh, where we ministered to the children of prisoners and worked directly with Dr. Wilson Goode, in setting that up. I have worked with him ever since. I moved from the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation into a national role with Dr. Goode recruiting and setting up all over the country recruiting the children, in most cases, directly through their parents who were incarcerated.

KB: Let’s start from the beginning again, with you. Tell us about yourself, your family, where you went to school.

LTV: I am a “PK,” since both of my parents have been in ministry all of my life. My father, who passed four years ago, was a bishop in the Church of God in Christ. I have served in ministry all of my life due to that, but it wasn’t something forced on me. It was something my parents exemplified right in front of me, as they were serving people that came out of their love and passion for serving others. My mother has always been one who is extremely balanced. She was the oldest out of 16 kids. and she moved us out of Philadelphia, due to a lot of turmoil taking place in order for her to save my brothers from the drama that her younger brothers were going through. She just upped and decided to take us out of Philadelphia and take us to Pittsburgh. And my father started pastoring at that time here.

Two of her younger brothers had been murdered in the streets due to crime and all that was going on back then at the time. Thank goodness that she took the time with us. We commuted for a long time, back and forth, on the weekends, six kids and my parents. Then we all ended up together full‐time on the North Side of Pittsburgh. We were there in the parsonage for three or four years, before my mother once again decided she wanted to pursue another area of life for all of us. She kind of got in my dad’s ear a little bit and said she felt she needed to escalate the academic and educational piece for her kids. The best way she knew to do that was home ownership, so we moved out to Indiana Township and all six of us graduated from Fox Chapel High School.

I continued my education and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh for my undergrad. Then I received, for my community work, a scholarship from Carnegie Mellon University in order to pursue and complete my master’s program in English in the cultural rhetoric. But it was solely based on the work I was doing in the community at that time, with the mentoring partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which is a national organization. I started doing those workshops monthly for community groups. It just so happens that one of the individuals who attended one of the monthly workshops was Dr. Linda Flowers from CMU and we began to talk and communicate based about that. And it just went on from there.

KB: Are you married?

LTV: I have been married for 23 years as of April 20th. My daughter just graduated from Syracuse University last month, and my son just graduated from Fox Chapel High School. He is headed now to the University of Arizona on an academic scholarship and to play football where he will be majoring in engineering. We have been blessed beyond measure. My husband is an elder with the Church of God in Christ, and he’s my best friend and my partner. I love him and he has been my greatest support outside of my parents. He is pushing my children and me, through really being a man of God on every level. So I married my friend. And I still like him. How about that?

JS: Tell us about the Leadership Training Institute.

LTV: It’s a non‐profit organization I started in 2007. It stemmed from the fact I was doing a lot of non‐profit trainings around the city. Once I had decided to take the national position for recruiting for the national Amachi office, I created something that would allow me to not be limited to one organization. I knew that my calling was worldwide and not just to one church or organization, and it was to those who wanted to serve, primarily in a leadership capacity. And I started seeing the training piece as a launching pad for me to get into faith‐based, community‐ based, school‐based, and some work places.

And the creating of that organization also allowed me to gain access into the White House. Once I formalized it, I guess that was 2001 when I was honored at the White House, but my organization didn’t formalize until 2007. after I had done a large mentoring workshop in Pittsburgh at our local church for everyone. People brought busloads in from Ohio and West Virginia and people drove from everywhere to be a part of this for 14 weeks. It was called Mentorship. One of our featured persons, Dr. Juanita Bynum, flew in every single Sunday night for 14 weeks to assist me with this mentoring piece for those who are in ministry. It just went on and on and on as I took and collated all the training I had been doing for years and brought it all together. We may have had more than 200 people who registered for that class.

We’d pack up and sit in line every Monday night, waiting to get into the building. And I thought, “Wow God, I feel good doing this. I feel like this is what you want me to do.” However, once it was over, as with any calling or passion area, that’s a lot of work. Immediately after that, I started a citywide 5am prayer I did for almost 12 years. So a lot of things went on top of each other to create a vehicle for me to do everything God has called me to do. I won’t say I have multiple hats, but I pretty much synchronize my life where it’s going. I look at it as one direction on the highway as you have other roads that will merge into the main road.

I know for a fact that I am a trainer and encourager of those who are in leadership. I know what I have been called to, and it was birthed from when I was a little girl. This was not something that just happened. I have always been connected to leaders. And it’s given me a passion to want to grow leaders. And all of my life, everything has built up to that point. And that’s what the nonprofit Leadership Training Institute meant to me. It was a way for me to bring everything under one umbrella and say, I do this, but I do that also. And I do 501(c)3’s for those individuals and organizations that would like to legitimize their services and what they do and how they do it on a structured basis to receive funds. All of that along with the training has been my life.

One of the trainings I did that was featured at The White House was “Precision With Passion.” A lot of people say passionate people aren’t precise and are all over the place and you can’t measure passion. I totally disagree with that. I believe there is a way for us to be passionate and structured with some precision. It can happen. Leadership and a structure to do that is what I like to assist others in doing so they can fulfill the call on their lives.

JS: Looking back, what’s the most significant accomplishment that you have achieved in your very full life up to this point in time?

LTV: There are three things and not just one. It’s kind of a triangle. First is fulfilling the ministry God has called me to, in every aspect as I served with my parents and with people all of my life. We’ve had two churches burn down. I function very deeply in my local church. I believe that Christ created it as a tool to build the Kingdom. Being able to still do it passionately, love God and people after all I have been through is significant because a lot of preacher’s kids and children end up bitter. And when they have an option to escape, they do. But God restored, renewed, and healed me from the inside out. And he renewed and restored my passion for ministry every single time we went through something that could have caused me to not love God and not love people. So number one is my staying consistent and committed to the call of ministry.

Second, I would have to say is my marriage. Being stable and staying in marriage is not easy. But God has graced me with a man of God who has been there and supported me in every single transition in my life, whether it as academic, our children, or whatever it was. I am proud to say I have been married as long as I have. Many said it couldn’t be done. That is something I honor and respect and I am proud of.

Third, are my children. My son was a church drummer while the lead basketball player and an athletics scholar athlete all through high school. He has always been that. And my daughter is just graduating. I was listening to WORD FM one day, and one of the things someone said is you never know whether or not your children have accepted Christ into their life until they go away from home. When my daughter left for Syracuse, I didn’t know if everything I taught her had actually stuck. But, thank God one of the first things she did when she got there was find a local church to attend. When she first went to that church, a few kids from that campus were attending. But by the time she left, they were doing van runs. They had purchased two vans and were picking up kids. She was passing the word. I was like, thank you< Lord, I just didn’t know. Now with my son going off to college, I’m believing God for the same thing. He’s been active in ministry as well, and they were never forced to be active in ministry. One of the things I taught them was how to pray and how to have a relationship with God. I believe there is a difference between church work and the work of the church. And, the work of the church is all about soul winning. We can all get caught up in church work, but when you understand that the work of this church is a Kingdom principle in building the kingdom of God. it’s about souls and witnessing and about being who God has called you to be in a relationship to Him, that makes me happy.

KB: As you are looking toward the future, looking back whose footsteps did you follow in?

LTV: My mother. Years ago I probably would have said my mother and my father, but the older I get I am so my mother. I look at how I am raising my children, I look at myself even in my marriage, and I am so my mother. She pushed balance in life and that it’s possible. A lot of people think you have to be all of this and none of this and all of that and none of this over here, but my mother has constantly taught balance. That balance has gotten me through all of these years of my life, marriage, and parenting. It’s my mom. She’s amazing. And she’s still doing what she did and doing it at a pace I can’t keep up with. I just have to work at it. She’s still making it happen. When I look back on her ministry and the church burning down and my dad being sick for six years my mom took care of him and his desire was to always be at home. She never put him in a home and maintained ministry and caring for him for six years straight. He never missed a meal. When it was time for him to get dressed and go out, she made sure and presented him with the same dignity he had prior to his sickness. That’s some kind of woman of God that she had some huge shoes to walk in. I stay close. I don’t follow from afar. I follow close to her.

JS: Mrs. Byrd mentioned the future. You’re facing an empty nest, which is a big transition for you. What are the plans for the future for ministry or personally?

LTV: Well I am in the process of writing a book. I have done ghost writing for years for a lot of famous people who have done very well. But after the last year, July 18th will be one year complete, and my goal is to finish this particular book which I am writing now, which will be my first “official book.”I have done technical writing, but I’ve never done any writing outside of that, because that’s my background. So, writing is one. I’m really excited about that and doing something for myself finally. And this book, for me, is doing something for myself, and presenting a portion of my life relationship-wise with myself and my daughter. But it’s based on relationships in general between parents and children and how to grow that. And my goal now is to go back and get my doctorate degree.

JS: What would you get your degree in?

LTV: I am interested in creating a combination degree, with theology and political science. It’s kind of like theology and politics, which is sort of controversial, but I think I have been graced for it. I am excited about putting it all together. I know there is a place for the kingdom of God in politics and our government. And I know it all wasn’t developed off of faith, but it should continue that way. That we as believers should be somewhere in there making decisions, key decisions that affect our world. those of us who love God and are listening to God and are obedient to what God is saying about this world should be at the table. And my goal is to be one of the advocates for that.

KB: And I think that’s so needed. We are looking towards out communities and looking toward government to make changes, and we know that’s just not going to work. I’m thinking of what you are doing is really needed for transformation of our world for the glory of God.

LTV: Absolutely. And that’s just how I am looking at it. And I know it’s like looking at the how‐to-­eat-an elephant analogy but I really am determined to do it one bite at a time. I am believing that God will position me at the right time in the right place so that lives will be saved. I’ve spent a lot of time in Africa and other parts of the world. I’ve gone all over spreading the gospel. My husband and I also have an international music group called Windburn. We take about 10‐15 individuals out of the country in the month of November to January to do gospel concerts in Italy. We have done them in Stockholm. We’ve done it all over Italy and are working now to do it in China and areas like that.

He has done most of the work for that over the last six years. It’s been an exciting ride getting the gospel out there however we can, in this case through music. A lot of times in Italy, they couldn’t even understand what we were saying, but they felt it. They would ask, “At the end of each song, why do you say ‘Hallelujah’.” Or, “How do you rock and clap at the same time while singing this music that we feel spirited about?” They don’t even know how to explain it. But it’s a tool and I am determined to use every single piece God has given me and equipped me with, to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, that the kingdom of God might grow through some form of activity God has called me to.

JS: Where have you been in Africa?

LIT: I’ve been in Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria. I believe over the last year between 2013 and 2014 I had gone into Africa five times in one year. One of my clients was serving as an ambassador, so I was going in and out a lot with her, as well as she was speaking over different parts of Africa. We were working on setting up a hospital for her. We had a lot of business meetings that we attended as well as church services and conventions and conferences over there. So I have spent a lot of time in Africa traveling from one country to the next in 2013 and 2014. I have a few more countries to go over there, but I am good with what transpired. I was ready to come home. Most of them were short trips. The turnaround was quick, but they were 18 hour flights straight. And that was a lot. I wrote and got a lot of work done in preparation to do more work when I got there. So it was all Kingdom-based, Kingdom-purpose travel. It was good. JS: What do you to do stay fresh and recharge the batteries?

LTV: I love to walk outside. I can’t do a lot of the treadmill thing, but I love to just walk in the morning and breathe in fresh air. Something about that just renews me, strengthens me. I believe God speaks through so many different things that He has already created and I just allow it to refresh me. If He wants to talk, I listen. And if He doesn’t want to talk and I just need to spend that quiet time with him walking and not asking him for anything, just enjoying his creation, that replenishes, restores and recharges me. After about 45 minutes of that, it’s like, “Okay! Back to the wheel! Let’s go! Let’s make it happen.” It’s not always lights, camera, action, and a big idea when I am done, but I feel good.

I haven’t always been this way and haven’t always felt the way I feel right now. I’m in a new season in my life where I am excited about what is to come. I’m excited about my next, excited about my now, and I am open to the Spirit of God. I’m not going to ever box myself in again by titles or a position. I’m allowing God to have full reign in my life. I like not knowing what’s going to be next. There’s some level of refreshment and excitement that comes with that. It’s like, “Hey, what’s going on today, God? What are you saying? What are you doing? And what do you have for me to say and to do?” That’s relaxing. Before, I held a lot of positions and did a lot of things. This season of life is different for me. This season really is Kingdom-minded and Kingdom‐focused, and it’s refreshing. I’m so out of the box.

KB: You’ve energized me! Speaking of energy, what is your favorite Bible verse?

LTV: Someone just asked me this the other day. I would say Luke 4:18. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me…” He has anointed me for Kingdom work and all those things that follow in that Scriptures. The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me. And I can’t do what I do without that anointing.

JS: Tell us about the church, when it meets, and where it is exactly and what services you have.

LTV: We are located at 302 W. North Avenue, in the central area of the North Side. It’s the former Greek Orthodox Church that they built across the street from Passavant Hospital. God has blessed us to be in that building. We are there Sunday mornings, Sunday school at 9:30, an 11 am worship service, Tuesday prayer at 6:30 pm and Bible studies from 7 pm until 8. We have one hour of prayer on the second Monday of the month. We are a church that has been built on prayer. We believe in that before we do anything else. We do have a lot of programs, but programs are not our drive. Prayer is the theme that builds our ministry. We have a lot of special events going on. We have a banquet hall that is frequently rented out to community‐based organizations and churches. It holds about 450 to 550 people banquet style and probably 750 theater style.

We have events going on non-stop in that. God has graced us by giving us a sanctuary that is not only beautiful, blessed us with a facility that not only our ministry has access to, but the community at large has access to. And it’s more than we’ve ever had. It’s amazing, He blessed us during the recession to gain the greatest property that we have ever had.

JS: And you alluded to it earlier, but what is your role in the church? What is it that you do?

LTV: I am one of the associate ministers there and I am the servant leader for our Christian education department. I have done that for the past 12 years and leadership training is a big piece of what I do. My father’s leadership and my mother’s leadership styles are totally different, and always have been. I think that’s why they worked so well together in ministry. But I have a large task, along with my CED team, in transitioning the entire ministry through, not just the leadership from my father to my mother, and how those styles really look, really training every single month, spending four or five hours really looking at the dynamic at how the ministry is changing.

Even the location has changed. We serve a different population of people, just because we are located in central North Side versus lower North Side, and keeping us abreast of who we’re serving and how we’re serving and how to be appropriate in what we are offering as service to our community and to each other. When I served at the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, I was a part of the transitioning from Reid Carpenter to Dr. John Stahl-Wert. It’s ironic God had me on both levels at the same exact time, being smack in the middle of leadership transitions. And now I am actually doing workshops for organizations of faith on how you do a successful succession plan. What does that look like? How do you transition smoothly and shift gears? I call it the evacuation plan. Planning to move out and to provide leadership for someone else and making sure they are ready, prepared and equipped for everything they need to be successful. That’s my job at the church now, as well as being an associate minister, in support of my mom. I call her pomster; she’s my mom and my pastor.

JS: Any final words or words from advice for anyone who hears what you are doing and say that could never do that or accomplish that? What advice do you have as we close?

LTV: Stay connected. No man is an island. One of the first things the enemy tries to do is disconnect us from people who mean us well, who love us and support us. If he can get us disconnected, whether it’s in job or marriage, or with our children ‐ it doesn’t matter. His goal is to divide. Stay connected to your local church, and not from afar. God is coming back for the church. People tend to look down on “church people”, but I am a church person. I believe that Jesus called the church, and not man. It was in the mid of God, what we were supposed to do, as a local church. Stay connected and active. Keep loving on people and loving God. Love covers and love is persistent and love conquers.

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