A man of God with a wealth of experience

Posted in: Society
By Kaye Collier
Aug 29, 2013 - 8:54:27 AM

Pastor Cleatis and Cheryll JeffcoatThe new pastor at Gospel Tabernacle has what you might call a “checkered past.”
No, not that kind of checkered.
Quite the contrary.
“Checkered” in the sense that he has ministered to others in a variety of settings.
He has pastored a number of churches, has been a military chaplain, has served as a prison chaplain, and has filled the pulpits of other ministers in their absences.
Yes, when Cleatis Jeffcoat and his wife Cheryll moved into the Gospel Tabernacle parsonage several weeks ago and he assumed the leadership of the church the following Sunday, he brought a wealth of experience with him.
He has seen man at his worst, and he has seen man at his best—transformed, of course, through the power of God.
Cleatis is convinced he made a sound decision in allowing the Lord to lead him to the Marlow/Rush Springs area.
“I am excited to be pastor of Gospel Tabernacle, an independent, Trinitarian/ Pentecostal fellowship of believers,” he noted.
“I value my relationships with varied denominations and appreciate my continuing fellowship with them; however, it is good to be free to exegete and preach scripture without feeling the pressure of denominational/non-denominational dogmas or biased traditions, as valuable as some of them may be,” he continued.
“The congregation’s a very loving congregation,” he attested, “and we’re glad to be here. I like Marlow, and I like the area.
“I’m impressed with the friendliness of the people,” he continued. He and Cheryl spent a number of years in Childress, Texas, in the recent past, and Cleatis has already decided he likes it better here than in west Texas. At least, southern Oklahoma has “real trees, instead of mesquite,” he quipped.
He enjoys raising honeybees, he said, and west Texas is so dry that he had to haul water for what he called his “buzzing livestock.”
Gospel Tabernacle was without a pastor for several months, and the church’s attendance fell somewhat during that time. The numbers now are around 30, he said, but a few new people have been attending who have made verbal commitments to become more deeply involved.
Early in the summer, he preached at the church four different times over a period of six to eight weeks, he said. The church called in July and asked him to become their pastor.
The Jeffcoats were living in Wichita Falls at the time, and they owned their home. Even before the For Sale sign went up in the yard, “the Lord sent me a buyer,” Cleatis noted. Someone saw them packing up to move and asked to see the interior of the house, then bought it outright shortly afterward.
So now they’re here and mostly settled in. The parsonage, they explained, is a double-wide manufactured home that, along with the church, sits on an eight-acre plot of land.
And that land is approximately halfway between Marlow and Rush Springs, on the west side of Highway 81.
Early years
Cleatis was born in Frederick, the son of Pastor Cleatis C. and Wanda Jeffcoat and the oldest of three children. Growing up in a Christian home, he gave his heart to Christ at the tender age of 7 and surrendered to the ministry at 12.
His first sermon came at age 17 at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Duncan. The elder Cleatis was pastoring the church at that time, and the younger Cleatis, in fact, graduated from Duncan High School in 1967.
He then went into the United States Air Force, receiving his basic training at Lackland AFB near San Antonio. During the next seven years, the Air Force would send him to Austin, Texas; Colorado Springs, where he worked for NORAD; Turkey; and Whiteman AFB, located near a town in Missouri with the unlikely name of Knob Noster.
In the meantime, a pretty young woman was growing up in western New York, in the community of Dunkirk. The daughter of steel mill machinist Stewart Arters and his wife Kathryn, she was the third of seven children.
Her family attended the local Assembly of God, so Cheryll, too, grew up in a Christian environment.
Then in the early ’70s, Cleatis’ best Air Force buddy and Cheryll’s closest friend were married. Cleatis served as best man, and Cheryll as maid of honor.
In October 1971, the best man and maid of honor were promoted to bride and groom in a ceremony in Orlando, Florida.
Cheryll followed her husband to his final  three military assignments.
Their son, Stephen, was born in Austin. Like his father and grandfather, he is a minister; but he also owns a computer business in Wichita Falls. Stephen and his wife Lisa live in Stroud with their three children, Hannah, Daniel and Samuel.
Daughter Deborah was born in Turkey and therefore has dual citizenship. She is married to Kevin Caraway and lives in Sulphur Springs, Texas. They have three kids—Ryan, Kimberly and Tanner.
Cleatis completed most of his theological studies by correspondence through Berean College in Springfield, Missouri. This was during his Air Force service and afterward. His clinical pastoral education credentials were attained through Integris Health Systems in Oklahoma City.
He holds the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in theology.
Cheryll had attended Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri, prior to their marriage.
From pastor to chaplain
Cleatis was discharged from the Air Force at Whiteman; and for the next 18 years or so, he pastored churches in Florida, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas.
During this time, Cheryll worked from time-to-time at a daycare when her children were small, then later as a church secretary and an elementary-level teacher’s assistant.
“During my last pastorate, I was commissioned in the Texas State Guard as a military chaplain,” Cleatis said. He was to serve with the TSG for 10 years and attain the rank of lieutenant-colonel before resigning.
Three years into his military commission, Cleatis applied for an opening as a chaplain with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and was hired. He was assigned to the T.L. Roach unit, a men’s prison located near Childress, where he would spend the next seven years.
At the prison, he conducted weekly church services, performed all chaplaincy-related counseling, and trained the institution’s spiritual and educational volunteers.
There was “a pretty strong nucleus” of men who attended services regularly, Cleatis recalled, prisoners who “realized they needed a life change.” And many of those whose lives were changed were as fully dedicated to Bible study as some seminary students, if not more so, he noted.
During his tenure at the prison, Cleatis observed many genuine conversions, he said. He noted that this type of experience carries no weight whatsoever in parole considerations.
Through his work at T.L. Roach, Cleatis gleaned a great deal of insight into human behavior.
“Observing both inmates and officers, you learn a lot, because it’s different cultures,” he explained. He recounted one particular instance in which he defused a potentially-explosive situation with a few well-chosen words.
After his retirement from both the State Guard and the corrections department, he and Cheryll spent two more years in Childress—years he worked as a driver for the community’s transportation system.
This was followed by a three-year residency in Wichita Falls, where Cleatis filled the pulpit at area churches in their pastors’ absences. Ready to get back “into the traces” as a full-time pastor, he welcomed the call from Gospel Tabernacle according him that opportunity.
“I’m anxious to get out and fellowship with other pastors,” he commented.
“I am much honored to be ‘called’ and placed in trust of the gospel, and especially to be entrusted with leadership of a part of the family of God,” he said. “Pastoral ministry is a high calling, and carries with it many joys, along with great challenges, stress, and sometimes, pain. However, the deep peace and fulfillment of being in the will of God is worth all personal costs.
“It is indeed a heavy responsibility to provide guidance, both temporal and eternal,” he continued. “As a pastor, I certainly do not have answers to all problems; but caring, loving and praying with the hurting is part of who I am.
“I pray that I may be of service to the spiritual and social well-being of our wonderful community.”