Partners in the Gospel

partners-in-gospelThe Word of the Lord through the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:3-5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” While Paul is certainly speaking to the church at Philippi and while this partnership involves praying and giving, I want to take this theme and reflect on my first year as associate pastor with Blue Ridge Christian Union Church. I, first and foremost, praise God for the blessing of partnering in the gospel with Pastor Brandon Sutton. It has been and is a joy to serve alongside a pastor whose heart is for glory of God and the Word of God. As I anticipate ministry with Blue Ridge in 2016, I wanted to share my takeaways from my first year in pastoral ministry:

Takeaway #1: The Importance of Guarding the Truth

In the latter half of 2 Timothy 1:14, Paul tells Timothy, “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” This good deposit is the gospel. This gospel has been entrusted to us. We do not have the right to change the gospel, but we do have the responsibility to guard it. This truth is not new to me but it has been brought to the forefront of my mind. In pastoral ministry, you will not only encounter people who distort the gospel; you will find pastors who distort the gospel. In order that they may not offend anyone, they do not call sin sin and they speak about love without a biblical definition of it. The message they share does not save; it deceives. Within Shelbyville (where Blue Ridge is located), the issue is even relevant. As a pastor, God has opened my eyes to the importance of guarding the truth of the gospel and proclaiming biblical truth.

Takeaway #2: The Dependence on the Holy Spirit for Change

Guarding the good deposit does not happen without the first half of 2 Timothy 1:14, “[b]y the Holy Spirit who dwells within us”. It is foolish for me, or any other Christian, to believe we can guard the gospel or live the Christian life without the person and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within us because God has saved us. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit for change, both in our lives and in the lives of others. In my preaching and teaching, I have experienced this need. If I am going to teach and preach the Word of God, I need the Holy Spirit to illumine my mind and heart to what He has inspired. This takes intentionality in my devotional life, which is always a work in progress. Dependence on the Holy Spirit is evident in my witnessing too. In the past year, I have been particularly intentional in sharing the gospel with a some young adults and, as of yet, nothing has come from it. I must remember, though, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to change and soften the person’s heart; my job is to share and pray.

Takeaway #3: Be Ready In Season and Out of Season

In another exhortation to Timothy, Paul says, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). For me, this “be ready in season and out of season” moment came the last Sunday in October of this year. Pastor Brandon and his wife Sherrie had just had their first child, Emma, in September. That October morning, though, they needed to take her to the ER. So at 7:30am I was asked if I had a sermon ready to preach at the 9:30am church service. By the providence of God I did. This instance was a fresh encouragement to be ready now and in the future to preach the Word.

Takeaway #4: Uncommon Pastoral Friendship

I have learned much this year and space does not allow me to share all of what I have learned. Nevertheless, the last takeaway from my first year with Blue Ridge Christian Union Church is the uncommon and unique pastoral friendship between Brandon and me. Before entering pastoral ministry, I did not realize there was counsel against friends working in ministry together. Apparently, there is a concept that pastors cannot be friends if they are partnering together in the same church ministry. I praise God this is not the case with Blue Ridge. I thank the Lord for Brandon’s partnership in the gospel and his friendship to me. He has encouraged me and exhorted me. He has given me constructive criticism. He has been a godly example of pastoral leadership. I am grateful to partner with him, and Blue Ridge, in the gospel.

Partnering to Reach the Unreached

Matthew 28:18-20 shares the words of Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is our authority. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. Jesus did not die for merely one ethnic group, even though He was called King of the Jews. Jesus’ Lordship extends around the whole world. To make disciples of all nations is to make disciples of Jesus in all people groups and ethnicities. Listen to this truth from Revelation 5:9-10,

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

If God calls us to make disciples of all peoples and He promises He will be with us, then there should be no question that Christians should be about reaching the unreached with the gospel. This does not mean every Christian should move overseas but it does mean every Christian should be praying for those who have not heard and believed in the truth of God’s Word. Therefore, I would like to share with you a video about the Somali people, an unreached people group (of approx. 17 million). By watching this 9-minute video, you can help get the gospel to these people. The video is in the Somali language so while you will not be able to understand, still watch it. From the images you can see the story of salvation being shared.

See, by simply watching this video, you have increased the likelihood that Somali speakers will see it as they are strategically targeted with a Facebook ad.

Yes, by simply watching this 9-minute video in Somali you will increase the likelihood that Somali speakers will see it as they are strategically targeted with a Facebook ad. In addition to watching this, would you please share it with other people? Grace and peace be with you!

This post was inspired by a blog post at Radical, the Bible-teaching ministry of David Platt, president of the International Mission Board. To find out more how you can specifically pray for the Somali people, click here.

Book Review: Essential Church?

It is no secret the church is losing young people. Many 18-22 year olds are choosing to leave the church. Why? Well, in short, they are doing so because they do not see it essential to their lives. While a number of specific reasons can be given, that is the constant theme throughout them. If this is indeed the case, then, what is the church to do? Thom Rainer and his son, Sam S. Rainer III, ask this very question in their work Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts. They write in two parts: (1) the problem the church is facing and (2) the solution, or steps toward, for reclaiming this generation for Christ.

The Rainers show through their thorough research the issues of young adults and the church. Again and again they reiterate the point that these young people did not see the church as essential-churchessential. Comments like “I guess I never saw how my faith and my church connected” (Rainer and Rainer 26) should cause church leaders and members to consider what the church is doing if she is not connecting the body of Christ to daily life. A few of the main points hit over a number of times throughout the book is in the fact young people strive to see the church reach out, to know why they are going, and to feel like they are participating in the life of the church. Thus, the Rainers call for a four-fold solution: (1) simplify-the right structure; (2) deepen-the right content; (3) expect-the right attitude; (4) multply-the right action. They set out the rest of the book to describe further what they mean by each.

Essential Church? is eye-opening book, reminding the church they need to reach this young generation by being open, honest, relational, and missional. There is a great need for intentionality and to answer the ‘why’ of what the church does. That makes this book worth the read. However, the emphasis and continual reiteration on statistics can cause one to become a little stagnant in their reading. Nevertheless, Essential Church?, although not necessarily a must read for church leaders and members, is a good read in order to better understand this upcoming generation.

I received this book for free from B & H Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the resource.

Internship Takeaways

takeawaysAs many of you know, I have been interning with Castleview Baptist Church in Indianapolis this summer. It has been a fruitful and edifying experience. I have learned much from it and feel I have a better biblical foundation for ministry than before. With just a few days left of this 10-week internship, I wanted to share with you some of what I have learned. I could list a ton of things I have gained but a few certain takeaways stand out. Surely, this includes intentionality on discipleship, the weight of responsibility for a pastor, and the importance of being a faithful church member.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this internship was the intentionality on discipleship and relationships. Looking back, I realize this has not been a strong point in my life. I have not actively and consistently discipled someone nor have I been intentional in seeking opportunities to be discipled. To see how Eric, the senior pastor, as well as the other pastors/elders emphasize relationships and discipleship has made a great impact. The intentional meetings with the elders, deacons, and church members were actually some of the most beneficial parts of the internship! Moving forward, I want to make intentional discipleship a priority in my life.

The second thing I have learned through this internship is the weight of responsibility a pastor has been entrusted with by God. As servants of Christ and stewards of God’s gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1-2), pastors are called to lead and live by example. This means being a man of character and leading sacrificially. The areas of church membership and church discipline are not easy doctrines to deal with nor are they always welcomed by those in the church. Yet, if a pastor wants to be faithful to the Word of God, then he must be willing to face difficult issues such as these. Case in point, a pastor must be faithful with as much as he has been entrusted with and must fear God rather than men.

A third, and a more surprising, takeaway this internship has taught me is learning what it means to be a faithful church member. I say this is more surprising because it was not a point I particularly would have thought I would come away with in a pastoral internship. Nevertheless, caring for one another, praying for one another, serving one another, and all the other “one anothers” in the New Testament have really gripped me this summer as I have thought about what it means to be a more faithful church member. Regardless of what happens in the future in the context of vocational ministry, the reminder of faithful church membership is still to be applied and it will. The body of Christ is a community of believers sharing in Christ and being one for His sake. In short, I thank God and Castleview for an amazing opportunity to have learned these things this summer.

The Ministry Mind-Shift

During this summer internship at Castleview Baptist Church, I have been required to read books pertaining to the ministry and then discuss with the pastoral staff the practical implications for the local church. One of the most edifying books throughout this process has been The Trellis and the Vine. I do not like to quote books often at length, but I think the following is worth doing so:

Imagine a reasonably solid Christian said to you after church one Sunday morning, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the ‘inside’; I don’t get asked to be on committees or lead Bible studies. What can I do?”

What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry that they could join or support?

This is how we are used to thinking about the involvement of church members in congregational life—in terms of jobs and roles: usher, Bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, treasurer, elder, musician, song leader, money counter, and so on. The implication of this way of thinking for congregation members is clear: if all the jobs and roles are taken, then there’s really nothing for me to do in this church. I’m reduced to being a passenger. I’ll just wait until I’m asked to ‘do something’. The implication for the pastoral staff is similar: getting people involved and active means finding a job for them to do. In fact, the church growth gurus say that giving someone a job to do within the firtrellis3st six months of their joining your church is vital for them to feel like they belong.

However, if the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.

So you could pause, and reply to your friend, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? That’s Julie’s husband. He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once a fortnight and read the Bible together?” (pages 26-27)

The authors go on to lay out a couple more of examples of what this could look like. Nevertheless, the point is the default mindset we have in ministry can tend to focus on programs, not people. Now, while programs can be helpful and can facilitate ministry, the primary work is people work. I promise you I do not have all this figured out. Yet, I do believe this is a ministry mindset and mind-shift we need to take a hold of and implement in our lives. This means being intentional in our relationships and discipleship. That is where we must start!

Relational Bible Reading

What if Bible reading is not just something for Sunday? What if the Word of God is meant to be read daily and in community with other believers? This is just one of the mind-shifts authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have set out to think over in their book The Trellis and the Vine. While there are a number of edifying points they make in theLayout 1 book in the context of ministry, this idea of relational Bible reading is one of the most intriguing. This is best represented when Marshall and Payne imagine what it would be like “if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading, not only digging into the word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement” (Marshall and Payne pg. 57). Case in point, this quite possibly could create a culture of disciple-making by the means of Bible reading, study, meditation, and prayer.

With this concept of relational Bible reading in mind, I am excited to share with you a resource Matthias Media has published. It is a book called One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm. Coming from the same company which produced Trellis and the Vine, it comes alongside the follower of Christ, showing them the why, who, and how of one-to-one Bible reading. Therefore, it is my commendation for you to buy this book. I challenge you to take what it says to heart and begin reading the Word of God with others as to enjoy fellowship and discipleship. Whether at home, work, school, and/or with church family, my prayer is we will grow in our passion for God’s Word and make a habit of reading the Word for evangelizing, equipping, and establishing. May it all be done for our good and God’s glory!

 

Gospel Ministry in Small Towns

Recently, I came across an article discussing ministry and it made the comment “cities matter because people matter”. While I completely agree with the sentiment that cities are where people are, I cannot help but think this does not describe the whole picture. To be sure, I do believe it is important to witness and preach the gospel in urban contexts. In fact, the college I graduated from emphasizes reaching a multi-ethnic urban world for Christ. I am completely on board for that mission. So there is no argument there. However, I believe in all of this talk about reaching cities with the gospel, there has been an unintentional neglect of smaller areas. Gospel ministry matters in small towns too because people matter. Yes, small towns may not have the population urban areas and cities do, but they still matter. They matter because people matter. That is why I am thankful for Jared Wilson’s wisdom on this subject in the video below. Please watch and be edified.

Leaving a Legacy: Reflection Questions

In the sermon Leaving a Legacy, we looked at what a life well-lived looks like. We saw that it is a life that teaches others, a life that is founded on the Word of God, and, most importantly, a life centered on God (see outline of sermon here). Expanding on that, please consider, reflect, and evaluate your own life as you go through each one of these questions. To God be the glory!

Reflection Questions:

  1. How can you invest your life in teaching others and passing on wisdom?

 

  1. What areas of life do you need to evaluate in checking your foundation to see if it is based on the Word of God?

 

  1. Meditate on Matthew 22:37-40 and 1 John 4:19-21. How can you live out these commandments in your life this week?

 

  1. How does an ‘entrusted’ mindset, as opposed to an ‘entitled’ one, affect how you think, act, and live?

 

The Seminary Decision (Revisited)

In a blog post I shared last April, I announced the decision to hold off on seminary. The idea was to not go to seminary (right away). As I approach my bachelor’s degree completion with graduation this May, I have more exciting news. I was wrong! I will not be taking as big of a break as I thought. As God usually does, the moment I think I have my life figured out, He switches it up on me. It is a great reminder I am not in control of my life. He is.

Anyway, my reasoning for holding off on seminary included gaining ministry experience and focusing more on my spiritual life. Those two things have not changed. However, the opportunity for seminary has. At the time, the seminary I was considering was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Their professors are top-notch and have an incredible passion for the gospel. Yet, I knew if I plunged in right away there would be major problems. For one, I did not want to burn myself out. I knew the workload would be just as much, if not more, than what I have experienced being in Bible college. I have been a full-time student, taking no fewer than four classes and averaging five courses a semester. I have struggled spiritually as I have devoted more time to assignments than to communion with God. Secondly, especially as a single I find myself struggling with the idolatry of lust and honestly SBTS is filled with gals who have been gifted by God with good looks. Therefore, I did not want that stumbling block in front of me, taking my attention off my studies and to other things. Put that all together and that is why I decided not to go and pursue my Master’s right away.

Then, an opportunity came along. Crossroads Bible College, where I have been pursuing my Bachelor’s degree, chose to partner with the graduate school of Lancaster Bible College, Capital Seminary and Graduate School. They began offering a Master of Arts in Ministry. While this did seem like something worth considering, I really wanted to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. Then, I had a meeting with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Eckel. Although he no longer teaches at Crossroads, I will remember him as one of my favorite instructors. Interestingly enough, though, he is now a professor for Capital Seminary. Over dinner, he discussed with me the opportunity to actually pursue a Master of Divinity degree with Capital at their Indianapolis site. Each course is blended, meaning online and on-campus, and runs for six weeks. The way this program is set up, you can take one course every six weeks.

With all this said, I still plan on taking a semester off. I need a time of spiritual renewal and refocus as move beyond my undergraduate. Nevertheless, I would like to announce beginning in the spring term of 2015, I will be attending Capital Seminary and Graduate School (Indianapolis site) to obtain a Master of Divinity in Leadership Studies.

Capital Seminary

A Heart for Haiti

wph4h
“This will probably be my last time here.” I spoke these words seven months ago after returning from my second mission trip to Haiti. I had lost focus on that trip and was uncertain what the future would hold after graduating this upcoming May. The last two trips took place in the summer so I figured the next opportunity for our church going was the following summer. With that in mind, I was sure this was my last trip to Haiti. But God knew better.

I was approached only a couple of months after this incident and asked if I would be interested in going to Haiti on a medical mission trip in February. My role would be to serve as the spiritual leader of the group, pray with patients, and lead our team’s devotions. Looking back, I can see the Lord’s hand in this. I agreed to join the team and began to prepare for the trip. Then, last Monday we went.

Words cannot describe this trip. It was an incredible and amazing time. It was a joy to be a part of a great team. Having the opportunity to pray with the Haitians and lead three of them to Christ is something I will always hold dear. The spiritual dryness I have faced the last few months has been replaced with spiritual zeal and has reignited my awe for God. I have really developed a heart for Haiti. Knowing that my focus was off on last year’s trip, I made it a priority to keep my focus on God this trip. To say the least, it was proven to be fruitful. My heart has grown for Haiti, for the Haitians, and for those who serve there. The relationships you make, whether it be the translators, the missionaries, or the people, you are reminded you have family down there. As I am not even a week removed from this trip, I am already missing serving, praying, and fellowshipping with the people in Haiti. So, seven months after thinking I had went on my last Haiti trip, I am here to say, Lord willing, I will be making many more trips to this place to serve. This is because I have a heart for Haiti and have family down there now.