Ezekiel Stoddard may not quite be in the sixth grade and his voice has yet to break, but grown men and women kneel down before him as a prophet.
The 11-year-old boy from Temple Hills, Md., said he was just 7 when he realized he wanted to become a preacher.
“I had a dream,” he said. “God was telling me that he wanted me to do his will.”
Even though he can barely see over the pulpit, Ezekiel preaches most Sundays at his family’s church, the Fullness of Time Church in Capitol Heights, Md., and at other churches around the state.
He said he writes his sermons himself and that he likes that he is “bringing souls over to Christ.” He even said God gave him the gift of speaking in tongues and healing the sick.
Just a few months ago, his mother, Pastor Adrienne Smith, and stepfather had Ezekiel, whom his family nicknamed “Zeek,” officially ordained as an evangelical minister, which provoked a holy uproar among people who believed his ordination was inappropriate.
“The calling of an individual is truly between God and that individual,” Smith said.
While Ezekiel’s adult critics might tell him he is just a kid who doesn’t have enough life experience to provide spiritual guidance, the boy preacher said their skepticism only makes him “more determined to stay in Christ.”
But at the services “Nightline” attended, that skepticism was not evident, even from older pastors.
“At 11 years old, you’re not going to preach experience, you’re going to preach the Word,” said Pastor Hercules Jones. “Preaching the Word carries enough power in itself to do what it’s supposed to do.”
Hop on YouTube and there appears to be an explosion of child preacher videos. There’s an impression that preaching is going the way of “Toddlers and Tiaras,” where parents are living out their dreams through their children.
But child preachers have been around for a while and they have long been controversial. Marjoe Gortner, a Pentecostal evangelical preacher who was ordained at age 3, created a sensation in the 1950s, but in the 1972 documentary, “Marjoe,” he claimed that his act was all a money-making scheme ginned up by his parents.
In Ezekiel’s case, it is true that his parents are making money off of his preaching, as well as the gospel music act that he and his siblings have put together. But Ezekiel denies that his parents put him up to it.
“This is something that God called me to do and that’s something that God wants me to do, and this is what I want to do,” he said.
His mother also said she did not push her son into preaching and would be fine with it if he wanted to walk away from the pulpit.
“But he will still be taught the word of God still continually,” she said.
In between sermons, Ezekiel’s parents said they give him plenty of time to be a kid, including letting him play tennis, take a trip to the pet store and eat pancakes with his brothers and sisters. Although, a Bible quiz can happen at any time.
When asked if he is ever tempted to act out or be bad, Ezekiel simply said, “the devil tries to step in, you know, he tries to ruin things.”
But where the boy’s pre-pubescent precociousness can really get him in trouble, though, is with other kids. Ezekiel said he was bullied “a couple of times” in elementary school, and kids called him names or told him he was “weird” or “freaky.”
“A lot of them will say, what happened to you? Are you still Ezekiel in there? Are you still ‘Zeek’ in there?” he said. “And I say, ‘yes, I am. But I’m different in my spirit.’”
Ezekiel said his defense was to ignore them, but his mother said the bullying got so bad that she pulled him out of school and now homeschools him and his siblings.
It may be a lonely road at times, but as Ezekiel says from the pulpit, being a Christian is not supposed to be easy.
“I’m blessed where I am,” he said. “I know if I stick in the Word, God will bless me for it.”
Please excuse the formatting, I’m on my phone. I just needed to share this. I mean, seriously.