He accepted the call 31 years ago and soon got a chance to give a guest sermon, thanks to a network of older traveling preachers that embraced him.
"I was sweating -- wet like someone had poured a bucket of water on me," Brown recalled. But he had soaked up the oratorical tricks of the charismatic preachers he heard in his youth, and by the end he had the whole church clapping. Four months later, he was elected pastor of his first church. One month after that, he had four churches.
One of Brown's old mentors, the Rev. L.B. Oliver, is still on the traveling circuit nearly half a century after he began spreading the word of God. Oliver, 76, serves as pastor of six churches and is optimistic that a new generation of traveling preachers will emerge.
"The little churches are the heartbeat of America. Without them we would be in trouble," said Oliver, who believes African Americans lose a part of themselves when they leave the churches behind.
Brown is not so sure today's young preachers would make the sacrifice. For years, he has been augmenting his pay by preaching during the week at revivals, where wayward souls are coaxed back to the Lord. He also has been selling cassettes and compact discs of his sermons, and is planning to start selling DVDs.
On one recording, of a revival in Bastrop, La., Brown bluntly drummed home the message that women should resist the temptation of premarital sex.
"Let me tell you something: The average man will make a whore out of a woman," he said. "But when he get ready to marry, he don't want to marry no whore."
Brown recalled his courtship with his wife, Gwendolyn, whose father was a preacher and whose brother heads a 9,000-member church in La Puente, east of downtown Los Angeles.
"What she let me know was, there wasn't going to be no layin' and playin', huffin' and puffin' -- on credit," he said, as the audience broke up in laughter. "What she told me was ... change my name. And I don't have to tell you what happened after that."
The couple recently celebrated their 17th anniversary.
Brown said one lesson he learned as a traveling preacher was that a man of God had to tailor the gospel to his audience. "If you can't make your sermon relevant to what's happening now," he said, "you're just reading the Bible."
AS a radar detector scanned for state troopers, Gwendolyn raced across a steel bridge spanning the Mississippi River while Brown rested in the passenger seat.
Brown's second sermon of the day was about 30 minutes away in Tallulah, La. They arrived just in time for the 3 p.m. service at the Pleasant Grove #2 Church.
Tallulah (population about 9,000) is one of the poorest towns in a poverty-stricken state. A shotgun shack was falling down in disrepair, yet a huge sport utility vehicle with shiny chrome rims sat parked in the driveway -- a symbol, Brown said, of misplaced priorities. Shopping arcades were boarded up. Dogs ran loose in the street.
Inside the small, musty chapel, about 25 people sat waiting. Many were grateful Brown still came.
"Sometimes we have only five people here," said Diane Kyle, 46, the church usher. "But Rev. Brown will come in here and preach like there's 500."
Some, however, questioned whether a traveling preacher still made sense for a town with so many social problems.
"This is what we have. It may not be what we are totally satisfied with," said Tommy Watson, 45, the church pianist. He argued that if Tallulah's small churches came together, they could get federal funding for faith-based groups and help people better themselves by offering counseling and other community services.
A sheriff's deputy took to the altar to introduce a visiting choir but failed to mention that the guests were prisoners doing time for drug crimes. The choir launched into a halfhearted rendition of "Stand by Me," substituting "darling" with "Jesus" in the chorus. The churchgoers watched passively.
Brown took to the pulpit, and his sermon, about the true meaning of being born again, seemed listless at first. Then Brown made it personal, tailoring it to what he saw as the temptations threatening his audience. He revealed he had a weakness for cheap wine as a young man before he found redemption in Jesus.
"You can get to heaven without a Rolls Royce or a 10-carat diamond ring. Uh-huh, yes you can ... but you can't get to heaven without being born again," he said.
His speech gained rhythm. His sentences turned into song.
"You've got to be able to walk away from that old life," he sang, "and into that new life."
The churchgoers stood to clap and wave their arms. They lined up for communion, wine and bread prepackaged in cellophane-covered containers. Many were smiling.
"You see what our preacher brings us?" Kyle said afterward.
About an hour and a half after arriving in Tallulah, Brown and his wife were on the road again. They made a quick detour to a Wendy's drive-through, then sped back to Mississippi for a service at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Vicksburg.