A Cup of Change

 

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.

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