My journey into, and out of, contemporary ministry.

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Recently I asked my Facebook friends what topic they would like me to address in my blog.  One person suggested publicly (followed by several private messages from others, suggesting the same thing) that I write a blog about the path that has led me to where I currently am with my philosophy of ministry. (It’s hard to recap 20 years into one blog post, so I’m just going to recap, but feel free to contact with me if you need more clarification on any statement made here.  This is not meant as a criticism toward anyone, especially to those who I’ve served along side of, just trying to show the path that has brought me to this point.)

Let me pause to add that this is not a sermon, but just reporting incidents that took place in my life. This is not, specifically, a post ABOUT philosophy of ministry, but about what brought me here today. I plan to write more, in the future, about ministry philosophy.

Those who know me know that I grew up going to a very conservative Independent Baptist Church.  My Pastor, Wade Sheffield, has always been very conservative in his doctrine, as well as in his personal standards and positions.  As a young teen, I learned from him, though, that my positions and standards must be placed in Scripture, and through the leading of the Holy Spirit, not because “my pastor does it this way.”

Although he taught me that, when I went to Bible College, I was not as prepared as I thought I was to handle the pull that would come from (surprisingly) fellow Bible College students to continually move my positions toward a more “no absolutes” position.  What I mean by “no absolutes positions” in this connotation is that many students I was surrounded by took the position that, within ministry, there is no right or wrong way to “do church”.

A quick glance at Scripture reveals that He has given us all the direction we need in ministry 2 Peter 1:3 says “according as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” But as a 18 year old, I was unprepared for the challenge.

I remember one conversation, in particular, from my freshman year.  I was sitting in the laundry room of my dorm speaking with a college junior.  We were discussing music and he told me that there was no such thing as right or wrong music…..just right or wrong words.  His explanation was that every note on the piano is neither good, or bad.  Therefore, no combination of music notes could be moral or immoral.  As a freshman, I was not prepared for this argument and came to the conclusion that he must be right. (I should have said, every letter of the alphabet is neither moral or immoral, but I bet I can put some together and say some pretty ungodly things). When Ephesians 5:19 tells us to be “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord,” that sure seems like more than just words. It sounds like the music is involved as well. When one’s desire is “reach mote people”, as opposed to “lift up Christ”, we’ll go many different directions. My thought at the time was, “if I bring people to Christ, that will bring Him Glory”, my philosophy now is “as I strive to lift Christ, through rightly dividing His Word, and living for Him, He’ll empower me as i preach, witness, and go soulwinning, to have a part in others coming to Christ.” Christ said in John 12:32 “And, I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

After this discussion I almost felt like I had discovered something that all those uneducated old preachers didn’t know.  I probably felt like Rehoboam when he rejected the counsel of the “old men” and found men his age who counseled him.  1 Kings 12:8 “But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him”.

I’m not saying this is how everyone feels, but it was about this time that I started looking at the “old guard” as part of the problem, because they just didn’t know what we now know, and they just didn’t think things through, but rather, just did what their predecessors had done.

The college I attended was going through major changes during the time I was there.  A major portion of the supporting pastors split off from the college and started a much more conservative college.  Not understanding all the particulars, it was very easy to get defensive about my school and blame those “old guard” preachers for being so divisive.  (completely ignoring the fact that maybe, just maybe, it was those who were trying to force change that might have been the ones causing division).  I slowly began attaching these same type of thoughts toward those who were adamant about using the King James Version of the Bible.  I had no real understanding of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, or of the Texts Receptus, but I new that taking a hard stand on Bible versions, and a soft stand on music didn’t seem to gel.  The “it’s not a big deal” mentality had crept in.

I embarked down this path in hopes of being on the cutting edge of ministry.  My favorite quotes were some of the same quotes we’ve all heard many times.  “If you want to reach those that no one is reaching, you’ve got to do what no one else is doing.” (Ironically, I was seeking to copy other liberal men I “perceived” as successful).  “door-to-door soulwinning just doesn’t work anymore.”  “Our church needs to get out of 1950 if it wants to be relevant”  etc.  On the surface, some of these quotes my sound spiritual to some but at the core lied a disrespect for the labors of my spiritual leaders and toward our Baptist heritage.  Those statements made me feel better while taking passive aggressive shots at the past.

Bitterness can be a great route to take if you are trying to win people over to your cause.  Unfortunately, bitterness may win them over to you, but will not win them to Christ.  Those who are constantly critical of “organized church” or “big religion” or toward all structure in general tend to flock together by the masses.  Early in my ministry, it was easy to gain the ears of young people who trained in our public education system to always question/rebel against authority and structure.  When a Youth Pastor or Pastor stands before young people and harps on “legalist” who want to tell us how to __________ (you fill it in with what ever issue you’d like) and gripes about those who just don’t want to accept change, and are holding our young people back from following the Lord, it is easy to rally the troops because this is the same perceived battle that these young people are having with their own parents.  Then, when teens tell you how “you’re the only christian leader they can really relate to” it is very easy to feel like we must be doing it right because we are winning the teens over (primarily, winning them to us).

In September of 2000, I took my first full-time ministry position.  I became the youth pastor of a church in Northern Indiana.  The Pastor of that church gave me much (probably too much) freedom in leading the youth department.  A major part of our ministry was our music.  We didn’t really perform anything or even sing it.  But at every activity it was blaring, and we even did music “reviews” each Wednesday of current CCM music.  Oddly enough, it was during those reviews that I began to realize how much our teens were primarily drawn to the most shallow, yet beat driven, music.  I took our youth group to CCM concerts frequently, which were always ecumenical in nature.

The ecumenical concerts really began to bother me when I took our group to “Winter Jam” in Fort Wayne.  The hosting group, Newsong, asked for all youth leaders to come backstage.  There we were instructed that an invitation would be given and that we were needed as altar workers.  At the end of the concert, a message was preached and an invitation was given.  I’ll never forget trying to share the gospel with a young man, while being able to hear the man next to me talking to another teen who had come forward.  He was not giving the gospel, he was telling him how his salvation could be secured by simply coming to their church on Sunday and getting baptized.  We were told by Newsong’s leader that we just needed to agree to disagree about some things.  I understand that to a point, but I couldn’t help but be convicted by the thought that I was part of a night that gave so much false hope to some who were told that their sins could be washed away in a baptism pool.

After I left that ministry, I went to Ludington, MI.  Two months after I got there, the pastor stepped down and the Associate Pastor eventually stepped in as the Pastor.  This man, Pastor Brian Blount, was not the one who hired me, but we forged a great friendship and he was/is a great mentor to me.   I remember an instance where I was talking to our teens (by the way, this church was much more conservative than my previous ministry, and  I was trying my best to follow the Pastor’s vision, but my own thoughts came out from time to time) and I mentioned that I had a DC Talk cd in my car, and a few of the parents were not too happy about that.  I chalked it up to them being part of that problematic “old guard”.

After a few months in the church, a dear elderly lady in the church, with a sweet spirit, offered me a book.  It was called, “why I left the contemporary christian music movement” by Dan Lucarini.  This book wasn’t written by an Independent Fundamental KJV Baptist, but it was very eye opening for me.  It made me begin to at least question my motives and my direction.  It wasn’t long before we had a trip for “college days” to my old college.  I was excited to take my kids to my old college and see what was happening there.  While there, a professor gave me a book that was now being required for every student in the Pastoral and/or Music degree program.  The book was called “The New Worship” by Barry Liesch.  As I read this book, basically it was a manual for how to go into an established church and change their music by either getting everyone on board, or getting to old fold to get out of the way.

I was very discouraged by reading that book, but coupled with the Lucarini book, God began to stir thought and conviction in me.

By this point, I was operating a very conservative youth department, but not by my choosing, but at the direction of my pastor.  I began, though, to see a difference between the ministries that I had been a part of.  Primarily, what I noticed was one that had fruit which remained, and one had big events, with even many “decision cards” but with very little fruit that remained (souls saved, missionaries called, preachers called, etc.)

In March of 2004, when I moved back to Calvary Road Baptist Church, God began to cement some things in my life.  Another booklet that helped me a lot was “Music Matters” by Cary Schmidt (also, his book Hook, Line, and Sinker). I may not dot every “i” and cross every “t” like my childhood pastor, or some other conservative pastors, but I would say that every year that I pastor, and understand the responsibility that comes with such a ministry, the Holy Spirit has led me in a more conservative direction.  I can say that the “it’s not a big deal” mentality has been replaced with “God’s work is the BIGGEST deal we’ll ever encounter” mentality.  I so want to handle His Word, and His work, with care.

I hope this post is received in the spirit in which it is written. I hope to write a book down the road, that will go more in detail regarding ministry philosophy. As of now, my thoughts a kind of a jumbled mess, as I was asked about the course of events which led me to where I am today.

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His Ways Are Better!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” Isaiah 58:8

There are many things about God that just do not make sense to us in our human reason and practicality.  But, God is certainly not limited to our understanding of practicality.

It was not practical for God to part the water for Moses and the Children of Israel to walk across on dry land (Exodus 14).  It would have been much for practical for Moses to be led to shallow area that they could pass and for them to escape from Pharaoh’s men.  But when God parted the water, He was glorified and magnified in a way that man could have never manufactured.

It was not practical for the Children of Israel to fight a battle by simply walking around the city walls (Joshua 6).  But, through their obedience, God was glorified and magnified.  Had God simply allowed the Children of Israel to fight and destroy Jericho, the glory could have possibly been given to the men who fought the battle.  Instead, we see God move in such a way that only He can be credited.

It was not practical for God to have Moses strike the rock in order to provide water (Exodus 17:6).  It would have been very practical for God to tell Moses where an abundant spring was located, but God had a plan, and God worked in accordance to His plan, His ways.

Sometimes I wonder if we seek for “practical” things so that we can seem smarter than those around us.  When, what God asks of us is that we would walk by faith, not by sight, and follow His word.

The world has it’s ways and it’s practical advice for us today, but we need to obey God.  Not as a matter of superstition but because we understand that He loves us and has a plan for our life and His ways are higher than our ways.  His plan works!

We wonder why we have the money problems we have.  The world’s financial plan is not near as solid as God’s plan.  Luke 6:38 tells us to “give, and it shall be given unto you…”. When we fail to tithe and give offerings to the Lord, we wonder why we constantly live in stress over our money.  We’ve placed having money over obedience to God’s plan.  God provides when we walk by faith.

We wonder why we have so much trouble with our children when we defiantly ignore God’s Word for raising our children.  Many a parent has told me that they just do not believe in disciplining their children.  They seek the world’s plan and then wonder why their children end up in trouble with all authority figures in their life.

We wonder why the divorce rate is just as bad among Christians as it is among unbelievers.  The Biblical roles of the husband and wife have been shunned, not just by the world, but my many Christians today.  In pre-marital counseling sessions I’ve had many Christians giggle at the idea of applying Biblical principles in their home during our modern age.  “This isn’t the 1950’s anymore” is a common response.  God still blesses homes that follow His Word.

I say all that, to say this:  It’s not that God disciplines us out of anger and vitriol.  But He loves us and wants us to follow His ways, because His way is far better than our way.  It may not makes sense if we look at it through the practical ideas of this world.  Just trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

I bet the Children of Israel was pretty happy when the obeyed even though it didn’t make sense.

It made sense for them to be afraid of the giants in the land (Numbers 13).  That didn’t work out for them so well.

Many times we say “Lord, show me the path and I’ll decide if I want to walk down that path.”

His way says “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:6

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The Right Crowd

I’d just like to take a moment and encourage my fellow Independent Fundamental Pastors.  If you’re looking for a blog that is critical of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches/pastors, you’ll have absolutely no problem, at all, finding some, but you won’t find it here.  If all I knew about Independent Fundamental Baptist came from blogs, I might surmise that:

  • Tons of them think that projector screens make you liberal
  • Pastors only preach topical messages so they can twist the Word for their benefit
  • Our churches are all dying.
  • We only allow songs written before 1900
  • We are thankful that the lost do not return after their first visit to our church
  • Our Bible colleges are all garbage, yet pastors push all the teens toward them.

and the list could go on and on.

To that, I say: If that’s your impression of Independent Fundamental Baptist, you hang around a sorry bunch.  As an Independent Fundamental Baptist I am honored to serve Jesus Christ along side some great people.  By many, I’d be one of those far-right IFB pastors.  Yet, if you come to Calvary Road Baptist Church you’d find a diverse group of people (diverse in age, race, and background) who are committed to serving Christ and reaching the lost, not only in our community but around the world.  You’d find projector screens with words to our songs (gasp!). You’d find that we preach through entire books of the Bible in expository fashion as well as topical sermons.  (style isn’t the preference……our people just care that the Word is rightly divided). You’d see a church that is growing, seeing souls saved and baptized. You’d hear Spirit-filled singing of the classic hymns as well as many ‘new’ songs. (Date is not the issue, Christ honoring is).  You’d find a church full of people who are so excited to bring friends and invite strangers into God’s House to hear His Word preached.  And you’d also find that our church has young men and women who are surrendered to the ministry who are being trained “in house” and some who are being sent to Bible college for their training.  We realize that Bible college isn’t for everyone, yet they can serve a great purpose for some others.

And here’s the kicker……I find that to be pretty normal among churches that I know.

I’m positive there are bad churches/pastors out there.  But let’s be honest, most of the blogs out there today are being written about the “crazy” few.  I want to promote what’s RIGHT about our movement, seeing as I see so much RIGHT going on.  Sure, my blog would get more hits if I tried to criticize dead preachers of days gone by who God greatly used in spite of their flaws, but I’ll leave that for those that have already claimed that niche.

To my fellow servants of Christ, I say as Paul did to the church at Philippi in Philippians 1:3-5

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,

For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

 

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Sunday’s coming!!!!

Psalm 122:1 “A Song of degrees of David. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.”

I’m REALLY excited about this coming Sunday,  I would venture to say that I’m more excited about this Sunday than any Sunday since my first week as Pastor of Calvary Road Baptist Church.  There are a few different reasons why I am so excited about this Sunday.

1.  It’s the next Sunday on the calender (I’m sure by Monday, I’ll be really stoked for Sunday, January 12th).

2.  This week is “Vision Sunday” at Calvary Road Baptist Church.   We will be unveiling our new theme for 2014 and giving out resources to the church body which will help them in their spiritual walk as well as keep them informed about the ministry of Calvary Road Baptist Church. (We will have some really nice annual calendars complete with all the CRBC events for the entire year, new Gospel tracts, which reflect the 2014 theme, as well as a nice Bible reading plan which will help us in reading through the Bible this year as a church family).

3.  This year, more so than any year I’ve been Pastor, I feel we are organized and ready for the task ahead of us.  This Sunday kicks off what is sure to be a great year at CRBC.  This year will have several exciting things, here are are a few highlights:  In January we have some church planters to the city of Cincinnati coming to present their work.  In February, Bro. Ed and Sheila Snider will come as guest speakers for our Valentine’s Banquet.  March brings our 2014 Revival with Pastor Brian Blount, from Ludington, Michigan, and will also see the beginning our our Sunday School campaign.  In April, Pastor Lonnie Mattingly will be back with us for Friend Day.  This year, we will have a Mother/Daughter banquet in May (we haven’t been able to have one for the last few years), and in June we will have a special Men-and-Boys camp-out right before Father’s Day.  Of course, Jr. Camp and Teen camp are in the month of June as well and a special visit from a traveling group from Heartland Baptist Bible College.  In July, we’ll have VBS.  August will be pretty busy again with Youth Conference, Men’s Advance, and special guests Ted and Jo Mock (with Rocky, of course).  Our ladies retreat is in September and the couples retreat is in October.  October will also be our Missions Emphasis month with 3 different Missionaries preaching during the month.  We’ll close out the month of October with our Fall Festival on the 25th.  November, we celebrate our 40th Anniversary and in December we celebrate all the usual Christmas activities.  whew……….it’s going to be great.

4.    I’m excited about the sermons God has already laid on my heart for this year.   Starting this Sunday night, I’ll be preaching verse-by-verse through the book of Galatians.  I’ve already got my sermon outlines written for all Sunday mornings leading up to our Revival starting on March 23.  So in essence, the reason for the excitement is because God has already been speaking so much to my own heart about the future of CRBC.

I believe, as Scripture teaches, that God would have us to do things decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14:40).  I’m excited to see how God blesses the planning of the leaders of all the ministries of CRBC this year.

 

P.S. here’s a link to this week’s bulletin http://www.calvaryroadbaptist.net/site/cs/bulletins.asp

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It’s just not fair!!

Psalm 68:19 “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.”

It’s just not fair!

It’s not fair that God allowed me to hear the gospel at such an early age when others have never heard.

It’s not fair that God has seen fit to call someone like me into the ministry.

It’s not fair that God gave me a beautiful wife and 6 kids who love me.

It’s not fair that God has allowed me to Pastor my home church.

It’s not fair that God has allowed me to continue to serve alongside my childhood mentor and hero, Pastor Sheffield.

It’s not fair that God has placed in our church some of the sweetest and greatest people.

It’s not fair that God has chosen to bless our church when others may be struggling.

It’s not fair that God has placed me in a country where I can freely worship the God of my choosing.

It’s not fair that God has given me the health to live the life I’ve been able to live.

It’s not fair that God has given me a home in heaven………

 

I’m so thankful that life isn’t fair.  Never forget, when you see a negative, to Praise God that He hasn’t dealt fairly with us, yet daily loads us with benefits.

 

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Goodbye, before hello

2 Samuel 12:23 “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

On Monday, I got one of the worst text messages I think I’ve ever gotten.  My pregnant sister, Becky, sent me a text asking me to pray like I’ve never prayed before for her baby, EJ.  Becky was supposed to be induced into labor on the Thursday, but was at a routine Dr. visit and the nurse could not find a heartbeat for the baby.  I was standing in front of our washing machine and immediately hit my knees in prayer.  I’ve been praying for 36 weeks that I’d not get this kind of message, but now I was praying like I’ve never prayed before.

Just a little back story:  My sister Becky is the oldest of us 5 kids.  She’s always wanted to be a mom.  One by one she watched her siblings become parents.  She loves every one of her nieces and nephews, but she has prayed so hard for many years that she’d finally have her opportunity to parent a child.  Doctors had told her it couldn’t happen.  Then, as her 40th birthday passed, many would have given up hope.  Not Becky.  Suddenly, God blessed, and Becky and her husband Eugene, got the great news that they were expecting their first child.  As I would have always expected, Becky immediately gave glory to God for her blessing, never complaining about the wait, just anxious for 9 months to pass so she could hold that baby in her arms.

When my wife and I first heard the news, we were so excited for Becky and Eugene, but our first comment was: “I really hope she doesn’t have any problems.”  Becky had some health factors that were cause for concern (age, blood pressure, etc).  During those first few weeks, we were very concerned that something could go wrong and we prayed often for her.  After the first trimester, we began to feel more at ease about the pregnancy.  Then, during the third trimester, we began to worry again.  Becky had placed prayer requests on Facebook a few times about some risks and fears concerning EJ.  Recently, she spent a few days in the hospital, and it seemed that when they sent her home, that soon and very soon we’d be gathered together as a family at the hospital to meet and hold little EJ.

Now back to Monday.  I came upstairs and told Dawn what was going on.  By this time, I had gotten a second message from Becky that no heartbeat could be found.  It seemed our worst fear had come to fruition.  On my drive to the hospital, I cried and spoke to God.  I wish I could say that my entire conversation was full of faith and patience.  It wasn’t.  I couldn’t understand what was happening and specifically, why it was happening.  IT JUST DIDN’T SEEM FAIR.  I asked God why, of all people, would this happen to Becky, and why would it happen when EJ was 3 days from being born.  I also wish that I could say that God gave me an answer.  He didn’t.  As I was pulling into the hospital parking lot, I was reminded of a statement I made in a recent sermon: “God doesn’t owe me an explanation”.  He’s already told me that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  It’s not my job to understand, it’s my job to trust…… I hate when my own sermons come back to haunt me 🙂

While at the hospital speaking to Becky, she told me that Sunday, at church, her pastor had preached a sermon titled “sometimes, life isn’t fair”.  She said that his sermon was about the only thing keeping her going that day.  Praise God that He still speaks through the preaching of His Word, and Praise God for preachers like Bro. Jones who preach the difficult messages.

It wasn’t long before Becky was taken back to the operating room for a C-section.  I will never forget the moment I got to hold “little” EJ (he was 10 lbs 8.5 oz).  That was one of the saddest moments of my life.  It just doesn’t seem right to have to say “goodbye” to someone before you ever got a chance to say “hello” to them.  But as the verse that I quoted at the beginning of this blog post tells us.  There will be a “hello” after Monday’s “goodbye”.  I look forward to the day when we have that great reunion day in Heaven.  My hope is that more of the family will make their reservations to be there.

You see, EJ is in Heaven.  That, I can be assured of based on God’s Word.  But if you’re reading this blog, you’re only hope of heaven depends on your relationship with Jesus Christ.  The emotional goodbye won’t guarantee a future reunion.  Repentance of sin, faith in Christ and His resurrection,  and turning to Christ for forgiveness of those sins will determine whether or not you’re able to say “I shall go to him”.

I hope to see you all there.

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A vision of our future

Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

I’ve had people ask me before about what my ‘vision’ is for Calvary Road Baptist Church.  Some people mean different things when they ask that question.  I’ll try to share a couple of thoughts with you about what I see for the future of CRBC.

It is my prayer that CRBC will continue to grow and see more souls won for Christ, baptized and discipled.  I’d hope that in the future we’d not only be able to support many more missionaries but also be able to support them at a bigger financial level.  I’d like to see our school, Calvary Road Baptist School, grow and produce young men and women who are grounded in their Christian faith and are able to serve as leaders in our church.  I’d like to see our bus ministry grow in such a way that every Sunday we are sending out numerous buses into New Albany, Clarksville, Jeffersonville, and Sellersburg.  I’d like to see our property built upon and add a new building for additional (larger) Sunday School rooms, a big fellowship hall/gym, and lodging made available on our property for visiting Missionaries and speakers.  I’d love to see our outreach to the homeless of our community expanded to include busing more of our homeless citizens to CRBC.  Also, I’d love to see us re-start our Reformers Unanimous (hopefully, this Spring). All of those things seem like obvious goals and in a way, generic.  But those are the primary things that drive what we are doing.

Speaking more ‘long term’, it would be my desire that as we grow that we do so with the mindset of seeking to plant new churches.  My thought has always been that if Calvary Road Baptist Church were to ever be able to reach (approximately) 400-500 people that possibly we could send about 100 of our people out into another area (like Scottsburg, Pekin, Elizabeth, etc.) and plant a new church.  I’d like us to continue that pattern as God continues to bless until we see the Clark, Floyd, Harrison, and Scott counties reached for Christ.  

I believe that every single one of the things I mentioned are not only attainable, but becoming more and more in sight.  We have such a great church, but let’s remember there is more out there for us then what we are currently doing.  Let’s aim high, and watch God bless.

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