Bishop Linwood Dillard Jr., at 43, is poised to celebrate 21 years in ministry on Feb. 27.
Dillard and the Citadel of Deliverance Church of God in Christ at 4350 Hacks Cross Rd., southwest of Bill Morris Parkway, affectionately called “Citadel,” are gearing up to welcome thousands of friends and well-wishers to the church family’s sprawling new campus for the celebration.
“God has been faithful,” said Dillard. “We acquired our new property in southeast Memphis, December of 2020. What God has shown us through this COVID-19 pandemic is that circumstances and conditions change, but He never does. God continues to bless and provide through whatever upheavals we may be witnessing.”
Not only did Citadel acquire a larger edifice for its rapidly growing membership, but its leader was promoted to jurisdictional bishop over more than 40 churches in November, 2018.
Greater responsibility and a massive financial obligation weigh heavy on Dillard as the early-2020 global shutdown takes immediate toll on religious institutions and other integral threads in 21st-century life.
“Any time a crisis hits, take out your notebook,” Dillard said. “School is in session. And over these past two years, God has taught us some invaluable lessons. We have learned what is really important.
“Families were forced to grow close. Our relationships and the people around us are important, not the things we have placed our affections on. We have learned how to adapt and adjust, how to repurpose and retool. Whatever our situation, it is still the Lord who makes us to prosper.”
The challenges of the past two years have both sparked thoughtful reflection on how far “the Lord has brought us,” said Dillard.
It also generates hope for greater vision as “we step into a brand-new year,” Dillard added.
“I can remember being just six or seven, and people in the church saying, ‘That boy is going to be a preacher,’” said Dillard. “Then, when I was about eight, an evangelist came to the church. While he was preaching, he just stopped in the middle of the sermon, and came over and laid hands on me.
“He said, ‘Oh my God, he is going to be a mighty man of God one day.’ I had a God-moment that day.”
Dillard represents the fifth generation of pastors in his family. His grandfather is Pastor Emeritus Elijah Dillard of Paradise Church of God in Christ. It always was known that Dillard would preach the gospel.
“I graduated from Whitehaven High School and went up to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga,” said Dillard. “I graduated with my Bachelor of Engineering and went on the Christian Brothers University to pursue my master’s in engineering. Right now, I am just a few hours from completing my masters. But God had another plan.”
Dillard ended up at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, pursuing ministerial education.
“We make plans and the Lord laughs at them,” Dillard said.
Dillard continued, “God was telling me to trust Him. I was trusting God, but I was going to help Him out. That struggle went on until I did finally surrender. My wife, Stephanie, and I had the first Bible study in April of 2001 at our home. There were five of us.”
Despite the mockers and the skeptics, the congregation grew, Dillard said. When 22 were worshipping with Greater Dimensions Ministry, the church had its first official service at the Pickering Memorial Community Center in Germantown.
They moved after a few months to the Holiday Inn- East Memphis. By October 2002, the congregation bought four acres and erected a new 350-seat church. The 2020 move marks another phase of expansion.
Citadel’s multi-million-dollar complex serves as the headquarters of the Tennessee Metropolitan Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ, where Dillard is prelate.
“I want to host (more) meetings for pastors and leaders,” said Dillard. “I’ve always supported and loved pastors. They need that support more than ever now.
“There is so much we can do to mentor and help them as they shepherd God’s people. We have the potential for greater vision and greater works.”