When I Survey the Wondrous Cross Visual Journey

Four videos, four Scripture readings and three sermons intended to lead you to the cross of Jesus.  You are welcome to use these as you prepare for Holy Week, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Stop ONE:  The GARDEN of GETHSEMANE

Message:  A Cursed Curse from Galatians 3:10-14. Sermon audio here.

Stop TWO:  The MOUNT of OLIVES

Message:  A Sanctified Sacrifice from Hebrews 4:14-5:10. Sermon audio here.

Stop THREE:  CAIAPHAS’ HEADQUARTERS

Message:  A Criminal’s Charge from Matthew 26:57-68. Sermon audio here.

Stop FOUR:  GOLGOTHA, the PLACE of the SKULL

A Scripture reading from Mark 15:33-39.

When a Son Baptizes a Father

One of the greatest memories of my life. I love you Dad.

 

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote

vote

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote.

While in seminary, I was given a book written by Dr. Paul Powell, former pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX.  The book was called “Shepherding the Sheep in the Smaller Church.”  There was a little hidden gem in the back of the book that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Powell encouraged anyone shepherding a smaller (or any size) church to do things that didn’t need a vote.  He encouraged pastors and ministers to do the little things that didn’t need money or permission to be done.  Little things that as a pastor no one could say yes or no to like starting a small group in your home or visiting shut-ins.

Over the years in ministry I keep going back to that little mantra – “do things that don’t need a vote.”  I have added a few other suggestions to my list like…

1.  Send hand-written thank you notes.  Those still catch a surprised and grateful eye.

2.  Send small group leaders a mid-week encouragement email as they are studying for Sunday.  Their study and teaching preparation is as important as yours.  Don’t you love it when someone writes/calls and says “I’m praying for you as prepare.”  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It goes a long way.

3.  Personally invite people to come to your church.  Invite your friends.  Invite your family.  For me, I invite my students all the time.  When you brings guests, it encourages others to do the same.

4.  When preaching, communicate vision and direction in where you see the Lord moving.  Tell your people what you see happening.  While the church newsletter or blog is fine to share vision dates and details, your “face-time” on Sunday morning should be used wisely in casting the direction.  You only have their undivided attention for the first 5 minutes of the message, make it count in moving the ship forward.

5.  Pray for people who come to the altar by laying on hands.  If you believe in the power of prayer (as I do), encourage your people by praying over them.  If possible, invite some others to join you in praying for their needs.  There is nothing more unifying and humbling.

6.  Walk the isles before worship and spend time with your people.  Dr. Ken Hemphill called the 10 minutes before worship the 10 most important minutes in ministry.  Don’t seal yourself off in your office or “green room.”  Be among your sheep.  Talk with them.  Visit with them.  Sit down and pray for them if they ask you to.  Trust me, they all know you are thinking about the sermon and the service, but you have been called to be their “pastor”, not their professional Bible teacher or speaker.  A pastor spends time among their sheep.

I could go on and on.

I feel like church leaders, especially in smaller or mid-sized churches, feel as if they have limited authority in leadership.  While there might be policies and procedures in place for spending larger amounts of money or specific steps to take in securing prime real estate on the church calendar, there is much ministry that can be done without any red tape.

Spend your energies doing those little things that don’t need a vote and you will find greater success in your overall ministry leadership.

Serving from a Place of Fear

fear

Serving Christ from a place of fear.

Over the past several months, I have had numerous conversations with pastors, ministers, and key denominational leaders in various leadership positions.  These are men and women I highly respect and admire for their calling, their efforts to expand the Kingdom of God, and their passion to make Jesus’ name great.

But there is also something that worries me and brings me pause. Many of these amazing Christian leaders are serving from a place of fear.

There is a place within their hearts that are always cautious, afraid, anxious, and nervous about what people will think, what people will say, how people will respond.  This fear makes them second-guess everything they do and never feel as if their work before the Lord is satisfactory.

I have personally struggled with this type of fear (especially when I was on full-time church staff).  Honestly, it is strange to be afraid of the people you are trying to serve.  Are shepherds afraid of what their sheep will think about them?  I sincerely doubt it.

Yet when this fear sits in, there is no confidence and contentment in knowing you are doing the best you can with the resources you have, even though that is exactly what you are doing.  Instead you feel like you are constantly on edge waiting for the next criticism, the next complaint, the next condescending letter to come in.  You feel like you are always looking over your shoulder for someone to stab you in the back.  It is a terrible, gripping feeling.

As I reflect on these conversations and my own experience with this fear, my heart and soul goes to the Word of Life.  I think about the VBS theme verse for last year: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Great words from the Apostle Paul to a young man with a big responsibility of leadership.  But even beyond this sometimes over-used verse, I think about Paul’s words to the Galatians about himself.

He writes: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ?” (Galatians 1:10)

Could it be that when we continually bow down and seek the approval of man, we no longer, therefore, serve Christ?  Are these two approvals, that of people and that of Jesus, in opposition to one another.

I have found the approval of man to be so fleeting.  One minute you are everyone’s hero; the next you are everyone’s enemy.  But Jesus is not so fickle.  He is not so easily swayed.

He knows your heart, more than just your actions.  He knows your intentions and motivations, more than just the results.  Jesus sees your effort, even when things don’t come together rightly.   Shouldn’t He be the only one we seek approval from?

In the end when we’ve finished this race called life, no person from any church or any event is going to judge our service to the King, only Jesus will.  Maybe that knowledge will give us the kind of courage to serve not from a place of fear, but from a place of unflinching faith.

What I’ve Learned About KidMin While On the Road with LifeWay

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VBS Preview Event in Ridgecrest, NC

For the last several weeks, I have been on the road with LifeWay Kids training VBS leaders from around the country and North America.  We have traveled to North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and will be in Florida this weekend.

There have been VBS leaders from every state in the union including Alaska and Hawaii and from our neighbors in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Once everything is finished, we will have trained nearly 6000 VBS leaders who will in turn train another 70,000+ leaders who will host and lead 3 million boys, girls, teens and adults in VBS this year.  I am overwhelmed by the power of multiplication and the enormous influence VBS has on Kids Ministry around the world.

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VBS Preview Event in Nashville, TN

Over the last few weeks of ministry, I have learned several important truths about those who lead and serve in Kids Ministry around the nation.

I have learned that…

1.  THEY ARE PASSIONATE.  These servant-leaders are absolutely passionate about their own personal faith in Christ and the work assigned to them by God in serving kids and families.  They are willing to do whatever it takes to help the next generation know Jesus and grow in Him.  Their passion and vitality is infectious.

2.  THEY ARE HARDWORKING.  These leaders go the extra mile and often do it without any appreciation or recognition.  Without exception, Kids Ministry is the largest people and volunteer network in the church.  It is usually the most demanding with all sorts of different needs among different age groups.  It is usually the most under-funded, yet all the while it is the single most effective evangelistic tool the church has at its disposal.  These leaders get it done week after week, year after year and I applaud them.

3.  Lastly, THEY ARE HUNGRY FOR HELP.  When a KidMin leader attends a training session, they sit on the edge of their seats hungry for any tip, any suggestion, any instruction we can give.  They take page after page of notes.  They listen with their eyes and ears and hearts wide open.  They are starving for anything that will help them lead better.

I have taught similar sessions for pastors, ministers and deacons and I promise you the sessions are not the same.  I am not slamming pastors (goodness, I am one), but the intensity level is not nearly the same as these KidMin leaders.  Pastors tend to generally appreciate the training but all the while are checking their phones, day-dreaming, catching up on some sleep, and running back and forth to the lobby to take a call.  Not so with the KidMin leader.  This is their chance to be equipped and they are in it full on.

My heart and soul goes out to these 6000 VBS leaders.  In the months ahead, they will labor to get volunteers, make preparations, decide about budgets, argue with the church maintenance staff, stay up late, get up early, all to share the love of Christ with kids and families.  We know their labor will not be in vain.

I am simply humbled and honored to be able to meet them, encourage them, and give them a glimmer of hope because I am a VBS salvation.  It still works and will continue to work for generations to come.

Back to the Big City

Back in 2010-11, I had the great honor of being called interim pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville.  We met and served alongside wonderful people for that year.  We loved getting to travel to the big city of Louisville each Sunday and eat breakfast at Whole Foods and then maybe another cool place for lunch.  We could run to the mall, go to Target, eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and drink Starbucks coffee from a real store, not just the little kiosk we have on our campus.

hurstbourne bc

Hurstbourne Baptist Church, Louisville

Well starting yesterday, January 26, we are back in the Big City for a new season of ministry.  I have been called to serve as interim pastor of Hurstbourne Baptist Church over in the St. Matthews area.

We have already come to love this congregation, having spent about a month with them back in 2013.

HBC has a great ministerial staff, men and women who love the Lord Jesus and love people as Jesus would.  The congregation is made up of multiple generations, both young and old.  We have an active ministry to kids and families all the way through teenagers and young adults.

One of the things I especially love about this place is their desire to be missional in the Jefferson country region by serving regularly at the Baptist Fellowship Center, teaching weekly ESL classes, and serving in all sorts of local mission projects.  If there is a mission project to be a blessing to another group of people, they are usually right on top of it.

We also have a Korean church, KY Vineyard Community Church, led by a wonderful pastor Young Choi and his wife Youn, who is also our church pianist, that meets each Sunday @ 1:00 pm.

I am so excited about this opportunity and season of ministry back in the Big City.  If you live in the Louisville area and are looking for a church home, we would love for you to come and visit us at Hurstbourne Baptist.  Our Sunday morning service starts at 10:45 am.  You can find more information at HurstbourneBC.org.

VBS Preview Ridgecrest 2014

A very special thanks to @LifeWayVBS for the invitation to come and share at the 2014 VBS Institutes & Previews.  Here are few pics from Ridgecrest, NC during the sessions I led.  (Photos courtesy of Ashley Abell.)

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The Shift from Prof to Agent – How to Get a Good Reference from Me

Show me the ministry!!!!

Show me the ministry!!!!

This is my 6th year at Campbellsville Univ.  I have taught over 80 classes in my short teaching career, which includes lots of undergraduate and plenty of graduate level courses.

Many of my students have graduated or are nearing graduation and are starting to look for ministry positions and/or make a shift to more full-time ministry roles.

This puts me in a new position as their prof.  I was just their teacher, now I am their AGENT.  I am one of their references trying to help them get placed in ministry.

On the back page of their resume, my name is listed as someone a prospective church or para-church ministry can call to talk about this student.  So how do I comment on my students.  What information do I try to share with a prospective church or ministry about my students?

In other words, how do you get a good reference from me?

1.  First, your academic performance matters to me.  Academics are not the only thing that matters, but my exposure to you has primarily been academic.  So if you do poorly in my classes, I will probably give you a poor reference.  At its core, academics are more about discipline and hard work than IQ and GPA.  If you didn’t work hard in a ministry preparation class, then you probably won’t work hard in ministry.

2.  Second, your personality type matters to me.  Are you a team player?  Are you a natural leader?  Do you have charisma?  Are you introverted and extroverted?  How do you relate to other students in the School of Theology?  All ministries, no matter if in a church, on the mission field, or in a non-profit organization, are people-focused.  How you handle yourself around others and in groups is very important.

3.  Third, your outside of class activities matter to me.  Did you work camp in the summer?  Have you been involved in mission trips?  Do you regularly attend church on Sunday?  Have you been in campus ministry leadership?  Usually, I am asked first about your academic performance, but then very shortly after I am asked about your outside of class ministry activities.  You got to have both – in proper balance.  Academics first, extra-curricular second.

4.  Fourth and finally, your spiritual maturity matters to me.  I am always asked for your spiritual strengths and weaknesses.  Prospective churches and ministries want to know how God has equipped you for kingdom service and what areas are showing up as personal struggles.  Relationships?  Worry?  Anger?  We all have them, so don’t worry too much.  But keep asking the Lord to show you areas that you can grow in Him.

Spiritual maturity is found in seeking biblical wisdom, practicing spiritual disciplines, and allowing others to continually sharpen you. 

The Changing Shape of Sunday School Literature

sunday schoolAs a former Minister of Education, I knew that every quarter I had to make a purchase from LifeWay Christian Resources for our church’s Sunday School literature.

From youngest of ones through the senior adult classes (or as I liked to called it, from womb to the tomb), I had to purchase the “quarterlies” along with the various teacher’s guides.  This was a sizable part of our annual discipleship budget.  Thousands of dollars every year was spent to buy literature.

The material would arrive in a large shipment from Lebanon, TN and then I would organize all the material in the appropriate classrooms or give the quarterlies to the teachers.  This process went on like clock work year after year.

Fast forward to 2013.  In the past couple months, I’ve had several interesting discussions with key leaders in various Christian publishing companies about the future of Sunday School literature. They are telling me that the old system is simply not the case any longer.

With free curricula and teaching materials proliferating the internet and discipleship groups happening in homes, at work, at church on all days of the week including Sunday, Christian publishers are looking at a whole new way of thinking about literature.

One prominent leader said, “What happened to the music industry 10 years ago with iTunes and downloading mp3s is now happening in Christian publishing and literature.”

As a professor of Educational Ministries training 18-22 year olds in the methods and principles of classical Christian Education for youth, children, adults, small groups and other types of teaching ministries, the new world of Christian publishing is opening all kinds of avenues of ministry for them.

Such as:

  • Writing and posting your own Bible study materials on your blog or website without being accepted or sponsored by a Christian publishing house.
  • Blessing people and churches in far-reaching locations, who have access to the internet, but not the finances to purchase material.
  • Writing Bible study material for your church and then distributing it to them so the whole body can be studying the same thing at the same time.
  • Customizing the teaching ministry of your church with your people in mind, not buying materials that are made for the masses.

Last conclusion.  Outside of leading people to Jesus, worshipping the Lord in Spirit and truth, and teaching and preaching the Word, there are no ministry strategies that will remain in place forever.  Methods constantly change.  Paradigms of doing things always change.  People, culture, churches are always changing.  Even the Christian publishing world is changing.

I believe that is a good thing.

Why Kids Ministry is the New Youth Ministry

puppetsTwenty years ago (think vintage 1990′s), churches begged, borrowed, and pleaded with their people to find the funds to hire a youth minister.  They were willing to do whatever it took to get someone, anyone to work with the teenagers.  Whatever it required, a youth minister had to be found.  The mindset was clear: someone has to work with our teens because “they are the church of tomorrow.”

Youth ministry in evangelical churches was thriving.  Youth ministers were seen as fun, trendy, responsive to the culture, able to relate big truths to young minds.  They were creative, loved praise and worship music, and knew how to put together a rockin’ mission trip on a tight budget.  Youth camp attendance was pushing all-time highs.  Youth conferences were abounding.  Youth ministry publications were everywhere.  It was a great time to be a teenager and an even better time to be in youth ministry.

So I ask you, where is all that energy and inertia today?  Well, it is not in youth ministry.  Things have shifted younger in the past 20 years.

children-ministry

Today (think vintage 2010′s), all that energy and inertia has shifted to kids ministry.  A children’s pastor or family minister is the most sought after position, outside of senior pastor, in American evangelical churches.

Churches are desperate to find and hire qualified, trained, responsible people to lead the nursery, pre-school and K-5 areas, otherwise no sensible parent will come.  The consumer parenting culture of Gen X, which is having more babies than their Boomer parents, demand churches to upgrade every corner of the children ministry. 

The facility has to look like a McDonald’s PlayPlace, only better.  Equipped with better security, better lighting, pristine cleanliness, background checks on volunteers, slick lanyards identifying workers in matching t-shirts.  The shiny polish of youth ministry has been expanded and multiplied for young ones.  These kids ministries are well oil machines with programs and contingency plans that surpass all other ministry areas (if they are successful), including the worship ministry which used to command the show.

I was told by a high level denominational leader recently that an experienced, qualified, theologically trained, former professional educator (aka ex-teacher) who felt a call to kids ministry could name their price.  They could pick any church, any city, any denomination and just determine what they wanted to make and someone would offer it to them.  They are the rarest breed of minister in the ministry marketplace.

This trend is not dying away anytime soon.  It will be here for a while.  At least until all these kids become teens.

Enter Ministry or Go to Seminary : What Should a Young 20-Something Do First?

Seminary student

Should I enter ministry or go to seminary first?

My ministry students are primarily 18-22 years old.  They are the traditional, undergraduate college years.  They left home after graduating high school a few years back and hopefully after attaining their four year degree, they are ready to launch into the real world of ministry prepared and equipped.

Let me repeat, my graduating students are 22 years old, maybe 23 at the oldest.  Would your church hire a 23 year old to serve on your church staff?

If you were on a Personnel Team or a church staff search team, would a resume of a 23 year old college graduate jump out at you as being a top-notch choice?  They would have a basic theological education.  They might have completed a summer or semester internship working in some sort of ministry.  They are probably going to be single and dating or possibly engaged, but rarely married.

My question to you is:  Would they be a top-tier candidate?  If not, why not?

I get calls and emails every week from churches looking for staff members in youth, children, discipleship, worship, and many for lead pastors.  But when I explain that my students are usually not older than 23 and mostly single, they decide to look elsewhere.  It would be fine for these young adults to serve as an intern or even as a ministry assistant, but not in significant leadership.  The opinion is that they are just too young.  The searching church wants someone with extensive experience, but only willing to pay the bare minimum.

So what do I advise my graduating college seniors?  I encourage them to go to graduate school or seminary.  Another year or two is only going to help them enter into church staff positions with more theological education and hopefully more experience in a part-time ministry setting, and possibly even a significant other in tow.

It is sad to think we need to delay them 2 or 3 years before we will consider them “ready for service.”  We don’t say that about 18-19 year olds in the US military or a 22 year old teaching high school in the public school system.  So why do we think this way in church ministry?

I believe we need to embrace these young adults.  I believe we need to give them a shot to enter into ministry at 22 or 23 and see what God might bring to our churches through them.  I think we need to listen to them and give them a fair shake.

I was 26 years old when a church finally gave me a full-time chance to serve as their Associate Pastor.  I had been part-time youth minister for 4 years and completed two seminary degrees.  I was married, but had no children.   I sent my ministry resume to over 100 churches from NY to FL and every state in-between.  Not one gave me a call or an interview.

But a single church with no posted vacancy, no budgeted salary, and not even a search team in place invited me to  come and serve with them.  It was one of the best ministry opportunities of my life thus far.  I wonder if that same place would have given me a shot 4 years earlier as a college graduate with no experience and no wife.  I bet they would have, because it was (and still is) that kind of place.  But they are rare.

Would your church be willing to take a shot on a 22 year old in full-time ministry?  I hope so.  They have a lot to offer the kingdom of God.  They might even teach you something new.

Being BOTH Denominationally Loyal AND Fervently Ecumenical

Over this past week three events converged together to influence me, yet again, concerning my personal convictions of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND at the same time fervently ecumenical.

  • Event No. 1 – I preached a 4-day revival at church with dual affiliation with my tribe (Southern Bapt) and a more moderate form of Baptist life, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
  • Event No 2 – The CEO of the Southern Bapt. Conv. Executive Committee Dr. Frank Page was on our campus, speaking in chapel, meeting with local pastors, and sharing in my class.
  • Event no. 3 – I finished an interim at a Christian Church – Disciples of Christ – in Hodgenville.

In one week, I was stretched to see the significant work of other baptistic forms of ministry, 2) made increasing proud of my Southern Bapt. roots and heritage and its mission around the world for the Gospel, and 3) said goodbye to a wonderful group of Christ-honoring believers of another tribe altogether who I don’t align with biblically or theologically, but was able to worship and preach for them for several months without any issue whatsoever.

My conclusion is simpleYou can be BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical at the very same time.

Without question, I am very denominationally-loyal to my tribe called Southern Baptist.  I came to faith in a SBC church through an amazing ministry called vacation Bible school.  I was baptized, discipled and ordained to the ministry in a SBC church.  I have four degrees from three SBC-connected institutions.  I was married by a Baptist pastor in a Baptist church to a Baptist girl.  My personal church membership from salvation until today is in a SBC church.  I firmly believe in the doctrine, mission and direction of my tribe with all my heart.

But I am also very committed to being fervently ecumenical.  Being ecumenical is having the vision that more than one tribe (or denomination) will be in heaven and that you can do more together for the Gospel than you can apart.  We live in a post-Christian, postmodern America where faithful, biblical Christianity is moving to the periphery of the society and I fervently believe we need each other more now than ever.

I think it is all about perspective and context.  Consider this scenario.

You are in the Middle East doing underground mission work and you happen to discover another group of like-minded Christians working among the same people group, but from another denomination.  Do you work with them or reject them entirely?

Well, you carefully consider their missiological framework and understanding of salvation, that is by faith alone in Christ alone, and you begin working with them as best as you possible can without compromising your convictions and remaining biblically faithful.  You will both be in Heaven together one day, why not work together now for the Gospel and bring more souls with you.

Seems easy right.  Its not.  I have found the closer the denominations are to each other, the harder it is for them to trust each other and work together.  For example, it is very difficult for the conservative Baptists and more moderate Baptists to work together because they have purposely separated from each other for a variety of reasons.  Those reasons might be a particular theological doctrine or most likely a social issue but the intentional division drives a hard wedge between the two groups.

Likewise I have come to recognize it is tough for the Disciples of Christ tribe to work closely with the independent Christian church groups because they have purposely separated from each other and have no desire to rejoin.

Conversely, I find it is much easier for two tribes who are relatively far apart theologically to come together for a single purpose and work hand-in-hand.  For example, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together on issues like human trafficking, the sanctity of human life, and the mandatory coverage of contraceptives.  You also see various groups who would differ on all sorts of theological and liturgical issues working together in disaster relief or Operation Christian Child shoe boxes.

So what is my point.  I believe the American 21st century Evangelical Christian must embrace the BOTH/AND nature of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical.  Our culture and world is turning ever-increasingly more hostile toward the Gospel and message of Jesus Christ.  In a world where we are moving more and more toward the minority, division and isolation into tribal loyalties will not be helpful.

Whatever you might think of the Together for the Gospel movement, I believe they have embraced the right motto – We can come together for the Gospel of Jesus and be both denominationally-loyal and fervently ecumenical.

What I Would Lose If I Went Back into FT Pastoral Ministry

Pulpit view

What would happen if I went back?

I get asked all the time if I am planning to go back into full-time pastoral ministry?  The question usually comes from a well-meaning church member at a church I am interiming at.  The question is harmless and is meant to be a genuine interest in my calling and God’s will for life, but it always causes me to think.

What if I left Christian higher education and went back into full-time pastoral ministry?  What would I lose?  What would I give up?  What would I exchange to be back in a FT pastoral staff position?

So far I have come up with 5 pretty good reasons why I believe God has put right where He wants me to be.

1.  Access to numerous unbelievers.  In my general education classes and walking all around campus are young men and women from all over the world and around our country who do not know the love of God in Christ Jesus.  They have come to our Christian college for all sorts of reasons and at some point are expecting us to tell them what makes us different than other schools they considered.  They are EXPECTING us to share the Good News of Jesus with them.  Did you read that right?  They are expecting us to share the Gospel with them.  What an opportunity?  What a mission we have before us?

2.  Opportunity to teach about Jesus in an academic classroom.  Students, some who believe and some who do not, take my class called Christ and Culture as part of their general education requirements.  Get this – they have to study the Bible in order to get an A.  They have to be able to explain the Good News of Jesus in order to pass one of the tests.  That is unheard of.  While they don’t have to become Christians to pass the course, they are exposed to the truths of the Gospel by an unashamed born-again Christian who believes the Bible is true and wants to help them with their questions about faith.  This is amazing and definitely not like pastoral ministry.

3.  Invitation to walk alongside younger believers in a critical times in their lives.  Consider the number of youth group Christians who drop out of church during the college years.  My job encourages me to come alongside these struggling believers and lift them up in their journey with Jesus.  I get to ask them “how are things going between you and God?” and actually listen to their stories.  This is such a critical moment in their lives and I believe it is so helpful to have professors and campus staff who care enough to ask.  This happens every single day.

4.  Freedom to serve alongside various churches, pastors, ministries, and even denominations for future generations.  Because of my role at CU, I have freedom to help numerous churches and pastoral leaders.  Unlike pastoral ministry, I am not confined to one single congregation as their pastor and therefore am more fluid and flexible to help whoever needs help.

For example, because of my work at CU and connections to fellow CU alums, God opened the door for me to work alongside LifeWay’s CentriKid camps and VBS for the past couple years.  These ministries alone will reach 27,000 and 4 million kids and adults each year respectively.  My part is little and somewhat insignificant.  But being a small part in these huge ministries makes an enormous kingdom impact.  Last year at CentriKid, nearly 1000 children come to faith in Christ.  VBS is estimated to have seen 80,000+ children, teens, and adults make professions of faith last year.  Again, my part is small in comparison to others, but I am humbled to even be on these teams in a small capacity.

5.  Lastly, I have a chance to give back to a place that radically shaped me.  Campbellsville Univ. is not only my employer, it is also my alma mater.  I love this place!  Words will never express what God did in my life during my 4 years here.  Now I am sure there are many fine Christian institutions and universities.  I am sure God is working mightily on all sorts of campuses – state, private, Christian and otherwise.

But I get the chance to give back to the place that shaped me personally.  Not the institution, but the people who served within the institution.  They took time to invest in my life, my ministry, my personal development as a man and my academic abilities as a student. I am indebted to this place and love getting the chance to replicate my experience in the lives of others.

For those reason and probably a hundred others, it is easy to answer those who ask if I would ever consider going back into full-time pastoral ministry, “No. I don’t think so. God has got me right where He wants me.”

Who Do You Really Work For? Part 2

Because I work, I am…

  • I am a better husband to my wife.
  • I am a better time manager.
  • I am a wiser steward of God’s resources.  It all belongs to Him.
  • I am a more generous person because I have something to give away.
  • I am a better example to my sons of manhood, fatherhood, and husbandry.
  • I am a stronger contributor to my local church.
  • I am a more invested member of my local community.
  • I am given opportunities to use my strengths and improve upon my failures.
  • I am exposed to different people than my normal circle would provide.
  • I am given a chance to use my talents as unto the Lord.
  • I am participating in something outside of myself.
  • I am less self-centered and more collaborative.
  • I am taught humility and servant-leadership.
  • I am given a platform to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • I am blessed with resources to provide for the wants and needs of my family.
  • I am given a chance to see the world through others’ eyes.

Because I work, I am growing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

The Words Missing in Today’s Church Business Meetings

yesnoRecently a dear friend and mentor said something to me that has proven to be profound and eye-opening.  He remarked that it has been 15-20 years since he heard something particularly said in a church business meeting.  This one particular phrase has seemingly gone missing from a whole generation of believers.

He said, “You don’t hear anyone say in church business meetings anymore, ‘I disagree with the decision, but whatever the church decides, I will get fully behind it and support it the best I can.’”  Those sentiments of support and togetherness, no matter the vote, is radically missing today.

I believe my friend is on to something huge here.  I have been in many church business meetings as a Southern Baptist, both in my local church and in the churches I’ve served as interim, and I haven’t heard those words in years.  I used to hear them as a teenager when we were made to go to the business meeting instead of our youth Wednesday night Bible study, but that was a very long time ago.

His explanation for the absence of those words is that our culture has changed.  We still do business meetings, but our people are not the same as they were 20 years ago.  We are now a consumer culture.  We believe our voice must be considered and heard on all topics.  We leave comments on social media, give reviews of products on blogs, critical feedback on hotels on Trip Adviser.  We rate our experiences on everything from customer service on the phone to table service at a restaurant.  Then you have the impact of huge TV shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent where everyday people have a voice.

But what we have not been accustomed to lately is losing a vote and still being supportive.  When we lose a vote, we feel entitled to continue the discussion, let our feelings of dissent be publicly known, cause a stir, get a petition started, and even push for a re-vote or a recount…all within the local church.  Yikes?

In church business meetings, where congregational polity is at play, there are always winners AND losers.  When you take a vote, you are giving the people a chance to let their feelings be known, either publicly or privately, and some are going to win and some are going to lose.

Those that win feel as if the majority has spoken and things are moving in the right direction.  Those that lose feel as if they have been personally harmed and they begin to harbor feelings of animosity toward the church, the leaders and their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

The vote might have moved the church forward on a particular issue, but the vote also created sides, teams, parties, divisions, and segments within the church who now feel injured.

Twenty years ago when a difficult vote was on the table, you would hear the words from a wise man or woman before the count was taken say, “I have my opinions about the matter, but whatever the church decides, I will get behind fully and support it as best as I can.”  It was a way forward in unity and harmony.

Those words are not said anymore.  Instead, nothing is said.  Nothing moves forward in complete unity and harmony.  The vote may pass, but feelings of resentment and hostility brew and fester.  Not in every case, but in most.

It makes you wonder why staff-led decision making is growing exponentially.  It makes you wonder why a plurality of elders has become common place among congregational churches.  It makes you wonder why monthly business meetings are being cut from the calendar in lieu of a once-per-year family meeting.

It’s because we have changed.  The culture has changed.  The words we use in the face of a vote have forever changed.

Fall 2013 Ministry Preview

fall leavesThe fall school year has officially started.  My classes are packed.  I am really excited about this semester and how God is going to work in and through my students.

Along with school, the Lord has been so faithful and kind to opened several opportunities to encourage folks here in KY and around the nation.

Here is a snapshot of the fall ministry plans.

  • Through September – Preaching each Sunday morning at the Hodgenville Christian Church.  Helping out my new friend and pastor Bro. Carlton Puryear as he takes a few weeks off.
  • Sunday, Sept 15 – Leading “The Calling of Every Christian Parent” workshop at Ormsby Heights Baptist Church in Louisville.  Joining my long-time friends Pastor Steve and Michelle McKelvey, who serve on the staff there.
  • Sunday, Sept 22-25 – Preaching the fall revival for Stanford Baptist Church.  I will be joined by some great worship leader friends: Caleb Phelps, Kristina Critcher, CU Sound, and my old friend from Lancaster BC, the one and only Nehemiah Wilkinson.
  • Oct. 8-9 – Jennifer and I will be leading 3 breakout sessions for the LifeWay Christian Resources Kids Ministry Conference in Nashville, TN.  We will be teaching: 1) Teaching Children Contemplatively, 2) The Full Spectrum of Family Ministry Models, and 3) Memory Makers.  This will be our first time to lead together as a couple.
  • Oct. 13, 20 and Nov. 3, 10, 17 – Preaching Sunday mornings at Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
  • Oct. 27 – Preaching for Campbellsville University Day at Lancaster Baptist Church in Garrard Co.  I can’t wait to visit my dear friends at LBC.  I have missed them greatly over the past year.

And I am getting ready for another huge January, February and March, 2014.

In January and February, I will be joining the LifeWay VBSi Team again at Ridgecrest, Nashville, Fort Worth, and Kissimmee, FL as we train over 6000 VBS leaders from across North America.  I will be preaching during the main worship service and leading a breakout session.

And then in March, I get the great privilege of traveling back to Israel and Jordan for the second time in 5 years as part of the Campbellsville Univ. School of Theology Holy Land Tour.  This time I will be joined by my dad and brother in Christ, Danny Garrison, along with many CU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends.  Space is available, if you are interested in joining us.

I would really covet your prayers for me, Jennifer, the boys, and these opportunities to preach and teach about our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Choosing a College Church Revamped

Several years ago I wrote a piece on finding a college church which I reposted last year around this time.  Year after year it is one of the most read posts on the blog.

DeCourseyWEB

My Druien Hall Office – 2nd & 3rd window from the right.

As a new academic year comes into focus, I am compelled to reach out again in trying to help incoming freshman, transfer and upper-class students skillfully connect with local body of believers.

It is so easy to buy into the consumer culture mentality in trying to find a church with everything you want, resulting in shopping around for months and months and usually ending in failure.  But that is what most believing students do.

So this year I want to flip the switch and instead of telling you what to do, I am going to try and advise what not to do when choosing a college church.

Four words of warning.

1.  Don’t believe everything you hear.  Churches have reputations just like people and most of it is blatant rumor, false information, and competitive gossip.  Please don’t believe everything everyone is saying about a particular church.  You must visit and find out for your self.

2.  Don’t think one church will have everything you want.  There is simply no such place.  No single church can meet all of your preferences, wants, desires, and accommodations.  Therefore you must determine what are your top tier issues.  You have to arrange what matters most to you and your growth in Christ, such as worship style, preaching content, biblical faithfulness, friendliness to guests, college ministry options, ways to serve in the community or if they are globally-minded.  Determine your top one or two issues and look for those alone.

How do you find those things out?  Read the bulletin, website, and newsletter word for word.  You can get a quick sense of the church values by what is printed.  If you get a chance to shake the pastor’s hand, ask him one question: “What does this church value the most?”  That will give you your answer.  If they can’t answer that question, move on.

3.  Don’t be persuaded to go where everyone goes.  Mob decision-making is never the best.  There might be a church off the beaten path that really needs some fresh college students to take them to the next level.  They might be so blessed with you coming that you change their future direction and ministry.

Sometimes when the crowd all goes to the same place, you get lost.  Peel off.  Take a risk.  Sacrifice a few preferences to make a bigger impact for the kingdom.  Be a blessing, not a consumer.

4.  Lastly, don’t drag this thing out.  Visit once or twice, consider your top tier issues, pray for God’s guidance, and choose.  If you move on, move on quickly.  If you stay, get plugged in quickly.  The longer you drag out the search, the less likely you are to ever land anywhere.

I hope this is a help to you this semester.  If you are a college student who has found a local body to invest in, I am very proud of you.  Why not pass this post around to some of friends still on the hunt.  It could be a real blessing to them and their search process.

10 Years Ago Today

Ten Years LaterTen years ago today, July 24, 2003, was a very different time for Jennifer and I.  Ten years ago today I had just turned 26. Jennifer had turned the big 2-6 a couple months earlier.  We were leaving the early twenties and entering the late twenties.  I promise you it is a significant life shift going from the 18-25 category to the 26-35.

But things were very different for us 10 years ago.

  • 10 years ago we had only been married for 14 months.  Just newly weds.
  • 10 years ago we were living in the original cow town, funky-town Fort Worth, TX.  Home of more steaks and fajitas than a man could ever eat.  Glory!
  • 10 years ago we lived in a 525 sq. ft. barracks-like, seminary apartment, which has since been demolished and been replaced with beautiful condo-style apartments. (Jealousy)
  • 10 years ago we were both finishing seminary, both taking full loads, both studying and writing papers, plus working to pay the tuition bills.
  • 10 years ago we had no children.  We were DINKs – Dual Incomes No Kids.  We actually bought clothes for ourselves.
  • 10 years ago I drove a turquoise blue Mercury Contour (called the Aquarium), Jennifer drove a white one.  Neither of them were paid for and both were pieces of junk.
  • 10 years ago I was the youth minister of Trinity Baptist Church.  We had just came back from a mission trip to Denia, Spain and youth camp at Falls Creek, OK.  Those were wonderful days.
  • 10 years ago Jennifer was the primary bread winner of our family working as a Case Manager for Cornerstone Comprehensive Care Prog. (3CP) – one of the finest non-profit organizations in the nation.
  • 10 years ago I was hoping a church would consider me for a full-time ministry position.  I was sending resumes all over the country and getting no response.   I was willing to follow God’s leadership any where he wanted us to go, but nothing was turning up.

And now 10 years later, much has changed.

We left Fort Worth in December 2003, moving to Alexandria, KY and then to Campbellsville in 2008.  I did get a full-time ministry position at one of the best churches in KY, Main Street Bapt. Church, and then a faculty position at my alma mater Campbellsville Univ.

God blessed Jennifer and I with two beautiful, healthy baby boys, Isaac and Ethan.  One looks just like his momma and one looks just like his daddy.  We’ve made it 11 years together in what I consider to be a very healthy marriage, with our share of bumps but a growing friendship and love that is palpable.

I finished my doctorate; Jennifer is halfway through hers.  We own a home, mini-van, family sedan, and 25 year old pick-up truck named Pa-Paw.

I have served on multiple church staffs as an interim pastor, preaching nearly every Sunday for the past 5 years.  I have been a ministry consultant with churches, state and national denominational groups.  I’ve traveled to the Israel, Jordan, Greece, and Turkey studying the places and times of the New Testament.

I’ve preached twice in the Van Ness Auditorium of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville (for Educational Ministry folks, this is the mother ship).  I’ve written curriculum for CentriKid camps and been rejected 5 times on a kid’s ministry book proposal.

All this to say that in the past 10 years, GOD HAS BEEN SO GOOD!  HE HAS BEEN SO FAITHFUL!  HE HAS BEEN GRACIOUS and KIND!  He had a plan and a purpose for our good, which was far better than anything we could have ever imagined (Eph. 3:20). 

Ten years ago, I might not have been as able to see His hand so perfectly and delicately working in my life.  I was probably fretting over finishing seminary, finding a job, and making money to pay off my student loans.  Unfortunately, I was caught up seeing the immediate, the present, the now. 

But God, in His abundant love and grace, had already laid the plans He had in store for us.  Isaiah 55:9 Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

10 years later, I think it is good to look back and reflect.  10 years later, I recognize that I need to lean and trust more on the ways and thoughts of Almighty God.  10 years later, I need to stand utterly silent and be exceedingly thankful for that He has done in our lives.

10 years later, I need to remember Jeremiah 29:11 is true.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Thank you Lord for the past 10 years.

Pros and Cons of Interim Transitional Ministry

moving-forwardIn April, I finished my fifth interim/transitional pastorate. In a little over 4 years, God opened the door for me to lead four churches who were in transition – one church twice. In some ways it is a very Paul-like ministry. Moving around from city to city, learning different church cultures, trying to discern the needs, spreading the Gospel to different people in a different place with different backgrounds.

In other ways, it can be utterly heart breaking. From the onset you know you are not going to be there forever, but you still develop deep relationships with the people and know that as some point, you are going to have to go.

Now with a few months behind me since the last completion, I wanted to reflect on the pros and cons of interim transitional ministry and try to outline a few things I’ve learned on this journey.

3 PROS

1. Helping When a Church Needs Help the Most – A church who has recently lost their pastor is a hurting church. Even in the best case scenario, there is still someone they love who has left them behind taking family and children with them. There is significant pain, heartache, and a real sense of abandonment.

The interim transitional pastor can help with this pain by speaking well of the former pastor and helping the healing process begin through intentional methods, such as extra communication, fellowship, and opportunities to serve together to show unity and togetherness.

2. Helping When a Church Needs Leadership the Most – Immediately following the exit of a lead pastor, there is a HUGE leadership vacuum. The power players come out of the woodwork and start plying for more influence and leverage. You might think this “hawking” is only for the largest of churches, but you would be wrong. Even the smallest church has power players and the interim transitional period is an opening for conflict and confusion.

The interim transitional pastor must manage these dynamics to make sure the selection process is done well and with full integrity, holding the power players at bay while moving the church forward.

3. Helping When a Church Needs Stability the Most – While I am not sure the numbers are perfectly accurate, the stated trends tell us that a church will decline by 15% in attendance and 25% in giving during an interim period. And the longer the interim, the greater the declines, especially in giving. Those two trends alone will cripple a church in transition.

The interim transitional pastor provides stability in the pulpit, which is paramount. Stability in the leadership vacuum to limit the grabbing forces. And stability in casting a vision for this all-important transitional period so that in 12-24 months everyone will be okay and headed in the right direction.

3 CONS (These are a bit more personal, so be aware.)

1. Leaving All the Time – In four years, I have had to leave several great churches. Now I knew this was part of the deal going in, but it still stings. As an interim transitional leader, you are effectively a “temp.” You are meant for a particular season and no more. And while you enter the situation with this understanding, the leaving part still breaks your heart.

This is one reason why many interim pastors choose to go to different cities than where they permanently reside. Because once they leave, it makes it easier on the heart to not see everyone all the time. It is comparable to seeing an old girlfriend and not knowing what to say. “Its good to see you. How have you been? Are you seeing anyone new these days.” Awkward and gut-wrenching.

2. Limited Vision and Direction for the Long Haul – Since your time is limited, your ability to cast a vision is short-lived. You can not lead the church toward a particular ministry objective if you are not going to be there to see it through. The ministry is very 90-day driven, meaning you have a 90-day window to set a goal or cast a vision, but no more. Because in 120 days, the new pastor may be getting close to arriving and you will be moving on.

3. Languishing Over Choices Made in the Search Process – Here is probably the most sensitive of issues in interim transitional ministry. As the interim pastor, you are made privy to the work of the Pastor Search Team. You might be asked to look over potential resumes or be asked to talk to a potential candidate by phone. I have even been asked to contact a personal friend and ask them for their name to be put into consideration.

I have been brought into the meetings as they work through theological questionnaires to explain what the questions and answers mean. You must remember that most search team members are not trained theologians, nor are they equipped to understand the nuances of pastoral philosophy or ministry methodology.

In the process, you see things, read things, and hear things which cause you to cringe, but you simply can’t say too much in response. You have to let the committee find their own way through prayer and God’s direction. You don’t want to sway or divert them, so you remain neutral and only answer when asked, which is extremely difficult for most leaders.

For those considering this type of ministry, take care to learn and grow in the Lord. It is not as easy as it may seem, but serving the Lord is a calling to sacrifice, which is never easy.

Life of Christ Q and A

I am really excited about a new project I am working on called CU 100 Chapel Online.  Basically at Campbellsville Univ. we needed a method to help our fully online students with chapel.  All of our undergraduate students are required to get 48 chapel credits during their 4 years with us.  But as our fully online undergraduate programs have grow, we recognized this group was missing this very important part of their Christian college experience.

So a group of us were tasked with figuring out a possible solution for them.  We are building a website that will have multiple functions, including video of all our on-campus chapel services, plus virtual Bible studies, video curriculum, and a prayer room.

One of the parts I am most excited about is the Life of Christ Q and A section.  I will be creating and posting 20 small (3-4 minute) videos of me teaching through the person and work of Jesus.  Here is the listing of videos.

1.  The Preexisting Christ – In him and through him all things were made.
2.  God the Son – Three in one.
3.  Messiah Foretold – Over 200 Old Testament prophecies pointed to him alone.
4.  Born of a Virgin – Born of woman, but not of man.
5.  Lineage of David – A king whose kingdom shall never end.
6.  A Man from Nazareth – A carpenter living in a small, out of the way town.
7.  Introduced by John – Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
8.  Tempted in the Wilderness – Tempted by Satan himself, yet was without sin.
9.  Preacher & Teacher with Authority – He speaks as one with authority, not like the teachers and scribes of the Law.
10. Miracle Worker – Power over creation.
11. Forgiver of Sins – Power over sin and evil.
12. Disciples Maker – From now on, you will be fishers of men.
13. Cross Bearer I – Why a cross?
14. Cross Bearer II – Why in Jerusalem?
15. Cross Bearer III – Why a criminal’s death?
16. The Suffering Servant – He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.
17. The Atonement for Sin – The veil is lifted; the scape goat has been killed.
18. The Resurrected One – He is not here, He is alive just as he said he would be.
19. Commissioner of Disciples – The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.
20. Promise Keeper – We shall see him face to face.

If you think there is something I should exchange or reconsider, I would love to hear from you.  Imagine the audience as a person with little or no information about Jesus, hearing for the first time who Jesus was and what he came to accomplish.  We want to be thorough, but clear and concise.

I would love any feedback if you have a suggestion.  Once the videos are completed, I will post the links for anyone to watch on this site as well as the CU 100 Chapel Online.

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