A Cup of Change

January 5, 2023

I love to take walks. I have some favorite trails where I am content just aimlessly walking around for hours. But there is a big difference between aimless walking and walking to get to a destination. We Americans don’t do much of that type of walking; I have laughed at myself before that I will drive two miles one way to a park in order to walk four miles on a trail!

When we walk to reach a destination, we have to rely on some help. We need signs and guidance along the way. Our spiritual lives are often described as a walk. Our destination is to grow closer to our Creator, but we need signs and guidance along the way.

Beginning on Sunday, January 8, we will be starting a new sermon series called The Walk. Together we will look at six spiritual practices that help to guide us as we walk the road of discipleship. During each of these weeks I am going to challenge you to consider how you can integrate these practices into your life.

  • January 8 – The Walk: Worship and Prayer
  • January 15 – The Walk: Study
  • January 22 – The Walk: Give
  • January 29 – The Walk: Community
  • February 5 – The Walk: Serve
  • February 12 – The Walk: Share

I look forward to walking this road with you, sisters and brothers!

December 29, 2022

During the week between Christmas and New Years’ Day, there is a song that I love to listen to. Sandra McCracken has a beautiful duet with Josh Garrels called “The Space Between.” The words explore that liminal week between holidays as a time of introspection and gratitude:

Unplug the lights
Take down the tree
The less we have
The less we need
From Christmas night To New Year’s Eve
We bless the space that’s in between



I also use this time to look back over the previous year. Here are a few highlights in the life of our church over the past year:

  • We lost a number of our stalwart saints in 2022. Every one of them was a beloved beacon of goodness and wisdom for us. We are better for having known them. Every loss of someone we love is a reminder that we live in our “space between” in which we are awaiting the Resurrection and the reunion we will experience with those we love.
  • Our wonderful Minister with Children and Families, Lee Ritchie, embarked on a sabbatical. She spent intentional time looking at the spiritual formation of children and how best to equip families to craft home cultures of discipleship. You can read Lee’s reflections on her sabbatical here and here.
  • During a Staff retreat to St. Francis Springs Retreat Center, our ministers reimagined what spiritual formation could look like at Ardmore Baptist. Out of that dreaming (and coupled with the results of a congregational survey) came our All Together Ardmore emphasis and our desire to see Community Groups form in peoples’ homes.
  • Our Vision and Navigation Team entered into a process with CBF called the Thriving Congregations cohort. Together with four other North Carolina CBF churches, we are focused on the five traits of a thriving church: Compelling Clarity, Faithful Agility, Holy Tenacity, Rooted Relationships, and Dynamic Collaboration.
  • I was blessed to preach the following sermon series’ in 2022:
      • Follow (Lent)
      • Revealed: The Book of Revelation (Eastertide)
      • Colorful Stories (Summer)
      • Prepare Ye the Way (Advent)
  • We gained thirty new church members and baptized a number of people (including many youth!) this year and we welcome them into the life of our congregation!

But as I look back, I am also looking forward to what the Lord has in store for our congregation in 2023:

  • We will undoubtedly lose more of our beloved church members this year. We will continue to care for those families and remind them of the love of God through embraces, cards, and casseroles.
  • Our Minister to Students, Dane Martin, will go on his own, well-earned sabbatical as he finds both rest for his soul and new insights into how to best share the Gospel with our youth.
  • Our ministers will again go on retreat this spring to imagine and dream with one another about God’s movement within and through our church.
  • The Vision and Navigation Team will continue to work through the Thriving Congregations cohort culminating at the CBF General Assembly in Atlanta this June.
  • I am looking forward to some upcoming sermon series’ in 2023:
      • The Walk (Epiphany)
      • The Struggle is Real (Lent)
      • Shema (Easter)
      • Promises (Summer)
  • I look forward to more new members and more baptisms as God leads people to join us and add to the beautiful tapestry of our family of faith!

I hope that your 2022 has been meaningful, friends, and I pray that your 2023 would bring you into an even deeper awareness of God’s abiding love for you. Happy New Year!

December 22, 2022

Some of our church members traveled to Israel a few months ago. I have never been to Israel, but one of my best friends has been on numerous occasions. He was telling me recently that it’s an interesting experience partly because it makes you realize that there is nothing inherently magical about those locations. Specifically, he mentioned Bethlehem. I was surprised to learn that for all of its notoriety, Bethlehem has a population that is about 25,000. Yet from this little town came the hope of all humanity.

The prophet Micah was preaching to a group of people who were devoid of ethical and moral leadership. Their kings had abandoned any semblance of commitment to God or justice for the poor. Micah had the poetic audacity to declare that a righteous leader would come from the most unlikely of places: Bethlehem. Micah tells the people that God has said, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel” (Micah 5:2).

The town of Bethlehem was known to the people. From it had come their beloved King David. And David was the most unlikely of kings. The prophet Samuel ran through all of David’s tall, strapping brothers before Jesse said, “Oh yeah. I do have a little squirt who is out tending to the sheep.” Yet, it was the littlest of the brothers that became the king (see 1 Samuel 16).

When the prophet Micah invokes the town of Bethlehem in his prophecy of the righteous king, he is doing more than simply gazing into a crystal ball. He is trying to remind the people of the way that God had called David: an unlikely boy in an unlikely little corner of the world. Micah was trying to get the people to see that they needed to look for the work of God not in the big and flashy armies of the Empire, but in the peaceful, quiet streets of a dusty village.

And, of course, that’s exactly what happened. Jesus came onto the scene not from Caesar’s palace in Rome or from the Temple in Jerusalem. He was an impoverished, homeless baby born under questionable circumstances in a small town that wasn’t much to speak of. His birth wasn’t celebrated with pomp and circumstances. His first visitors were lower class and likely illiterate shepherds and then a group of Persian astrologers. God was found not in the seat of the Empire or in the grand temple, but in the same dusty, peaceful streets of which Micah spoke so long ago. Streets like the ones in the O little town of Bethlehem.

That same invitation is given to us, friends. Where will we find Christ this season? Sometimes people think that we need to find Jesus through loud and grand gestures. If that is our goal this season, I think we are missing the point. Instead, look in the places you aren’t likely to think of first. Look in oft-forgotten places. There you will find the hope, peace, joy, and love of God.

December 15, 2022

Last week I told you about five books I read in 2022 that I feel God used to continue to shape my faith. This week I want to introduce you to five more. Please let me know if you have read any of these or if you plan to:


  1. Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren

I first discovered McLaren’s writings when I was going through a season of deep doubt in college. His insights helped me to rediscover the beauty of the Gospel without some of the cultural trappings that I was struggling with. In this book, McLaren draws upon four stages of faith (simplicity, complexity, perplexity, and humility) to show we should not be afraid of our doubts. Instead, our doubts might be the very things God is using to spur us on to deeper commitment and understanding.



  1. Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley

Every single one of us reads the Bible through a lens. In this book, Esau McCaully (a New Testament scholar who teaches at Wheaton College) draws on his own experience of growing up in the American South and the hermeneutics of hope that he heard in black churches. As our nation continues to wrestle with issues surrounding racial justice, those of us who are Christian have to be committed to a deeper understanding of our neighbors. This book does a beautiful job laying out many of the ways that African American pastors and scholars approach the Bible as a source of deep and abiding hope.


  1. Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions by Fleming Rutledge

I am an early riser, but I wake up especially early on Sunday mornings. It is my time to pray, to drink coffee, and to make any last-minute changes to my sermon. But for the past year, I have begun each Sunday morning with a devotion from one of my favorite preachers: Fleming Rutledge. She’s an Episcopal preacher in her 80s who writes with truth and clarity. I have been so grateful for her voice this year. Every Sunday as I prepare to preach to a church I love, I have been preached to through these devotions.


  1. Lead by Paul David Tripp

This book by Paul David Tripp explores twelve principles that should guide those who serve as leaders in churches. I don’t agree with all of Tripp’s Calvinistic perspective and am troubled that he uses almost exclusively male pronouns for leaders (I wholeheartedly affirm women in ministry). However, the bedrock virtues he expounds on have been helpful for me as I prayerfully find my way through what it means to lead with integrity and with the goal of glorifying the Lord.


  1. Accidental Preacher: A Memoir by Will Willimon

Will Willimon is one of my favorite preachers. He has a snarky sense of humor (to which I aspire) and a gift for preaching with clarity. His memoir is full of insight into how his calling was shaped by various circumstances and encounters (including a memorable conversation with the Baptist Carlyle Marney). Willimon tells his story in a way that inspired me to think deeply about my own calling. Also: I highly recommend you to listen to the audiobook; Willimon’s South Carolina accent is too good to miss!

What books have you read this year that you have found to be impactful on your faith journey?

December 8, 2022

Over the next two weeks, I’d like to tell you about ten books I’ve read this year that have impacted my faith. If you already have or choose to read any of these, I hope you will let me know. I would love to hear about the books you have read that have impacted your walk with Jesus:

1. Religious Freedom in a Secular Age by Michael F. Bird
How do we live out our Christian faith in the public sphere? And what does it mean to promote religious freedom for all people? Those are the kinds of questions Michael Bird wrestles with in this book. He is an Australian theologian, but he is very knowledgeable of the theological and political landscapes of the United States. Bird does a good job of showing how the concept of religious freedom cannot be boiled down to simplistic, black-and-white misunderstandings such as Christian nationalism (in one extreme) and the secularized vision of a society free from all religious perspective (in the other extreme).

2. Live No Lies by John Mark Comer
I am really grateful for this book and it was probably my favorite book on faith I read this year. It also was perhaps the most challenging book I read. Not because it was complicated, but because it was convicting. Comer argues that we are all susceptible to believe lies that bombard from three sources: the devil, the flesh, and the world. Looking at ancient Christian practices, Comer points to ways that we can combat those lies and live in the truth of God’s love. I highly recommend this book to all of us, but especially to those who have children, as it deals with the messages young people are receiving from the surrounding culture.

3. Destroyer of the Gods by Larry W. Hurtado
This book is pretty dense, but it’s also a fascinating exploration of the first three centuries of Christianity. Hurtado (who passed away from cancer in 2019), says that early Christians were distinct from the Roman culture around them in five unique ways: the Church was multiracial, the Church was diverse in socioeconomic status, the Church was resistant against infanticide (it was known as the time that Christians would adopt Roman babies who had been intentionally abandoned in the wilderness), the Church held to rigid code of sexual ethics, and the Church was deeply committed to nonviolence. That list of distinctive characteristics is neither conservative nor liberal; instead, it is Gospel-centric in some astonishing ways.

4. Human Rites by Dru Johnson
Dru Johnson is an Old Testament scholar who also spent time in the Marine Corps. In this book, he uses his time in the military, research from anthropologists, and the biblical narrative to explore the power of rituals in our lives. Johnson argues that we are all already living out rituals in how we live. The key is to enter into rituals that lead us into a deeper awareness of our need for God’s presence in our lives.

5. Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh
One of the most popular Bonhoeffer biographies is the one by Eric Metaxas. It’s well written, but (unfortunately) it has been widely discredited by people who actually knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer and scholars who study his life. With that in mind, I wanted to read Charles Marsh’s biography. It’s a stirring story of the life of a man who grew up in a very privileged household, but felt the call to give his life for the sake of the Gospel. Marsh depicts Bonhoeffer as a deeply committed Christian (though not without faults) who bravely stood up against the growing rise of Nazi influence in his culture. Read this biography if you want to be inspired.

Next week I’ll tell you about five more books I read this year that the Lord has used to shape my faith.


December 1, 2022

There are a lot of holiday parties and get-togethers that I am looking forward to this year. Each of these moments will be special in their own way. But there is one in particular that I know will mean a lot to me. This Saturday, we are going to gather with our neighbors at Wendy’s house for a Christmas Cookie Party and I am anticipating getting emotional.

See, we moved into our neighborhood right before the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone was still skittish about the virus, so we did not get the chance to get to know our new neighbors very well. But Bryan was a force of nature who you could not help but love. He and his wife Wendy lived across the street with their rescue pugs and Bryan’s enormous menagerie of superhero collectible action figures (I’ve always thought I was nerdy, but Bryan put me to shame).

Bryan introduced himself to us and had an outgoing, friendly personality. He invited us to over to their house on numerous occasions and it was a joy to know him.

This past September, I was home when there was a frantic knock on our door. It was someone who had found Bryan collapsed in his living room (Wendy was out of town). Another neighbor, Jose, and I rushed over and did what we could for Bryan. However, when the paramedics arrived they declared that Bryan had suffered a massive heart attack and there was nothing that could be done. Many of our neighbors stood in stunned silence in Wendy and Bryan’s front yard as we absorbed the news that the man who smiled at us all, the man who kept such an immaculate yard, and the man who was a source of joy was now gone.

So, this year we are gathering at Wendy’s house to eat Christmas cookies together. I hope that our doing so will honor our neighbor and friend.

I suppose that is the nature of hope itself, isn’t it? Hope is the strange, mysterious belief that God can use even the worst and most painful of circumstances to create something beautiful. As we focus on hope this week during the season of Advent, where are you finding light in the midst of darkness?


November 17, 2022

It’s hard to believe, but in just a matter of days, we will be in the midst of the season of Advent.

Advent is probably the most counter-cultural season on the church calendar. The rest of American culture is ready to jump headlong into Christmas the second the last morsel has been consumed at Thanksgiving. And they are the patient ones! My neighborhood already has people who have decked out their homes with Christmas lights. But Advent tells us that before we get to Christmas, we have to wait and prepare.

We are not a people accustomed to waiting. I can now order groceries from my phone and have them placed on my front porch within the hour. But I wonder what is happening to us because of our addiction to instant gratification? Advent calls us to wait in two ways. First, we join with the ancient Judeans and Hebrew prophets in waiting for a long-promised Messiah. Second, as Christians, we continue to wait for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ who will make all things new (fun fact: the beloved carol “Joy to the World” is not about the birth of Jesus; it is about the Second Coming).

One of my favorite preachers is a cranky, 85-year-old Episcopal priest named Fleming Rutledge. A few years ago, she wrote a book about the season of Advent and it beautifully captures just how hard it can be to talk about Advent with a modern audience: “Advent is superficially understood as a time to get ready for Christmas, but in truth, it’s the season for contemplating the judgment of God. Advent is the season that, when properly understood, does not flinch from the darkness that stalks us all in this world. Advent begins in the dark and moves toward the light—but the season should not move too quickly or too glibly, lest we fail to acknowledge the depth of the darkness. Advent bids us take a fearless inventory of the darkness: the darkness without and the darkness within.”

This season of Advent at Ardmore Baptist Church, we are invited to wait and prepare. A group of church members have written a series of beautiful Advent devotionals that will be available this week in the Narthex and online. I encourage you to read those devotionals each day during this season. On Sundays during Advent, we will be reflecting on the Gospel texts from the Revised Common Lectionary (all from Matthew). Each of these strange passages deals with how we may prepare our hearts for the hope, peace, joy, and love that comes to us from Jesus. Our Advent sermon series will be called Prepare Ye the Way:

  • First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27) – Preparing for Hope (Matthew 24:36-44)
  • Second Sunday of Advent (Dec. 4) – Preparing for Peace (Matthew 3:1-12)
  • Third Sunday of Advent (Dec. 11) – Preparing for Joy (Matthew 11:2-11)
  • Fourth Sunday of Advent (Dec. 18) – Preparing for Love (Matthew 1:18-25)

I hope that you will spend this Advent surrounded by the wonderful trappings of the Christmas season. But I also hope that you will take some time to slow down, to practice the presence of God, and to prepare the way for Jesus to be born anew in your heart.


November 10, 2022

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Now, to be honest, part of that reason has to do with the food. I can eat my weight in cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted turkey, and Jess’ homemade cranberry sauce. But my love for Thanksgiving goes deeper than just the culinary delights.

I love Thanksgiving because I need it. I am not somebody for whom gratitude comes naturally and easily. If I am not careful, I can miss out on the blessings and gifts that surround me each day. I can become so focused on the future, that I am not present in the … well, present. Thanksgiving is a reminder for me to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to bask in gratitude for all that God has given me.

On Sunday, November 20, at 4:00 PM we will gather in the Sanctuary for a Thanksgiving Service. We will sing hymns of thanksgiving, we will pray together, and we will do as the psalmist says: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him; bless his name” (Psalm 100:4). After the service we will meet for our quarterly Church Conference as we prayerfully consider our church’s budget for 2023. Then, after both the service and conference, we will move into the Fellowship Hall where we will share a catered Thanksgiving meal with one another.

I hope you will join us for the service, Church Conference, and meal. Please call the church office or click here to register for the meal before November 15. There will be childcare from 4:00 – 5:00 PM and then the kiddos will join us for the meal, the youth and older children will meet at 4:00 PM (see below for full schedule). Let’s gather around the table, fellowship with one another, and embody the words of one of my favorite hymns: Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One.


November 3, 2022

There is a story that one day a young Abraham Lincoln was working in a railyard. A man  approached him on horseback and aimed a pistol at Lincoln. Startled, Lincoln asked the man what he wanted. The man said, “I vowed to kill the next man I found who was uglier than me.” Lincoln approached the man and stared at his face. “Sir,” said Lincoln, “if it’s true that I am uglier than you, then blaze away.”

For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham. The book is full of funny anecdotes such as the one above, but it’s also a chronicling of Lincoln’s attempts to hold together a fractured nation. Ultimately, the nation did tear asunder, but using both generosity and determination, Lincoln managed to steer the ship through some awfully choppy waters.

Lincoln was not a devoted Christian, at least not in the way many evangelicals tend to measure such things. He and his family did attend services at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church because Lincoln loved the short sermons of the pastor, Phineas Gurley (who was present with Lincoln at his death). I’ve read a number of other Lincoln biographies, but Meacham’s is remarkable because it is almost a religious biography. Though Lincoln harbored many doubts about some of the doctrines of Christianity, he began to see the work of the Union as a God-given task. Lincoln felt that God was working through the Union to bring justice and equity to all people.

Meacham ends his biography this way: “In life, Lincoln’s motives were moral as well as political – a reminder that our finest presidents are those committed to bringing a flawed nation closer to the light, a mission that requires an understanding that politics divorced from conscience is fatal to the American experiment in liberty under law. In years of peril he pointed the country toward a future that was superior to the past and to the present; in years of strife he held steady. Lincoln’s life shows us that progress can be made by fallible and fallen presidents and peoples – which, in a fallible and fallen world, should give us hope” (419-420).


October 27, 2022

This week I am visiting family in southeast Missouri. Whenever I go to my family’s home, there is a place I love to go. It is a small country church in the small town of Grassy called McGee Chapel. It is where my mother’s side has a row of burial plots. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and Aunt Carol are all resting in that ground.

Every first Sunday of June, our family gathers at McGee Chapel for a worship service followed by a potluck that would make even the most gluttonous Baptist jealous. Before leaving, the family walks over to the tombstones to pay our respects and to remember our loved ones who have passed on into the veil of the mysterious grace of God.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). It is a reminder that there are Christian saints who have passed on before us and we benefit from their memory and example. I think of that cloud of witnesses when I come to McGee Chapel. I also remember that cloud each All Saints’ Day.

Each year, on the first Sunday of November, our church recognizes All Saints’ Day. We will gather together to say the names of church members who have passed away in the previous year. We will light a candle in their memory and whisper words of gratitude for their presence in their lives. It is an important service to remind us that one day our name will be printed in the bulletin for such a day, our name will be said as a chime is sounded, and our name will be followed by a flickering flame applied to a wick as a symbol that we were and are loved.

I hope you will all join us on Sunday, November 6 for our All Saints’ Day service.


October 20, 2022

Last week I watched the finale of the show The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime. Based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, it is set thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings. Not everyone liked the show, but I really loved it. I mostly loved it because the showrunners managed to pull off a feat that I thought would be impossible. They made a show that was unique in its storytelling but still felt like it belonged in the vein of Tolkien’s views.

Some of the views that J.R.R. Tolkien baked into his writings are the inevitability of evil and the irresistible temptation of power. In The Hobbit, Smaug the Dragon greedily guards his treasure trove in the Lonely Mountain while Thorin Oakenshield is driven near-mad by his pursuit of the Arkenstone. And, of course, in The Lord of the Rings, the seductive draw of the “one ring to rule them all” proves to be a temptation for nearly every character, even the seemingly incorruptible Galadriel and wise Gandalf.

Being a devoted Catholic, theology had a profound impact on Tolkien and the depravity of humanity plays a role in his writings. Tolkien believed that every single one of us carries the capacity for good but that each one of us is always susceptible to Sin and Darkness.

On Wednesday mornings, I have been blessed to gather together with nearly 100 members of our church to do an in-depth study of the New Testament letter to the Romans. In Romans, Paul acknowledges the fallen nature of humanity in stark terms: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Some biblical scholars have even said that, because of the way Paul writes about sin in Romans, the word “sin” should be capitalized (Sin) because Paul seems to believe it is a cosmic, evil force at work within each and every one of us.

Paul says that every human being has no right to judge another human for their brokenness since we are all in the same desperate position: broken creatures in need of grace and redemption. Thankfully, God meets us in our brokenness again and again and again and shows us love and compassion: nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)

That grace of God constantly surrounds us even when we are not aware of it. As Gandalf says to Bilbo at the end of his grand adventure: “You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins…but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”



October 13, 2022

I grew up in church and had to memorize the Ten Commandments to win a prize in Sunday  School. I never gave much thought to actually applying them to my life, but I suppose they snuck their way into my head. However, it was the fourth commandment that always has perplexed me the most. When I asked my Sunday School teacher what it means to “remember the Sabbath day” I received an answer akin to “Make sure you always go to church.” That answer never satisfied me. I did not think there were any Baptist churches at the time the Book of Exodus was written.

What does it mean to “remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8)? As I have gotten older, I have realized that Sabbath is more than a day on a weekly calendar; it’s a spiritual practice. Sabbath is the intentional cessation of work and the active engagement of rest and joy. Adulthood has also helped me come to the realization that in our society the commandment pertaining to Sabbath is the most violated of all the Ten Commandments.

We live in a culture addicted to multitasking, working late hours and Saturdays, checking our e-mails on our phones, and making ourselves anxious by how busy we allow ourselves to be. We perceive our harried schedule to be a badge of honor that inflates our importance. Our culture tells us that in order to achieve happiness we have to drive a certain kind of car and live in a certain kind of house. Commercials convince us we are “less than” unless we have a certain kind of product. But, we all know this to be a falsehood: our car does not give us longevity, our house does not guarantee security, and we know that popping open a Coca-Cola does not transport us to a beach party.

Perhaps in the midst of a culture obsessed with achieving, accomplishing, consuming, and possessing, it is Sabbath that works as a healing balm to our overworked souls and anxious spirits. Maybe the world will not end if we close our laptops to be more intentional with our family. Maybe our job will still be there if we leave the e-mails until the morning. Maybe everything will still be okay if we turn off notifications on our phone for a few hours.

But remembering the Sabbath is about more than the cessation of activity; it’s also about the engagement of joyful rest. The Sabbath is an invitation to enter God’s goodness and delight. In the midst of our anxious world, it is the Sabbath that can help us to recalculate our priorities and remind us of those few, precious glimpses of grace that will bring us real fulfillment and real joy.

So, as you plan your weeks and days: leave some space for rest, say “no” to some things, build time for family into your Google calendar, turn off your phone notifications, and practice being truly present with yourself, your family, and with God. It is, after all, a commandment.



October 6, 2022

Like lots of other parents in our congregation, I am so grateful for our Children’s Ministry. It gives my kids a safe place to play with friends, feel safe, and to grow in their faith. My family has benefited so much from our Children’s Ministry that I felt convicted this fall to contribute in some small way. So, when Lee Ritchie was laying out her vision for Sunday afternoons this fall, I was surprised to hear myself say, “I’d like to volunteer to help wherever you need me.” Lo and behold, I found myself with the 3-year-old to Kindergarten group for two hours every Sunday.

This is not in my wheelhouse. I am much more comfortable preaching in front of hundreds of people on difficult biblical texts than I am in a room with seven kids. It’s only been possible because of my wonderful co-leaders: Jennie Kerley and Mackenzie Watkins. However, each week I find myself having a blast as we play with dinosaurs, run around on the playground, and tell them for the twenty-third time to please not throw trains at one another.

Each week our “lesson” is about our Encourager Church family of Janée, Hary, Phoebe, and Maria-Grace serving in Antwerp, Belgium. I put the word “lesson” in quotation marks because when you are dealing with three-year-olds’ attention spans, I am never sure how much is getting through to them. But I was running out to the store last night and asked my family if there was anything anybody needed. My daughter Charlotte (who is in Kindergarten and is part of our Sunday afternoon group) spoke up and said, “Could you get me some peppermint tea?” Surprised, I asked her why. She said, “Well, we learned that is Phoebe’s favorite thing to drink!”

I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to get involved in our Children’s Ministry. It’s made me all the more grateful for the many volunteers and leaders who serve our Children and Youth Ministries (with much more wisdom than I have!) and who care for our younger generations at church. I hope all of us understand that ministering to our Children and Youth is a whole-church mission; we cannot simply rely on young families or hired staff. Each of us needs to step in to help cultivate the faith of younger generations. Please contact our Minister with Children and Families, Lee Ritchie (lritchie@ardmorebaptist.org) or our Minister with Students, Dane Martin (dmartin@ardmorebaptist.org) if you are feeling called to get involved.

And, please, please, stop throwing the trains.


September 29, 2022

Most people have probably never heard of Clarence Jordan (it’s actually pronounced “Jerr-dun”), but they should. He was a Baptist minister, a New Testament scholar, a Civil Rights activist, and a farmer. He was born in 1912 in Georgia. Growing up, he was troubled by the racial and socio-economic divisions in his community. Eventually, he enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where he earned a master’s and a doctorate in New Testament Greek.

After seminary, he and his wife started Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. Koinonia is a Greek word used in the New Testament for “community” and it refers to the reciprocal and caring nature that should define Christians’ life together. Koinonia Farm set itself apart because it was committed to being a place of racial justice and integration; whites and blacks served alongside one another as equals. Eventually, this caused ire amongst many of the whites living near Americus and Koinonia Farm was a frequent target of attacks by the KKK and other domestic terrorist organizations. However, Clarence stood firm on his convictions. When he died, the local coroner (an avowed white supremacist) refused to accept his body and he was buried in an unmarked grave on Koinonia Farm.

He devoted his life to living the way of Jesus and he used his expertise in Greek to write The Cotton Patch Gospel, a translation of most of the New Testament into southern vernacular. It’s a powerful work that still has much resonance today. Koinonia Farm remains an active, intentional Christian community that continues to advocate for the integration of Gospel-centric justice in our world.

On Sunday, October 9, you all (or “y’all” as Clarence would have us say it) are invited to a very special service at Ardmore Baptist Church. We are calling it Cotton Patch Sunday and Clarence Jordan will be preaching! Well, not actually Clarence Jordan. My good friend and retired literature professor Dr. Robert Hamblin will be with us to preach as Clarence Jordan in a presentation called The Preacher in Overalls. Bob will preach as Clarence to tell us the story of Koinonia Farm and how we can continue to live out that story today. We will also be welcoming a bluegrass ensemble in worship.

We will have one service (10:45 AM) that day and I hope everyone will join us for this powerful moment of worship.


September 22, 2022

Last week I had the privilege of attending Wake Forest University’s most recent Face to Face Speaker Series. It was a conversation between former president George W. Bush and presidential biographer (and one of my favorite authors) Jon Meacham.

Meacham asked Bush about various defining moments in his presidency. They began with a reflection of how Bush responded immediately after learning of the September 11th attacks. Bush spoke of how he went to ground zero to witness the efforts to clear rubble and search for survivors. He also shared about the decision to visit Washington Islamic Center on September 17, 2001, where he delivered a speech to declare, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Given the vitriolic rhetoric of recent campaign cycles, such a moment of unity feels like a fairy tale.

Near the end of the conversation, Bush spoke of the impact Billy Graham had on him. The Bush family are not evangelicals; they are mainline Protestants. George H.W. and Barbara Bush were devout Episcopalians and George W. and Laura Bush are active Methodists (my cousin used to work at the Methodist church in Dallas where they attend). However, the whole family has always had a lot of respect for Billy Graham. Graham was visiting the Bush family in Maine one summer when George H.W. Bush asked, “Billy, my mother was the most devout Christian I ever knew, but she never had a ‘born-again’ experience. Will she go to heaven?” Billy Graham thought about it and said, “Well, George, some people maybe are just born knowing Jesus.” Later that day, George W. Bush went on a walk with Billy Graham. At that time, Bush was in the throes of an addiction to alcohol and knew he needed direction in his life. Billy Graham did not preach at him but simply offered to give him a Bible. Bush accepted it, began to read it, and it changed his life.

I did not attend the conversation for any sort of political reasons. There are some areas where I think Bush was an effective leader and there are other areas where I think he made some tragic, foolish mistakes. But it was refreshing to witness a dialogue between two people as they reflected on history with some humility and grace.


September 15, 2022

When I was in high school, I had lots and lots of friends. Friendship was fairly easy when your schedule artificially placed you in close proximity to your peers. Each day I had at least one friend in each of my seven classes, I had friends at my extracurricular activities, I had friends in my church youth group, and I had friends with whom I would spend my weekends.

For some of us, friendship is easy in school. Nobody really warned me that friendship would be much harder as an adult. Work, marriage, children, housework, yard work, and all of the other responsibilities that accompany adulthood can sometimes make it difficult to find the time to invest in friendships.

I think that friendship is difficult in adulthood because many of us are afraid of admitting to our vulnerability of needing companions in our lives. When we greet people we say, “Hey. How are you?” That has transitioned into a synonym for “Hello” rather than being a genuine question. In our cultural rules, the proper response to the greeting is “Fine” or “Good” not an honest answer. Perhaps we need to be more willing to admit when we find ourselves in need of friendship.

My wife is far wiser than I am and she knows me better than I could ever hope to know myself. She knows that my extroverted personality needs to spend time with other people to feel energized and healthy. She knows that I love her, that I love our three amazing children, and that I love our home. However, each weekend she tells me to make sure that I plan at least one “friend outing” out of the house. She knows that I need that. And I know that she needs that, as well. So we try to make sure to build into our marriage and family, opportunities for each of us to invest in friendships.

There is a Celtic saying: “Anyone without a soul friend is a body without a head.” In Celtic spirituality, there is the belief that friendship is as necessary to good health as water, food, and oxygen. To deprive ourselves of friendship is to mistreat our souls.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too?’” If you are like me and you need friendship for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health, keep your eyes open to what new paths of companionship God might be laying before you. Because, if you are willing to open yourself up, you might find someone who says, “What! You too?”

September 8, 2022

A couple of days ago, I went to the Ardmore Barbershop to get a haircut. When a barber became available, I was greeted by a guy about my age with tattooed sleeves and a pierced eyebrow. He was affable and friendly as he invited me to his chair in the shop.

As I was getting settled, he asked me, “So, what do you do, man?”

By the way, here’s a little inside information: pastors often hate getting asked this question. Usually, you can watch the blood drain out of peoples’ faces when they learn you are in ministry.

“I’m a pastor,” I said.

“Oh…cool,” he said. There was a pause and then he said, “You know, I actually found my faith again.”

“Oh yeah?,” I asked, “tell me about that.”

He went on to explain that he was raised in church, but his family fell out of the habit in his teen years. After graduation, he enlisted in the Army and served two tours in Afghanistan. He saw some horrendous things and was medically retired after being injured. He went on to describe navigating PTSD in his life. In a PTSD support group, he became friends with a fellow vet who was a committed Christian. They talked about faith and, through his friend, he found his way back to Jesus.

I told him that I thought that was a great story and then I asked, “So, do you go to church somewhere?” There was a really long pause and he said, “I’m going to be honest with you. I’m really struggling with that. It’s a scary thing to go to a church. I always worry that people will judge me because of the way I look. And I don’t always have my stuff [not the word he used] together.” I told him that I definitely understood how intimidating it can be to enter into a new place. Then he said, “And I feel like so many churches are places of judgment. I’ve got friends who are gay, friends who are addicts, friends who don’t know what they believe. And if they would not be welcome in a church, then I don’t want to be there either.”

As we continued to talk, I told him about how proud I was to pastor Ardmore Baptist and I invited him to join us for worship. He asked, “Will there be other people there who look like me?”

“Honestly,” I said, “no.” But I told him that just because someone doesn’t have tattoos or piercings, doesn’t mean they are not open-minded. I told him that even when people seem like they are not struggling, the starting place for all Christian belief is that we are all broken and all in need of grace. We talked for a long while about our families and how our beliefs help guide us. I told him that I hope he found a place that showed him the love of Christ.

I left that place with a good haircut. And so much more.


September 1, 2022

It was St. Ambrose of Milan who supposedly first said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” He actually spoke those words to people who were visiting the city of Rome and noticed that some of the Christians practiced spiritual disciplines that were unfamiliar to them. Ambrose’s advice was like saying, “Hey. When you visit a new place just try to follow their lead.”

It’s not bad advice. But it’s actually the exact opposite of what Paul says in his letter to the Romans. The Epistle to the Romans is perhaps the most theologically dense book in the New Testament. It’s seen as the pinnacle of Paul’s theology and with good reason. However, Paul did not write it to be a theological treatise; he wrote it to address a specific situation happening in the early Christian churches in Rome.

Rome being a diverse, cosmopolitan city, the first churches to form there were a mix of Jews and Gentiles. But somewhere between 41-53 CE, the emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from the city of Rome (it is referenced in Acts 18:2). Suddenly these congregations went from being seasoned with Jewish perspective to now being all-Gentile churches. Then, after five years, Claudius’ order was overturned and the Jews returned to the city of Rome. These churches had adapted themselves to an all-Gentile congregation in those five years and now they were suddenly thrust back into having Jewish members. Paul wrote Romans to help them smooth out how to live together as one body of Christ. Which is why he addresses in Romans issues such as: idolatry in the Roman culture, the chosen nature of Israel, justification, ethics, and how we live in Christian community. In other words: Paul seeks to define the Gospel.

That’s a very different way of reading Romans than some of us have experienced in the past. Perhaps you were like me and someone once taught you the “Roman Road” in which we pluck isolated verses out of context from Romans in order to share the Gospel with unbelievers. Those were well-intentioned efforts, but that is not why Romans was written. Instead, we have to immerse ourselves into this first century context and allow the Lord to use this beautiful, complicated, ancient letter and help us to live out the Gospel in our own time.

If you are available, I would love for you to join us on Wednesday mornings at 9:00 AM (beginning on September 7) to begin a study through the book of Romans. We will gather in the Fellowship Hall for coffee, pastries, and a hymn before jumping to our study. So far, we have 107 people who are registered! Most will be joining in-person, others will be with us via Zoom, and still others will be watching a recording of the study later. This will be an in-depth study as we go verse-by-verse through this important letter. I hope that God uses our time to shape what we are called to do and who we are called to be. If you would like to join us for this study or would like to receive the recordings, you can call the church office or email Janet Hellard at jhellard@ardmorebaptist.org.


August 25, 2022

This year we will be sending all three of our children to the same school. Henry will be going into fourth grade, Owen into second, and Charlotte will be headed to kindergarten (HOWISTHISHAPPENING?!). I know that different families have to make different decisions based on their values, availabilities, etc. But as for me and my house, we are so blessed that our children are in the public school system.

Over the past two years, it seems as if America’s public schools have become the battleground for culture wars. School board meetings now have the same potential energy for bombast as reruns of The Jerry Springer Show. I’ve seen video after video of angry parents turning red in the face and screaming at school board members over issues such as masking during the pandemic and banning books these parents feel promote radical, controversial ideas.

Given this toxic environment, is it any wonder that we are experiencing a record shortage of teachers? And it’s not a situation that is likely to improve. Reports show that admission to colleges of education is down by 50% and North Carolina teachers were given a raise that was only half of what they needed to meet inflation.

All of that to say: as my three kids walk into those hallways next week, my prayers are with the teachers. They are dedicated people whose sense of calling is beautiful, profound, and essential. I am praying that all of the teachers will know that they are loved and that we, as a people, will step up to appreciate them, care for them, and provide for them.

Sisters and brothers, let’s commit to praying for our teachers. They need it. And we need them.


August 18, 2022

A few years ago, when I was pastoring in Missouri, Jess and I felt led to lead a Community Group in our home. It was comprised of ten people from our church and we met in our downstairs family room. We had known each other in that “we-go-to-the-same-church” kind of way, but our relationship did not go beyond the polite formalities of Sunday mornings.

However, this Community Group began by diving into a book called Spiritual Autobiography. The book led us through a five-week study of the life of Abraham and his pilgrimage of faith with God. After those five weeks, each member of the Community Group took a week to tell the story of their faith – their spiritual autobiography. Those were powerful moments. We heard stories of heartache, joy, pain, beauty, truth, and grace. At the end of that time, we were not merely acquaintances; we were friends who felt like family.

This fall, we at Ardmore Baptist Church are dipping our toes into Community Groups. These groups will meet in living rooms and we believe that the Spirit of God will be at work among them. This will be an experiment for our church and I hope you will have some grace for us as we figure this out together. My prayer is that the Lord will use these groups to foster authentic, deeper relationships within our congregation.

More information about our Community Groups will be coming soon, but if you are interested in being part of one, please contact Associate Pastor Gina Brock at gbrock@ardmorebaptist.org.


August 11, 2022

I know you all are joining with me in praying for our church’s team that is (as I write this) on their way to Antwerp, Belgium to help our Encourager Church mission partners, Janée and Hary Angel. I was blessed to be part of the first team from Ardmore that traveled to Antwerp back in March. One of the most memorable experiences our team had was when we participated in an hours-long prayer meeting with Christian leaders from around the city of Antwerp. As I sat in that meeting with those local leaders, it dawned on me that the only item on the agenda was prayer.

As I was sitting in that meeting, I need to confess to you all that I had an uncomfortable feeling wash over me: Conviction. Guilt is demonic but conviction is from the Spirit. The conviction I was feeling was when I thought about our church’s calendar and my role as your pastor. I realized that, if I am being completely honest with you, I often treat prayer not as a primary task but as a secondary one. I saw it as a way to open or close a meeting, to start a meal, or to fill a silence.

In his autobiography, Eugene Peterson says, “The primary task of any pastor is to teach people to pray.” So, as I’ve thought about how best to organize my time in this next season, I want to invite you to participate in a weekly time of prayer we are calling simply Common Prayer. On Tuesday evenings at 7:00 PM (beginning October 4) I will be in Brown Chapel for anyone who wants to come and simply pray together. We will be using the prayers found in the book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Our prayers should take no more than 20-30 minutes each evening (however, we will allow the Holy Spirit to make that determination).

Some people may not be able to join us in person (though I hope many will) and so I will make it available for anybody to join via Zoom. If you would be interested in joining me for this time of Common Prayer, you can send me an email (ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org) and I will make sure you get included in any updates that go out before October.

As Paul says, let us “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).


August 4, 2022

This week marks three years that I have been serving as pastor of Ardmore Baptist Church. I have been reflecting on my experience for the past few days. But I keep coming back to it is not about me and it’s not even really about the church; it’s about the faithfulness of the Lord.

The events happening in the world have certainly made it a strange season to serve as a pastor. There seems to have been some extra tension in the air with the contentious 2020 election, national calls for racial justice, and (of course) a global pandemic. All of this was happening as I was trying to gain my sea legs in a new church. I am sure that I made numerous mistakes. It was a very stressful time when we entered a season in which it seemed our church was losing a high number of members. I worried and stressed that I was a failure and that I had made a mistake in coming here.

However, as I look back on those anxious days, I can also see the ways that God was sustaining me. I have a spouse whom I love to spend time with and who strengthens me through her humor, care, and grace. Having a front row seat in watching our three children’s personalities blossom is a gift I cannot put into words. A network of extended family and friends who bring me joy is beyond what I deserve. All of those (and more) are ways that I feel the faithful love of Jesus manifesting itself into my life.

But I also think of you. The ways that each of you have reflected the grace of God to me in numerous ways gives me resolve, strength, and courage even on difficult days. I am so grateful to be your pastor and I really mean it when I say this: I love you. Serving this congregation feels like a blessing and a privilege to me and I am so grateful that the Lord brought me here.

As I think about the past three years, I can say this alongside the Apostle Paul: I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 7)


July 28, 2022

Lately I have been working on some stuff for the fall. I am so excited about what the Lord has laid on my heart to lead and I am looking forward to seeing how God is going to use this season in our church’s life in beautiful ways. For the next handful of weeks on my blog, I would like to tell you about some things I am so excited about for the fall.

As many of you know, we conducted a survey earlier this year to learn more about how the people of Ardmore Baptist Church want to connect with one another. We learned from the survey that Wednesday Nights are no longer the best time for people to come back to the church for fellowship and study. So, we are experimenting this fall with offering some alternative times.

One of those new opportunities is a Wednesday Morning Bible Study that we are gearing towards our beloved senior adults (though it is open to anybody!). Beginning Wednesday, September 7, we will gather in the Fellowship Hall at 9:00 a.m. for some pastries and coffee. After some time of fellowship, we will sing a hymn together (led by our own George Moore) and I will be teaching an in-depth Bible Study on the New Testament letter to the Romans in a study I am calling When in Romans. Romans is Paul’s most magnificent letter that explores what the Gospel really is and how it impacts our lives today. We will end our time together each Wednesday morning by engaging in prayer with and for one another. Also, if anybody is unable to join us on Wednesday morning, they can join us via Zoom or they can view a recording of the Bible Study at their convenience.

I hope you will join us for this weekly time of fellowship, study, and prayer. I am so looking forward to it and I know that the Lord will use this opportunity to deepen our bonds with one another.

We want to be able to prepare well for our Wednesday Morning Bible Study so we are asking folks to please RSVP by Wednesday, August 24. Register via Realm at https://bit.ly/WedBibleSt, call the church office (336- 725-8767), or email Janet Hellard (jhellard@ardmorebaptist.org). Also, please let Janet know if you plan to join by Zoom or want to receive the video recording of the Bible Study.


July 21, 2022

Lately I have been working on some stuff for the fall. I am so excited about what the Lord has laid on my heart to lead and I am looking forward to seeing how God is going to use this season in our church’s life in beautiful ways. For the next handful of weeks on my blog, I would like to tell you about some things I am so excited about for the fall.

One of the things that feeds my soul is hiking. I am by no means an expert hiker, but I love to pack a bag, fill up a water bottle, and walk beautiful trails. In Missouri, I would sometimes go hiking in the foothills of the Ozarks. Now that we live in North Carolina, I am in hiking heaven! I have loved getting to know the local trails as well as exploring the beautiful hiking destinations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Two church members who also love to hike are Adam Horton and Tyler Gallaher. Both of them are far, far more experienced than I am and I have enjoyed eating their dust when we have hiked with one another. Well, this fall the three of us are hosting an Ardmore Baptist Hiking Group.

All are invited to join the Ardmore Baptist Hiking Group. This is a monthly opportunity for folks from Ardmore Baptist to gather and walk trails with one another to both enjoy fellowship with one another and to enjoy God’s creation. Each month one of the leaders will let you know what time to meet, the level of difficulty of the hike, and any other information you might need. The first hike takes place on Saturday, August 20. If you would like to be on the list to receive information about the monthly hikes, you can sign up by emailing Debra Norris or calling the church office. You may also log in to Realm, search for Ardmore Baptist Hiking Group, and request to join the group.

July 14, 2022

First of all: Thank you all for your kind messages and prayers I received last week as I was dealing with Covid. This new variant is not a walk in the park and I envy all of those people who told me that their experience with Covid felt “like a cold.” I’m feeling much better now and thank you for your patience and kindness, friends.

I caught Covid while attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Dallas, Texas. In fact, I know of at least ten people who got Covid while there (we began referring to our illness as the Brisket Baptist Variant!). But despite getting Covid, I had a wonderful experience in Dallas.

For the first two days of my time, I participated in a pilot cohort for a new program called the Thriving Congregations cohort. In this cohort, we discussed what it means for a church to be a place that is thriving. One of the hallmarks of a thriving congregation is that it is consistently open to new, creative ideas.

To demonstrate how that openness operates in a system, we took a day to visit Globe Life Field in nearby Arlington, the home of the Texas Rangers. It’s an incredible, retractable-roof stadium that was opened in 2020. We met with two of the designers of the facility to hear about how it was birthed from an idea to a reality.

First and foremost, we learned that two things had to be held in tension: collaboration and vision. The designers had to do a ton of collaborating with a wide variety of interested parties: food vendors, facilities managers, civic leaders, labor unions, and (oh yeah) the baseball team! The designers had to create a process that would allow for all of those voices to have a seat at the table. But at the same time, they also had to maintain a vision that could not be deviated from.

That’s a tricky balance in any kind of organization. How do you provide the opportunity for everyone to have their say but also to maintain fidelity to a path forward? Well, congregations have an advantage the stadium did not have: we already know our vision. Our vision is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, while we should be open to collaboration from all voices, only those perspectives that help us live out our calling to the Good News should help guide the future.

As I toured the stadium, I kept thinking about Ardmore Baptist Church’s future. How can we set a vision for the future but also create a more collaborative spirit amongst ourselves? Those are the sorts of questions we wrestle with together, friends.



June 30, 2022

On Sunday mornings this summer, we are looking at colorful stories from the Old Testament that many of us grew up hearing. I hope that you’ve been enjoying our journey through these tales.

But the New Testament has its own fair share of stories and the majority of them are told by Jesus. They are his parables, which are little narratives used to teach us about God and how to live our faith in the world.

This summer I am hosting a podcast called Speaking in Parables in which I sit down with other pastors to discuss one of Jesus’ parables. New episodes are released every Thursday. You can subscribe on iTunes or anywhere else you get your podcasts. If you’ve missed any of the previous episodes you can catch them here:

I hope you find these conversations illuminating and insightful. Parables are stories packed with power, and it has been a joy to have these conversations with people about their ability to continually teach us more and more about God.


June 23, 2022

After worship on Sunday, June 26, I will be traveling to Dallas, Texas to attend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly. This will be the first time that CBF has held its General Assembly in person since 2019, so I am really looking forward to it. Attending General Assembly always provides me an opportunity to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and learn about new ways our church can live out the Good News in our world.

As part of my time in Dallas, I will be participating in a Thriving Congregations pilot cohort. This is a program for a handful of churches invited by CBF to learn more about what it means to embody five principles that define a church that is thriving:

    1. Compelling Clarity
    2. Holy Tenacity
    3. Faithful Agility
    4. Rooted Relationships
    5. Dynamic Collaboration

I look forward to reporting more to you all about some of the ways our church can live out those principles in faithful ways.

But what I am most looking forward to is simply the opportunity to hang out with other Baptists who are committed to free and faithful ways of living out our faith. I am proud to belong to CBF and resonate with their commitment to supporting women in ministry, their ability to affirm freedom for a wide variety of perspectives, and their passion for supporting missions around the globe. I am unapologetically a CBF Baptist!

I hope you will be in prayer for me and the hundreds of others who will be attending the CBF General Assembly next week.


June 16, 2022

Well, the Tankersley family seems to have entered into a new era. For the first time, one of our children is headed to an overnight summer camp. Henry, who turns ten in early July, is going with a group from Ardmore to a Passport Summer Camp in Lynchburg, Virginia. Henry, together with fifteen other kids and six adult leaders, will spend time playing games, learning about Jesus, and learn about missions around the world.

I am full of joy that Henry is going to get to experience his first Christian summer camp. My own experiences at summer camp were formational moments for me in my relationship with Christ. I can still remember an ecstatic experience of worship at a Centrifuge Camp in New Mexico, playing on the beach with my friends in Florida, and forming deeper friendships in my youth group as we traveled to a camp in Alabama.

My prayer for Henry and the others going to Passport this week (and our youth when they head to BigStuf Camp in Panama City Beach, Florida the following week) is that their time at camp is truly a watershed moment in their faith. A watershed (as you may know) is a place in the land that causes water to move in a different direction; it’s a turning point.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) there is a moment when Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples (Peter, James, and John) up to a mountaintop. There he is transfigured before their eyes; he appears to be glowing and speaks with resurrected versions of Moses and Elijah. After witnessing this sacred moment, Peter declares, “You are the Christ!” (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). That was a watershed moment for the disciples when their vision of who Jesus really is was completed changed.

Church family, I invite you to join me in praying for our children and youth as they head to summer camp this year (Also, why do we stop doing camp experiences?! Would anybody be up for an Adult Retreat sometime?). Let us pray that the eyes of their souls would be opened to new ways of seeing Jesus Christ. That may mean that some of them make the decision to follow Jesus for the first time and it may also mean that they feel a stirring to follow Jesus in new ways.


June 9, 2022

For the past few weeks, I have been meeting with a small group of Ardmore Baptist members to work through the conversations in the book Brave Church. We met in Gail and Larry McAlister’s living room to have these dialogues together on topics that are sometimes avoided in church. It was a sacred, holy time of fellowship, discussion, and learning from one another.

Brave Church is a book about creating brave, sacred spaces where people can tell their stories. Often when we speak of difficult topics, we hold them at arm’s length instead of recognizing that these hard subjects are intertwined with our experiences, lives, and stories.

Here are a few thoughts from some members of the recent Brave Church group:

“During the time of our Brave Church conversations, I came to realize that I wear my illiteracy on certain subjects like armor, protecting me from what I really don’t want to consider. Now I find my head and my heart yearning to listen, learn, and love others and God like never before. Thank you, honest, caring, and brave souls in our discussion group.” (Debbie Loftis)

“The small group book study allowed me to have real conversations about important issues facing us today and the Christ centered Biblical teaching as it relates to these topics.  More importantly, it allowed me to connect with fellow members of Ardmore in a way that I have never done before.” (Bob Preli)

“I have never been a proponent of ‘small groups.’ After all, we already attend weekly Sunday School classes. After participating in the Brave Church small group, I have discovered how important and meaningful it can be to gather in someone’s home with more time to talk. I realized more fully the value of stories – not only in getting to know someone better but helping to open one’s mind to a different perspective.” (Karen Preli)

“The Brave Church small group discussions provided an opportunity to share thoughts with other members of our congregation about topics that are typically difficult to address within the church. Although I knew some of the people in my group better than others, the discussions allowed me to develop bonds of friendship, trust and respect for others I did not previously know as well. When the Bible doesn’t give us the ‘answers’, we are all trying to figure out how to live in the modern world and still follow Jesus. Hearing a diverse array of experiences and opinions challenged me to understand that we are all works in progress, on a journey of discovering how to live with those who may not share the same views as we hold, with grace and humility. In a congregation as large and diverse as ours, this skill is essential in equipping us to address whatever future challenges lie ahead for Ardmore Baptist Church.” (Kathy Lowe)

“The best way to wrestle with tough issues is to honestly discover how your own life experiences have shaped your perspective. Our Brave Church discussion group provided a safe space to share our stories, perspectives and concerns. By listening with open hearts and minds to each other and letting our own guards down we gained new insights and wisdom about ourselves, each other and our church.” (Larry McAlister)

Our Brave Church group recently concluded our time together. Next fall I am hoping to lead another group of members from our church through Brave Church. If you would be at all interested in participating in this group, please send me an email at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.



June 2, 2022

Last week, like many of you I was absolutely heartbroken to see the news of the most recent mass shooting in our country, this time at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in a matter of minutes by a troubled eighteen-year-old.

I was in the sixth grade when the shooting happened at Columbine High School in Colorado. It was an unfathomable event that I remember rattling my teachers, my parents, and everyone around me. School shootings are part of the fabric of American life now. Please read that sentence again and grieve with me the gut-wrenching truth of it. Our community knows that gun violence can infiltrate our schools as we well remember the shooting at Mt. Tabor High School last September.

Last Wednesday, the day after the Texas school shooting, I hugged my kids a little tighter than normal when they walked out the door. This fall when our daughter Charlotte goes to kindergarten, we will be sending all three of our kids to public school each day. I so, so wish that there was not a part of my heart that was gripped with fear each morning. And I pray for our teachers and administrators who are now being asked to serve as security personnel in addition to their already demanding responsibilities to educate.

During times like this, we often hear political leaders from both sides of the aisle offering “thoughts and prayers.” We should assuredly hold all who mourn in our prayers as the voices of our laments join the chorus of theirs (Romans 12:15). However, are our “thoughts and prayers” meant to be a finish line or a starting place? In no way do I want to diminish the power of prayer in our lives, but I often think that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of intercessory prayer. Prayer is never meant to stand by itself but is also to be accompanied by action in our lives. As the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “The world we build tomorrow is born in the prayers we say today.”

I know that we are often told after these kinds of mass shootings that these events should not be politicized, but I have to confess to you that I am finding that to be a weaker and weaker argument with each incident of violence. Clearly doing nothing is not working and I for one am not yet willing to accept that these events are simply the price to pay to live in our country. And I have no qualms with you all knowing that I made sure to let my Senators and Representatives know how deeply disappointed and angry I am in their inaction on this issue. There are many issues surrounding guns in our country where people can have good faith disagreements, but there are also things that have widespread support amongst conservatives and liberals in our country that could help to limit (though I know not completely prevent) deaths due to gun violence. Why we are not actively pursuing those bipartisan policies is beyond me.

My heart breaks for the families of those nineteen children. There is now an empty chair at every family meal for the rest of their lives. There are future graduation dates, proms, and other adolescent milestone moments that will sting with fresh grief.

These moments make me acutely aware of how broken and fallen our world is. I am acutely aware of how much we need the purpose, love, and grace that can come from Christ, that can come from something outside of ourselves. But I also am acutely aware that Christ does not call us to merely sit on our hands and wait for the kingdom to arrive; Christ calls us to engage in the ministry of reconciliation in the world today (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). I also know that when we find ourselves wondering what we are supposed to do, we ought to remember the words of the prophet Micah:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)



May 26, 2022

I have recently finished reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Strange Glory. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who rejected the Nazi’s efforts to turn the Church into a mouthpiece for Hitler. Because of that, Bonhoeffer was sentenced to Tegel prison, just outside of Berlin. Because Bonhoeffer was from a prominent family, he was allowed some extra luxuries for his jail cell. He requested a piece of art and chose Albrecht Durer’s The Apocalypse. It depicts the great battle between good and evil from the Book of Revelation. Why would Bonhoeffer have chosen this story to be placed on his wall? Because in the midst of his despair, it gave him hope.

When we read the Book of Revelation, we must remember that it is a book ultimately about hope. It is not about predicting the future and it is not about trying to identify which world events are transpiring to bring about the end times. In fact, if our reading of Revelation causes us to be obsessed with the future, then we have severely misread the text.

Revelation is about hope in the present. It is about the glimpses of future that John gives us that are meant to empower us to live differently in the here and now. If we know that the Lord will ultimately triumph over the forces of Darkness, Sin, and Satan then that should place our pain and loss in a different light. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans: “If God be for us, who could be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
As we have journeyed through Revelation and as we have pulled back the curtain on the kingdom of God, my hope and prayer is that these strange images in this book have filled you with hope. I know that some of you are extremely anxious about the state of the world; have hope that the Lamb of God is worthy to open the seals. I know that some of you deeply miss people that you love; have hope that they are victorious and with Christ. I know that some of you are going through dark times now; have hope that the forces of Death that threaten to overwhelm us will eventually be defeated.

Have hope, sisters and brothers.

Next Revelation sermon: May 29 – The Second Coming Revealed (Revelation 22:12-21)


May 19, 2022

The film Wonder Woman (2017) introduces us to Diana Prince, an Amazonian warrior who lives on the ancient island of Themyscira. During World War I, a pilot named Steve Trevor crashes into the sea and is washed up on the shores of Themyscira. When he tells the Amazons that the world is at war with itself, Diana knows who is to blame: Ares the god of War. Steve scoffs at this idea, but at the end of the film you discover that (SPOILER ALERT) it was Ares! Behind all of the seemingly normal international conflicts was actually an evil and malevolent force at work.

That’s actually how John portrays evil in the Book of Revelation. While the early Christians are experiencing persecution from the Roman Empire and its Caesar, John wants them to see that an even more evil force is really at work: Satan, his beasts, and his evil city of Babylon.

Notice that the great red dragon Satan, the first beast from the sea, and the second beast from the land form a kind of evil trinity that mocks the Trinity of God’s nature: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And this unholy trinity has an evil city, which John portrays in Revelation 17-18 as Babylon, that ancient city of oppression. John is making connections between the Roman Empire and the Israelite’s ancient enemy.

One of the things in Revelation that makes some people uncomfortable is the violence. However, the people of God are never directed to be violent in the Book of Revelation; instead, the violence is always acted out by the holy God who is seeking to eradicate the world of evil.

In his wonderfully helpful book (which I highly recommend!) Reading Revelation Responsibly, New Testament scholar Michael Gorman says this: “God is portrayed in Revelation, not as uncontrollably angry, but as inexorably just. God’s faithfulness to the creation, all humanity, and the church leads to the divine war against evil, Empire, and their lies, represented by the unholy trinity and named ‘Babylon.’ The three members of that unholy triumvirate together meet their final fate, along with those who ultimately refuse the mercy of God, as well as Death and Hades themselves (20:10, 14-15). In other words, God wins: ‘It’s done!’ (16:17; 21:6). The new creation inaugurated in the death and resurrection of the Lamb can now be completed. ‘It is done’ means also ‘Let’s begin! I am making all things new!’ The church celebrates the victory it has longed for only because the judgment of Babylon means the salvation of the world” (158).

Because of this victory, we no longer fear the powers of Death, Darkness, and Sin. And we can have blessed assurance in life eternal where we will be in God’s presence (alongside our loved ones) forever. That is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Next Revelation sermon: May 29 – The Second Coming Revealed (Revelation 22:12-21)
Next week’s Blog: The Hope We Have in the Lamb


May 12, 2022

This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.
(Revelation 13:18)

My Grandpa Simmons was an avid reader of the Book of Revelation. He believed that we were living in the last days spoken of in the book. He watched Christian news programs that told him to watch out for certain leaders who may end up being the Antichrist. One time I remember that he took my siblings and me to a donut shop. We all got a donut and he got a cup of coffee. I remember hearing the woman behind the cash register tell him that his total had come to $6.66. My Grandpa’s eyes went wide and he said, “You know what, let’s get each of these kids a chocolate milk too.” Only later did I realize that he could not bring himself to carry a receipt that had the number 666 on it. I dearly loved my Grandpa, but I think he had bought into a way of reading Revelation that fostered more anxiety within him than hope.

Revelation speaks of a great red dragon who seeks to destroy God’s people. After being defeated by the archangel Michael (12:7-12), the dragon calls forth two beasts: one from the sea (13:1-10) and one from the earth (13:11-18). These two beasts harken back to the ancient Israelite cosmology of the great sea serpent, Leviathan, and the land-dwelling monster, Behemoth. In Revelation, these two beasts are also a reference back to Daniel in which the prophet has a dream seeing fearsome creatures rise from the sea to wreak havoc on earth (Daniel 7:1-28).

Many Christians (including my Grandpa) have been taught that the Beast in Revelation is the Antichrist. They believe that the Antichrist will be some charismatic world leader who will speak about unity but will actually be an agent of Satan. However, the word “antichrist” does not appear once in the Book of Revelation and actually only appears five times in the Johannine epistles where the word is never used as a title, but is referring to people who are literally anti-Christ, i.e. opposed to the message of Jesus. The idea of an Antichrist is a fiction. It derives from dispensationalist theology that is being read onto the biblical text rather than allowing scripture to form our worldview.

In Revelation, the Beast is a symbol for the Roman emperor. The Beast is also meant to serve as a parody for the Lamb. Just like the Lamb, the Beast claims to be holy and powerful, and (again like the Lamb) the Beast claims to have powers of regeneration (13:3). Biblical scholars believe the first Beast from the Sea is meant to symbolize the Roman emperor while the second Beast from the land is meant to serve as a parody of the priests of the Roman imperial cult.

So, what then is the “mark of the beast”? Some Christians have chosen to engage in conspiracy theories that claim the Mark of the Beast is in microchips or even the Covid-19 vaccine (when UPC codes first arrived on food in the supermarket, some Christians believe it was the Mark of the Beast). We read in Revelation 13 that this symbol was to be marked on the right hand or forehead (v. 16) and that it was required to engage in commerce (v. 17). This mark is again a parody of the Lamb who, in Revelation 7 and 14, marks God’s people. John is setting up for these early Christians, that you either bear the mark of the Lamb or you bear the mark of the Beast; you must choose. Likewise, biblical scholars believe that the Roman imperial cult had begun requiring people entering the local markets to dip their finger into a bowl of incense and to declare “Caesar is Lord” prior to buying or selling. The incense could be applied to the hand or to the forehead. For the early Christians who refused to acknowledge the divinity of Caesar, this would have put them at great risk and barred them from commerce in their community.

Finally, what about that number that made my Grandpa squirm? Why do people fear the number 666? Well, John tells us very clearly that it takes wisdom to understand this number and that “it is the number of a person” (v. 18). First, if we read the number seven in the Bible as the number for wholeness, John is taunting the Beast by assigning the threefold designation of six as a way of saying that the Beast just cannot quite make it to the finish line. However, there is also a technique for reading numbers in ancient texts called gematria. It’s not something with which we are familiar today, but John’s readers would have used it quite a bit. It’s complicated, but basically: words and letters were assigned numerical value. It was a kind of code. In order to break the code, you have to know the word ahead of time. When you take the words “Caesar Nero” and transliterate them into Hebrew, the letters have the value of: 666. Nero was notorious for his fierce persecution of Christians, even dipping them in tar and lighting them on fire to light the path to his elaborate garden parties. Nero also had a nickname in the ancient world: the Beast.

So, friends, for us these images of a Beast, its mark, and the number 666 are not meant to serve as guides for some future tribulation. Instead, they are meant to serve as a prophetic warning that, like the early Christians, we too must guard against compliance with the Empire. We too must be willing to stand up for Christ, even if it requires economic sacrifice. And we too must wrestle with whose mark do we bear: the Lamb’s or the Beast’s?

Next Revelation sermon: This upcoming Sunday (May 15), I will be in Kansas City for a meeting. Rev. Daynette Snead Perez will be preaching at Ardmore. While I am in Kansas City, I will be preaching at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri and will actually be using the Revelation text from the lectionary for a sermon called Hope Revealed (Revelation 21:1-6). If you are interested, that sermon will likely be on YouTube later next week

Next week’s Blog: The Fall of Babylon


May 5, 2022

I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.  (Revelation 6:8)

My Dad loves Clint Eastwood westerns and one of his favorites is Pale Rider (1985). It’s the story of a mysterious, gun-toting preacher who saves a small town from a greedy mining company. The title of the movie comes from the description in Revelation 6 of the fourth of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. There are numerous pop culture references to these horsemen from everything as diverse as the Terminator to X-Men to Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around.” But what do these horsemen actually mean?

Each of the four horsemen emerge as the first four seals are broken in Revelation 6. They each bring a kind of destructive judgment to the world. These catastrophic events are experienced by believers and non-believers alike. Remember: there is no such thing as a “rapture” in the New Testament. John is writing to the early Christians, warning them of these judgments and encouraging them to endure and even be strengthened by these calamities.

The first horseman (Revelation 6:2) symbolizes a conquering warrior atop a white steed. John tells us that this rider uses a bow as his primary weapon. Historians tell us that, as fearsome as the Roman Empire was as a military power, they never mastered the use of the bow. The bow was actually the primary weapon of many of the Roman Empire’s primary enemies. This first horseman is a sign of God’s ability to conquer even the most powerful military force in the world.

The second horseman (Revelation 6:3-4) is a rider on a red horse who removes peace from the earth and wields a giant sword. In fact, the specific Greek word that John uses for “great sword” is not the kind of weapon used in combat, but the kind used in executions (specifically beheadings). It was the kind of sword that the Roman Empire employed to enact the death penalty. But here, God sends a rider to use Roman’s own weapon of punishment against them.

The third horseman (Revelation 6:5-6) depicts a rider, atop a black steed, holding some scales in his hand. In Revelation, black is the symbol used for judgment (see 6:12), and the scales in his hand indicate that the rider is measuring the weight (read: worth) of the people. But the scale’s presence also means that this rider brings famine. Food was weighed and allocated using these kinds of scales. Which is why he makes his declaration about the price of food. The food that now costs a day’s wage (wheat and barley) would have been the food that made up the meals of the poor but the food consumed by the rich (olive oil and wine) is unaffected. Why? This third horseman shows the failure of the Roman Empire to care for its people. The Empire has preserved the food for the rich, but the poor are starving. This income inequality is an embarrassment to the Empire and a sign of judgment.

The fourth horseman (Revelation 6:7-8) rides a pale, green horse (yuck) and brings death with him in a variety of ways. Not only does the rider bring Death, but he also is accompanied by Hades, the underworld and abode of the dead. The four kinds of death mentioned (warfare, starvation, disease, and wild animal attacks) are all deaths that could have been prevented by an Empire doing its job. Yet, John is painting a picture that the Roman Empire has failed to lead effectively and has created its own hell-on-earth.

Many of us justifiably flinch at the idea of God being the source of these kinds of destructive judgments upon the earth. However, I don’t think it’s as simply as saying God causes these things to happen. I think instead, John is pointing to the natural consequences of placing your faith in the Empire, rather than in the Lamb and the One seated on the heavenly throne. John is saying to the early Christians, “If you want to trust in Caesar, you need to know where that road will lead you.”

In our own day and age, we are tempted to place our hope in other systems and institutions that we think will make us happy, healthy, and wise. John’s warning remains for us: Persevere in our faith in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Our faith will not save us from hardship, but it will help us to see beyond the hardship towards hope.

If anybody is interested, here are my three favorite commentaries on the Book of Revelation. They are wonderful guides through the strange details and help illumine the ancient context so that we can read the book accurately:

  • Brian K. Blount. Revelation: A Commentary, The New Testament Library. (WJK Press, 2009).
  • M. Eugene Boring. Revelation, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching. (WJK Press, 1989).
  • Mitchell G. Reddish. Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. (Smyth & Helwys, 2001).

Next Revelation sermon: May 8 – The Church Revealed (Revelation 7:9-17)
Next week’s Blog: The Mark of the Beast


April 28, 2022

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

(Revelation 5:12)

Do you remember the movie Clash of the Titans? Maybe you remember the 1981 version with its Clay-mation effects or perhaps you saw the 2010 CGI-explosion-infused version. In both versions, the movie takes place on two different planes: some of the movie is set on earth as we follow the adventures of the human hero Perseus but the rest of the movie takes place on the divine Mount Olympus as the gods hold court led by Zeus (Laurence Olivier in 1981 and Liam Neeson in 2010). The decisions made by the gods have far-reaching effects for what happens on earth.

The Book of Revelation actually has a similar plot line. Sometimes the events take place on earth and other times we are ushered into the heavenly throne room. The scenes that take place around God’s throne are not meant to simply be supernatural marvels; they are meant to instruct us how to live in this life.

In Revelation 4-5, John witnesses God seated on the throne (using language and imagery from Isaiah and Ezekiel). Next to God is a scroll that contains the will of God. This is meant to symbolize God’s plans, intentions, and dreams for the world. However, nobody can open the scroll! That is until a bloody and battered lamb enters the scene.

If we were casting the role of the hero who saves the day, we would probably seek out a mighty warrior or a fierce lion or some other awe-inducing image. I doubt any of us would imagine a lamb. Yet, that is the whole point of the image John gives to us: God works in strange and small ways in our world. This Lamb of God opens the scroll and conquers the world not through might, intimidation, or ferocity; this Lamb conquers through the power of sacrificial love.

That is the kind of Savior and King Jesus chooses to be. Jesus is not interested in conquering the world through political power or military might. Jesus is not interested in winning any of the ridiculous culture wars we can become obsessed with as spectacular exercises in missing the point. Instead, Jesus equips his disciples with compassion, neighborliness, justice, and love.

Worthy is the Lamb!

Next Revelation sermon: May 8 – The Church Revealed (Revelation 7:9-17)
Next week’s Blog: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


April 21, 2022

During the season of Easter this year, some of the lectionary readings are from the Book of Revelation. So, beginning this Sunday (April 24), we will start a sermon series exploring some of these passages. I will also be using my blog to offer some thoughts on reading Revelation (by the way, it’s “Revelation” singular not “Revelations” plural).

Let’s start here: How do we read the Book of Revelation? It is unlike anything else in our modern world. Revelation belongs to a genre called apocalyptic literature. In fact, the original title of Revelation in the Greek is the word Apokalypsis.

We tend to associate the word “apocalypse” with the end of the world, but that’s not what the word means. The word actually means “an unveiling” or “a revealing.” The Book of Revelation is about revealing to us more about who God is, who Jesus is, and how God wants us to live out our faith in the world.

In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a kind of apocalypse; it has revealed to us some of the ways in which we have been struggling as a culture and the divides that have existed within our communities. And, like what we find in Revelation, it is only through this unveiling that we can hope to know the truth and respond with faithfulness.

As we explore the Book of Revelation together, I want to recommend a few resources for you. All of these books are nonacademic and provide a biblical framework for how to read Revelation and how to understand apocalyptic literature:

My prayer is that our time spent together in Revelation would help to give us hope as we seek to follow the Lamb together.

This Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Revealed (Revelation 1:4-8)
Next week’s Blog: Worshipping the Lamb


April 14 – No blog for Holy Week. 


April 7, 2022

Last Sunday, the Tankersley family joined with others from our church in the Family Easter Celebration. Our Minister with Children and Families, Lee Ritchie, had organized six stations where families could engage in tangible reflections on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.


At dinner later that night, our family reflected on the experience. I asked everyone which was their favorite station. My daughter Charlotte said, “I liked the table where we ate bread because it made me think of when Jesus ate with his friends.”

I am so grateful for the leadership of Lee and the way this event spoke to our family. It helped to prepare our hearts and minds for Holy Week, the week in which so much of what we do is meant to make us think of powerful moments in scripture.

On Palm Sunday we will shout “Hosanna!” and wave palm branches as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, what sort of “triumph” are we expecting? Together, we will explore and discern the kind of victory Christ leads us towards. Join us for worship on Sunday morning, April 10 at 8:15 or 10:45.


Maundy Thursday is the day when, like Charlotte, we think of when Jesus ate with his friends. On Thursday, April 14 we will celebrate Communion together as we remember Christ’s commandment that his disciples are to “love one another” (John 13:34).


We hope you will take some time to come by the church on Good Friday, April 15 from 7:00 AM-6:00 PM to walk through the Stations of the Cross in the Sanctuary. This is a time to reverently reflect on Christ’s death and the love that led him to the hill called Calvary.


Finally, on Easter Sunday we will joyously celebrate Christ’s resurrection together with glorious worship, warm fellowship, and dreaming about how we might follow Christ into resurrection. Join us for Easter worship on April 17 at 8:15 or 10:45 AM. In the church courtyard that day, our Living Cross will be available for you to add a flower and for family Easter pictures.



March 31, 2022

As many of you know, I was recently in Antwerp, Belgium with our Missions Exploratory Team. The Team consisted of myself, Amy Gallaher, Dane Martin, Jeff McIntyre, and Brooke Presslar. Over the next few weeks on my Pastor’s Blog, I’d like to reflect on that trip and experience.

Days Four and Five: Meetings and Travel Home

Day Four of our time in Antwerp began with a walk to the Christian school where we were to attend a prayer meeting of local Christian leaders. When we walked in the room, there were about ten people in attendance for this prayer meeting. They went around the table and introduced themselves. The man who sat across from me was Pastor Leon. He serves as pastor of a local Pentecostal congregation in Antwerp. He told me that his church had a history of caring for the marginalized. During the 1940s, when Belgium was taken over by the Nazis, many of the Nazi officers worshipped at their church. Little did they know that 20-30 Jews were hiding in the church basement right under their feet. Leon told me that the night before, his church had twenty homeless refugees who slept in their church’s sanctuary to get away from the cold of night.

As the prayer meeting started, it became very clear that this was a much more theologically charismatic group than we moderate Baptists were accustomed to. For two hours we engaged in ecstatic and energetic forms of prayer. And what was truly interesting is that so many languages were represented. We heard prayers in English,
French, Dutch, Arabic, and Portuguese. It was truly the Day of Pentecost in that room. We prayed for the city of Antwerp, for unity amongst the churches of the city, and for the 200,000-300,000 Ukrainian refugees they are preparing to receive.

After the prayer meeting, we traveled to Janée and Hary’s home for lunch and our final meeting with them. We sat in their home to discuss the future of Ardmore’s relationship with their ministry. We made plans and dreamed together about how our various ministries (children, youth, music, medical personnel, etc.) could partner with Janée and Hary. We also discussed how their work could help inform the missional work we are doing in Winston-Salem with ministries like the Welcome House.

We then headed to get a Covid test for our flight the next day so we could re-enter the United States. Then we went back to our Airbnb to pack our suitcases. We woke early the next day and walked to the train station for our journey home.

We feel God at work in this partnership. I invite you to join us on Wednesday, April 20 at 6:00 PM in the Fellowship Hall where our Belgian Missions Exploratory Team will present more stories and ideas for our CBF Encourager Church relationship.


March 24, 2022

As many of you know, I was recently in Antwerp, Belgium with our Missions Exploratory Team. The Team consisted of myself, Amy Gallaher, Dane Martin, Jeff McIntyre, and Brooke Presslar. Over the next few weeks on my Pastor’s Blog, I’d like to reflect on that trip and experience.

Days Two and Three: Working at the Ministry House

Our team spent our second and third days in Belgium working at the Ministry House. It was a few blocks away from where we were staying and it is the primary location of Janée and Hary’s ministry to refugees. It’s located in an Arabic-speaking portion of Antwerp. Once when we were walking to the Ministry House, a local Syrian restaurant was preparing their food for the day. A man beckoned us from an open window and handed us each a piece of delicious, freshly made falafel.

We began Day Two by assisting Janée with her conversational English class that she teaches at the local Christian elementary school. We were each assigned a topic and asked the students questions about that subject. They especially got a kick out of Jeff McIntyre’s accent!

We then began our work at the Ministry House. Janée and Hary purchased the Ministry House a few years ago and use it as their primary location to refugees in Antwerp. However, the city government in Antwerp has insisted that they must use the house as a residence if they hope to keep it. So, our work was to help make this house livable for Janée, Hary, and their two daughters (Phoebe and Maria Grace).







We all got to work moving out old appliances (including a refrigerator from the fifth floor!), cleaning the floors, painting the walls, and assembling IKEA furniture for the family. Each day we were joined by others involved in their ministry. We ended each work day with a meal that had been provided by families involved in the ministry. We had a Syrian meal of stuffed grape leaves, an Egyptian meal of sandwiches, and an Iraqi meal of freshly baked bread and roasted chicken.


During our time at the Ministry House, we also heard stories of those whose lives have been impacted by the work of Janée and Hary. We heard from their niece and her story of escaping from ISIS in Syria before coming to live in Antwerp. We heard from families who were struggling to achieve their legal status in Belgium so they could care for their families.

We ended Days Two and Three feeling worn out from our work, but also filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the amazing Gospel ministry of Janée and Hary.

Next week I will reflect on Day Four (our final full day) in Belgium and will tell you the stories of attending a community prayer meeting in Antwerp and sharing a meal with at Janée and Hary’s home.


March 17, 2022

As many of you know, I was recently in Antwerp, Belgium with our Missions Exploratory Team. The Team consisted of myself, Amy Gallaher, Dane Martin, Jeff McIntyre, and Brooke Presslar. Over the next few weeks on my Pastor’s Blog, I’d like to reflect on that trip and experience.


Day One: Experiencing Antwerp

We landed in Brussels and took a twenty-minute train ride to the city of Antwerp. We pulled in the Antwerpen-Centraal, one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. Our first day in Antwerp was meant to keep us energized, but all I wanted to do was collapse somewhere. We landed in Belgium at about 8:00 o’clock in the morning and in order to stave off the work of jet lag, we needed to stay up for an additional twelve hours. I did not sleep well on the plane and something I had eaten was disagreeing with me. I felt wiped and miserable. As our Team was enjoying a hot Belgian waffle and the best chocolate in the world, I was trying not to get sick. Eventually, my nausea passed and I was able to eat a little something (thank you, Brooke, for the bag of almonds!). And you better believe I then made the Team circle back for waffles and chocolate.

We walked all over the city for this first day. Partly this was to keep us awake and active, but it was also so that we could see the area where Janée and Hary (our CBF Encourager Church partners) do their substantial ministry. We learned that Hary’s heart is for evangelism and Janée’s heart is for discipleship; Hary preaches to the Arabic-speaking refugees in Antwerp (who mostly hail from Syria) while Janée does the administrative and pastoral tasks of caring for their church.

We ended the first day just reflecting on all that we had seen in the city. We saw expensive high-rise apartments in the shopping district and we encountered homeless sleeping on the street near where we were staying. All around us was a cornucopia of languages being spoken: Dutch, French, English, Arabic, and many others.

What is clear is that God is using Janée and Hary in amazing ways in Antwerp. At the end of that first day, our Team had a clearer sense of the culture and setting for their ministry.

Next week, I will reflect on Days Two and Three of our trip as we worked at the Ministry House.


March 10, 2022

Not long ago, a couple in their sixties sat down with me to express some concerns in their lives. This couple has a number of children who are adults, all of whom now have small children of their own. They loved their family and everyone had a close and loving relationship with one another. Their concern was that not one of their children was currently involved, or seemed remotely interested in being involved, in a church.

Many families have a very similar story. While they raised them in church, their children now are not involved in organized religion of any kind. Sociologically, these people belong to the ever-growing group known as the “Nones.”

The growth of the “Nones” in American society has been dramatic. In 1972, just 5 percent of Americans claimed “no religion” on the General Social Survey. In 2018, that number rose to 23.7 percent, making the “Nones” as numerous as both evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. Every indication is that the “Nones” will be the largest religious group in the United States in the next decade.

In his book The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They are Going, Rev. Dr. Ryan Burge explores how the rise of the “Nones” came about, how this will affect American religion, and what the church should be doing about it. Burge is both a political scientist and an American Baptist pastor in southern Illinois.

I hope you will join me in reading the book and join me for my dialogue with Dr. Burge on his book for our next Conversations that Matter on Monday, March 28 at 7:00 PM. He is currently a very in-demand speaker and consultant, so this will be a pre-recorded conversation between Dr. Burge and myself. My prayer is that it gives us all some perspective on this rapidly growing group in our country and how we as a church are called to respond.


March 3, 2022

I spent last week in the Smoky Mountains with a group of friends from high school and college. We stayed at a cabin in Townsend, Tennessee. Other than one day that rained from sunrise to sunset, we went hiking each day.

My favorite hike was to Abram Falls in Cades Cove. We hiked the five-mile trail of footbridges and slopes to the beautiful cove of a 20-foot waterfall. My friends and I spent some time staring at the water, jumping over rocks, and eating apples. We were the last people in the park and the sun was beginning to set. We knew we needed to head back because we were losing daylight fast. As we were headed back, I am a fairly fast hiker (if they are reading this, they know it’s true!) so I found myself getting pretty far ahead of the rest of the group. Suddenly, I realized that I could not even see or hear my friends behind me. I was completely alone on the trail with darkness growing around me. However, I knew that as long as I kept following the trail, I would eventually get home.

The season of Lent is a lot like a hiking trail at sunset. The darkness grows around us and it is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the difficulties we continue to face: losing those we love, navigating our way through pandemic transitions, and (of course) the heartbreaking turmoil currently taking place in Ukraine.

During this season of Lent, we will follow the trail of Jesus to lead us through the darkness. On Sundays, I will be preaching on the Gospel texts from the Revised Common Lectionary as we follow Jesus through the wilderness, to a mountain top, repentance, worship, triumph, death, and, finally, resurrection.


February 24, 2022 – No blog this week


February 17, 2022

My Great-Grandma had a painting in her dining room that many of you have probably seen before. It depicts an elderly, bearded man in a flannel shirt praying over a table on which sits a meager meal and a large (that thing could do some damage!) Bible. The name of this painting is “Grace.”

The writers of the New Testament set the bar pretty high for our own prayer lives. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). I used to feel anxious about that command, thinking something along the lines of, “I’m supposed to start praying and never stop?! How do I eat?! How do I use the restroom?!”

But Paul is not telling us that we have to open our mouths to pray and never close them. Instead, Paul is telling us to so imbibe and saturate our lives with prayer that the lines become blurred where one prayer ends and another starts. Prayer should be as natural to us as breathing; it should ebb and flow from who we are without even thinking about it.

When Jesus wanted to teach people about prayer, he gave them a model prayer to use as a guide. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, but the truth is that Jesus meant for it to be our prayer. Beginning on Wednesday, February 23, Associate Pastor Gina Brock will begin leading a six-week Bible Study that explores The Lord’s Prayer and how we can integrate it into our lives. I am looking forward to this study for my own spiritual life and I hope you will join us. You can register for the study by clicking here: https://bit.ly/LordsPrayerStudy.


February 10, 2022

Well, a lot can certainly happen in thirteen seconds.

On January 23, when they were playing against the Buffalo Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs amazingly tied up the game and won due to the (admittedly unscrupulous) NFL overtime rules. During that whole week the Chiefs social media fandom was loudly celebrating the power of their team and what they can do in thirteen seconds.

The following Sunday, however, that all changed. Against the Cincinnati Bengals (whom Kansas City clearly thought they would easily beat), the game was yet again tied at the end of the 4th quarter and sent into overtime. KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw an interception that gave the Bengals possession of the ball and handed them the victory. You know how long it was into overtime when Mahomes made that mistake? About thirteen seconds.

A lot can happen in thirteen seconds. Some of you know this very well. You know the elation that can come from a sudden joy in your life. Some of you also know that your life can tragically change on a dime in the matter of an instant.

Ecclesiastes is a brutally honest book of wisdom in the Bible that teaches us to accept the reality of life’s unpredictability: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).

According to Qoheleth (the word biblical scholars use to refer to the author of Ecclesiastes), wisdom can be found in learning to embrace the seemingly random nature of life. Instead of placing our hope and trust in our ability to predict or plan our lives, we ought to “remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

In other words: Life can change in an instant, but your God is eternal.


February 3, 2022

Ministry is a playground for people with strong opinions. Nearly every day I am bombarded by articles and tweets from pastors and theologians who make black-and-white statements about what I must or must not be doing in order to be a good pastor.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the liturgical footballs that was constantly passed around was “how do you conduct the Lord’s Supper in a safe manner?” Some theologians even believed it was wrong to attempt to hold Communion virtually.

I have sympathy for that perspective which seeks to honor the sacred nature of the ritual, but I think that view misses the point of Communion. The very meaning of the Lord’ Supper is that when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we somehow, mysteriously, find ourselves at the very table of the Lord Jesus Christ. And while we Christians believe in the importance of sacred space, we also do not confine Christ’s presence to our sanctuaries.

In fact, for Jesus and the disciples the elements of that Last Supper were made up of ordinary, everyday grub. Every Jewish household had at least stale bread and cheap wine; this was not the table of a pompous king, but of the son of a blue-collar carpenter. The holiness of Communion is found in the ordinary nature.

Some of the holiest moments over the past two years have been the numerous times I have taken Communion to those who have not been able to join us for in-person worship. I have handed bread and juice to people in living rooms, on front porches, in the lobby of a hospital, and in the rooms of Trellis Hospice. It’s a reminder to these saints that they remain connected to the Body of Christ and that the presence of Christ is with them even here.

This upcoming Sunday (February 6), we will partake in the Lord’s Supper together. Some of you will be present in our Sanctuary as we fiddle with the disposable chalices and shelf-stable bread we’ve become accustomed to during this pandemic. Others of you will turn the service on at home and will gather with your loved ones around whatever ordinary elements you might have had at your house. One family in our church recently sent me a picture of their Communion set-up of Ritz crackers and orange juice (they later told me that the family dog ate all of the crackers when they weren’t looking!).

If you are one of our homebound members who is not able to join us for Communion, but would like to receive the Lord’s Supper in your home, please let us know. You can email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org or you can call the church office. We love you and want you to know that through bread and cup.

However you celebrate Communion, remember: pull up a chair, lay your napkin in your lap, and give thanks. For you are dining at the table of our Lord.


January 27, 2022

Last summer, our Vision & Navigation Team met to discuss where we felt God is leading our congregation. As part of our conversation, we wanted to explore the culture of Ardmore Baptist Church and to examine who we are. On a white board, we wrote down a list of words we would use to describe Ardmore and some of those words were: Loving, Caring, Compassionate, Missional, and Welcoming.

We then stared at the list of adjectives and asked the question, “What is not on this list and should be?” In other words: If Ardmore Baptist Church were to step even further into God’s calling for us, what words would you like to be used to describe who we are?

There was some silence as we all gathered our thoughts. Then one member of the team said, “Brave.” We all allowed our hearts to catch up and to allow ourselves just a moment to discern whether or not we agreed. The group eventually murmured their agreement. That is when Rick Jordan’s eyes lit up. “Hey. Wait a minute,” he said, “I have a friend who recently wrote a book called Brave Church!”

After Rick shared that, a few of us on the VNT purchased the book and have been reading it. The author, Elizabeth Hagan, is a Baptist minister who was serving as a pastor when she and her husband experienced the pain of infertility and miscarriage. She discovered that those topics are often ignored in churches because people tend to be too afraid of such raw pain and hurt.

Brave Church: Tackling Tough Topics Together is her attempt to provide a path forward for communities of faith to tackle those sorts of difficult issues that tend to be risky enough to touch a raw nerve in our souls. Her short book leads church folk through conversations on infertility/miscarriage, mental illness, domestic violence, racism, and sexuality. These topics require buckets of grace for one another because they can often expose areas where we have fundamental disagreements. However, a brave church is not afraid of such conversations, knowing that our unity is stronger than our differences.

Beginning on Sunday evening, March 20, I am hoping to lead a small group of members of Ardmore Baptist Church through Brave Church. I already have six people who have expressed an interest and I am hoping to finalize the group in the coming weeks. If you would be at all interested in participating, please send me an email at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org. If we have enough interest for a group beyond what we can do in the coming months, we will look towards starting a new group in the future.


January 13, 2022

In the Book of Exodus, after the Israelites are freed from slavery in Egypt and cross the waters of the Red Sea, they do not immediately enter into the Promised Land. Instead, they go into the wilderness.

In the Gospels, after Jesus is baptized he does not immediately begin his public ministry of healings and teachings. Instead, he goes into the wilderness.

Scripture tells us that the wilderness is a place of being refined and changed. It is a place that God uses to mold and shape us for the new things God is calling us to do and the new identity God is calling us to be.

Former pastor of Ardmore Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Bill Ireland, has written a book about his own experience of a wilderness in his life. After years in the midst of a difficult pastoral experience (at a church other than Ardmore!), Bill found himself in the midst of a vocational, emotional, and spiritual liminal place in which he had to rethink his own sense of calling, his purpose in this world, and what God was calling him to do.

At some point in our lives, each of us will likely find ourselves in a season of wilderness. A season in which we will question our identity, meaning, and purpose. However, Dr. Ireland reminds us that God’s presence continues to walk with us even during times of uncertainty.

I hope you will join me for our next Conversations that Matter as we discuss Dr. Ireland’s book, Driven: A Field Guide to the Wilderness. I have found Bill’s book to be full of vulnerability and strength, raw honesty and hope, struggle and grace.

Our conversation will take place on Monday, January 24, at 7:00 PM. You can join us on our church’s Facebook page live (the recording will be uploaded to YouTube shortly thereafter). If you have any questions for Bill, you can either ask them in the Comments on Facebook or you can send them to me ahead of time at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.


January 6, 2022

January 6 is a day that is filled with meaning for me. First and foremost, it is my daughter Charlotte’s birthday. She is turning five this year and she will be celebrated with blue cupcakes and stuffed animals.

Last year, January 6 took on a strange and bizarre meaning for all of us. I remember sitting in my office getting some paperwork done while a live feed of the congressional chambers was on in the background. I am a sucker for presidential history and so I wanted to watch the moment when Congress ratified the results of the 2020 election. However, in real time, I watched as security guards burst into the room, barricaded the doors, and ushered the legislators to safer locations as ill-guided people began to pour into the Capitol building, attempting to incite an insurrection. Now, the phrase “January 6” has become shorthand for a national moment just as “September 11” does the same.

But the day of January 6 is also the day on the church calendar known as Epiphany. An epiphany is a moment when you suddenly see or understand something in a new way. But on the church calendar, the Epiphany is the celebration of the Magi bringing their gifts to the Christ Child.

Like most moments on the church calendar, Epiphany isn’t really just a day though; it’s a season. It’s the season prior to Lent. See, before we can follow Jesus on the road to the cross, we must have an epiphany; we must see things in a new way.

Recently, I did some research on how the season of Epiphany is observed by Christians around the world. In Bulgaria, they celebrate Epiphany in a strange way. The citizens of a town will gather at a river’s edge. The local priest will take a wooden cross and throw it as far as he can into the icy, January waters. The young men from the town immediately dive into the river and attempt to retrieve the cross. It is believed that good luck and divine favor will come upon the house of the young man who finds the cross.

Is it silly? Yeah, sure. But perhaps that is how we should treat this season of Epiphany, friends. Perhaps we should dive into the icy, cold waters of this season and chase after the cross of Jesus Christ. We don’t do so in order to curry divine favor, but to live with greater abandon for the God who loves us so much that he came to be with us in the form of a baby. And this Epiphany, we lay our gifts before this God who is worthy of our worship and praise.


December 30, 2021

This past fall, I had the incredible honor and blessing of walking through the New Testament letter of Ephesians on Wednesday nights with some of you. Each week we would have about 35-55 joining us in a combination of in-person and online engagement. Others of you were not able to be with us on Wednesday nights and instead watched the Bible Study on YouTube later.

For folks in church, Ephesians is at least nominally familiar to us. But this winter, we will be diving into a book that we hardly ever read: the weird and bizarre prophetic book of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel is often ignored because it seems so daunting to tackle a book with fantastical visions (1:1-28), strange sign-acts (4:1-17), quasi-pornographic imagery (16:1-63), and all ending with nine entire chapters on architectural schematics for a new Temple (40:1-48:35). But in the midst of all those unusual passages are also some of the most breathtakingly beautiful images of personal responsibility (18:1-32), ethical leadership (34:1-31), spiritual formation (36:16-36), and hope (37:1-14).

I think because it is so often ignored, Ezekiel has long been my favorite book of the Bible. If you are willing to work at it and listen to Ezekiel’s words in context, it ushers us into a new understanding of God’s holiness and grace.

I hope you will be able to join us on Wednesday nights this winter. If you would like to participate in the Pastor’s Bible Study on Ezekiel, we will begin on Wednesday, January 5 in Fellowship Hall B at 6:00 PM. I also send out a weekly email that will give you a handout each week, the link to recordings of the Bible Study, and to keep you updated if we ever have to cancel. If you are not currently already receiving the emails for the Pastor’s Bible Study, please email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org and I will add you to the list.

December 23, 2021

As we look towards the end of 2021, I am reflecting on some of books I’ve read this year that have helped grow my faith. I’ve narrowed it down to ten books. Last week I told you about the first five and this week I will tell about the next five. These are in no particular order, but they have all been used by God to teach me more
about the mystery of grace.

1. Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu
Rachel Held Evans was one of my favorite writers. Sadly, in April 2019 she developed a severe case of the flu, was placed in a medically-induced coma, and passed away. She left behind a husband and two young sons. Her writing was always a gift to my spirituality and I grieved her loss alongside countless others. This book was published in fall 2021 and was found on her laptop as an unfinished manuscript. Her friend, Jeff Chu, finalized the manuscript. It’s a beautiful exploration of the ways that Christian faith is meant to capture our entire selves. I found myself getting emotional with gratitude for these words and for the author as I closed the book.

2. Brave Church: Tackling Touch Topics Together by Elizabeth Hagan
I first heard about this book from Rick Jordan during a Vision & Navigation Team meeting. Our group was trying to find a way to articulate that we wanted to be a church that is not afraid of discussing difficult subjects. Rick began to tell us that his friend Elizabeth had recently written a book called Brave Church that dealt with that very thing. Hagan says that churches should be places that are both safe and brave and she leads through five hard topics: infertility/miscarriages, mental illness, domestic violence, racism, and sexuality. I was so taken with the book that I am hoping to lead a small group through this book. The small group will begin meeting in March 2022. If you are at all interested in being part of this, please email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.

3. The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
Tisby is an African American evangelical who writes with candor about the history of the American church. He points out the ways in which racist policies and procedures were often intentionally woven into early American history and found their way into our congregations. He shows that American churches supported the rise of the KKK and were often dismissive of vocal leaders during the Civil Rights movement. However, it’s also a story of God at work even in the midst of the brokenness of the Church and how the Holy Spirit is often so far ahead of us. Our job is just to try to catch up.

4. Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren
Tish Harrison Warren is an Anglican priest who writes this book examining the Compline nighttime prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Sure sounds exciting, huh?! But seriously: it’s good. Warren takes the prayer phrase by phrase and plumbs the depths of her own spiritual wrestling. It’s a book about crying out to God even in the midst of the dark valleys we can find ourselves in.

5. “Here Are Your Gods”: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times by Christopher J.H. Wright
Wright is an English Old Testament scholar who has written some of my favorite commentaries (his volume on Ezekiel is fantastic). In this book he steps into the role of a prophet himself and points out the ways our culture has modernized the idea of idolatry. He especially points the finger at toxic nationalism as an idol in many countries (including ours).

Thank you for reading my ramblings about the books I’ve read this year. I want to hear from you! Have you read any of these books? What other books have you read this year that have been used by God to shape and guide your faith in 2021?


December 16, 2021

As we look towards the end of 2021, I am reflecting on some of books I’ve read this year that have helped grow my faith. I’ve narrowed it down to ten books. This week I will tell you about the first five and next week I’ll do the next five. These are in no particular order, but they have all been used by God to teach me more about the mystery of grace.

1.Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton
This book was recommended to me by my spiritual director and I am grateful that he did so. It is about how leaders can help care for their spiritual lives while trying to help care for the spiritual lives of others. The main takeaway: it will not just happen; it takes intentionality to strengthen your soul as a leader. This book is great for anybody who serves as a spiritual leader (Sunday School teacher, Deacon, pastor).

2.No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler
Bowler is the Associate Professor for the History of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, but you would never know it from the way she writes. She speaks in an approachable, snarky, and funny style that is easily readable. Her first book, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved), details her diagnosis of aggressive cancer at 35 and this book explores her treatment and how she sought to hold on to her honest faith in the midst of those struggles.

3.A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson by Winn Collier
Eugene Peterson is most well-known for having been the author of the beloved paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, but this biography covers his childhood, the unfolding of his pastoral calling, and how he tried to function as a pastoral caregiver. What is clear from his biography is that (while they could certainly frustrate him sometimes) he deeply, deeply loved his congregation. Peterson has long been one of my pastoral heroes and I hope I can be half the pastor he was. This biography gives a great glimpse into the inner life of a man of deep and abiding faith.

4. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
This book by John Mark Comer examines the ways that our culture is addicted to the ideas of busy-ness, productivity, and hurry. He explores how these pursuits are killing us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He lays out scripture’s antidotes: silence, solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing down. This book helped convict me about the need for my family and me to intentionally practice Sabbath together.

5. Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez
This book has caused quite a stir in the evangelical world. It examines the way that predominantly white American evangelicals have distorted the Gospel message so that it fits a rugged version of masculinity rather than reflecting the true biblical message. This book is a little like a root canal; painful but necessary! Yet, there are also glimpses of hope: it is only when we know our faults that we can seek healing.

Next week I will tell you about five more books I have read this year that have been used by the Lord to guide and shape my faith.


December 9, 2021

Months ago, alongside the rest of you, I watched the situation in Afghanistan deteriorate worse and worse as American forces withdrew and the Taliban quickly took control of the country. I was heartbroken at videos of people clinging to the landing gear of departing military aircraft. These desperate people were so willing to risk their lives for even a small glimmer of a chance at a better life.

The unrest in that country has created 6 million refugees from Afghanistan. 3.5 million have been displaced from their homes within the country itself and 2.5 million are seeking asylum in other countries around the world, including the United States.

How to treat refugees as a country can be a complicated issue filled with legal conundrums and policy-think-tank discussions. But for people who follow the God of the Bible, for people who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ, the issue is not as complicated.

The Torah speaks extensively about the way that the ancient Israelites were to treat refugees, immigrants, and sojourners in their midst:

You shall not oppress a resident foreigner; you know the heart of a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

As we enter the New Testament, we find that even our stories of Advent and Christmas touch on the issues of immigration. If we are carefully reading we find that Jesus himself was a refugee at one point. Joseph took Mary and their newborn son and fled to the land of Egypt because they were afraid of the persecution they may experience at the hands of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15). And the Book of Revelation speaks of how God’s people are a multinational, multiethnic community comprised of all nations in the world (Revelation 7:9). If you are one of those people who cringes at the word “diversity,” then heaven is going to make you very uncomfortable, my friend.

There is a fear of refugees amongst many in our country. Some people will say that they fear the refugees allowed in our country are not sufficiently vetted. But that is simply not true. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service lays out the process for refugee resettlement here. It is both lengthy and extensive. Others have bought into pundit-fueled narratives about how illegal immigrants or refugees are more likely to perpetuate crimes in our country. Again: not true. The statistics show that illegal immigrants and refugees are actually the least likely demographic (compared to natural-born citizens and legal immigrants) to commit violent crimes,  property damage, or drug violations. You can read about that research here. Others may say that even raising these issues is “political,” but from where I stand, it’s biblical.

One of the ministries that I think is truly embodying the presence of Christ to refugees in our own community is the Welcome House Community Network. It is a group of Baptist churches in North Carolina who have a home to use (perhaps an old parsonage or mission home). They partner with World Relief in their community and use their home to temporarily house refugees in their community. They embody hospitality and welcome to these families and through those acts of love,  witness to them of the love of Jesus Christ.

How can Ardmore Baptist Church fulfill God’s command to us to love the foreigners, immigrants, and refugees in our midst? Our Missions MALT (Ministry Area Leadership Team) has recently discerned a way we can do just that. Our J.L. Wilson Guest House has been a beacon of Christian hospitality for many years. It has provided a loving, safe home for people who have family members undergoing hospital procedures. However, with both the Ronald McDonald House and SECU House providing housing for hospital patients and their families, there is frankly no longer a need for the J.L. Wilson Guest House to continue to serve the same purpose. The Missions MALT feels that God is leading our church to rededicate this home to a new work.

If approved at our January Church Conference, The J.L. Wilson Guest House will become the J.L. Wilson Welcome House as we dedicate it to the network of Welcome Houses from CBF of North Carolina. This is a tangible way that our church can love refugees in our community, can share the love of Jesus Christ with them, and how we can create intergenerational missional opportunities for our families. If you have any questions about this decision, please direct them to our Minister for Missional Engagement, Rev. Amy Gallaher (agallaher@ardmorebaptist.org).

Sisters and brothers, my prayer is that Jesus Christ will be able to say to us: I was a stranger and you welcomed
me. (Matthew 25:35).


December 2, 2021

Lately, my son Owen has been drawing something strange: Advent candles. We are not entirely sure why, but he’s fascinated with the rituals and symbols of this season. In fact, all three of our children have been asking more questions lately about the Advent season.

In the Exodus 12, Moses is giving to the people the instructions for the first Passover during their time in Egypt. Moses tells them what to do to ensure the angel of death passes over their homes, but wrapped up in these guidelines are the rules for observing the ritual of the Passover in the years to come. There is a very interesting verse in the midst of these instructions: And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this observance?” (Exodus 12:26). In other words, Moses is telling the people to do strange things and to feed their children’s senses of wonderment and curiosity about the strangeness of faith.

Like many of you, our family picked up a box during our Advent Drive-Thru last month. Our wreath and candles are sitting on our dining room table. Every Sunday evening, Jessica makes everybody a cup of hot chocolate (mine comes with Trader Joe’s peppermint marshmallows!). We light the candles for that Sunday and we sit in the darkness talking about what it means to hope, or what it means to make peace, or how it feels to be full of joy, or the warm embrace of God’s love. We do this not because our children already fully understand the theological mysteries of the perichoretic nature of the Triune God. No. We do these strange things so that they will ask questions like those early Israelite children, “This is weird. Why are we doing this?”

Because Jessica and I somehow believe that these small family rituals will somehow teach our children far more about God than simply our talking-at-them every could. We have faith that we are helping to instill rhythms of purpose in their souls so that they can enter into these memories and be saved from the amnesia of conformity. We do these things so that our children will dream and wonder and hear the voice of God in their lives calling them to embody the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ in the world.


November 25 – No blog this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 18, 2021

I was serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in fall 2016. A few days before the 2016 election, one of the pastors of one of the largest churches in Cape Girardeau made a video he posted on Facebook. In the video he said, “Now, I can’t tell you who to vote for in this election. But what I can tell you is that one of the political parties is a godless, atheistic Communists who believe in killing babies and the other is a party that stands up for the biblical principles of freedom and sanctity of life.” Woo. Thank God he didn’t tell us who to vote for, right?

It was a strange video, but it also captured the way that many Christians in America tend to speak polemically about the way faith intersects with their politics. This pastor had a clear bias and I have heard more progressive clergy who speak with just as much thinly veiled prejudice towards those with whom they disagree.

That is why I so appreciate the book The Bible and the Ballot by Tremper Longman III. Longman is an evangelical Old Testament scholar who wrote this book to address what role the Bible should play in our political perspectives. He begins by laying out a hermeneutic (a method of interpretation) so that we read the Bible responsibly. Then, he addresses a variety of hot-button issues and looks at how he applies that biblical hermeneutic to his beliefs. He is not advocating that you agree with all his opinions, but he is providing a responsible framework for applying scripture politically.

It is a risky move on my part to have a conversation with Longman on his book for our next Conversations that Matter. Like many moderate congregations, many probably would prefer we never introduce politics into our congregational conversations. But I don’t think it does anybody any good to pretend as if God’s Word has nothing to say about the way our world is organized (which is what politics really is). Longman is not advocating that we all must be in complete agreement in how he interprets every issue (there are a handful of places where I disagree with him). Instead, he advocates for us to practice discernment in how we use the Bible in forming our perspectives.

So, I hope you will read The Bible and the Ballot. I hope you will do so with an open mind as you consider what role scripture plays in your own beliefs. And then I hope you will join us on Monday, November 29 at 7:00 PM on our church’s Facebook page or YouTube channel for my dialogue with Tremper Longman III.


November 11, 2021

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. Now, I will admit that is probably at least partially for food-related reasons, but it’s also much more than that. I love Thanksgiving because I adore the tradition of setting aside a day for gratitude.

The story of Thanksgiving’s history is a long and winding road. Many of us traditionally associate Thanksgiving with the idea of Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down for a meal, but the actual history of such an event is highly suspect and likely more myth than truth. The first Thanksgiving proclamation was made by George Washington on November 26, 1789 where he proclaimed that the day should be marked, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” Abraham Lincoln later officially established a nationwide Thanksgiving celebration in 1863 after being pestered to do so by the writer and suffragette Sarah Josepha Hale (who wrote the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”).

While Thanksgiving is technically a secular holiday, it is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. The idea of expressing gratitude before God is at the heart of the Bible. In fact, Leviticus (everyone’s favorite book of the Bible) begins by outlining the “burnt offering” which could be a bull, ram, or dove (so as to make it accessible regardless of one’s financial standing) to be wholly burned to God “an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:17). One of the mistakes we Christians make when we read about sacrifice in the Old Testament is that we think all those animals being killed were to pay for the peoples’ sins. Not so. The burnt offering in Leviticus was simply an offering of gratitude; it was a ritual to thank God for all that God had done over the previous year.

This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? How can you look back over the previous year and be grateful for all that you have been given. I know that doing so is much easier for some of you and much more difficult for others. However, all of us are called to stand before the Lord and pray like the psalmist: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1).

One opportunity you will have to express gratitude to God is at our Thanksgiving Service on Wednesday, November 17, at 6:00 PM in the Sanctuary. David Niblock will be leading our music based on songs he had written during many of the difficult days of the past year and a half. We will also reflect on being thankful as a community. The service will be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube for those who cannot join us in-person.

I hope you will join us, friends, for this service of worship, reflection, and thanksgiving.


November 4, 2021

Over the past few weeks on my blog, I have been exploring the four emphases that our Vision & Navigation Team has discerned our church should focus on in the next season of our life together. Each week I told you about the values that guided our thinking as well as three suggestions for practical ways we can implement these ideas into our church’s mission. In this final post, I offer some final reflections on the process of visioning itself.

A New Thing
In the midst of the Babylonian Exile, God speaks to the people through the prophet Isaiah. The people have been pleading to God to be delivered from the exile. God responds by recounting the ways that God delivered the people during the exodus when they were rescued from slavery in Egypt. And then God says something very surprising:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18-19)

God tells the people to not remember the exodus. The exodus?! That’s the central story of what it means to be an Israelite; it was the story that every Judahite boy and girl would relive and rehearse each Passover. It was the most distinctively formational narrative of God’s people and God is telling them to not dwell too much on that story.

God is instructing the people that if you spend too much time dwelling on the past (even the good parts of the past) your nostalgia will cloud your ability to see the future. God is not instructing the people to completely forget the exodus and never mention it again; God is telling the people to not be so obsessed with the past that they cannot see God at work in the present.

In my mind, friends, that is our task today as a community of faith devoted to following God in our world. How do we find ways to help one another to have a deep appreciation for the past, but also to look towards what new things God is doing amongst us?

That is the task and the challenge that the Vision and Navigation Team has laid before you. They are challenging us to dream about what it means to develop disciples of Jesus Christ, to foster authentic relationships in our church, to share our space with both wisdom and hospitality, and to embrace simplicity as a spiritual practice.

As we come to end of this series of blogs, these writings are not meant to be a finish line, but a starting pistol. How are you called to join in this work? How are you being called to look for what new thing God is doing in our midst and to join in the work of God as part of our church?


October 28, 2021

Over the next few weeks on my blog, I will be exploring the four emphases that our Vision & Navigation Team has discerned our church should focus on in the next season of our life together. Each week I will tell you about the values that guided our thinking as well as three suggestions for practical ways we can implement this into our church’s mission.

Embrace Simplicity
One of my favorite movies is an obscure, overly sentimental film from 1972 called Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi who grew up as the wealthy son of a clothing merchant yet later gave his life to Christ to become a wandering monk. Some of his friends join him and they begin to rebuild the dilapidated cathedral known as San Damiano. There is a scene where Francis and his fellow monks, alongside lepers and others, are moving stone-by-stone to repair a wall. As they work, they sing this song:

If you want to make like free,
Take your time go slowly.
Do few things but do them well,
Simple joys are holy.

Ever since I watched this movie with some friends in college, I have thought about this little song at least once a week. It has become a kind of mantra that I use to help guide my life. I certainly don’t always live up to its words, but it reminds me of the need to embrace simplicity in my life.

As the Vision & Navigation Team continued to have conversations about the direction for our congregation, one of the questions we dared to ask is this: “Are we perhaps trying to do too much as a church?” It’s a question that the Pastoral Staff has been asking for a while. Every time we gather for one of our marathon planning days, we tape calendars to the wall and start filling in all of the activities we have planned. However, lately, we’ve been trying to move away from trying to jam-pack the schedule and instead seek to “do few things but do them well.”

I hope you have already seen some of the ways our leaders have been seeking to embrace simplicity. For example, our Missional Engagement MALT has been seeking to cultivate deeper relationships with fewer missional partners rather than shallow relationships with a lot of partners. This will require some painful decisions to be made because all of the organizations we support are wonderful. However, we cannot do everything and we must embrace the limits God has placed on us and instead seek deeper engagement.

However, there are other ways that we can embrace simplicity in the life of our church. Here are some ways that the Vision & Navigation Team sees as some first steps:

1. Rather than re-invent the wheel, we need to re-educate our congregation on ways we already have to serve.
Not long ago, I got a cup of coffee with someone who has been attending Ardmore for more than a decade (they gave me permission to share this story). At one point they said, “I have a question to ask you but I’m a little bit embarrassed to ask it.” I told them to go ahead and they asked, “What is a MALT?” I smiled and laughed because this is far from the first time I’ve been asked this same question. I explained to them about Ministry Area Leadership Teams and the rationale behind providing an on-ramp for people to serve in various ways of the church’s life. The truth is that our MALT system is a great way to get more people involved in our church’s various ministries, but we have not done a good job of keeping that system in front of people. So, we need to endeavor to keep systems like the MALTs in front of the congregation in different ways so that people can easily find ways to serve.

2. We seek organizational structure that is both understandable and transparent.
This second point is likely strongly tied to the first point. When I was in the midst of the search process to become Senior Pastor of Ardmore Baptist, I met many times with Mike Queen, our Interim Senior Pastor. Mike and I had long conversations about the strengths and growth areas of the church. I remember him saying clearly one time, “Tyler, how do decisions get made at Ardmore? What is the trajectory from an idea to a new ministry?” In all candidness, friends, I don’t think we have a good answer to that question. I think we have certain things that we do each year and have a good structure for (Budget, Deacons, etc.), but I don’t think we currently have an easy-to-understand and simple decision-making structure. I will be working with various leaders in the coming months to help craft and communicate a transparent decision-making process at Ardmore Baptist Church.

3. We seek to live lives that are not distracted.
Mark Twain (a good Missouri boy) said, “Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” That is certainly how our society often operates. Advertising is designed to get you to think that you will not be truly happy unless you have this new gadget or this kind of car. But the way of Jesus embraces a different set of priorities. When we are obsessed with an accumulation of things, then our lives are distracted from what is really important: loving God and loving our neighbors. Instead of finding our identity in an accumulation of stuff, we need to instead live simply. It is important that simplicity be a spiritual practice that characterizes the people of God in the world; it is one of the hallmarks that will make us a set-apart people. There are two suggestions I have for implementing simplicity in your life and allowing it to shape who you are. First, read John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (especially p. 177-218). Second, when we get our financial selves in order, we free ourselves to live more simply and to be more generous. This spring our church will be offering a class on Financial Peace University taught by Jay Van Nostrand. If you have never experienced this class, I highly recommend you participate. If you are interested in this class, email Associate Pastor Gina Brock at gbrock@ardmorebaptist.org.

Next Week: Some concluding thoughts on the vision of our


October 21, 2021

Over the next few weeks on my blog, I will be exploring the four emphases that our Vision & Navigation Team has discerned our church should focus on in the next season of our life together. Each week I will tell you about the values that guided our thinking as well as three suggestions for practical ways we can implement this into our church’s mission.

Share Our Space
When I was a child, my father served as the pastor of a tiny, tiny congregation called Burfordville Baptist Church. I remember one year us celebrating that we had 80 people for an Easter service. My father was the only staff member, which meant that in addition to preparing sermons and Bible studies, he also was the janitor and facilities manager. There were times when we would accompany him and my job was always to go into the Sunday School classrooms and empty the trash cans. I remember feeling how strange it was that the trash always needed to be emptied. One evening my father explained to me that our church was the largest building in our town. Our building was not just used for our Sunday School classes, but was the community center for Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, and various support groups. My father was gifted at leading his church to share their space with their neighbors.

During our conversations as the Vision & Navigation Team, we continually returned to feeling called for Ardmore Baptist Church to be a place that sees its campus as a ministry to the community. And, I have to say, this is one area that we already do very well. Some of the areas we have discerned are areas of growth for us as a church (see: evangelism), but this is one visioning emphasis where we simply need to build on our substantial strengths as a congregation.

We believe we need to seek to balance being open-handed and hospitable with our church property, while also being good stewards by being responsible and protective. With the idea of that balance in mind, here are three ideas the Vision & Navigation Team has had about moving forward on sharing our space:

1. We need to define our “space” as more than just 501 Miller Street.
We have a beautiful church campus that glorifies God with its architecture and intentionality. That is something to celebrate and a tool to use for living into the kingdom of God in our world. However, we also cannot tie all of our ministries just to the campus of 501 Miller Street. We need to see our “space” as a congregation as also including our living rooms, the fire bowls in our backyard, and communal
spaces in our city. These places can be just as sacred and holy as our wonderful church campus. In 2022, Gina Brock and I are working on creating opportunities for conversations to take place in homes around the city rather than meeting at the church. One group will be focused on having deeper conversations around Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and another group will be participating in a pilot church program through the book Brave Church. If you know that you would be interested in either of such a group (and if you are feeling called to perhaps host a group in your home), please contact Gina at gbrock@ardmorebaptist.org or myself at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.

2. We need to seek opportunities to use our space to deepen community partnerships.
Some of you might have heard that a few months ago, Redeemer Church (just down the street from us) lost one of their pastors to suicide. It was a tragic, heartbreaking event for that congregation. When we heard, our staff reached out to them to see if there was anything we could do. They immediately responded that they were anticipating a larger number of people for the pastor’s funeral then their parking lot could hold. They were asking if they could use our church buses to shuttle people back and forth. Alan Gill (our Church Administrator) made the arrangements. On the day of the funeral, one of my wife’s friends who is a member at Redeemer, texted her and told her how beautiful it was to see buses from Ardmore Baptist transporting people to this meaningful service at her church.

During the pandemic, all churches turned (understandably) insular. We were all seeking to take care of our people and did not have the bandwidth to consider new partnerships in the community. However, now that we are beginning to emerge from this pandemic (knock on wood!), it’s time for us to re-engage with our sisters and brothers in Christ in our neighborhood. You’ll soon be hearing about an event during Advent in which we will be in partnership with Parkway United Church of Christ, Redeemer Church, and others to support the work of World Relief in Winston-Salem.

3. We need to see hospitality as an essential tool for evangelism.
Celtic Christians were a vibrant group of spiritual mystics during the early Middle Ages. Their way of practicing evangelism was slightly turned around from the rest of the Christian world. The majority of churches followed this pattern: “Believe-Become-Belong” (first you believe the right things, then you become the right kind of person, and THEN you belong to the community). However, Celtic Christians believed that being welcomed was often how people could first encounter Jesus. They led their communities using this formula: “Belong-Believe-Become” (first you are welcomed into the community as you are, through that welcome you begin to believe the Gospel, then the Lord works in your life as you become who you are called to be). For more on this, read The Celtic Way of Evangelism.

Likewise, sisters and brothers, our sense of welcome is often one of the most effective tools we have for sharing our faith. Our Properties Committee has been doing some work on our Lobby to create an even deeper sense of welcome and our Greeters perform a vital service in welcoming people each Sunday morning. In fact, we need more Greeters! If you are feeling called to help bring a sense of belonging and welcome to people, then please contact our Minister of Invitation and Hospitality, DeNeal Fowler, at dfowler@ardmorebaptist.org.
Next Week: Embrace Simplicity


October 14, 2021

Over the next few weeks on my blog, I will be exploring the four emphases that our Vision & Navigation Team has discerned our church should focus on in the next season of our life together. Each week I will tell you about the values that guided our thinking as well as three suggestions for practical ways we can implement this into our church’s mission.

Cultivate Authentic Relationships
My favorite Christian ritual is the Lord’s Supper. I think it’s because, for me, no other spiritual practice we participate in so beautifully captures the Church like Communion. Because whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, we are not only growing closer to God, but we are also growing closer to one another. We take the bread and the cup in remembrance of Jesus, but we also celebrate around an open table that is available to all.

As the Vision & Navigation Team continued to pray and discern where God is leading our congregation, we felt very strongly that God was guiding us toward a renewed commitment to cultivate authentic relationships amongst one another. We believe that as we grow closer to God, we also grow closer to one another. Christianity is not a solo sport; it’s a team event.

Our church always places a very high value on times of intergenerational community of fellowship, learning, worship, and service. One of the highlights of my time as pastor is the first Sunday I was at Ardmore for a “Fun on the Fifth” Sunday. The Lobby had been transformed into a place for coffee and donuts. I watched as a six-year-old sat down next to an 86-year-old. They began to make each other giggle. As a parent, my desire is that my children will have relationships with people of all generations.

One of the pitfalls that some churches fall into when they say they want deeper relationships amongst the congregation is that they are not being honest. You see, what some churches mean by that is this: “We welcome anybody to be part of our church so long as they look like us, think like us, worship like us, parent like us, etc.” Instead, to cultivate truly authentic relationships means to be a place where nobody has to pretend to be anything other than who they truly are.

All that being said, here are three ideas the VNT feels Ardmore is called to pursue in the coming season of our church’s life:

1. We must be a church that is both safe AND brave.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:9). However, do we ever really consider what it means to “make peace?” There is a big difference between just “keeping peace” and “making peace.” Making peace requires deliberate, intentional action. Keeping peace is just about not rocking the boat and making sure nobody gets too offended. We are called to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Baptist pastor Elizabeth Hagan has written a wonderful little book, Brave Church: Tackling Tough Topics Together. She writes about how churches are called to be places of safety, but also to be places of bravery. By bravery she means a willingness to talk about difficult topics that we normally avoid (race, sexuality, etc.). The VNT feels that Ardmore Baptist Church is being called to be a place of both safety and bravery. In 2022, I want to lead a small group in my living room through Brave Church. I am looking for a few good women and men who would be willing to have these brave conversations. If you are interested in being part of that group, please email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.

2. We must foster deeper relationships in our community with others for shared mission and purpose.
Not only are we called to cultivate authentic relationships in our church, the VNT also feels called to pursue deeper friendship with other communities of faith in Winston-Salem. There is so much opportunity for fruitful partnership with other churches toward shared missional endeavors in our community. We already do that well. We want to deepen those relationships so that we can have even more chances to learn from the Body of Christ around us. I am currently working with the pastors of the other churches in the Ardmore neighborhood on ways that we can partner together to support the work of World Relief in our community. You’ll be hearing more about that very soon.

3. We must wrestle with what it means to be truly welcoming to all people.
Just as there is a difference between “peace-keeping” and peacemaking, there is also a difference between being “nice” and being authentically welcoming. The VNT feels that we as a congregation need to discern what it means to be truly hospitable to all people. I think (read: hope) that everyone at Ardmore Baptist Church believes that anybody would be welcome among us, but are there ways perhaps that we can allow the Gospel to form and shape us even further into the likeness of Jesus, the Jesus who extended welcome even to the outcasts? What does it mean for us to embody the hospitality of Jesus and be a place of welcome for all people?

The Vision & Navigation Team spent a great deal of time in prayer over what it means to cultivate authentic relationships in our church. Now, we want to hear from you. What ideas do you have about how to foster genuine community? When we move in that direction, sisters and brothers, we do so in remembrance of Jesus.

Next Week: Share Our Space


October 7, 2021

Over the next few weeks on my blog, I will be exploring the four emphases that our Vision & Navigation Team has discerned our church should focus on in the next season of our life together. Each week I will tell you about the values that guided our thinking as well as three suggestions for practical ways we can implement this into our church’s mission.

Develop Disciples
There was a saying in ancient Israel that is lost on us: May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi. You see, as rabbis (teachers) walked the dry and dirty desert streets of Palestine, their sandaled feet would kick up a great deal of dust. Each rabbi also had students who were meant to follow him and learn from him. These students were called disciples. Disciples were to learn from their rabbi’s teaching, but more than that: they were to watch their rabbi and to learn from the way their rabbi lived. The saying was a reminder to these disciples that they should follow their rabbi so closely that the dust from his feet would cover them from head to toe. As Christians, our rabbi is Jesus Christ. How closely are we following Jesus?

As the VNT discussed what it means for us as Ardmore Baptist Church to Develop Disciples, we began to use a phrase that became very important to us: apprentices of Jesus Christ. We embraced that phrase because we felt it captured the holistic nature of a disciple. An apprentice doesn’t just learn about a trade; an apprentice spends time with a master in order to pick up the trade from example.

In many churches, the idea of “discipleship” is equated with “knowing a lot about the Bible.” Many churches embrace a largely cerebral approach to being apprentices of Jesus. In a previous generation, it was literally called “Christian education.” However, knowing a lot about God and knowing God are two different things. Ideally, when one leads to the other, that is discipleship.

The VNT talked about knowing that God is calling us to develop disciples who live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just when we gather together on Sundays, but throughout the week. We used the word “integrity” for this concept, meaning that we want our church to equip our congregation to carry their faith into their homes, workplaces, and the greater community.

There are many, many ways that Ardmore Baptist Church is already doing this well:

  • Engaging Sunday Bible Study communities who are devoted to learning about scripture and caring for one another.
  • Worship services that seek to fill up our souls in order to do the work of God throughout the week.
  • Missional endeavors where we can serve alongside one another and learn more about our community.

But how do we allow ourselves to be led into even more ways to develop disciples of Jesus Christ as Ardmore Baptist Church? The VNT would like to offer three suggestions as we move forward into the next season of our church’s life:

1. We must seek and create more opportunities for spiritual formation outside the walls of Ardmore Baptist Church.
The vast majority of the studies, classes, and groups that we offer take place at 501 Miller St. We are so blessed with a wonderfully  beautiful campus, but we must no longer rely on people coming to us. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that the goal of our church can no longer be about trying to get as many people into the doors as we can. Instead, we need to invest more time, energy, and resources into equipping the people of Ardmore Baptist Church to have groups in their living rooms, at local coffee shops, in public parks, and any other creative space we can find. Many people are too intimidated by churches (or perhaps they have had negative church experiences) to take the initiative to come to our worship let alone join a class. Instead, let us endeavor to help make disciples not just at our church, but in our community. If you are at all interested in hosting or leading such a group, please contact Associate Pastor Gina Brock (gbrock@ardmorebaptist.org) to start a conversation with her.

2. We must prioritize healthy ways of evangelizing in our community.
Evangelism is something that is very important to many of us. We take Jesus’ words seriously in the Great Commission when he told us to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). However, we also need to be willing to admit that churches have not always done evangelism in ways that are either healthy or effective. As well-intentioned as people might be, going door-to-door to talk to strangers is no longer  effective in our culture. Moderate-leaning churches like Ardmore Baptist Church are aware of this and they are often very sensitive about not doing evangelism in unhealthy ways. However, sometimes that sensitivity can lead to inaction. Let me be perfectly honest: We are not a church that tends to make new Christians. That needs to change. There are ways we can do evangelism that can reach people in creative and imaginative ways. One of those ways is a course called Alpha. It’s a discussion group that is designed to answers questions skeptics and nonbelievers may have about the Christian faith. I am looking for some women and men who might feel the Holy Spirit leading them to help get an Alpha ministry started at Ardmore Baptist Church. If you are interested in helping lead that, please email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.

3. We must emphasize spiritual practices as part of our discipleship.
Coming to faith in Jesus Christ is not a finish line; it’s a starting pistol. Following Jesus is a lifelong journey and there are 2,000 years of Christian history and wisdom that can help to guide us on this journey. Many of us have grown to embrace and appreciate the beauty and rhythms of spiritual practices in our lives as ways of helping us to grow closer to God. Disciplines such as contemplative prayer, keeping-Sabbath, tithing, and pilgrimage are just a few of the practices that have been used by Christians for centuries. We (the VNT) believe that the church should spend time teaching people to develop these disciplines and practices in their own lives. Please be on the lookout for opportunities to learn more about spiritual practices in the coming months. If you are looking for some starting places on incorporating
spiritual disciplines in your own life, here are three books I suggest:

Our prayer is that these are just three of the ways that Ardmore Baptist Church can continue its mission of developing disciples of Jesus Christ. We pray that, as we continue to move in this direction, they will lead you to be covered in the dust of your Rabbi, sisters and brothers.

Next Week: Cultivate Authentic Relationships


September 30, 2021

I still have to use my GPS to find my way around some parts of Winston-Salem. However, it is happening less and less. I was really proud of myself the other day because I made it one of my favorite places (Bookmarks bookstore) completely on my own. One of the ways I have learned to find my way around better is because the GPS does not always take me the same route. I always end up at my destination, but for whatever reason, there are times when I find myself on an unfamiliar side street, but the GPS always leads me right to where I am seeking to be.

The vision and mission of a church can be a lot like that. A church can pray and discern about where God is calling them to be as a congregation, yet God very rarely provides the direct path on how to get there. Instead, God asks us to trusts him as our guide. We may still wonder sometimes, “Where are we going?” or “Where is this all headed?”

Those are exactly the kinds of questions our Vision & Navigation Team (VNT) has been wrestling with for the past two years. We began by engaging in a visioning process through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship called Dawnings. Together with the Pastoral Staff, the VNT went through prayer exercises, intense conversations, and honest dialogue that was all centered around two questions: God, what are you calling us to do? and God, who are you calling us to be?

Our VNT is a wonderful cross-section of Ardmore Baptist Church and I am so grateful for the work they have put into these important, holy conversations we’ve had about where God is calling us. The members of the VNT are: Gina Brock, Becky Bryant, Courtney Cash, Susan Hampton, Rick Jordan, Amanda McIntyre, Jason Snipes, Jaulita Sullivan, Tyler Tankersley, Kelly Trenchard, and Jay Van Nostrand. Each time we have met, they have brought their wisdom and knowledge to dialogues about who we are called to be.

From those conversations, emerged four emphases that the VNT feels our church should focus on in this next season of life together:

    1. Develop Disciples
    2. Cultivate Authentic Relationships
    3. Share Our Space
    4. Embrace Simplicity

During the next four weeks on my blog, I want to take you on a journey through the conversations the VNT has been having around these four emphases. Each week, I will tell you about some of the major values we feel are important for each emphasis and then I will give you three practical ways we feel we can begin to move into this direction. Our hope and prayer is that these are the things we plug into our GPS. We know that God is leading us, but what about how we get there? Well, frankly, that will take all of us. It will take the whole church prayerfully discerning what part each of us might be called to play in listening to God’s will in our own lives. Because, sisters and brothers, you and I have a part to play in God’s grand story for Ardmore Baptist Church.

We don’t yet know how we are going to get there, but God is with us at every step of the journey, friends.


September 23, 2021

One of the best TV shows available right now has the strangest premise. Jason Sudeikis plays Ted Lasso, a football coach from the Midwest who gets hired as the Head Coach of an abysmally bad soccer team in England. While it is funny watching Ted try to find his way through British culture and learn the strange rules of European soccer, the most compelling part of Ted Lasso has nothing to do with sports. Ted Lasso is, fundamentally, a show about hope.

People are watching Ted Lasso because the show is willing to tackle and address the emotional lives of its central characters. And the character of Ted Lasso brings his Midwestern positivity and optimism to the cynical world of sports. Above the door to his office, Ted posts a piece of paper that simply says, “Believe.”

St. Julian of Norwich has a famous quote that might be the most blindly optimistic saying in human history: “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Those words become even more powerful when you know that she said them while she was near death.

In our Bible Study on Wednesday nights we’ve been looking at Ephesians. And one of the things we have seen in Ephesians is that when Paul uses the word “hope” he does not mean “something that has not happened, but we wish it will” (for example: “I hope it rains tomorrow”). Instead, when Paul speaks of hope in Ephesians he means: “something that already is and you need to be aware of it” (for example: “I hope you know how much I love you”).

It’s why Paul is able to write, “We, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12). The Apostle Paul wants the early Christians to know that the hope they have in Christ is not something they are awaiting to happen in the future; it is present with them right here and right now.

Sisters and brothers, where do you need hope right now? There is a lot to trouble our hearts these days. But perhaps what the world needs more than anything right now is to know that there are people who are willing to truly hope that all shall be well in God’s good time.

Perhaps we need to be Ted Lasso’s. In the words of Jesus: “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)


September 16, 2021

I was in Algebra 2 when I learned what had happened. News of a terrible accident in New York began to spread amongst my classmates. When further news arrived that a second place had hit the towers and then a third had struck the Pentagon, we all knew that this was no accident. Some teachers thought the best thing for us was to ignore what was happening and to instead double-down on their prepared lesson believing that distracting our minds was what we needed. However, as well-intentioned as those teachers might have been, they were wrong. We didn’t need distractions; we needed guidance and we needed honesty.

I will forever be grateful to my American History 1 teacher, Mr. Mabuce, for the way he handled class that day. When I walked into Mr. Mabuce’s class that day, his whiteboard was full of scribbled details that were coming out about the day. A muted TV was in the corner of the room tuned to CNN. By that time, we had learned that a fourth plane had crashed on a Pennsylvanian farm. When the bell rang, we were all silent rather than engaged in our usual chit-chat. Mr. Mabuce stepped up to the front of the room and said, “Folks, you are going to remember this day for the rest of your lives. You will tell your grandchildren about this day. What has happened on this day will alter the course of your lives.” Rather than trying to get us to focus on something else, Mr. Mabuce believed we needed someone to level with us and to join us in our anxiety and questions. In fact, a few years later, one of the students in that American History 1 class that day would lose his life while serving in Afghanistan largely due to the events of that day.

As we have all reflected on the events of that day twenty years ago, I’ve often thought of how Mr. Mabuce handled that moment. He didn’t try to distract us or make us feel stupid for our worrying about if the world was ending; instead, he was honest and concrete with us about what we knew at that moment. He entered into the mystery of the unknown with us instead of trying to pretend or paint a fake reality.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul is giving instructions for how these early Christians are to treat one another. At one point he gives them directions that are easy to miss: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Paul’s advice is NOT: Rain on the parade of those who are joyful because they need to be reminded of reality. Paul’s advice is NOT: Tell all those mopey whiners to look on the bright side of life and count their blessings! Instead, Paul gives us instructions to meet people where they are: If they are joyful, then join them in their joy. If they mourning, then mourn alongside them. Essentially, Paul is telling the early Christians to practice empathy.

Who is someone in your life who needs your empathy? Who is someone who is joyful and needs to see you smile, laugh, and celebrate with them? Who is someone who is mourning and needs you to simply say, “I know this is hard and I am so sorry” as you rub their shoulders?
Eugene Peterson paraphrases Romans 12:15 beautifully in this way: “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.”


September 9, 2021

There are few people in this world that I respect more than my friend Terell Carter. I first met Terell when we were both students at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas. Terell had grown up and still lived in St. Louis, so we would sometimes talk about our favorite spots in the city.

Terell has one of the most eclectic and interesting backgrounds of anybody I know. He is an ordained Baptist pastor, a former professor of contextualized theology, a prolific author, and a former police officer for the St. Louis Police Department. I try my very best not to abuse the friendship I have with Terell, but I truly know nobody else better equipped to speak words of both truth and experience in the midst of many of our nation’s most pressing questions.

I want to invite you to join me for a conversation with Terell Carter for our next Conversations that Matter. We will be discussing his book Healing Racial Divides: Finding Strength in Our Diversity. In this book, Terell unpacks the roots of racism and examines how it continues to be perpetuated today. He then, drawing from his experience, gives practical strategies for racial reconciliation.

Join me for this conversation with Terell on our church Facebook page on Monday, September 27, at 7:00 PM. Please read through his book and come prepared with any questions you’d like to ask. If you have any additional questions, please email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.



September 2, 2021

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I absolutely love that first crispness in the air, the sound of high school football games, and more pumpkin pie than should be legal to consume. Another reason I love fall is that it tends to be the season when activities ramp back up and we all fall into a rhythm of life together.

In that spirit, I want to invite you to participate in two new emphases at our church we will be starting in the coming days.

New Sermon Series: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (begins Sunday, September 5)

Beginning this upcoming Sunday, I will be starting a new sermon series called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based on a book of the same title by the pastor Peter Scazzero. I first read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality when I was in seminary and God sent it into my life when I truly needed it. The subtitle of the book says it all: “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

The main theme of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is that many of us have settled for a surface-level relationship with God and we have not allowed the Gospel to change us in deeper ways. During this series, we will be exploring biblical principles on how we can take our relationship with Christ to deeper levels of our being.


Pastor’s Bible Study: Ephesians (begins Wednesday, September 8)

On Sunday mornings I am given the incredible blessing and privilege of preaching from the pulpit at Ardmore. It’s an honor and I do not take that lightly. However, as much as I like to preach, I truly love to teach the Bible. On Wednesday evenings at 6:00 PM (beginning on September 8), I will be teaching an in-depth, word-by-word study through a book of the Bible. This will be the kind of study in which we will take our time to explore how God speaks through all of the nooks and crannies of a specific passage of scripture.

Our first journey of the Pastor’s Bible Study (PBS) will be the New Testament letter to the Ephesians. This short book is packed with insights about God’s plan of salvation for the cosmos, how Christ creates a new humanity, and how we are called to live differently in light of the Gospel.

We are working on an online option for the Pastor’s Bible Study. It will take place in a closed Facebook group. If you would like to be added to the Facebook group for this study, please email me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.

This new sermon series and Bible Study are just two of the wonderful opportunities that are part of our church’s life this fall. There are more times of fellowship, study, and community for people of all ages and I hope you will plug into the wonderful things happening at Ardmore Baptist Church.

I know that with the rise in Covid cases, especially the Delta variant, we are all struggling to know how and what we can safely commit to doing. However, this fall I want to challenge you to take on one new opportunity for spiritual growth. Our souls need that in the midst of these days.



August 26, 2021

This week, I will be offering some further reflections on what it means to be historically Baptist. My guide for these discussions will be The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter Shurden.






4. Religious Freedom

On January 1, 1802, the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, wrote a letter to a group of people who were seeking his advice. The group wanted to know Jefferson’s interpretation of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the first amendment in the Bill of Rights. The clauses read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Jefferson wrote to them that he believed the clauses were in the amendment to protect the “garden of the church” from the “wilderness of the world.” He also said that he believed the sentiments appropriately build “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Jefferson ends his letter by praising the group to which he was writing and specifically the work of their founder, Roger Williams, who were the most fervent champions of the separation of Church and State in America. The group he was writing to was the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut.

Baptists have historically been advocates of religious freedom since their inception; and religious freedom is the fourth and final of the Baptist freedoms we are exploring. According to Walter Shurden: “Religious freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion, insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar” (45).

In the 17th century, Roger Williams (pictured) was a member of the colony of Massachusetts. However, as a minister, he angered people with his sermons. He preached against confiscating land from Native Americans and he was a fervent believer in both religious freedom and tolerance. The people of Massachusetts were so upset that he was banished from the colony (nothing will make people angrier than the expansion of their understanding of grace). Williams founded a new colony, Rhode Island, and there established the first Baptist church in America. Rhode Island became the only colony with no official religion. It was a place of welcome for Baptists, Quakers, Jews, and other religious minorities.

Like all of the freedoms we have explored, religious freedom is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege in that we believe the government has no right to infringe on how we practice our faith. That is a freedom we should cherish, appreciate, and love. However, religious freedom is also a responsibility. If we, as Baptists, believe that we should have freedom to live out our faith, then we are also responsible for securing that freedom for others. Even those with whom we may fervently disagree (see Philippians 2:4).

In 2016, at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri there was a Q&A session with Russell Moore, then president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the SBC. 2016 was a powder-keg year where ideological differences within the Baptist worlds were becoming deeper and starker. Just prior to this meeting Dr. Moore had given an interview in which he had expressed support for Muslims in the United States who were seeking to build mosques in suburban communities. Please watch this video for an example of what it means to be a principled and historically Baptist leader: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuGxOE0Vy1g.

It’s great, isn’t it? By the way, just as a side-note, I used to tell people that my two favorite Southern Baptists were Beth Moore and Russell Moore (no relation between the two). Unfortunately, they have both left the denomination in the past year because of a burgeoning group of fundamentalists who are trying to move the SBC away from its historic Baptist roots. I deeply lament that movement.

If you want to learn more about what it means for Baptists to truly advocate for religious freedom, I highly recommend you learn more about and consider supporting the work of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The BJC has been on the frontlines of supporting religious freedom for all people (especially the marginalized in our culture). They help resource churches on navigating the landscape of our country, and they are on the frontlines in the fight against the insidious idolatry of Christian nationalism, that toxic mix of zealous faith and individualistic patriotism that we have seen developing in our own country.

For the past few weeks, we have explored what it means to be truly Baptist. We have seen how Baptists are defined by freedom:

  • Bible Freedom – the freedom of each individual to read, study, interpret, and obey scripture
  • Soul Freedom – the freedom of each individual to have a relationship with God with no interference from persons or institutions
  • Church Freedom – the freedom of every community of believers to conduct themselves as they see fit with no interference from higher denominational bodies
  • Religious Freedom – the freedom of each individual to practice their faith without influence or coercion from the government

We are people who believe in freedom, sisters and brothers. The question before us now is: How will we use our freedoms?

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (Galatians 5:13-14, The Message)


August 19, 2021

For the next two weeks, I will offer some further reflections on what it means to be historically Baptist. My guide for these discussions will be The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter Shurden.



3. Church Freedom

Not long ago my sons were both doing some drawing and writing at the dining room table. They were both working on two different stories, but one boy started to give the other boy some unwanted advice on what he should put in his story. Fed up with this nagging intrusion from his brother, he loudly said, “Don’t tell me how to write my own story!”

Nothing could be more Baptist. As we’ve seen, to be historically Baptist is to fervently believe in freedom to live out your faith as Christ is calling you. Last week we explored how the individual believer has “soul freedom” without the intrusion of an intermediary in their relationship with Christ. Our third freedom applies that same principle to the local body of believers.

“Church freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part” (33).

Baptists belong to what is called the “Free Church” tradition, which means that each individual congregation is not governed by a larger body but has both the freedom and responsibility to chart their own path forward as to how they worship and minister in the name of Jesus Christ. Other churches belong to a more hierarchal ecclesial structure in which bishops or denominations give both guidance and directives to churches as to how they are supposed to conduct their business. There are pros and cons to both approaches and there are examples of both approaches in the stories of the early Christians in the New Testament.

At this point, please imagine me taking out a small wooden soapbox because I am about to stand atop it and do a little ranting: Baptist denominations sometimes need to be reminded of the historic Baptist principle of Church Freedom and I have, to be frank with you, lost much respect over denominational bodies who have gotten too big for their britches. Whenever a denominational body spends their time passing resolutions to try to tell churches what they should believe, they are no longer functioning as authentically Baptist entities. And I will give them neither my time nor my respect. Rather, I choose to align myself with those organizations who seek to serve the local church rather than try to force the local church to serve the denomination. Because I’m Baptist through and through. (Rant over)

As with all of these historic Baptist freedoms that we are exploring, this freedom comes with both liberation and responsibility. We as a local body of believers cannot rely on a higher denominational entity to craft our beliefs for us. It is our responsibility to discern who we are, what we believe, and how we want to serve our Lord.

Sometimes I am asked why there is not a section of our website that articulates our beliefs as a church. I do not think it would be beneficial for us to try to parse out a perspective on every little controversial topic, but perhaps it would be helpful for us to state more clearly about the guiding principles that unite us even in the midst of our disagreement on secondary issues. However, if we were to more clearly lay out a list of essential beliefs we adhere to as members of Ardmore Baptist Church, it would need to be done in a way that would provide for the wide swath of perspectives we hold. I am a deep lover of the quote attributed to St. Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

For some wonderful books on how a church can live into their freedom as a community of faith, here are some suggestions:

Next Week: We will conclude our journey through the four freedoms of historic Baptist identity by exploring the notion of “Religious Freedom.”



August 12, 2021

For the next three weeks, I will be offering some further reflections on what it means to be historically Baptist. My guide for these discussions will be The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter Shurden.



2. Soul Freedom
In the movie Lincoln, there is scene in which Abraham Lincoln is speaking about grave and important matters with his Secretary of State William Seward. They are speaking of deeply significant movements in the country, when suddenly there is a strange knock at the door. Lincoln’s face immediately goes to the door and he nods. As Lincoln shuffles to the door, he says, “Pardon me. That’s a distress signal which I am bound by solemn oath to respond to.” When the door opens we see that it is Lincoln’s young son Tad who is complaining that somebody had taken away something he had been playing with. Lincoln was a notoriously gracious father and his children knew that there were no matters of state or government that they could not interrupt and request the presence of their father.

In many ways, that scene beautifully captures the second of the freedoms we are exploring about what it means to be Baptist. As Walter Shurden states it: “Soul freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government”.

Historically, the concept of “soul freedom” is referred to as “the priesthood of all believers.” The doctrine asserts that every human being has access to God through Jesus Christ, our true high priest, and we do not need a priestly mediator to intercede on our behalf. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes: “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.” (Hebrews 4:14)

In Baptist belief, my job as your pastor is simply to shepherd you towards a deeper and fuller relationship with God. Eugene Peterson once wrote that the primary job of a pastor was to teach people to pray. It is not my job, nor is it my right, to step between you and God. Each member of the congregation must put in the devotion, time, and energy to pursue an ongoing relationship with our Savior. This is why we Baptists invest so much time in learning about the Bible through study for all ages. And, just as an important side note: you should be in a small group or class that is studying God’s Word. Please contact Gina Brock at gbrock@ardmorebaptist.org if you need help finding a class for you.

The “soul freedom” of an individual to pursue their relationship with Christ is really the catalyst that started the Baptist movement. In the early 1600s, there were two Englishmen named John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. Smyth was a minister and Helwys was a layman in his church. Together, they led a small group of former Anglicans from England to Amsterdam to pursue deeper religious freedom. In 1609, they began to practice “believer’s baptism” through full immersion. All of these men had been baptized as infants in the Anglican church, but they began to be convicted that baptism needed to be pursued as a grown believer and not imposed on an infant child. It was the “soul freedom” of the individual that motivated their decision.

Sometimes Christians, to whom I will ascribe the benefit of the doubt, dilute the notion of “soul freedom” in their pursuit of “correct beliefs” (i.e. their beliefs!). They seem to believe their job is to serve as theological watchdogs and to go about correcting everyone else’s beliefs. They will even break fellowship with those whom they believe to be less than orthodox. However, an authentic Baptist belief in the “priesthood of all believers” means that we would spend less time worrying about the spiritual weeds of our neighbors and more time cultivating and tending to the soil of our own soul’s garden.

Finally, the “priesthood of all believers” is a double-edged sword. We tend to read it as a blessing and it is. We can certainly affirm that we each have the right to knock on God’s door with no middle-man to stop us. However, the “priesthood of all the believers,” the “soul freedom” we enjoy comes with a responsibility as well:

“But you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”
(1 Peter 2:9)

Freedom comes with responsibility and that applies to “soul freedom” as well. You, Ardmore Baptist Church, are a people with a responsibility and duty to be priests within this world, agents of reconciliation.

Here are some suggested books on deepening your journey with Christ and living further into the soul freedom we have been given:


August 5, 2021

For the next four weeks, I will be offering some further reflections on what it means to be historically Baptist. My guide for these discussions will be The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter Shurden.


  1. Bible Freedom

When some people are interested in joining our church, they will write to me with questions about our congregation. Most of the questions are things like “How is Ardmore involved with missions?” or “What kind of music is in your worship services?” But some people also ask me deeper and stranger questions. Some examples I’ve received are:

    • What does Ardmore believe about speaking in tongues?
    • Does Ardmore believe in a Rapture?
    • Did the dinosaurs travel with Noah on the Ark?

When I tell my wife Jess about these questions, she usually shakes her head and says, “Your job is so weird sometimes.” All of these questions are ultimately about the issue of how we read the Bible and that leads us to Bible freedom, the first of the historic Baptist principles we will explore together.

According to Walter Shurden: “Bible freedom is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture” (9).

One of the distinctives of Baptist life is that the Bible should be our starting place for all that we do as a community of faith. Did anybody else grow up learning the words “The B-I-B-L-E /Yes, that’s the book for me/I stand upon the Word of God/the B-I-B-L-E!” We want the Bible to be the foundation of all that we do.

However, notice that clarifying clause above: “under the Lordship of Christ.” That’s an important point worth highlighting. In John 5, Jesus has just healed a man and it happens to have been a Sabbath day. Some of the religious leaders confront him and claim that he has violated the regulations of their Bible. Jesus speaks back to them and says this: “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40; see also Hebrews 1:1-2).

Baptists have historically held that the ultimate authority we follow is not the human-made trappings of tradition, it’s not the latest cultural fad of the zeitgeist; our ultimate authority is found only in Jesus Christ. When I baptize somebody, I ask them to state their confession of faith to the church and they respond: “Jesus is Lord.”

In 1964, Rev. Ralph Herring (pastor of the First Baptist Church here in Winston-Salem) chaired a committee of eighteen Baptist leaders to articulate a list of “Baptist Ideals.” In that document they stated, “The ultimate source of Christian authority is Jesus Christ the Lord.” It means that we as Baptists interpret all things through the lens of following Jesus Christ; we have what is sometimes called a cruciform hermeneutic.

Last week my family and I were at Emerald Isle with some friends. Their children are older than ours and one of them is in college. She brought along her boyfriend, Kush, who grew up in India. Kush (self-admittedly) knows almost nothing about Christianity. He wanted to learn more about what it means to be a pastor. I told him about how I am a sort of shepherd for people and I seek to guide and lead. At one point he asked me, “What do you use to guide people?” I thought for a moment and said, “Well, I start with the Bible and what it tells me about Jesus Christ in my life.” His brow wrinkled and he said, “No offense, but that’s a really old book with really old stories. Do you really believe in this stuff?” I said, “Yes, I do. But for me it’s not just a book with old stories that happened in the past. It’s a book about how God has worked in the past, is presently at work in my life, and will work in the future. And Jesus is the way God has chosen to work in the world.” I asked Kush if he had ever read the Bible and he told me that the only Bible he had was a small handheld, green Bible that had been given to him on his college campus (I assume a Gideon’s Bible with just the New Testament). On one morning of our vacation, Jess took the kids to a bookstore on Emerald Isle so that they could pick something out. When she came back, she handed me a bag. In it was a full Bible for Kush. I gave it to him later that day and I told him, “Kush, this is your Bible. And I want you to know that for Christians like me, these are the very words of life because it is through them that we can come to know Jesus Christ.”

However, in order for this “Bible freedom” to function in the life of a community of faith, we must all be invested in our relationships with Jesus through scripture. As you can see above in the definition of Bible freedom, we are each both free and obligated to study and obey the Bible. It is my prayer that every member of Ardmore Baptist Church spends time with scripture each and every day.

If you are looking for some resources from some scholarly and faith-filled writers to help you see the Bible in all of its beauty, here are three books I recommend:

Next Week: We will continue our journey through the four freedoms of historic Baptist identity by exploring the notion of “Soul Freedom.”


July 29, 2021

There and Back Again: A Baptist’s Tale (Part Two)

Last week, I told the story of how I witnessed my childhood Baptist church tear itself apart through conflict. I vowed to never belong to a Baptist church when I got older. However, as an expression of God’s grace, that is not the end of my story with Baptist churches.

After graduating high school, I found myself with more freedom. I had continued to attend First Baptist Church of Jackson out of loyalty to my family, but now that I was in college, I decided to stop going to church altogether. If churches were simply going to be sources of tension and conflict, then why would I possibly align myself with one?

I found a group of friends in college who were in a similar place: We had all grown up in the church and were now wondering whether we wanted to continue to belong to churches. We started meeting on Sunday mornings at the Burger King near our college campus for discussion and Bible Study. We called it: Burger King Church.

Those moments of Christian community gathered around a table in Burger King continue to be precious memories in my life. We studied God’s Word and felt like the early Christians trying to live life together. However, I also felt an emptiness that our times of gathering were not rooted in something beyond ourselves. There was a longing for rhythm and tradition. It took me about a year to admit it: I missed church.

Since I had grown up in a First Baptist Church in Jackson, I decided to try the First Baptist Church of Cape Girardeau. I learned that FBC Cape was affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (an organization I had never heard of) but also had historic ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. However, those ties with the SBC had been severed with the local SBC association kicked them out for ordaining women as deacons.

FBC Cape was not a perfect church by any stretch of the imagination. However, I noticed that there was a spirit of unity and peace among them. They managed to make decisions together even when there was disagreement. I also found it compelling that they ordained women as both deacons and pastors; that issue remains very important to me. As I watched this community of faith at FBC Cape live life together, I began to feel something towards Baptist churches I had not felt in a long time: hope.

I got involved at the church and eventually served as the Director of Young Adult Ministry. To be honest, I mostly did the job for the sake of having a job. But I found that I really enjoyed it. One day, a member of FBC Cape approached me and said, “Tyler, you need to go to seminary.”

Jess and I were newly married at the time. My original life plan was to be an anthropologist who specialized in primates and I was going to seek an opportunity to work with chimpanzees at the St. Louis Zoo. As Jess and I prayed about it, we both felt more and more strongly that I needed to consider ministry. I joke that God led me to work with the more difficult primates.

There are so many things that I continue to appreciate from my childhood church (FBC Jackson) and I am so grateful that God led me to FBC Cape (a place I later pastored before coming to Ardmore). My time at both churches (even the difficult times) taught me all about the different ways of expressing being Baptist.

Next Week: I will begin a four-week series looking at the freedoms that have historically identified Baptists. If you would like to follow along, please get a copy of Walter Shurden’s book That Baptist Identity: The Four Fragile Freedoms. Next week we will be exploring the historic Baptist principle of Bible Freedom.


July 22, 2021

There and Back Again: A Baptist’s Tale (Part One)

I was sitting on the back pew on a Sunday Night. I was sixteen and was learning a brutal and terrible lesson about how awful people can be. It was a Business Meeting at my childhood church. There had been growing tension within the congregation for months and it was now boiling over. A man stood up to make a motion to fire our pastor. I watched as people I had grown up respecting and loving stood up at the mic and screamed at one another. Finally, our pastor stood up and approached the microphone. He calmly said, “This is not healthy for me or for my family. I resign immediately.” He stepped aside and my youth minister came to the mic. He said, “I cannot work for a church that would treat someone this way. I too resign immediately.” Then the two of them and their families walked out of the room. Tears formed in my eyes and I remember thinking to myself: When I grow up, I will never, ever attend a Baptist church.

I grew attending First Baptist Church of Jackson, Missouri and it played an integral part in my having an idyllic and wonderful childhood. I was baptized there and gave my life to Jesus Christ while we attended that church. My father served on Staff as the part-time College Ministry Coordinator and so my family and I spent lots of time hanging out at the church. I had the denim vest of a Royal Ambassador, attended our local associational camps, sang in the Youth Choir, and spent each summer at a Centrifuge Camp.

When I was a teenager there began to arise some tensions within the congregation. Some of it stemmed from some people who wanted us to move from our landlocked location downtown and build a large building in the suburbs. However, there were also deeper ideological divides that began to become more and more clear. Our pastor, Brian, was a moderate-leaning leader who sought to keep the unity amongst our divisions yet also believed that we had to address contemporary issues as well.

The skubala finally hit the fan when I was sixteen. A group of ardent Deacons began to petition the congregation to rid ourselves of our pastor. So, there was finally the terrible Business Meeting described above. Brian’s resignation split the congregation and half of the church left to start a new congregation. My family made the decision to stay at FBC Jackson where my Dad was asked to assume the role of Youth Minister. My parents were kind enough to give my siblings and me the option on whether we wanted to stay or join the new church. I am a quintessential firstborn, so I decided to stay in support of my father. However, I was an empty shell. I was attending church purely out of obligation to my family. But I knew in my heart that the moment I felt I could, I would away from churches like First Baptist Church and never, ever go back again.

Thank God, my story with the church (and specifically with Baptist churches) did not end there. Next week, I will tell you about the ways that God used wonderful sinners and saints in my life to heal my wounds and help me find a home.

Next Week: There and Back Again: A Baptist’s Tale (Part Two)


July 15, 2021

Whenever I am on an airplane, I always have to decide whether or not I am going to engage in conversation with the person next to me. I know people who see every single interaction as an opportunity to share the Gospel, but they are better Christians than me, I guess. I have to do a calculation as to whether or not to talk to the person because I have to decide if I have the energy for the inevitable question: “So, what do you do?”

When I tell people that I am a pastor, they almost always ask, “What kind of church do you lead?” And when I tell them that I pastor a Baptist church they tend to have one of these reactions:

  1. Their eyes glaze over and they shut the conversation down as if I had told them that I believed myself to be an extraterrestrial with tentacles.
  2. They quickly hide their beer or apologize for having peppered the previous moments of the conversation with colorful language.
  3. They immediately launch into a political diatribe and assume that I must completely agree with them. This usually is followed with me awkwardly smiling and saying, “Yes, well, there are a lot of different kinds of Baptists.”

Confession time: I’ve always felt ambivalent about being a Baptist. There is so much about being a Baptist that I appreciate: autonomy of the local church, the priesthood of the believer, almost all casserole dishes. But there are other things about being a Baptist that I have never cared much for: the constant denominational infighting, the lack of ecclesial structure, and a few casserole dishes.

In college, when I thought I was oh so clever and edgy, I no longer identified as Baptist. Instead, I would say, “You know what? None of those labels matter. Instead, I am just a follower of Jesus Christ.” I thought I was being so insightful, but I probably instead just came across as a jerk.

As I got older, I became more comfortable with being Baptist. And as I’ve learned more about what it means to be truly Baptist, I’ve grown to actually appreciate my bizarre and lovable theological tribe.

For the next few weeks on my blog, I want to reflect on what it means to be Baptists. I will tell a little more of my own story of growing up Baptist and making the decision to remain Baptist. I will also be reflecting on how being Baptist is really about freedom as we explore the “four fragile freedoms” that constitute historic Baptist beliefs. In fact, I would recommend that you purchase a copy of Walter “Buddy” Shurden’s book The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms and follow along with me as we reflect together.

Next Week: There and Back Again: A Baptist’s Tale


July 8, 2021

Not long ago, I was having lunch with a family from our church and the conversation turned to politics. Usually when church members start to talk politics with me, I pray for my phone to suddenly ring with a dire emergency or I look for the quickest way I could collapse into a coma.

In this family, one-half of the couple is a self-identified liberal and the other half is a self-identified conservative. I kept silent throughout the conversation, when suddenly the liberal looked at me and said, “Well, Tyler, I know you agree with me. You’re a liberal.” The conservative suddenly looked up and said, “No he isn’t. Tyler is a conservative.” They each began to run through past statements I had made in sermons or long-forgotten posts on social media for their evidence as to what political tribe I must belong.

We do that to one another in this day and age, don’t we? Once we hear an opinion that someone holds on one issue, we make automatic assumptions about how that person must feel on a wide variety of other issues. I am just as guilty of doing that as anybody else. Not long ago, a friend of mine made a statement that leaned more liberal and then I made a snarky comment about how they must have voted in the previous election. With a genuinely hurt look on their face they turned to me and said, “Tyler, please don’t assume that you know what I believe.” I apologized and the reprimand I received stung. But I am grateful for the lesson I learned.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was speaking to a diverse group of people gathered on that hillside. Some were conservative Pharisees who believed in the power of tradition and others were liberal Zealots who sought to upend the established order. To this varied and assorted gathering, Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Sometimes this verse gets misapplied in our culture and it is used as ammunition for those who do not want their behavior to be held liable to a higher godly standard. But Jesus is not saying that all inclinations are permissible because, hey, who are we to judge? Instead, Jesus is saying that we must let go of our assumptions we hold about others and to recognize that only God fully knows anybody.

We live in a world in which we are constantly trying to label one another and we seem to be scanning everyone’s every syllable for evidence of our predetermined judgments about who they must be. What if instead, we extended to other people the same grace we often apply to ourselves? What if instead of constantly trying to label others based on a political spectrum, we transcended the spectrum and no longer saw people as either “liberal” or “conservative” or even “moderate” but merely as God’s children? What if instead of subscribing to an already-set political ideology, we read God’s Word and allowed that to form our perspective?

At dinner with that couple, they waited for me to respond. To reveal to them my voting patterns and true political allegiances. Instead, I merely said, “You know what, on some issues I am probably a liberal, other issues I am probably a conservative, and on most issues, I am a moderate. Now how about those St. Louis Cardinals?”


July 1, 2021 – No blog this week.


June 24, 2021

My favorite classes in seminary were the ones on the Bible. In fact, for a while I was sure that God was calling me to be an Old Testament professor (that’s a story for another blog). What I loved most about those courses is that they showed me, over and over again, just how rich, complex, mysterious, and beautiful the Bible is. The Bible is a bottomless lake in which you can go deeper and deeper and deeper and come to the realization that you are still on the surface.

During one of those classes (Hebrew Bible II), I remember a classmate having a revelation. We were talking about the prophets and how Isaiah’s wife was likely a prophet herself (Isaiah 8:1-4). Suddenly my classmate started sharing: “You know, I have grown up my whole life in church. I went to Sunday School every week, had a great Youth Group, and sat under some wonderful preachers. But it was not until seminary that I learned how many women are in scripture. I grew up only hearing about the men. I’ve only ever been told half the story!”

I don’t think my classmate is alone. I often think that the women of the Bible are ignored. Sure, we may occasionally mention Ruth, Esther, or Mary, but usually just in passing. We tend to ignore the perspectives of the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. We forget about the voices of the prophets Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. We usually do not remember that women financed the ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3), that women were the first to preach about the resurrection (John 20:11-18), and that Paul partnered with various women leaders in the early Christian Church (Romans 16:1-7).

This is why our next Conversations that Matter dialogue will be with Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles on her book Women in the Bible. This volume is in a series called “Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church.” In her book, Dr. Clark-Soles journeys through the entire Bible to highlight the roles that women play in the biblical narrative. By exploring these stories together, we will explore the whole story of God’s love for all of humanity.

Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles is Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at Perkins School of  Theology, Southern Methodist University. She is also the Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Perkins.

Join us for Conversations that Matter with Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles on her book Women in the Bible. Our conversation will take place on Monday, July 19, at 7:00 PM online. Join us on our church’s YouTube or Facebook pages.



June 17, 2021

One of the most difficult dilemmas I face as a preacher is when to and when not to discuss current events from the pulpit. It’s a very delicate dance I have to do every time I write a sermon: Do I mention this global event or do I just stick to the biblical world?

Not only that, but I know that it’s a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” kind of scenario. I’m going to paint with some very broad strokes here, but here is an observation I’ve made:

  • People who are 65 and older prefer their preacher to NOT mention current events from the pulpit. They view church and worship as an escape from the world and they do not want tumultuous events of society to invade their sacred space.
  • However, people who are younger than 40 prefer that their preacher DOES mention current events from the pulpit. They are sitting in their pews thinking about the state of the world and are sitting there wondering, “How does this place help me to navigate what is going on in our culture?”
  • People who are between 65-40 tend to be a mix of the two.

So, should I mention current events from the pulpit or should I ignore them? Well, I think the question itself is a false dichotomy. We can’t separate what is happening in our world from the word of God. In fact, our engagement with scripture should be the lens through which we see our society. However, we must take great care that we are not allowing fads and movements in culture to sweep us along into unthinking participation.

The Apostle Paul writes this in his letter to the Romans: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

In your own walks with Christ, friends, do not simply accept the dominant narrative of the world. However, do not also put your head in the sand and ignore the world. Let’s allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be our lens through which we see everything else.

The theologian Karl Barth said it best: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret the newspaper through your Bible.”


June 10, 2021

A few years ago, I read the book The Sibling Effect by Jeffrey Kluger. In the book, he argues that many of us do not fully appreciate what a gift our siblings really are. They are our closest genetic relatives (closer than even our parents) and often can understand the factors that have shaped us more than anyone else in our lives.

A few weeks ago, I flew to Missouri for a few days. My wife, Jessica, and our kids still had school and she was gracious enough to allow me to travel alone. When I walked in the door of my parents’ home there was my brother, Caleb.

My brother and I are night and day. I am an extrovert who loves to be in a crowd and my brother is an introvert who prefers one-on-one time with those he loves. I live on the east coast; my brother and his partner, Richie, live in Seattle (our poor mother!). But there is also much we have in common. My brother and I have the same sense of humor, many of the same perspectives, and when we were younger we often got mistaken for twins.

When I walked into my parents’ home, it had been nearly two years since I had seen my brother. My sister, Whitney, and I had seen each other multiple times. However, this had been the longest period in my entire life that I had gone without being in the same room with both of my siblings. We wrapped our arms around one another and simply thanked God for this reunion.

If you are blessed enough to still have your siblings in this life: do not take them for granted. They are a gift from God. Sure, they can probably sometimes annoy the tar out of you (my brother and sister can do that to me, but I never annoy them), but you will never have someone else like them in your entire life.

As Jeffrey Kluger writes, “Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives, but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you’ll ever have.”

June 3, 2021

I don’t know if there is any character more mysterious in the Bible than David. He was a shepherd boy who became a mighty warrior king. He was called “a man after God’s own heart” yet was also a murderer and committed adultery. He was murderously pursued by Saul yet deeply mourned Saul’s death. He had the emotional heart of an artist, yet was an absent father. David is a conundrum and a series of seemingly conflicting personalities. Who was David?

As I’ve spent more time studying David, I’ve come to realize that rather than asking the question “Who was David?” we should instead be asking “What was David?” In other words: What had David come to represent to the people of Israel?

We will see that the David in the Bible was about more than one man. David came to symbolize what it looked like for God to be in the flesh with God’s people. Yet, David fell spectacularly short at that goal.

That is why Jesus Christ is descended from the line of David. The people had placed their hope in a king who honored God, but Jesus came to show them a king who is God.

Beginning on Sunday, June 6, I will be starting our summer sermon series called David: Shepherd, Poet, King. We’ll be exploring passages in the Old Testament books of 1-2 Samuel that tell us how this small shepherd boy became the most beloved king in Israel.

As we enter this series together, friends, it is my prayer that we can see how Jesus Christ fulfills the hopes in our own lives.


May 27, 2021

The origins of Memorial Day are a little unclear. Some claim that Abraham Lincoln began Memorial Day in 1863 after his Gettysburg Address. However, others say that the holiday started after Lincoln’s own death in which the graves of Union soldiers were decorated throughout the country. Others say that it branched out from General John A. Logan’s declaration in 1868 that there be a “Decoration Day” for graves across the country. But regardless of how it began, Memorial Day is the day we set aside to remember those who gave their lives as members of the armed forces.

When I was growing up, we usually spent Memorial Day at my grandparents’ home. My Grandpa would grill and my Grandma would have made some sort of cake from scratch. We would look through old pictures, tell jokes to one another, and eat until we were about to pop.

Then we would pile into two or three family cars and drive the five miles to the McGee Chapel Cemetery nestled in the hills of Bollinger County, Missouri. There we would walk the rows of graves and listen to Grandpa tell the same stories he told every year about those who had come before us. Those stories have now become part of me and I believe God has used them to shape and mold me into who I am today.

In fact, wasn’t that the point of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? The dead we remember on Memorial Day have already given the last full measure and we cannot improve on the sacrifice they have made.

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This Memorial Day, let’s remember the fallen. Let’s place flowers on their grave. But let’s also allow their sacrifice to change who we are. There really is no greater monument.


May 20, 2021

This upcoming Sunday (May 23) is the Day of Pentecost. It is the day when we remember the moment when the early Christian apostles were gathered in a room fifty days after Easter (the word “Pentecost” means fifty). In Acts 2, we read that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire. The apostles then had the ability to speak in all of the languages of the world. It signifies how the movement of people who follow Jesus was being expanded to all of humanity.

Pentecost is meant to remind us that it is God’s Holy Spirit who leads and guides us in all that we do as a community of faith. Following the Spirit of God is not for the faint of heart. There are all kinds of decisions and questions facing us as a congregation as we enter into a post-pandemic world. We may be tempted to simply chase after what other churches are doing or what seems like the best idea to achieve worldly success. However, it is the Holy Spirit that should guide all we do, say, and decide as a community of faith.

The New Testament scholar James D.G. Dunn wrote this: “A Church that seeks to restrict or control the Spirit, as too dangerous and unpredictable, may be safe, but it has signed its own death warrant. A Church that seeks to follow where the Spirit leads will have to expect the unexpected and be prepared to be shaken to its core. But that’s life, the life of the Spirit.”1

I am so grateful to pastor a community of sisters and brothers who seek to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The history of Ardmore Baptist Church is full of stories of people acting in faith in bold and mighty ways. And now, friends, it is our turn. The same Spirit who guided them, now guides you and me.

Thanks be to God.

1James D.G. Dunn. “Towards the Spirit of Christ: The Emergence of the Distinctive Features of Christian Pneumatology” in The Work of the Spirit: Pneumatology and Pentecostalism, ed. Michael Welker. (Eerdmans, 2006).


May 13, 2021

I have a lot of books of theology on my shelves. And, as a pastor, I am blessed to receive a lot of cards throughout the year. So, rather than throwing those cards out, I usually pick up a commentary and place the card inside it. I use the card as a bookmark when I happen to need that resource again and it’s a nice trip down memory lane to re-read the card. 

Recently I grabbed a commentary from the shelf and opened it up to find a card from Barbara Popp. She was my Fourth Grade Sunday School Teacher at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Missouri. She and her husband John had taught that class since the sixth day of creation, I think. They were mainstays at our church.

Barbara is also one of the most encouraging people I have ever known. Her chosen weapon for encouragement is: cards. When I graduated high school, she sent me a card. When I got married, she sent me a card. When I was ordained, she sent me a card. And when I returned to southeast Missouri to pastor First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, she not only sent me a card, but hand delivered it to me one Sunday. Her words of affirmation and kindness remain with me to this day. Barbara exemplifies the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, where he says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

Perhaps you are a Barbara Popp in someone’s life. Perhaps you are the voice of love and encouragement that they need.

Our 2021 high school graduates from Ardmore Baptist Church have certainly had a strange last two years of high school, haven’t they? As they look towards the future and find their identity in the world, I hope that they take the voices of encouragement from our church with them.

In the lobby there are currently pictures of each of our graduates and some cards on a table. We are asking the church to take a moment to write a note of encouragement to each of our graduates (all cards are due by May 23). You never do know, they may come across your card years and years from now, stuck in a book that they would never have otherwise owned had it not been for your encouragement.


May 6, 2021

During my first semester of seminary, I had my first graduate course on the Bible. It was Hebrew Bible I, and I thought I would coast through this class. After all, I grew up going to church and reading the Bible. I felt that I knew the Old Testament, but I was surprised. It turns out that my Sunday School knowledge of the Old Testament had not prepared me for the rich treasures I found. I had been raised to read the Old Testament as simply a precursor to Jesus, but I found that on its own it is a beautiful, gracious, and compelling story that can shape our lives.

This is exactly the kind of experience Dr. Brent Strawn is hoping to instill in his readers with his new book, Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look at the Old Testament. Now, hopefully, y’all at Ardmore do not feel like your preacher lies to you! But Dr. Strawn’s tongue-in-cheek title refers to the ways that we can often misrepresent the Hebrew Bible in our churches. In the book, Dr. Strawn (who teaches at Duke Divinity School) moves through ten mistruths about the Old Testament such as:

  • The Old Testament is a Boring History Book
  • The Old Testament is Hyper-Violent
  • The Old Testament Isn’t Practically Relevant

In order for us to fully appreciate the overarching narrative of scripture, we need to let the Old Testament speak to us as it truly is instead of us proof-texting it to verify our already held beliefs. The Hebrew Bible has so much to say about issues such as proper worship, economic justice, and being honest before God with all that we are.

Brent Strawn, Divinity School Professor of Old Testament, at Duke Chapel. Strawn’s research focuses on ancient Near Eastern iconography, Israelite religion, biblical law, the Psalms, poetry, and Old Testament theology.

I hope you will join Dr. Strawn and me for our next Conversations that Matter on Monday, May 24, at 7:00 PM. I will be interviewing Dr. Strawn on his book and will ask him about how churches can treat the Old Testament in ways that are spiritually enriching so that we may have a fuller picture of both who we are called to be and who God truly is.


April 29, 2021

I am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Concluding Thoughts: From Challenges to Opportunities (p. 101-111)

In these final reflections on The Post-Quarantine Church, we will be looking at nine key changes Thom Rainer says will be essential for churches in the future. I’ll be offering my own thoughts and how I see these being lived out at Ardmore Baptist Church. Last week, we explored the first four of these changes and this week we will look at the final five.

5. Staff and Leadership Realignment Will Focus More on Digital Proficiency
When social media and streaming burst onto the world scene for churches, they were seen as tools to enhance ministry. Now we have realized they are ministry. So, as we look towards the future, how will we provide ministry leadership for our digital mission field? Ardmore Baptist Church has already invested in new streaming technology and other vital innovations. How can we build on that good work?

6. “Stragglers” Will Become a Subject of Outreach and Focus
Rainer defines “stragglers” as those people who are on the margins of a church’s life. Rather than “stragglers,” I much prefer the term that DeNeal Fowler uses in our Staff Meetings: Future Disciples. These are the people who have begun attending or watching our services. They have expressed some interest in becoming part of our church. We seem to know how to do outreach to those who show up face-to-face, but what about our digital “Future Disciples?” Related to the point above, we need to consider a concentrated effort of outreach to them.

7. Digital Worship Services Will Be Newly Purposed
Most of you know Mary Stevens. She and her husband John have lived across the street from the church for decades. In fact, they bought their home from the church (it was the former parsonage)! Before John’s passing a few months ago, Mary and John had not been in worship at church for years. John’s health made it too difficult. Each week, Gina Brock or I would take a CD of the sermon audio over to Mary and John. One time John said to me, “Your sermons are fine, but I sure miss that music!” When we began to offer online worship, Mary and John had a friend help them set up YouTube on their TV. A few months into the pandemic, I called Mary and she said to me, “This is so wonderful. This is the most I have worshipped with my church family in a long, long time.” Our streaming worship is here to stay, folks. All glory be to God.

8. Ministry Training Will Change Dramatically
Some of you may know that I serve on the Board of Regents for my alma mater, Central Baptist Theological Seminary. As board members, we were already deep in conversation about the rapidly changing nature of theological education. The pandemic has now forced even further exponential change. Seminaries used to focus on the content of ministry (Old Testament, theology, etc.) but now, in addition to those topics, we also need to focus on the delivery (digital marketing, entrepreneurship, etc.). This will mean that future churches will need to consider hires that are not just the sharpest theological minds, but also those who display creativity and innovation.

9. Pastors Will Leave Their Lead Positions for Second-Chair Roles
I will admit that my eyebrows were slightly raised when I read about this change. However, Rainer seems to be talking specifically about seasoned leaders (a politically correct way of saying “older” perhaps) who find themselves ministering in a world for which they were not trained. I am choosing to see this as a cautionary tale in my own life. As much as I am able to, I want to always have a spirit of teachability as a pastor and never, ever presume that I have all the answers. The job of a pastor is to be an ethnographer of the culture and then to learn from what he/she witnesses. The Gospel never changes, but our way of communicating that Gospel is rapidly shifting. Our job (not just mine, but yours as well) is to keep up with that change to continually fulfil the Great Commission.

For eight weeks, we have explored the book The Post-Quarantine Church. Now, I truly want to hear from you. As you have read this book and contemplated how the world is rapidly changing, what do you see lying in front of us? How is Ardmore Baptist Church called to meet the changes before us? What is God calling us to do? Who is God calling us to be? Please write to me at ttankersley@ardmorebaptist.org.


April 22, 2021

I am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Concluding Thoughts: From Challenges to Opportunities (p. 101-111)

In these final reflections on The Post-Quarantine Church, we will be looking at nine key changes Thom Rainer says will be essential for churches in the future. I’ll be offering my own thoughts and how I see these being lived out at Ardmore Baptist Church. Originally, I had planned on covering all nine in one blog post, but it became too long (I never seem to have a problem making myself heard!). This week we will look at the first four and next week (April 29) we will look at the final five.

1. Simplicity Will Be Vitally Important
Ardmore Baptist Church is an active congregation. We are so blessed to have so many opportunities for fellowship, mission, and worship. However, pre-pandemic, were we doing too much? Rainer says that some churches members may have been experiencing “ministry burnout.” We used to measure a church’s success by its myriad of activities; that is not sustainable. During the pandemic, we have been forced to slow down, to do less, and possibly to focus on not just doing for God, but being with God. As we look towards the end of the pandemic, let us not return to a hurried pace, but let us be more intentional both in what we do and in what we choose not to do. In our Dawnings conversations, our team has identified that “Embracing Simplicity” needs to be an emphasis at our church as we move forward.

2. Only Outwardly Focused Churches Will Survive
Ardmore Baptist Church does wonderful work in our community. We must continue to build on that work as we look towards our neighborhood, our city, our state, and our world as a mission field. This will mean taking hard look at where we are spending our time and resources. I am grateful for our Missions MALT leaders for giving us so many opportunities for outward-focused missions even during the pandemic. Let’s build on that Gospel-centric energy as we move forward!

3. Worship Service Gatherings Will Be Smaller
In my conversations with church members, some have sheepishly expressed to me how much they have loved worshipping at home. One person recently said to me, “I will come back to the Sanctuary when I can wear my bathrobe and drink my cup of coffee!” This saint is not alone. Many people are finding spiritual fulfillment by participating in virtual worship and online studies. We should celebrate this. But it will mean that our worship services will likely never be quite the same. Gone are the days when our goal should be to have big, in-person crowds on a Sunday morning. We need to measure success differently. What if we looked at spiritual maturity and deepening discipleship as our goals rather than the amount of people present for worship?

4. “Multi” Will Multiply
We are already a church that holds two services. However, as Rainer points out, this season is an opportunity to do some rethinking. Should the 8:15 and 10:45 services simply be duplicates of one another? If we are going to offering multiple services, why not offer multiple forms of worship? Furthermore, a third of the population works on Sunday mornings. Should we consider offering worship at times other than Sunday morning?

Next week we will explore the final five changes Thom Rainer says is coming to the post-quarantine church:

5. Staff and Leadership Responsibilities Will Focus More in Digital Proficiency
6. “Stragglers” Will Become a Subject of Outreach and Focus
7. Digital Worship Services Will be Newly Purposed
8. Ministry Training Will Change Dramatically
9. Pastors Will Leave Their Lead Positions for Second-Chair Roles


April 15, 2021

I am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Challenge 6: Make Lasting Changes That Will Make a Difference (p. 85-100)

As we have journeyed through Thom Rainer’s six challenges, we’ve explored ways that the Church is going to have to change in order to survive in a post-quarantine world. Some of the challenges are ancient (Challenge 4: Take Prayer to a New and Powerful Level) and others are brand new (Challenge 2: Seize Your Opportunity to Reach the Digital World). In this sixth and final challenge, Rainer implores us to make changes that will have lasting impact:

1. Remind People of Their Biblical Hope
The Bible is full of stories of people embarking on seemingly impossible journeys. What compelled them to put one foot in front of the other? Hope. They knew that their destination was worth the journey. Likewise, at Ardmore Baptist Church, we have seen God move and work through our congregation in the past and I truly believe that we are headed towards a deeper sense of mission and vision. I have hope, sisters and brothers, that God will guide us in this next season of our church’s life.

2. Remember, Cultural Change Comes Last
Rome was not built in a day and cultures do not change overnight. It takes intentionality, patience, and bucketfuls of grace to see a culture shift. I am learning in my own life that change begins with me. I cannot wish a healthier decision-making culture; I must begin by allowing God to form and shape me. And that’s true for all of us. The culture of Ardmore Baptist Church will only change if the individuals that make up that culture are willing to embrace change in their own lives.

3. Visible Action Steps are Essential
Thom Rainer says, “Churches must demonstrate short-term wins and ongoing movement in the community and for the community” (95). In other words, we must be willing to show that we are moving and engaging with the world around us. I have been proud of our Missions MALT leaders during this time as they have kept us engaged with the community even during the pandemic. The other day I was walking through the Lobby and there were two members of the FaithQuest class who were preparing goodie bags to be given to the teachers at Moore Elementary. That is a visible action step of our faith being lived out, friends. Let’s keep moving in that direction!

4. Allies Are Still Imperative
Rainer defines “allies” as people who are not on Staff, but who are influential leaders in the congregation who are advocates for lasting change. Ardmore Baptist Church is a congregation that is connected to such an extent that I guarantee you, friend, you are that kind of ally to somebody else in the congregation. How are you using your voice? Are you using your voice to tear down or to build up? Are you using your voice to lead us toward stagnation or to advocate for lasting change?

5. Communication Must Increase Exponentially
In our world today, communication is no longer a tool for ministry; communication is a ministry. All churches must be willing to invest more time, money, and resources into improving their communication. I mentioned this in an earlier blog, but a church here in North Carolina is currently searching for an Associate Pastor for Digital Discipleship. That is exactly the kind of innovative thinking we need to embrace. The digital world is a mission field. How will we respond?

6. Leaders Must Be Willing to Accept Membership Losses
“You can’t please everybody.” No doubt we’ve all heard that line before. As a chronic people-pleaser, my soul often screams out in defiance: “Yes, I can!” But leadership is teaching me more and more how true that line really is. And one of the difficulties we will face as a congregation is that, as we move in a clear direction on certain areas, some people are just going to leave. However, how are we called to measure success as a church? Are we called to measure success by the number of names on the membership list or are we called to measure success by faithfulness to God’s mission for our church?

7. Leaders Must Align with the Future
Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” During the past year, we have had a lot of changes to our church calendar, our ways of gathering with one another, and the ways we interact with our community. There is much we miss, but these forced changes also provide us with an opportunity to reconsider whether what we were previously doing was having truly long-term impact or whether we were doing them simply because that’s what we’ve always done before. Aligning with the future means allowing ourselves to dream of what new ways God might be leading us towards the unknown in the days ahead.

Next week’s blog will be my final reflection on The Post-Quarantine Church. We’ll explore the Conclusion (p. 101-111) and I will offer some of my own thoughts on how God might be forming us and shaping us through this time.


April 8, 2021

Ardmore Baptist ChurchI am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Challenge 5: Rethink Your Facilities for Emerging Opportunities (p. 69-83) 

“Pastor,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “please help us. We are desperate.” I was speaking to a leader of a local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where I served as pastor of First Baptist Church. He had called me to see if they could start holding groups at our church. Unfortunately, our local NA chapters were having a hard time keeping up with the demand for groups. After all, Missouri continues to be ranked the number one state in the country for meth manufacturing and the rapidly worsening opioid epidemic was not helping matters. I assured the gentleman on the phone that I would do everything I could.

Like most churches, our building was largely empty 90% of the week. We used it on Sunday mornings, on Wednesday evenings, and then a handful of other times for random studies, youth group, and a sewing ministry. It seemed like this was a slam-dunk way to minister to the community.

At our next Church Council meeting I brought it up. I spoke about the need for groups like Narcotics Anonymous to have safe places to meet and how this seemed like an easy way for us to care for people. Everyone on the Church Council agreed except Mark (not his real name).

“I don’t know,” Mark said, “we don’t know these people. I am only comfortable with us doing this if one of us is here at church when they are meeting.” I explained to him that would defeat the whole purpose of anonymity such a group required.

Finally, Mark agreed to let the NA chapter meeting in our building. However, after three weeks I received a call from the chapter leader. “Thank you, Pastor, for your kindness, but we will need to find somewhere else to meet.” I was taken aback and asked if there had been a problem. “Yes,” he said, “every week when we meet, there is a man named Mark who sits in the parking lot in his truck until we leave. It has made some in our group uncomfortable.”

I do not tell you this story to pick on Mark, because Mark is also a passionate, caring, and servant-hearted leader in many ways. However, Mark is not alone. Some people have a very hard time with the idea of their church building being used by the community.

In The Post-Quarantine Church, Thom Rainer says that the pandemic has given churches the opportunity to rethink the way they see their facilities. Rather than thinking just about the ways that their buildings serve their congregations, churches should also be discerning the ways that the surrounding community could use their building.

Ardmore already does this very well, by the way. We host a number of support groups, post-recovery exercise classes, provided space for the Winston Salem Chinese Church, and, of course, we have partnered with the school district to offer a Remote Learning Center.

It may be that God is calling us to consider even more ways for us to use our buildings. I think when churches are generous with their property, it glorifies God, even if the organization using it is not overtly Christian. God is still glorified.

As Thom Rainer says: “When the church opens it doors to the community by making its building available for other uses, the community ‘comes to church.’ Such partnerships have gospel opportunities written all over them.”


April 1, 2021

I am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Challenge 4: Take Prayer to a New and Powerful Level (p. 55-67)

Since the fall of 2020, Adam Horton and I have been co-leading a Guys’ Bible Study that meets every other Wednesday night. We began meeting outdoors in the church courtyard. When Covid cases decreased in October, we started meeting indoors. When Covid cases surged in the winter, we moved to meeting via Zoom. It has been wonderful to grow closer to these men during this time and my soul has been fed by our time together.

We’ve been journeying through the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel recently. Last week, Adam taught on Daniel 6, which is probably the most popular passage in the book: Daniel in the Lion’s Den. If you don’t know the story (which means you did not grow up in church or never watched Veggie Tales), Daniel works for King Darius, one of a line of feckless monarchs who pass around the nation of Israel like a hot potato. Darius has advisors who conspire against Daniel by passing a law that prohibits anyone from praying to anything other than Darius himself. Anyone who violates this law will be thrown into a pit full of hungry lions. Even though it could cost him his life, Daniel continues his regular rhythms of daily prayer. He is thrown into the lion’s den, yet God protects him.

During our Bible Study, Adam led us into thinking about our own prayer lives. It occurred to me that oftentimes I treat prayer as a way to respond to crisis or stress. However, Daniel has the regular rhythm of prayer built into his life and that is what sustains him through a time of crisis and stress.

Thom Rainer encourages churches to think about prayer in the same way. Many churches turned to prayer practices in the midst of the Covid pandemic; but that is simply an indication that prayer was playing too small a part to begin with.

Rainer challenges congregations in three ways:

  • First, church leadership must be intentional about keeping prayer at the forefront of the congregation’s priorities.
  • Second, church leaders should promote periodic prayer emphases to re-stoke the fire.
  • Third, members should be encouraged to pray and wait.

We at Ardmore Baptist have some momentous decisions before us. What will we do with Brown Chapel? When can we resume some of our beloved regular activities? What does a focused missional emphasis look like? How do we minister to a digital world?

Let’s follow the example of Daniel. Let us not wait until we are stressed about these questions before we turn to prayer. Let us make prayer a regular rhythm in our individual lives and in our collective life together.

If you need some resources for practicing daily prayer, I would suggest two wonderful resources:



March 25, 2021

I am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Challenge 3: Reconnect with the Community Near Your Church (p. 39-53)

There are some days at the church office when my brain is overwhelmed and I need to take a break from emails, phone calls, or sermon writing. I grab my keys and pop a piece of spearmint gum in my mouth. Then I close my office door and walk to the church courtyard. Then, starting on Miller Street, I simply walk the Ardmore neighborhood. I wish I could tell you that I do this to do some sort of pious prayer-walking exercise and that I am thinking deep thoughts concerning our church’s future ministry to the community. However, honestly, most of the time I am thinking about what might be for dinner, my weekend plans, or how I need to get the yard mowed this evening.

However, Thom Rainer’s third challenge in The Post-Quarantine Church is convicting me to reconsider the purpose of my walks around the neighborhood. Yesterday, I decided to intentionally do just that and was so blessed by what I saw. I witnessed parents from around our neighborhood coming to the church to pick up their kids from Ardmore Baptist Preschool (which is one of the best ministries we offer to our neighbors!). I saw countless people walking their dogs and greeting one another. I saw the free food pantry at Ardmore United Methodist Church and said a grateful prayer for fellow travelers on the journey of faith.

Rainer speaks of how churches have experienced a slow erosion of the Great Commission’s call to reach those in their immediate vicinity. We’ve instead become so inward-focused with our ministries and energies. Many people are also hesitant to embrace “reaching the neighborhood” because they think that means door-to-door evangelism without being in established relationships with people. While there is certainly a place for such ministry in God’s kingdom, I question the efficacy of such endeavors in today’s world.

As we continue to pray and consider how we can reach the community near our church, here are some questions I wonder:

  • Our immediate neighborhood has many younger families who often are looking for a church that is both
    doctrinally sound and is also involved in social justice issues facing our world. Would they find such a place in us?
  • Does our church have open and accessible places with comfortable furniture where we may have casual, informal conversations with people from the neighborhood?
  • Does our church seek to support many of the local businesses in our immediate neighborhood who may have struggled during the pandemic?
  • Is our church in active and partnering relationship with the other communities of faith (Ardmore Methodist, Redeemer Presbyterian, Temple Emanuel Synagogue, etc.)?

As we wrestle with these questions, let us not forget that, as Thom Rainer’s son Sam says: “Your church address is no accident”.


March 18, 2021

I am currently using my blog to reflect on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Challenge 2: Seize Your Opportunity to Reach the Digital World (p. 25-38)

I could tell you about Sandra. She was a member of my church in Missouri who had moved into an assisted living facility shortly before the pandemic started. When her beloved church was not able to offer any online worship opportunities, she started virtually attending the services of Ardmore Baptist Church.

I could tell you about Barry and Nancy. They have deep and abiding connections to our church. Barry and Nancy were active members of the church for 27 years and Barry served as the primary architect of our Sanctuary. When work obligations took them to Houston, TX, their hearts missed the worship services at Ardmore Baptist Church. Now, because of our livestreaming, they are able to stay part of our church family.

I could tell you about Ainsley. She’s a college student across the state who began to watch our worship services with one of her suitemates. As she watched, she felt drawn to Ardmore’s approach to faith and the Gospel. Now, I will be baptizing Ainsley on Easter morning and all because God spoke to her through our online services.

These are just a few of the many stories I could tell you. Throughout this pandemic, as Ardmore Baptist Church has gone online with worship for the majority of the previous twelve months, we’ve seen God move and work in some mighty ways.

The new technological innovations we’ve invested in and the online opportunities we have made available are toothpaste that is out of the tube; we cannot put it back in and there is no going back. In addition to being a group of believers who gather in person, we are now a scattered and nimble community of faith.

And this means that we need to re-think some things:

  • The metric of success as a congregation can no longer be a large number of people present in the Sanctuary at a certain time period on a Sunday morning; we must see worship, community, and fellowship as beyond just that one moment in time.
  • We must recognize that the digital world is not an enhancement of already-established ministries; it is a mission field!
  • We must rethink how we lead our outreach to the digital world. One sister Baptist congregation is currently hiring a position called “Minister for Digital Discipleship.”However, we must also avoid the temptation to simply add to our own plates. Thom Rainer says, “Whatever you do, don’t confuse busyness with effectiveness in the digital world. It is usually just the opposite” (36). His warning to us is that, if we are not careful, we can overwhelm others with the amount of online or digital content our church produces. We should instead strive for, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “[to] do few things but do them well.”

What are ways that the Holy Spirit might be calling Ardmore Baptist Church to reach a digital world with the Good News of Jesus Christ?


March 11, 2021

For the next six weeks on my blog, I am going to be reflecting on the six challenges that are offered by the church consultant Thom Rainer in his little book The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation. I urge you to get a copy and read along with me.

Challenge 1: Gather Differently and Better (p. 11-24)

Each quarter, the Pastoral Staff gathers together for an all-day planning meeting. In the pre-pandemic days, it went like this: We taped a large piece of paper on the wall for each month and then wrote down every single event happening in that month. Most of the time, we stood back and looked at everything we’d written down only to begin to break into a cold sweat. There was so much happening that it was completely overwhelming.

The pandemic, of course, has changed that. Instead, we have been forced to do less and to approach each event, each class, each service, and each missional opportunity with a great deal of intentionality and wisdom. All that we were doing before was good stuff, but was our full schedule what God was calling us to do?

In his book, Thom Rainer reflects on how, before the pandemic, many churches were so chock full of activities that they prided themselves on being “busy churches.” He writes, “Church facilities became the focus of the busy church. We often gauged the health of a congregation by the number of times people came to the facility for worship services, groups, ministries, programs, and events. A busy building, we surmised, was a sign of vibrancy and health” (p. 13-14).

However, Rainer writes, that obsession with busy-ness had some unintended consequences. For one, many people were so busy “going to church” that they were failing to be on mission in their communities and neighborhoods. Rainer also points out that many families were feeling burnt out by the church. The very institution that often preached about “family values” was taking up much of the time and energy that families needed to thrive and grow closer together.

As we look towards a post-quarantine way of being, how can we learn from this imposed, yearlong sabbatical? How will we be transformed by this experience? Will we be obsessed about continuing to have a calendar full of activities or will be perhaps dream about new ways to use our facilities?

Thom Rainer offers a few suggestions for us to consider:

1. Churches should consider being more open-handed with the community’s use of their facilities. What if we saw our church as a community center that could minister to our neighbors?
2. Churches should consider offering worship at times other than just Sunday morning. Did you know that 34% of the American workforce works on Sundays? What if we were more flexible with our worship schedule and recognized that perhaps we need to vary our communal gatherings for worship?
3. Churches should consider sharing facilities with other communities of faith. What would it look like for us to open our building to be used by other churches? We already have a wonderful partnership with Winstom-Salem Chinese Christian Church. Are there other partners we could consider?

We have never stopped being the church in the midst of these days. We have just gathered differently. Now is our opportunity to consider how God is calling us to gather better.


March 4, 2021

My major in college was cultural anthropology. My favorite anthro professor was a man named Dr. Warren Anderson. He was a kind, approachable guy who was a master storyteller. Most of his stories came from his ethnographic research amongst Mexican migrant workers who had traveled from the state of Michoacan (in Mexico) to work in the orchards found in southern Illinois. His stories were filled with examples of people crossing the border (both legally and illegally), leaving their homeland, and trying to build a life in a new country. While many of us had heard of “illegal immigrants” as simply another item on the nightly news, Dr. Anderson knew their names, their families, and their stories.

Dr. Anderson was also my academic advisor. During one of our meetings, I told him that I was feeling a call to ministry and was considering attending seminary. He sat back in his rocking chair and smiled. Then he said, “Tyler, do you know why I spend so much time with immigrants? Because it’s what I am called to do.” Dr. Anderson reached into his briefcase and pulled out a small, worn Bible. He flipped to the book of Leviticus and read: The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34). Dr. Anderson went on to share with me that his Christian faith is what compelled his work with Mexican immigrants.

The topic of immigration can become easily divisive. Decent people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about the best policy to handle the illegal immigrants already living in our country, how best to secure our borders, and the efficacy of our current immigration system. However, as people of faith, we cannot separate our faith from our treatment of immigrants and refugees.

What role should scripture play in how we deal with the issues surrounding immigration? What role can a church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina play in how God is calling us to treat the refugees in our own community? These are especially important questions as we wrestle with our church’s mission, vision, and identity.

These are the kinds of questions we will be wrestling with in our next Conversations that Matter. It will be held on Monday, March 22 at 7:00 PM. I will interview Dr. Daniel Carroll Rodas on his book The Bible and Borders: Hearing God’s Word on Immigration. Dr. Carroll Rodas is half-Guatemalan (his mother was Guatemalan). He spent time there growing up and later taught for thirteen years at a seminary in Guatemala City. This background has affected his teaching and writing in profound ways, one of which is his involvement in immigration matters. He now teaches at Wheaton College. Danny and his wife, Joan, have two adult sons and four grandchildren.

I encourage you to purchase a copy of Dr. Carroll Rodas’ book and join us on Monday, March 22 for this conversation that truly matters.


February 25, 2021

It did my heart good to see so many of you at last week’s Ash Wednesday Drive Thru event. The entire day was full of holy moments that I hope stay with me for a long time.

When I impose ashes on people, I use the words that were spoken to me by a pastor on my first Ash Wednesday service: “During this season of Lent, do not forget who you are and whose you are. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us that God forms us by breathing into the dust of the earth and to dust we shall return one day.

As I made the sign of the cross on various people, I watched as their eyes filled with tears. Perhaps it was that we were all missing the simple love found in human touch (though I was using a Q-tip) or maybe it was the fact that in a year in which we know that half a million people in our country have died from a pandemic, we have no need to be reminded of our mortality.

When my own family came through the line, it was a strange and holy moment. Making the sign of the cross on my wife and children was equal parts beautiful and terrible. When my four-year-old daughter Charlotte moved her hair back from her forehead and I told my daughter that she is beloved and mortal, my throat tightened and I fought back my own tears.

But the moment that most stays with me was when I heard Amy Gallaher called down to me and asked me to bring some ashes up to where she was collecting the diapers and hot chocolate for our mission partners. I walked up to a sedan with three women inside. Amy explained to me, “Tyler, these are nurses who are on their way to administer the Covid vaccine for Forsyth County and they need to go now. They would really like to receive ashes.” I paused and the holiness of what was about to take place took my breath away. And then I went to these three women and I made the sign of the cross on their foreheads as a sign of life from death as they departed to give life to others.

Sisters and brothers of Ardmore Baptist Church, during this season of Lent: Do not forget who you are and whose you are. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Photography by Walt Unks, Winston-Salem Journal; February 17, 2021


February 18, 2021

I did not grow up practicing the season of Lent. The Southern Baptist Church of my childhood did not participate in the rhythms of the liturgical calendar. The only way I knew it was Lent was when I noticed long car lines at the local Catholic church for their Friday night Fish Fry. At my church, we did not prepare for Easter; it just seemed to spring out of nowhere each March or April.

In college I became involved in a campus ministry that offered a more contemplative approach to Christian faith. They offered worship opportunities during the weeks leading up to Easter and we were told that these would help prepare us for Easter. They also offered services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (terms I had to learn!).

That first year, Lent felt foreign and strange. I kept hearing messages about suffering and pain. But as I leaned more and more into the rhythms of the season, I began to resonate more and more with all that I was experiencing. As strange as it may seem, focusing on the darkness of the road to the cross made the light of that Easter morning all the brighter.

The Benedictine nun Joan Chittister puts it well: “Lent, the liturgical year shows us, is about the holiness that suffering can bring. It is about bringing good where evil has been, about bringing love where hate has been. It is about the transformation of the base to the beautiful. It is about being willing to suffer for something worth suffering for, as Jesus did, without allowing ourselves to be destroyed by it.”1

My hope and prayer for all of us, sisters and brothers, is that we will experience this Lenten season with a newfound commitment to walk the road to the cross with Jesus. On Sunday mornings this season we are going to be focusing on the seven final statements made by Jesus Christ on the cross. We are also providing opportunities for daily devotion, as well as worship opportunities for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

May you prepare your heart to walk alongside Jesus to a hill called Calvary.

1 Joan Chittister. The Liturgical Year, The Ancient Practices Series. (Tyndale, 2009), 125.

February 11, 2021

When Valentine’s Day approaches, Jess and I usually try to find some night to go on a date. Sometimes we’ve gone to a fancier restaurant and other times, we’ve eaten Taco Bell in a parking lot before going to a bookstore together (one of our favorite activities!). We exchange cards with one another, I usually buy her some flowers, and she usually gives me some sort of unique chocolate. It doesn’t matter much to us what we are doing, so long as we are able to carve out some time to simply be together.

The most romantic book in the Bible is the Song of Songs (sometimes also referred to as the “Song of Solomon”). It’s a series of poetic exchanges between a man and woman who are lovers. They go into blushing detail about the depth of their love for one another (it is recommended reading from a pew Bible during especially boring sermons). Interestingly, Song of Songs is one of only two books in the Bible (the other being Esther) where God is never mentioned. That may lead some of us to wonder, “What exactly is this doing in my Bible, then?”

The verbs in the Song of Songs are written in active-subject tense (as opposed to the passive-subject tense). In other words, these two lovers are the ones making the choice to love one another. At one point the woman says: My beloved is mine and I am his (Song of Songs 2:16). They are each making the conscious choice to intentionally enter into caring for and loving one another. Maybe that is where God can be found in this book. In their choosing to love each other each and every day.

In her commentary on the Song of Songs, the biblical theologian Ellen Davis puts it this way: “Genuine love does not just happen to us. The woman’s repeated phrase – ‘the one whom my soul loves’ – alerts us to the truth: love is soul-work, of the most demanding kind. Cultivating a true love relationship, with a person or with God, calls forth sustained effort from the core of our being. Therefore, the soul must be prepared, even trained, to love well, just as the body must be trained for rigorous physical action. Romantic love, like the love of God, requires that we learn habits of self-examination and repentance, that we acquire a capacity for self-sacrifice and forgiveness.”1

This Valentine’s Day, whether we are focused on the romantic love of a spouse, the platonic love of a friend, the life-giving love within our families, the affirming love of self, or the divine love of God, may we all be willing to do the work necessary to actively choose to love well.

In other words, let us remember that love is not just a noun; it is a verb.

1 Ellen F. Davis. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, Westminster Bible Companion. (WJK Press, 2000), 259.


February 4, 2021

Many of my friends who were born, raised, and continue to live in Kansas City have had their hearts broken year after year. The Kansas City Chiefs had not won a Super Bowl for fifty years. All of that changed last year. And now, the Chiefs are headed for their second consecutive year in the Super Bowl.

Much of the team’s success is attributed to a partnership between Coach Andy Reid (nicknamed “Big Red”) and the quarterback, 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes. Raised in Tyler, Texas, Mahomes took to sports early (his father, Pat Mahomes, was a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins). Surely growing up in such an athletic household helped to hone his later skills and abilities.

But Mahomes carries more than just natural talent with him onto the field; he also brings with him something even more fundamental: faith. In a recent interview, Mahomes said, “Obviously I want to win every game, but I’m glorifying God every single time I’m out there.” For Mahomes, playing football is an opportunity to use his God-given talents and abilities to bring glory to God. He further said, “As long as I’m doing everything the right way and the way that He would want me to do it, then I can walk off the field with my head held high and be able to be the man that I am.”

Brother Lawrence was a French, Carmelite friar who lived in the 17th century. When he arrived at his abbey, he was at first offended that he was asked to perform such menial tasks as cleaning chamber pots, scrubbing floors, and peeling potatoes. However, eventually, he began to see everything that he does as an opportunity to glorify God. He later said that he wanted to do his very best peeling potatoes as an act of worship. His teachings were later translated into a book called The Practice of the Presence of God.

Whether we are a monk, a pastor, a doctor, a custodian, a real estate agent, retired, a dentist, a teacher, a Super-Bowl-winning quarterback, or anything else we might imagine, we all have the opportunity to glorify God in all that we do. We all are called to practice the presence of God.


January 26, 2021

One of Jess’s and my favorite songs is “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. It’s actually the song that was playing when I proposed to her. The song speaks of a new day dawning as a sign of hope and reassurance.

For me, news of the Covid vaccine becoming more and more available and administered to people I know causes me to feel the warm light of a hopeful new day dawning in my soul. It gives me a sense that perhaps we are beginning the long exit out of this lonely winter and entering into something brand new.

The Bible speaks of God’s love and mercy like the warmth of a sunrise, bathing us in new possibilities:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

Many of you know that a group of us have been journeying through a time of visioning for our congregation called Dawnings. Our Dawnings team is comprised of our Pastoral Staff and our Vision-Navigation Team at Ardmore Baptist Church. We began our time together with a retreat in late February 2020, led by Harry Rowland from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We had every intention of beginning to meet together weekly after that retreat to discern what God may be calling our church to do and who God may be calling our church to be.

However, less than three weeks after that retreat, the coronavirus pandemic swept across our land and put an end to in-person gatherings. After taking a few months waiting to see if the threat would wane, we made the decision to begin meeting via Zoom in the Fall. We asked Rick Jordan to serve as our Dawnings facilitator. Rick has led us every-other Thursday as we journeyed through the rhythms of visioning, forming, and engaging.

You’ll be hearing more from the Dawnings team in the following weeks, but I just wanted to express a word of gratitude for them. They are thoughtful, kind, and wise people who are truly seeking God’s will for our beloved community.

Spending time with them fills me with something that my soul desperately needs: hope.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun do, do, do
Here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right


January 21, 2021

He was the strongest man I knew, yet now, I was hiding his car keys from him. For my entire life, my Grandpa Simmons had been a person of great strength, good humor, endless skills, and wise counsel. However, his mind had begun to deteriorate to the point where we could no longer tell whether he was fully cognizant of his surroundings or not.

My Grandma Simmons’ body was riddled with painful skin cancer. She was sleeping more and more of the day. Their wish was to spend their last days in their beautiful ranch style home (that Grandpa had built), yet it was becoming more and more clear that was not going to be able to happen.

I was spending the evening at my grandparents’ home on the night before my grandmother would be moving to a nursing home where she would spend her final days. My grandparents and I were sitting on their screened in back porch, my grandmother in her life chair recliner and my Grandpa and I were next to her on their porch swing (that Grandpa had built).

My Grandpa suddenly turned to my Grandma and began frantically speaking to her. He held her hand and said, “Mother, I just want you to know that you did such a good job. I am sorry that I could not have been a better son. You loved us kids so much and you overcame so much in your life. Thank you for being my mother.”

My first reaction was to turn to my Grandpa and correct him. I wanted to say, “Grandpa, this is not your mother. This is your wife.” As I started to speak to him, my Grandma whispered to me, “It’s okay. He needs to say this. He never got to say goodbye to his mother.” I sat back and watched as my Grandma pastorally and patiently received the words my Grandpa desperately needed to say.

It is hard to know how to care for those we love who suffer from dementia. In her book On Vanishing: Mortality, Dementia, and What It Means to Disappear, Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper has helped me to understand how to have more compassion, solidarity, and empathy for persons who have dementia and for the often-overlooked loved ones at their sides. She uses her own family’s story, scriptural narratives, and her experience as a retirement center chaplain as she weaves a book that is both haunting and beautiful.

On Monday, January 25 at 7:00 PM, I will be speaking to Lynn about her book for our first Conversations that Matter. I hope you will be able to join us by registering on Realm here for the Zoom Webinar link or by watching on our church’s YouTube channel.


January 14, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I went hiking at Pilot Mountain State Park with Ryan Packett and Lorian Landreth. We drove up to the parking lot and set off on the Jomeokee Trail that encircles the pinnacle of Pilot Mountain.

The Saura tribe that originally dwelt in the Piedmont region named the mountain “Jomeokee” which in their language means “Great Guide.” The mountain summit served as a locating guidepost for early European Settlers, which is why they gave it the name “Pilot” as in the definition: “to act as a guide.”

In my own life, there have been seasons in which I have felt directionless and lost. And there are other seasons where it seems like the state of the world is so chaotic and choppy. We are surely living in such days. The pandemic continues to ravage people in our communities. And as we all watched harrowing footage of thugs and rioters ransacking the House and Senate chambers, I heard many on the news and online express a sense of confusion and lostness.

But for people of faith we know our jomeokee. We know our guide through uncharted waters. As the people of Israel were living in the midst of their own uncertain days, the prophet Isaiah reminded them: “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

In my own spiritual life, worship has always served at an opportunity for me to look up and be reminded to always make Jesus Christ my guide. There are temptations to constantly make worldly prestige, social accolades, or political ideologies be what direct my path in life. Worship is the time when I am able to quiet the other voices whispering to my soul and to be reminded to walk the trail of the Gospel.

Contact / Location

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