- June 14, 2017
• Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
Youth minister, Bethel Baptist Church, Bethel Acres, Okla.
Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Anna
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Justin
Pastor, Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Green Bay, Wis.
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Grandview
Senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Temple
Senior pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Rochester, Minn.
• Where did you grow up?
Born in Perryton
Elementary and middle school in Wichita Falls
High school in Central High, Okla.
• How did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in a pastor’s home and was told of Jesus early in my life. On a Sunday afternoon when I had been sent to take a nap, I felt Jesus knocking at the door of my heart. I chose to trust in Jesus. I made a public commitment that night at the evening service.
• Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
Bachelor of arts in religion from Oklahoma Baptist University
Master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Doctor of ministry from Truett Seminary in homiletics
• Why do you feel called into ministry?
My first inkling ever of a call to ministry came when I was 8. It was brief, and I forgot about it for some time. When I was 14 at Falls Creek Baptist Confence Center, I knew God was calling me to something. I figured it was ministry but was unsure of the particulars. In about three months, at the age of 15, I knew God was calling me to be a pastor.
In fact, when I made a public commitmentof my call, I said God had called me to be a pastor. It was not that I had just been called to preach. I love that part of it, but it is more than just preaching. That call has always been consistent. Even when I knew God was calling me to resign a church one time without any place to go, I remained confident in my call and didn’t give any serious consideration to doing something else. God has compelled me to do this and to give myself to it.
• What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
Preaching and people. I love to preach. I get to proclaim the gospel from the written word of God. That is an incredible honor. It is such a joy to share biblical truths and help people see their need for Jesus and how to follow Jesus.
I love people. I enjoy being with people. They invite me into intimate moments in their lives through hospitals, crises, funerals, births, weddings, personal victories and other opportunities. Working with people is a thrill. It does come with heartache at times, but the joys of relationships and investing in them far outweigh the heartache I’ve experienced. It is a joy to see people move into deeper commitment to the Lord and the church. I realize that at times I am in some small way part of that.
• What one aspect of congregational life gives you the greatest joy?
Relationships provide a lot of joy. Building relationships with the people I pastor is a lot of fun. It comes over coffee and meals and hallway conversations. It comes through hospital visits and funerals and births and weddings and numerous other events where we invest in each other's lives. Mission trips have provided intensive relationship-building and shared experiences that have deepened relationships quickly.
Relationships allow me as a shepherd to know my flock and for them to know me. Since they know me and are willing to hear what I say, it increases the likelihood they will follow my leadership.
They also learn I'm a disciple on a journey with Jesus, just like them. I don't have it all figured out, and I fail frequently.
• What one aspect of congregational life would you like to change?
I would love members to prepare themselves for corporate worship and arrive with an expectancy of what God might do. It would transform worship. Everyone would understand they have a significant role in worship.
Many people long for God to do something amazing in the local church. But few arrive with a real sense of expectancy of what God may do during that particular service. I'm guilty of this as well. But what might happen if we all prepared ourselves and gathered with an expectancy of what God might do?
• How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
Even though I grew up in church and in a pastor’s home, when I began my first pastorate at 22 and a first-semester seminary student, I had ideals about church and ministry. Reality removed those ideals.
While I pastor in the reality, I am still mindful of how it can be, but I work with people where they are in their spiritual journey. I see my role as a shepherd to help people move toward being faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Encouraging others is essential to this task. Part of that involves blessing people who are gone for work or vacations or family gatherings that cause them to miss church services and activities. I tell them to have fun and enjoy themselves. I also tell them we miss them and are glad they are back when they return.
Through preaching and conversations, I share what I understand the Bible presents for us, as followers of Christ, to be in our hearts, minds, words and actions.
It would be fun to have everyone at church every Sunday. That is not reality. Many are not missing because they are just staying at home, but instead are gone for work or family or fun. However, I’ve had to learn how to see commitment from people in terms of their actions and sacrifice and not in their attendance. That has taken stress off of me and allowed me to be encouraging and supportive of people.
Understanding this reality helps me work with them and hopefully bless them as they live their lives for Jesus.
• How do you expect congregational life to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
I think we will have to become more creative about how we actually accomplish ministry. Unless a revival and a spiritual awakening sweep our nation, and the current path continues, ministry will be increasingly challenging. How will we do that ministry? Creativity and entrepreneurship are needed to accomplish it.
I think we will learn to depend on God to provide what we need. I’m not saying we don’t now, but I think we lean a lot on our own understanding and have trust in our bank accounts to provide what is needed.
I also think we are going to have to be really serious about making disciples. We know we are to do so, but are we really doing it? We are to an extent, but that is going to need to be strengthened and deepened. Churches are going to need processes that help them know if people are actually maturing and moving toward being reproducing disciples.
• What qualities do you look for in a congregation?
Are they genuinely loving and friendly? That means to one another. That means to the staff. That means to the guest in the door. That means to the person in need.
Do they really want to do ministry? That involves everything from the end of the earth and back.
• Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your congregation.
We face the challenge of being the unique congregation God has created us to be and living in that as we saturate our geographic region with disciples who live out their faith daily.
Every church wants to reach young families, so how do we do that in a meaningful way so that families understand we are making disciples of the parents and the children? That means we will not be about all fun and games, although we will have plenty of that along the way.
Our church has the good fortune to be in a growing county. People are moving our direction at a steady rate. That rate is predicted to continue in the years to come. That is a great influence on what we are doing now.
• What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?
I wish people knew how much heart pastors put into the work. We care deeply about the Lord and his church. We care deeply about the people.
I enjoy what I do. It is tiring and demanding at times, and I need breaks from it. But I love what I do, and I love those with whom I minister. I am so thankful to be in the place God has put me. I am humbled by God’s call to be a pastor.
Yet if a member family misses a couple of Sundays in a row, it is easy to start wondering if they are leaving. It happens to so many pastors; it has happened to me: A member family may think they are just missing a couple of Sundays and never think of going to another church, but they make their pastor and staff wonder, because all of us have seen those who leave or just quit attending. That adds stress to our lives.
• What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
With common knowledge about megachurches and superstar pastors, even smaller churches—and most churches are smaller—feel the pressure to do things like the big churches and famous pastors do them. Rather, each church needs to be the best version of itself it can be and each pastor the best pastor he or she can be.
There is always pressure to grow, and many churches and pastors want to grow, but the reality is that most churches are not growing. Statistics tell us that time and again. However, each church can have and does have kingdom impact. It is fun to grow numerically, and I work all the time at helping my church grow numerically, but I also want us to grow in kingdom impact. That doesn’t always result in church growth, but it does result in the growth of the kingdom.
Many churches still have traditional roots. They face the challenge of how that heritage is honored while making changes that enable them to reach people today.
Baptist are traditionally conservative—theologically, ecclesiologically, politically, morally. How do we express that in winsome ways with a nation that is less so? How do we share our faith and stand up for our beliefs but do so in a way that expresses who we are without condemning others or being ugly in tone or words to people who are not like us? How do we express who we are so that others will actually listen? How do we set the tone for public discourse about matters of faith, morality, social issues and other important matters so that discussion is encouraged and in a way that people will listen to us?
We have to listen, and we have to model the way forward. The church can’t expect those not in the church to model the way. We must do so.
• What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
I’d like Baptists to quit seeing other Baptists as the enemy. Let’s be mature enough to admit we are not going to agree on everything and maybe at times not on much, but we do agree on enough to be Baptists.
Just as many of us long for meaningful dialogues in our nation about matters of great importance, so many of us long for meaningful dialogues among Baptists about matters of great importance. I have my own Baptist bent but am learning and understanding that Baptists of other bents are doing good work. I don’t agree with them on some—many—things, but I need to acknowledge the good they are doing and cheer for them in that good.
I’d like to see pastors give greater importance to the denomination. Many pastors do not bother to attend an annual meeting because it is seen as an inconvenience, unimportant and irrelevant. I’ve seen meetings of all sizes—from the Ferrell Center at Baylor being filled to not even filling the Waco Convention Center. If you give to the Cooperative Program, it does matter.
Part of my commitment comes from having pastored in the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and and experiencing love for meetings because we got to see one another and share fellowship together. Many in smaller conventions would not understand why Texas Baptists would not take advantage of an opportunity to be together.
I understand there is work to be done at home. When I attend meetings, it makes for a tight week and some long hours, but I also am encouraged by being reminded of the vast work of Texas Baptists—or other Baptist groups—and I am encouraged by fellowship with others. Many of those others I only see once a year.
• Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
Daddy, Marvin Knox. He was my pastor growing up and modeled for me preaching, pastoral care and living out a consistent faith in public and in private.
Bob Evans and Mack Roark. These two men were professors at OBU. They had been effective pastors but also were scholarly in their work, good preachers and fun to be around. They encouraged me to be the best pastor I can be, study well, preach the best I could each week, and give myself to the people I pastor.
Charles Wade. Charles and I have been friends for years, and he was my field supervisor for my D.Min. We spent steady and consistent time together. I learned a lot from him.
Hulitt Gloer. He was my faculty supervisor. He encouraged me a lot. He prayed for me. He challenged me. He affirmed me. We continue a friendship today.
Scott Willingham. Scott is not much older than I am but enough to be a little further along in ministry and in life situations. He is my friend, but he has shared a lot of wisdom with me that has helped me.
• What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
Management. No one prepares you for the management and administration aspects of being a senior pastor. There are many.
Crisis. How do you handle a crisis? No one taght me that. And then, after handling a huge crisis for my church—a multi-million-dollar church fire set by an arsonist—a seminary professor told me he pulled out articles about my church every year to discuss that very topic in a pastoral ministry class. I asked, “Why don’t you ask me to come talk to them?” He didn’t give a solid answer and never invited. When I was in seminary, I would have much rather talked to the pastor who managed the crisis than read a story about it.
• What is the impact of ministry on your family?
Valorie and I have been blessed with four children. We are blessed by the fact all of them are believers in Jesus Christ and actively pursuing faithful discipleship. They love the church and love to attend church services and events.
They know not everything is perfect in the church, but they still love the church. Two of them have moved into adulthood and on their own are choosing faithfulness to the Lord and to the church. Our oldest told us while she was still in college she didn’t want to become one of the statistics of kids who grew up in church and then left it. Her husband is now a student at Truett Seminary and studying for the ministry.
• Name some of your favorite books (other than the Bible) or authors, and explain why.
David Hansen, The Art of Pastoring. It was the first book I read after completing my master’s degree, and it challenged me to pastor well. The author stressed the seriousness of study. He said he received more help from 10 pages of a theology book than he did from 100 pages of a how-to book. He asserted that as pastors studied seriously, prayed fervently, sought wise counsel and gave themselves to think critically about the matters they face in the church, they would have the guidance they needed and be able to make solid decisions as they provided leadership for the church. This aids in avoiding the temptation to implement what others have done without critically assessing how it fits in the pastor’s context.
C. S. Lewis & Eugene Peterson. They make me think. They help me know how to use words and find thoughtful ways to say what needs to be said.
Walter Brueggemann. He helps me understand the Old Testament. He also helps me see study can be done with a warm heart and a passionate faith.
I am a developing reader of poetry. I’ve feared it for years, but am engaging poetry now and am glad to do so. I attended a preaching conference last year where the speaker was poet Christian Wiman. Discussing poetry with an actual poet invigorated me and took away my fear of poetry, enabling me to engage it. I’m enjoying this new discovery.
• If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
I would have developed the practice of translating my texts for my sermons each week. I do that now with the New Testament, but I waited a long time to establish that discipline.
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