- April 19, 2017
• Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
I served as the pastor of Sunnyside Baptist Church in Wichita Falls three years and at Bluff Dale Baptist Church in Bluff Dale five years. Before being a pastor, I served as a youth and music minister for two churches.
• Where did you grow up?
Fort Worth—born and raised—and proud of it!
• How did you come to faith in Christ?
I accepted Jesus Christ when I was 7. Having been raised in the church, I was able to understand the need for a Savior at a young age. However, I wasn’t baptized until I was 11, when I had fuller understanding of what it really meant to surrender to and follow Jesus.
• Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I went to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, where I received a bachelor of music degree, focusing on vocal performance. Later, I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I earned my master of divinity degree.
• Why do you feel called into ministry?
I know that I’m called into ministry because I’m not capable of doing anything else. I’m not trying to say I don’t have the education or abilities to work in another field, but I know my life would lose its joy and meaning if I weren’t serving the Lord. Ministry not only gives me the opportunity to operate in my spiritual gifts, but I get the pleasure of seeing those gifts used for the edification of others.
• What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
I received my first opportunity to preach the gospel when I was 16, and although I didn’t surrender to a life of ministry there and then—that would happen several years later—my life was deeply changed in that moment. I had experienced the deeply satisfying feeling of God’s pleasure, having been obedient to his leading and willing to trust that he would give something to say. I’ve been addicted ever since. I’m never happier than when I’m standing up and proclaiming God’s word.
• What one aspect of congregational life gives you the greatest joy?
There are many aspects of congregational life that I greatly enjoy, but there is one that stands above the rest. Each week, when the Sunday morning service ends, there’s about a 20-minute window where I get to interact, fellowship and pray with the people in a deep and impactful way.
I love getting to spend time with my church members, but often life is so busy, it can be difficult to have meaningful exchanges. However, it almost never fails that after our church has experienced our service of worship and the word, there are a handful of individuals who linger to talk and pray. What’s even greater is that it seems to be a different set of people almost every week. Something awesome happens when we gather together as a church, putting aside the distractions of a busy schedule and opening ourselves to God’s moving.
It is in those moments after the service ends where we move past the casual conversations and get real about what God is doing. Even though every week is a different experience of who I get to talk to or pray with or even who might come to pray over me, the Spirit is always the same, and by the time I get in my car to head home, I’m blessed to the point of bursting.
• What one aspect of congregational life would you like to change?
Committees. I’m nervous that just by stating this I run the risk of being kicked out of “The Baptist Club”! In truth, I’m not actually opposed to churches having committees. I believe it is vitally important that the Body of Christ have church members who are involved in the various projects and decision-making issues of the church.
However, there’s a point where this structure can get out of hand. I mean, a committee on committees? Pshaw, I say. Pshaw! (No hate here. Just having some fun!)
My point is this: Give your pastor, ministerial staff and/or elders the freedom and authority to implement their God-given vision with their unique God-given talents. I can’t stand seeing churches go through a lengthy process of finding the leader(s) God has for them and then tie the leader’s hands behind their back by running the church through committees.
I know almost every church has a story of a leader who came in and did great damage. I hate those stories, but that doesn’t mean we should over-react. No matter the way your church uses the members to help get the work done, the attitude should be one of serving under the leadership and direction of the men and women the church has voted upon as the spiritual leaders.
So, to the committee-loving church member I would say the following: First, don’t send me hate mail! Second, don’t stop the good work you’re doing. Just take a moment to evaluate your attitude. Is it one of assisting in the direction your pastor and staff are trying to lead the church, or are you trying to determine the direction and expecting the leaders to follow you? Also, please know that I’m not saying your ideas aren’t needed or your wisdom is not valued. Trust me, your leaders still want to hear from you! When church members start working together hand-in-hand with the church ministers, the result will be healthier congregations and happier pastors.
But what do I know? I’ve never served on a committee on committees.
• If you could launch any new ministry—individually, through your congregation or through another organization—what would it be? Why?
Trips to Israel, but of a slightly different variety than most people’s trip to the Holy Land.
I have been unbelievably blessed to travel to Israel several times, and while I have fallen in love with the land, what has been even more impactful to me has been connecting with the believers who live there. My church has formed a partnership with a congregation of Jewish believers in Tel Aviv, and on my last couple of trips to Israel, I have been able to spend time working with and ministering to those wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.
I believe the movement of Jews, Arabs and Gentiles of Israel who are coming to Christ is one of the most awesome things happening today. However, it saddens me to see so many sight-seeing groups go over there and never take the opportunity to connect with those wonderful people. I know there are many sights to see, and it is awesome to stand on those holy places, but there are men and women there who desperately need the partnership and encouragement from believers here.
I know I will continue to travel to Israel, but as I continue to do so, I want to take even more people with me to not only experience the sights, but also to see just how big the Family of God is becoming.
• What qualities do you look for in a congregation?
One of the most important qualities I look for in a congregation is their attitude toward worship. Notice I didn’t say I look for a certain style of worship; it’s the attitude that matters. I have pastored a church with traditional worship, one with a very Southern Gospel style, and where I am now, we are mostly contemporary.
Every time I preach about worship, I like to use the phrase, “It ain’t about you!” Worship is not about our preferences. While I fully understand getting into a correctly oriented heart of worship is easier when it is being done to familiar music or in a style that makes us comfortable, I must purposefully seek to focus my worship on God and not my preferences. If I do so, then I should be able to truly worship in any setting or style.
One of the things I appreciate about where I pastor now is how extremely rare it is to have church members complain that we aren’t singing enough of a certain style. We have multiple generations in our congregation and with a variety of preferences, but I have been so proud of our people in the way they approach worship. They have come to realize Who worship is all about.
It’s worth repeating one more time: When it comes to worship, “It ain’t about you!”
• What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?
I wish more laypeople understood that I actually want to know and hear from them if I have offended them or hurt their feelings, or if they disagree with something I am doing.
I don’t enjoy being told by someone that he or she has a problem with me, but what is many times worse is finding out a person has been not only dealing with a hurt/issue for weeks or months but has been telling others about it while refusing to come speak to me.
I know a lot of other pastors who struggle with this same issue. I know that I am far from perfect, and I can easily say or do something that hurts someone else. If someone comes directly to me and tells me the problem, the first thing I’ll do is apologize and then seek to get things back on track.
I don’t know why people are so afraid of going directly to the person with whom there is an issue. I want people to know my door is always open, and I want to hear from them. However, if you can’t come to me and tell me your issue face-to-face, then please don’t go say those words to someone else.
This problem has caused dissension in many churches and the discouragement of countless pastors. You can tell me anything, as long as you tell it to me!
• What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
I told my congregation about an encounter I had recently that might help answer this question.
Sometimes I find myself in a position of talking to a person who doesn’t know I’m a pastor. They begin to talk in a manner that is, let’s just say, not pleasing to the Lord. I always get a good chuckle when they finally ask what I do for a living and awkward silence that follows after they realize they’ve been using a lot of four-letter words around a minister!
A few months ago, I was getting a haircut, and the young lady who was working on me, a person I never met before, started telling me her life story. At some point, she took up the issue of church. It went something like this: “When I was growing up, every time I stayed with my Grandma, she took me to church. I don’t remember what kind of church it was, but it was OK. I liked the music, and the pastor was pretty nice. I kind of stopped going when I got into high school. None of my friends went. But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ll start going again. I just moved here, so I really don’t know what churches are around, but maybe I can find a nice one. I’m not sure what kind of church I should go to, but I know where I won’t go—a Baptist church! Those Baptists are crazy! Especially the Southern Baptist ones! I had a friend of mine go to a Baptist church once, and they told her she couldn’t stay because her skirt was too short! Can you believe that? Those Baptist are just so ‘judgy,’ but I know how they really live. Bunch of hypocrites!”
About this time, I started praying this woman wouldn’t ask what I do for a living! However, I had no such luck, as her very next question was the one I was dreading. I briefly thought about lying and saying I worked on the railroad or some other crazy thing, but I swallowed hard, looked her straight in the eye, and told her proudly that I served as the pastor of a local Southern Baptist church. Don’t bother asking how the rest of the haircut went.
I tell this story to help illustrate what I feel is one of the greatest problems facing the Baptist denomination today. Sadly, many people carry the perception that Christians in general and more specifically, Baptists, are judgmental and hypocritical. In some ways, we’ve earned that title. I’ve encountered too many people who have a story about being shamed and judged by a person carrying the Baptist label, or of an experience of trying to attend a church only to see infighting and gossiping.
While I do believe the majority of Baptist churches, and the members who fill them, are grace-filled and loving toward the lost, we have allowed the sinful actions of the few to characterize how people on the outside of the church see us. As Baptists, we must get serious about changing this image. A lost person won’t want to listen to a message of salvation if he or she is first feeling judged by an obviously imperfect person.
We desperately need to get rid of the attitude of, “love the sinner, hate the sin” for that puts us in the mindset of seeing others only in the context of what sins we want to label them with. Instead, we need to adopt the words that are actually found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
• What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
How to handle crisis situations.
I’ve never had someone come into my office who is dealing with a failing marriage, a health scare or a loss of a loved one where I grabbed my systematic theology textbook off my shelf and tried to use that to offer comfort or guidance. I’m happy I studied subjects like that in seminary, for they have been a huge help in my ability to do in-depth Bible teaching. But I can’t say seminary ever prepared me for dealing with those crisis moments.
It has been on-the-job training. However, those moments have become some of sweetest and most memorable parts of my ministry. I never enjoy seeing someone go through a trial, but it has become a tremendous privilege to be the person who gets to “stand in the gap” and be the instrument of God’s grace and comfort when it is needed most.
• What is the impact of ministry on your wife and children?
My wife, Penny, and I have been married almost 15 years with all but our first six months spent as a ministerial family. During those years serving the church, we’ve been blessed with our two boys, Peyton, who is 9, and Parker, who will soon turn 7.
I won’t claim serving in the ministry is always an easy thing on my family, for they often feel the pressure of expectations that come with that role, but I know we have received tremendous blessings as a family because of our role in the church.
A little over five years ago, my youngest son, Parker, was facing the prospect of a tremendously difficult and rare surgery. At the time, I was serving my second church as pastor, and I’ll never forget how that church family gathered around us with support and prayer during that time. They ministered to us when we needed it most. During those weeks, we also contacted friends from the first church I pastored, and they began to pray as well.
What was even more awesome was that later, when we accepted the call to Bono Baptist Church where I currently serve, we learned our new church family had been praying for us and our son even before they knew us! Working in the church can be hard for a spouse and children, but I try to never forget the awesome blessings that more than compensate for the difficulties.
• What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
A former church member used to claim that, every Sunday when introducing the text for the morning message, I would say, “This is one of my favorite passages.” I guess that is true, because every time I focus on a different passage of Scripture, I get overwhelmed by the awesome truths found within, and it becomes my new favorite.
However, one passage I think of often is Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me, and I will answer and will show you great and unsearchable things which you did not know.” I love those words for many reasons, but it’s the “things which you did not know” part that really speaks to me. It reminds me there is still so much I don’t know—a humbling thought—and awesome blessings that have yet to come. I try to live for today, but this passage keeps me excited about what might come tomorrow.