Before actor and comedian Kel Mitchell decided to surrender to the “call” he felt “all through my life” to become a pastor, he worried that perhaps he would have had to sacrifice his secular calling.
Even though he didn’t have a blueprint for how he would simultaneously navigate being a pastor and working in the entertainment industry successfully, the '90s pop culture icon — known for “All That,” Nickelodeon’s longest-running live-action series that ran from 1994 to 2005 and was recently rebooted, as well as popular spinoff “Kenan & Kel” — said he took the leap of faith into spiritual leadership last year, trusting that God's plan would work just fine.
“There was a time where I felt like how will it be accepted? You know? How can I do this? I even searched around, like ‘Lord, send me people that have done this’ and I had no other actor or someone in the entertainment business that I could turn to that I knew was a youth pastor but also currently on television. So I was trying to figure that out,” the 42-year-old said in a recent interview with The Christian Post.
As he wrestled with the decision, it was his wife, Asia Lee, with whom he welcomed a second child — a boy named Honor Mitchell — in October, who gave him the deciding shot of inspiration.
“I remember I went to my wife and I said, ‘Babe, I’m trying to find someone to talk to about this,’ and she said, ‘Well, what’s wrong with being the first? What’s wrong with being that? Just being the first and trusting in the Lord? He told you to do this so trust in Him.’ And so that just spoke to my heart,” he recalled.
“Blessed and thankful for my @spiritfood Food Family and thank you Pastor Zeigler for seeing the calling of God on my life and trusting me with your Youth Department,” he noted on Twitter.
The actor, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised on the South Side, explained that even though answering the call to be a pastor was not an easy one, he was relieved when God showed him how he could live out his faith in both the church and the entertainment worlds.
“When you put Him in everything in your life, He helps you navigate and make the decisions in your life …. When I started to do that, doors started opening up in my life and it would be the things where God would go, ‘OK, yeah, go speak to this youth group, go speak to these children. Go speak even though you might not feel like speaking.’
“I might not feel like speaking at that point but I went and told my story. All through my life I’ve felt the call to be a pastor. I would hear the Lord telling me but I had to be ready and I had to be obedient within that and I just hit a moment where it was just like, you know what? This is really what I want to do,” he said.
“I remember I was praying really hard like I always do and I heard the Lord speak loud and clear to me like ‘this is the time to do it. I want you to be a youth pastor but also still continue to work in the other gift that I gave you which is also in the entertainment business ‘cause I need you to be there for both and show my faith in both. And so I was like ‘yeah, I’m here for you Lord. Let’s do this.’ You know what I mean? I want you to take the wheel on this. I’m going to do it."
And his journey since then, said Mitchell, has been like an impressive tapestry of small miracles.
“It’s been miraculous to see the things that have happened within me answering that call, on both sides in my life — in my church and then also in the entertainment business where now when I go on set, I usually, I go on there, saying, ‘Who can I pray with? Why am I here? Who can I talk to about the Lord?'
"Because it’s really about people seeing the God in me and not see just the character or just the person that I’m playing. It’s really seeing how I got through certain things in my life and obstacles and things of that nature. I have been in this business a long time and I feel like they should see the God in me and I would be doing people a disservice if I didn’t show them the way to the light,” he said.
And Mitchell has been through a lot. At one point in his life when he chose to lean on his own understanding, the actor who is also known for the movie “Good Burger,” inspired by “All That,” and appeared in episodes of “Cousin Skeeter,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” and “The Nick Cannon Show,” said his career in the entertainment industry began to wane.
He opened up about experiencing suicidal thoughts and having many bad personal experiences, including a divorce in a post on his website in 2015 when he chose to recommit his life to God.
“Throughout my life, I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs you know. The journey of just adulting. Really figuring out life and through life, I made a lot of mistakes. I’ve also hit emotional walls in my life and it was this time when I just really said I need to surrender all and I need to surrender all to Him. I’ve always known Christ and have a love for Christ. I grew up in the Church. But then there’s a difference when you have a relationship with Christ,” the father of four told CP.
Faith in the pandemic
Since answering God’s call to be a pastor, the '90s star said God has helped him to minister to people in surprising ways even during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been awesome. Even during this pandemic seeing people within the entertainment business that I’ve known for years that are now knowing about my call, they are now calling me up and going, ‘Man, I need some prayer,’ or they are opening up about certain things that are going on in their life and it was just like, wow. I had no idea that that was even going on, but it’s been beautiful to connect to them in that way and connect them to the Lord and at the end of it all it’s really what it’s all about,” he said.
While he was shocked by the coronavirus pandemic this year like many people have been, Mitchell said he has embraced the disruption as a “time to turn to God.”
“I would say like everybody, the first, initial [reaction I had] was the shock of it all. You think that maybe this would be over in like a week or two. But then when it started going on and on and on, and then when they started closing up everything, that’s when I was like ‘OK, this is really real,’ when they started the quarantine,” he said. “And then within that, it was like OK, in this time, a time to turn to God, it is also a time to do those things that you couldn’t do before because you were just so busy, … to focus on things that you probably haven’t done but you always wanted to do and finding that joy within so you don’t lose yourself within this.”
Church and mental health
While his normal meetings with his audience of young people at his church have been disrupted by the pandemic, Mitchell said he has managed to expand his audience through social media where young people conveniently already spend a lot of time. And even in that world, God, he said, has continued to do amazing things.
“I look at that and I go, wow, if this pandemic didn’t happen or this thing didn’t happen, this child or teenager that logged on to say, ‘Hey, I’m a fan of Kel Mitchell but I also want to see this love for God that he speaks so highly of,’ and then it touched them. The sermon tugged their heart and then they gave their life to Christ; that is so moving to me,” he said. “That is what it’s all about. So for someone far away that’s not even in the city, just happened to get on, that’s beautiful to me and I think that more than ever we need to be ambassadors for Christ like really, like a billboard, a big, big light, you know what I mean?”
The actor, who is well-known for his ability to make people laugh as a comedian, said he wants people to focus on improving the condition of their mind during the pandemic and he believes a return to faith can help with that.
“I always say we’re human beings, not human doings. So in this time, the things that we do, a lot of people’s jobs have been shut down and closed up so now we have to look at who are we being? Are we being kind? Are we being loving? Being forgiving? Being a good father? Being a good parent? These are the things we have to start looking at. The being of it all. And so within this time I feel like it’s been an awakening for a lot of people ‘cause it’s like it’s time to finally shut down and really look into the heart because you see a lot of people are being more open about mental health right now. Because now it’s hard to hide it,” he said.
“Like you know you’re at home and it’s kinda like some of the things that people have been through now they finally have to deal with it. You know what I mean? And so to have Christ within it and to help us be able to forgive and to let go of unforgiveness and to be better than the day before and to really get more in touch with our spiritual side has been an awakening and that’s part of that finding the joy within it all,” Mitchell explained.
People, he said, need to remember that they are spiritual beings who also require spiritual care especially during the pandemic.
“This is spiritual warfare that’s going on. We have to realize that we’re all spirits. We have to look through the whole skin and anything — titles and all that stuff — and just really pull everything back and being transparent about it and understand that we’re all spiritual. And the thing about it is that we need to respond in love like our Lord and Savior,” Mitchell said. “If we focus on that, that’s when real change will happen. That’s when real empathy will happen, that’s when you start to look at others in a different way. You start to look at your choices in a different way and that different way is in a positive way, a blissful way, a calming way, a soothing way for others. I feel that with the world today, anger needs to be gone. And the only reason there is a lot of anger and a lot of anxiety is because there is fearfulness of the unknown. But when you know that the victory is won through Christ … He’s going to get you through those troubles.”
World Vision partnership
As a part of his push to make the world a better place this year, Mitchell is partnering with global Christian humanitarian organization World Vision to bring awareness to the needs of kids living in poverty in the U.S. and abroad.
“I partnered with World Vision because they focus on two of my passions, which is God and children. And with me being on a network like Nickelodeon and working in family entertainment for years, I love to see children smile and I love them to be free from any need and they believe in that as well,” he said.
He praised the organization’s gift catalogue as an excellent way to help others and teach children about the rest of the world and hopes those who can will join them in doing some global good too.
“So with it being the holiday season they have this gift catalogue that is super, super awesome where you can sponsor a child. They have COVID emergency kits that are awesome, which are definitely needed for kids that are dealing with this. You have nutrition, school supplies, hand sanitizers, products that can really help their families,” Mitchell said. “I’m all about … bringing that joy, bringing that peace and World Vision is definitely about that where we’re saying, 'Choose joy this Christmas.' And that’s really what it’s about. It’s about what are your choices?
“It’s awesome too that you can show your own children how to bless others and to be a blessing. Like it’s a blessing to be a blessing. You can educate them about everyone around the world and not just to kind of look at yourself but how can I help others. And World Vision does an awesome job.”
Food, 'Deliciousness' and joy
While he describes himself as a foodie focused on making healthy choices, Mitchell’s new MTV show “Deliciousness,” in which he will be commenting on “food blunders” and other culinary disasters, premieres on Dec. 14. He promises it will be a good show for the family to watch over the holidays.
“We’re going to be showing a lot of our fun holiday episodes and looking at some of the food fails like people having the right recipe but messing it up,” he said. “It’s a fun show to watch with your family.”
When asked if he had a holiday message for the world, he said: “I would say choose joy, choose happiness, the love of the Lord. That is really what it is. Focus on those things that are kind, focus on those things that are pure because right now, it’s so many things that are trying to pull us from our focus and we don’t need to look in a negative way or respond in a negative way. We need to respond with joy. So yeah, choose joy and also visit worldvision.org.”