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.

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!

 

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