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.