A KBC Boy from CU, SWBTS, SBTS and back to CU with No Problems Whatsoever

In the midst of a rather weighty and public dialogue happening between Campbellsville University and the Kentucky Baptist Convention, I wanted to shore up a few personal things about my experience as a Campbellsville student (’99 alumnus) and as a CU School of Theology faculty member since 2008.

I can’t speak for everyone who has been through our doors, but here are the indisputable, unshakeable facts about my personal experience at CU and connection with the KBC.

- I was saved and baptized in a rural KBC church in 1987 – the Lewisport Baptist Church in Lewisport, KY – through the ministry of VBS.  I have been a member of KBC church every year of my born-again Christian life, except while in TX during seminary.

- My home church supported my decision to go to Campbellsville University in the mid-90’s and even helped me financially.

- My personal faith in Christ exploded while at CU.  My understanding and belief in the Bible grew 10-fold.  My love for taking the Gospel to the unreached peoples of the world “blew up” while studying here.  My call to ministry was significantly nurtured and encouraged.  The opportunities to serve in KBC churches and in God’s kingdom through all sorts of ministries was enhanced and elevated simply because I was at CU.

- After CU, I studied at Southwestern Baptist Theo. Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.  There wasn’t one thing at SWBTS that made me question my academic experience at CU.  It only added to what was already there – biblically, theologically, philosophically, and practically – everything was in line.

- While in seminary, I served in two SBC churches as youth minister.  In those churches I used what I learned at CU and from SWBTS without having to modify any of my core convictions or theological roots.  They were perfectly in line with traditional Baptistic ways.

- After seminary, I served a KBC church in Northern KY.  Again, no problems whatsoever theologically, biblically or practically.  My training at CU combined with SWBTS was in sync with kingdom-building, Gospel-expanding principles of leadership and strategy.

- As I began my doctoral studies at the Southern Baptist Theo. Seminary, again there were no problems whatsoever.  Actually, what I had learned at CU, plus SWBTS, plus in practical church experience made my SBTS time even more fruitful.  There were no snickers that a CU guy was studying at SBTS.  Even as I finished at SBTS and started my first year teaching at CU, no one said a word.  No one hinted of any problems.  All in all, everything was positive as far as I could tell.

- Six years ago when I came to CU to be considered for a position in the School of Theology, I was asked lots of questions.  My theology, biblical interpretation, methodology, experience, and practice of the spiritual disciplines were all questioned in the interview process.  Not because I was a risky candidate, but because that is what we do with everyone who is considered.

- In the 6 years I have been in the classroom, I have never been told to do anything other than teach biblical truths with my theological convictions openly and honestly before my students Everyone knows where I stand on things and that has never been a problem.  Again, no issues whatsoever.

- In addition to teaching, CU leaders have overwhelmingly embraced and encouraged me to continue serving in KBC churches.  I have served four KBC churches as interim pastor: Parkway BC, Bethany BC, Lancaster BC and Hurstbourne BC.  There has never been any issues with me being a CU, SWBTS, SBTS and KBC guy.  Again, no issues whatsoever.

- Lastly, my wife is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. from SBTS in Family Ministry and has taught five classes at CU as an adjunct instructor.  Again, no problems or issues whatsoever.

Are you seeing a running theme?  In summary, we are, and have always been, KBC connected.  My family are, and will continue to be,  members of a KBC church.  I will hopefully, if God wills, continue serving as an interim pastor in KBC churches.

Some have said CU hasn’t changed.  I disagree.  If anything, CU is more KBC connected now than ever before.

Two Types of Teams – Church Staff and College Dept

Two groups of people dividedOver the past decade, I have served on two types of teams – a church staff team and an academic departmental team.  Five years on the first; six years and counting on the second.

In retrospect, these two types of teams could not be any more different.  Something I wish I could have understood way back when.

Here are some differences between the two.

1.  Church staff teams work very close to one another, while academic department teams have lots of internal space.

Church staffs usually share the same calendar with everyone fighting for dates.  They also have to share resources from the same budget, utilizing the same key people, reserving the same facility space, and sometimes even the sharing the same office.  Everything is close; everything is shared.  One thing done by a particular staff person effects everyone else in some way or another.  No one is an island unto themselves.

Academic teams are very different.  There is more internal space between the faculty members.  While they may have to share the departmental budget, they usually function from their own calendar, working independently from their own class schedule, making improvements to their own degree programs, and even separating their own students from others in the department.  The internal space within provides more individualism and less shared resources.  This can be both a good thing and a source of conflict if not managed properly.

2.  Church staff teams meet frequently, while academic department teams may meet once or twice a month.

Again, this promotes more internal space between faculty and their day-to-day activities.  Church staffs have to communicate with each other.  They have to know what the other team members are doing, so not to disrupt the delicate balance of everything.  Significant time meeting one-on-one with your senior pastor or sitting down together as a team is essential.

Academic teams do not have this requirement.  As long as you are doing your thing, teaching your classes, meeting with your students, you are good to go.  You also have the academic calendar and its scheduled breaks like fall break, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break.  There are times when it might be two or three months before I see any my colleagues on a regular basis.

3.  Church staff teams must be unified and functioning in a semi-healthy dynamic in order to succeed.  Academic department team don’t require the same level of unity. 

The indicators of success are so wildly different. For the church staff, success might be measured in spiritual growth or programmatic advancement or development of an effective outreach strategy.  For the academic dept., success is mostly measured in numeric growth, graduation rates, retention from year to year, new program development, and adding of faculty members.

The academic dept. team can say,  “Hey, we had a great year” and really not be united behind a singular vision or even enjoying spending time with one another.  That is not the case with a church staff.

A seasoned faculty member once told me that teaching on the college campus is like playing on the Ryder’s Cup squad – Everyone is collectively on the team, but you still play your match by yourself.  As long as you personally are doing your part, you don’t have to really like or even play along with your academic team mates.

4.  Lastly, church staff teams live in a highly emotional environment, while academic dept. teams only experience high emotion once or twice per year, usually around the end of term.

The discipleship and soul-care of saints and expanding the kingdom through evangelism form a very emotional environment for the church staff.  Everything is personal.  Relationships are personal.  Church politics are personal.  Team dynamics among the staff is very personal.  Not to mention living life together with church members whom you love and who love you in return.  The heart is always engaged.

Academic dept. teams are not like this.  While there are personal relationships among colleagues and meaningful relationships with students, the environment is not nearly as emotional.  It can be at times, but it usually is not.  Students move on.  Semesters move on.  Graduation comes every December and May.  The fall semester becomes the spring semester and then everyone leaves for summer break.   We start again in the fall and follow the pattern year after year.

As I look back over the past eleven years, these two types of team stand in stark contrast.  I never knew how different they really are.  I wrongly assumed the team I joined on the college campus would be very similar to the team I left from church.  I was wrong.  They are two completely different environments.  I don’t think one is better and the other worse; they are just wildly different.

 

5 Questions Answered in 5 Sermons

since you askedAt Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, we have recently finished a series of messages called Since You Asked.

Basically, I gave the entire congregation the chance to ask biblical, theological, and spiritual questions in which I would try to answer in a sermon.  We received nearly 30 questions and I attempted to answer five of them.

Maybe you have wondered about these things.  I have included the question and a link to the sermon audio if these have ever been questions in your mind.  Take a listen and let me know what you think.

  • How do we publicly and privately interact as the body of Christ with people who we significantly disagree with? sermon audio
  • When Christians leave this earthly life, do we immediately go and be with Jesus, seeing him face-to-face or will there be a waiting period for the second coming of Christ?  sermon audio
  • How do relationships work in heaven? Will we know and recognize our earthly family and friends? sermon audio
  • Does God control the small things? Such as does God give us one job over another? Does God determine where a student is accepted into college? Did God put my child in that teacher’s class? A fender bender that could have been a horrible accident, was that a “God thing”? The tickets to a sold-out ball game that are suddenly offered to us by a co-worker, is that orchestrated by God?  sermon audio
  • If a young man accepts Christ and is living a Christian life, has a Christian wife and two children. All is well. Time elapses, he gets involved with another woman, divorces his wife, gets into drinking and gambling. He drops out of church. His lifestyle never changes and he passes away. Is this person still going to heaven?  sermon audio

Go Cross-Vo Not Bi-Vo

I have been involved in bi-vocational ministry for the past 6 years.  This simply means I work a normal, full-time job (for me on the faculty of a Christian university) and serve part-time in local churches.  I have loved every minute in this dual ministry role.

What I do not love is the terminology: bi-vo.  Bi-vo, short for bi-vocational, has a negative connotation to it.  To most people in the pews it means that their pastor or church staff member is split in two.  That your heart is divided.  That you have to focused on one job to the detriment of the other.  As if you are in a tug-of-war between two jobs – one will win, the other will lose.

tug-o-war1

In bi-vo ministry, someone wins, someone will lose.

While more and more churches are considering going bi-vo because of financial constraints and/or declining attendance, they feel having a bi-vo pastor or bi-vo worship leader is a sign of defeat and impending death.  In all actuality, bi-vo can be a huge boost in lay-ministry involvement, community engagement and potential outreach.

Therefore, I think we need to change the language.  I think we need to reframe the vision and conversation surrounding bi-vocational ministry.

From this point forward, I will use the phrase “cross-vocational” instead of bi-vo.

  • Cross-vocational means you are living equally in two worlds: the marketplace and the ministry location.
  • Cross-vocational means you have on-going relationships with two groups simultaneously – your brothers and sisters in Christ and those you serve in the workplace.
  • Cross-vocational means you are fluid, entrepreneurial, creative, willing to be flexible, able to lead and succeed in both contexts.

Cross-vocational ministry has been the calling card of our missionaries and church planters for centuries.  They all have had to work both sides of the ministry field, in the world and out of the world, serving those who have yet to hear and to those who are fully committed to Christ.  I believe the cross-vocational spirit will come to more and more pastors and church leaders in the days ahead.

I believe a cross-vocational shift is coming in America for three primary reasons.

1.  Significant differences between the Builders & Boomers and the X’ers and Millennials in giving and stewardship patterns will result in precipitous declines in church budgets.  There will simply not be enough resources to fully-fund church staff, especially in light of health care cost.  (See my recent post on the ending of full-time paid youth ministry.)

2.  As evangelism and baptisms decrease, pastors and church leaders will demand freedom to engage unreached people within their communities.  This access will only come from unhinging themselves from a pervasive Christian sub-culture inside the church and interacting with more non-believers out in the real world.

3.  As churches streamlining and simplifying their ministry efforts and programming (aka the winnowing effect), they will have to say “no” to the secondary, more peripheral ministries in lieu of keeping the essential ministries.  The end result will be less day-to-day work to do.  This means less needed, fully-funded paid staff.

I do not see any way around this ministry shift.

I do see a large number of churches really struggling with this new reality.  But if they want to be proactive, they might consider going cross-vo now when its their choice instead of going cross-vo later when they have no choice.

(To be continued. More on cross-vocational ministry in the days to come.)

 

 

 

 

 

The End of Paid Youth Ministry

Every two years I teach a class called Introduction to Youth Ministry.  And every two years, I wonder if it will be the last go-round.

I have been speculating and saying publicly for years that full-time youth ministry positions were going the way of the dinosaur.  I could see it in the job postings, hear it in conversations with Educational Ministry professionals, and watch it in the churches of KY, where I serve.

At one point (5 or 6 years ago), I was receiving two or three calls a week asking for resumes of young, graduating CU students looking to serve in full-time youth ministry.  But those calls are becoming less and less.  The vast majority of calls I now receive are for children’s ministry leaders.

While I knew a change was afoot, I didn’t have any other supporting evidence.  Until Group Magazine published its May/June 2014 edition with the front cover questioning “The End of Paid Youth Ministry?” I knew someone would eventually start talking about this shift.

The piece is written by Mark Devries, founder of Ministry Architects, formerly Youth Ministry Architects.

group magazine small

Group Magazine May/June 2014 Edition

Devries tracks compensation and benefit packages for full-time youth ministry leaders over the past decade.  The trend showed that from 2005-2010, there was an increase in salary and benefit packages.  Yet after 2010, there has been a steady decline.

Since that point, the compensation packages have been moving downward, making the average compensation in 2012 – $37,500, which includes take home pay, medical insurance, life insurance, retirement, travel and resource expenses all in one bundle.  In reality, the take-home pay is much closer to $25,000 which is hard to live on in America, particularly in the cities, as a single income.  Its doable, but a stretch.

The other trend of interest is youth ministry leaders who work a second job, meaning the youth ministry is not their only source of income.  Since 2005 that percentage has increased from 17% to 36%.

Devries conclusion is simple and straightforward:  “It’s not the end of paid youth ministry, but the end of full-time, fully-benefited youth ministry.”  Churches, with tighter budgets and the insufficient funds to keep up with rising medical cost, are thinking differently.

Devries goes on to say,

When we assess all the ancillary expenses required for a full-time employee, it’s not hard to understand this shift – health and other benefits for a full-timer can run as much as 30 percent of salary, making two part-timers (without benefits) a much better ‘deal’ for many churches than one full-timer. (emphasis mine)

I have seen this trend everywhere.  Churches can hire two interns or two part-time youth leaders, say one for middle school and one for high school, or one for children and one for teenagers, and not provide any benefits, insurance or time off.  In a sense, they get two (or even three) for the price of one. I have been seeing this for years.

To all my Ed. Min. students (and anyone else interested in youth ministry), if you want to serve students in the local church then find a great job doing something in the public or private sector.  Something you love.  Something you can live on.  Something you can find fulfillment in.  And then seek out a youth ministry position to serve teenagers and students in the local church.

Devries seals this revised vision when he says, “Working a second job to support our ministry calling doesn’t mean we’re bi-vocational – it’s a single vocation, expressed in different ways.”  Absolutely on-point and will be essential in the future.

Thank you Group Magazine for bringing light to this change.  We needed to hear it.

One Year as CU Faculty Chair

Dr. Frank Cheatham, Dr. Joseph Owens, Congressman Ed Whitfield, Dr. Michael Carter, myself, Mrs. Paula Smith, Dr. Mark Bradley

Commencement Breakfast, May 3, 2014 at the President’s Home. From Left to Right: Dr. Frank Cheatham, Dr. Joseph Owens, Congressman Ed Whitfield (KY-1st District), Dr. Michael Carter, myself, Mrs. Paula Smith, Dr. Mark Bradley

For the past year, I have had the great honor as serving as the Campbellsville Univ. Faculty Forum Chair.  With only 5 years of faculty experience, I was completely shocked to be asked to serve on this role.  There are many qualified, experienced, and much more adept faculty members at Campbellsville Univ., but I was asked nevertheless.

I’ve learned when an opportunity is presented, you can either accept the task and try to rise to the occasion or run from it.  In this instance, I chose to walk through the door and allow God to grow me through the experience.  And God certainly had some leadership tests along the way.

We began the school year in difficult days.  Prior to the start of classes, the university family lost two dear members of the staff.  While a new school year should feel hopeful and full of anticipation, there was a shadow of darkness and grief over us all.  When two employees pass in the prime of their lives, it is hard to understand.  One of those beloved saints was my next door office buddy, Mr. Paul Dameron, a Druien Hall brother.  I still miss hearing his booming voice coming through our paper-thin walls.

The fall semester progressed with both ups and downs.  Great enrollment on the main campus, yet some programs (including several that I oversee) took a dip.  But we pressed on and tried to rely on God’s grace, good decision making, wise counsel, and see every challenge as opportunity for improvement.

The December Faculty Forum meeting included the announcement that Dr. Frank Cheatham, who has served at CU for 41 years, would be retiring at the end of 2014.  If you want a picture of faithful, steady, integrity-filled leadership over the long haul, Dr. Cheatham would be that picture.  I love being able to say Dr. Cheatham has been my professor, my boss boss, and now a friend and mentor.

The spring semester culminated in our SACSCOC 10 year accreditation visit.  This evaluation process for academic institutions is rigorous and extensive.  We were thrilled to hear we came through in very good shape.

The year ended in the commencement services over the weekend.  As faculty chair, I was invited to offer the benediction prayer.  It occurred to me on Saturday during the undergraduate ceremony that it has been 15 years (almost to the day) since I walked across that grey, noisy stage in J.K. Powell Athletic Center.

In 15 years, I went from being a student in the seats anxious to receive my diploma, to the CU Faculty Chair seated on the platform watching my students receive theirs. This included one of my Ed. Min. students doing a standing back-flip on the stage and nearly causing me to have a heart attack.  (Thanks Rico!)

Fifteen years from one seat to the another.  This, to me, is absolutely unbelievable.  I am so thankful and humbled.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have pictured what God might do.  To serve my school, my alma mater, my fellow colleagues, and my God in this role of leadership has been such a blessing.

Thank you Lord for opening doors for the most unqualified, undeserving, ill-equipped academic leader in training.

 

 

 

The Rolling Stone

If you have ever wondered how the stone sealing the entrance of Jesus’ tomb could be rolled away, watch this.  It will probably make more sense afterwards.

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.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan


I bet you never envisioned the Jordan River to look like a KY backwoods creek.  Well here it is in living color.  Plus a reading from John 1 about a voice crying out in the wilderness.  This is wilderness my friends.

My Experience as a Campbellsvillian

Teaching in Druien Hall.

Rampant news has been swirling – some true, some false – about my alma mater and employer Campbellsville University with specific attention directed toward my area the CU School of Theology.

I have not had any desire to pour more fuel on this raging fire and have actually encouraged my students to stay out of the fray, however, I have been encouraged to speak about my experience at CU as a student back in the 90’s in the School of Theology.

I offer three truths about my alma mater and school.

1.  As a student, this place changed my life forever by exposing me to Christ, to his calling for my life, to the truthfulness of Scripture, to the ministry of serving others as unto the Lord, to the task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and to the role of loving people who are from every Christian tradition.  As I had the opportunity to serve Christ in closed countries, in major urban centers, and down dirt paths, I learned that you shouldn’t get too bothered about who is a Methodist and who is a Baptist.  You are just happy to serve alongside people who, like you, love Jesus and want to tell others about Him.

2.  As a student, I was trained by great men and women of God who loved Jesus, His Word, the Gospel and the mission of the church.  Faithful men like Dr. Ted Taylor who has served 40+ years in local church ministry and Dr. John Hurtgen whose passion for the New Testament and Christian fellowship are as evident today as they were back then.  Also outstanding Christian women and scholars like Dr. Paula Qualls who loved the Old Testament more than anyone I’ve ever met and showed me how to love it as well.

3.  As a student, I formed lifelong friendships with many brothers and sisters in Christ who are now serving around the world as missionaries and in our nation as pastors and ministers.  These friendships continue to model one of the School of Theology core values: partners in enduring fellowship.

Lastly, I want all to know that I came to faith in Jesus through the ministry of a KBC church in Lewisport, KY.  I was baptized, discipled and called to ministry in a KBC church.  I have served on two KBC church staffs.  I have been an interim pastor for four KBC churches.  I have four CP-supported theological degrees – one from CU, two from SWBTS and one from SBTS.  I am a Southern Baptist and KY Baptist through and through.

I believe the Bible is true.  I believe the Gospel is the only means of salvation.  I believe that my role as a man, husband, father, pastor, and professor is to offer and explain this glorious Gospel to every person I meet.   These biblical convictions have never been questioned or prevented while attending, or now while teaching, at CU.  They have only been encouraged and enhanced.  I have a platform that most pastors never have.  I get to teach unbelieving young men and women the Gospel in class every day and they have to come and listen.  This is a wonderful mission.

I am proud to be a small part of the CU story.  I love my alma mater and employer.

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

vbs preview 3

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.

vbs nashville 1 web

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.

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.)

vbs preview 2

vbs preview 3

vbs preview 5

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.

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.”

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.

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.

One Picture Tells My CentriKid ’13 Story

centrikid 2013

This one picture perfectly describes my CentriKid 2013 experience.  After working on the sermon content, training the camp pastors, and serving as camp pastor myself for 3 camp cycles, this one picture is what it is all about.  Thank you Hannah Golden for sharing it with me.

This group of kids were outstanding.  After worship one evening, they came up as every one else was leaving to ask me a few questions about God, His existence, how God relates to us here on earth, and how Jesus and God are one in the same, yet unique. It started with one question, which led to another and another.  After about 40 questions and an hour of discussion, they were still coming up with more and more questions.  You know how kids are.  Once they get started, they keeping going.

It was one of the richest theological discussions I’ve had in years.  These kids were asking deep, I mean, deep questions about how the narrative of Scripture relates to what they’ve learned about evolution and natural science.  Their questions were smart, articulate, and hard.

To be truthful, they were asking questions I don’t even get asked in my college level Intro to Christianity class.  They were curious and inquisitive and I loved every minute of it.

Teaching kids theology is a passion of mine.  If you can explain hard concepts to kids, you can explain them to anyone.  And these kids were eating it up.  Well, maybe all of them except the kid in the yellow shirt.  He was obviously checking something else out.  Fun.

Thank you LifeWay CentriKid camps and specifically CK2 for letting me serve alongside of you.

Decision Making and the SBC Related School

Denominationally affiliated colleges and universities are slightly different than secular, state-owned colleges and universities when it comes to the distribution of campus power and the process of decision making.

The following graphics are from my Ed.D. dissertation entitled Models of Academic Governance in Southern Baptist Related Colleges and Universities (2009) which shows in rank order who holds the most and least power within SBC-related versus secular, state-owned institutions.

For SBC-related schools…

power holders

For state-owned institutions…

power 2

Three key observations:

1.  SBC-related schools have denominational leaders, which are obviously not present in secular, state-owned institutions.  Denominational leaders are in the middle of the pack in institutional power and decision making.

2.  Legislators and federal/state governments are at the bottom of SBC-related schools, but are obviously much more involved in the secular, state-owned institutions.  This makes perfect since state funding and accountability are directly routed to state-owned universities.

3.  The president and trustees/governors/regents are always at the top in both categories.  The non-administrative faculty are in the middle for both categories.

Conclusions:

The conclusion of my dissertation is that with a slight exception here and there, SBC-related colleges and universities follow very similar decision making paths as secular, state-owned institutions.  There is not much deviation between the two rank orders.   I contend that this makes perfect, tangible sense because of regional accreditation issues, federal regulations for all degree conferring institutions, and the need to be competitive in the higher education market, which is full of all sorts of players – public, private, for-profit, non-profit, online, international.

However, I do believe and can confirm from personal experience, that SBC-related institutions are unique in wanting to balance the influence and partnership with denominational leaders.  The connection between churches and SBC-related schools is a needed relationship.

As there is diversity within SBC churches and their individual relationships with the state and national denomination groups with some closer, some further away, so goes the SBC-related college and university, some closer, some further away.  The reason for the variance is the same as with the churches – leadership, history, future vision, priorities, and frankly investment dollars.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,859 other followers