The following is a speech I delivered at the 2019 Convocation and Graduation Ceremony at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute at First Baptist Church of Waxahachie, Texas, on May 24, 2019.
Dr. Wilkes, B.H. Carroll Board of Governors, Senior Fellows, esteemed colleagues, faculty, administration, students, and our guests of honor, B.H. Carroll graduates, their families, and congregations: one of the highest honors of the year is to share this time of celebration with you tonight.
I'm thrilled to represent the ministry of Buckner International started by Dr. Robert Cooke Buckner, a Texas Baptist pastor, convention president, church planter, evangelist, missions-leader, and pioneer in holistic ministry at the end of the 19th century. Since my esteemed colleague, friend, and renown Baptist historian, Dr. Karen Bullock serves on your faculty, I am doubtful that the connection between Dr. B.H. Carroll and Dr. R.C. Buckner will come as a surprise to you.
After experiencing the loss of a many fathers who took part in the Civil War, with Texas serving in the Confederacy, Dr. Buckner witnessed the loss of many fathers, the devastating impact this loss had on mothers raising children, and in many cases fatherless and motherless children becoming orphans in Texas. These losses wreaked havoc on Texas families and on children left behind. On a spring day in 1877, Dr. Buckner convened a deacon’s convention at the First Baptist Church of Paris, Texas, where he first served as pastor. Prior to the general session, Dr. Buckner gathered a few deacons and leaders, in sort of a premeeting to share his vision for an Orphans Home. The men gathered around a massive oak tree near the church. Dr. Buckner took his hat off and said, “To get this thing started, I am putting in the first greenback (dollar)” and passed the hat around. The second leader to make a financial contribution was Dr. B.H. Carroll, the name-sake of your beloved seminary. Here we are, 140 years later, continuing our wonderful kingdom relationship and impact, from Texas, to the ends of the earth.
Many of the faculty members who serve here are former faculty members from my seminary days, a slightly intimidating thought. So, rather than preach a sermon, to prove out the return on their investment in me and my ministry, I plan to share my story and deposit a few principles along the way that may be of benefit to you. While this is not a sermon, my comments emerge from the passage we just read, Luke 10:1-9. This is the passage from which I wrote my new book, "Hope Now: Peace, Healing, and Justice when the Kingdom Comes Near," to be released officially next month.
"Hope Now: Peace, Healing, and Justice when the Kingdom Comes Near"
My journey to write this book started with a phone call, in fact, several phone calls to a B.H. Carroll faculty member, Dr. Edward David Cook, founder of the Whitefield Institute for Bio-Medical Ethics and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) in Oxford, England. The Trustees of Buckner International graciously offered me a two-month sabbatical in the summer of 2017. I chose to study under Dr. Cook during my time at OCMS, but prior to that week in Oxford, I called Dr. Cook to prepare for our time together. On the first call, he asked me, rather pointedly, “What do you plan to study at Oxford?” On the second call, he asked “What specifically to you plan to study here at Oxford?” I had a better answer than the first time but felt I wasn't hitting the mark. On the third call he asked, “What precisely do you plan to study at Oxford?” Before I could answer he said, “The problem with you Americans is that you try to take something good and make it better, but that is not the Oxford way. At Oxford, we find a problem and solve it, so what is your problem?
I said, “Dr. Cook, as a matter of fact, I do have a problem I am trying to solve. All my life and throughout my theological training, I have come to learn of our two teams. One team is highly focused on evangelism, church planting, missions, and outreach, you know, eternal and spiritual issues. The other team seems to be hyper-focused on the here and now, like needs of food, water, clothing, shelter, and the well-being of people they serve, a focus on physical issues. These two teams don’t always play well together, in fact, they often throw rocks at each other. The spiritually-focused team rarely addresses physical issues and the physically-focused team rarely mentions anything about Jesus, the Savior. So, my problem is that I don’t see this false dichotomy, these two teams in Jesus.
Now, I was trained up on the evangelism-missions-church planting Team. Yet, today, I serve on a human welfare Team at Buckner. To prove my point, I studied this passage in Luke 10:1-9, a missionary commissioning to prove my point. After listening to my problem, Dr. Cook said, it sounds like you have a good problem. We will focus on that issue at Oxford.
“Ready, Set, Now What? Best Practices for Ministry Effectiveness”
My topic from Luke 10:1-9 is “Ready, Set, Now What? Best practices for Ministry Effectiveness.” Here you are. Educated, studied, trained, and ready. But now, what? What should you know as you begin the plunge into ministry with the finest theological education behind you? I would like to share a few principles I've learned along the way that emerge from the commissioning of the 72 with the words of Jesus.
Principle # 1: Ministry is a Team Sport
The first principle is that ministry is a team sport. If you think a life of ministry is to be done alone, like the Lone Ranger, you are dead already. There is a reason why “the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town he was about to visit.” Ministry is about community. Ministry is about relationships. And the most important relationships are in your home. Your spouse, your children represent your first and most important place of ministry. You are to serve them first and foremost. They are the church that meets in your home.
Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” You can substitute self for wife, children, or family. What good is it for a ministry leader to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his wife, children, or family?
We all need someone to walk this journey with us. To be our partner. Maybe even an accountability partner. Dr. Gene Habecker, former president of Taylor University and the American Bible Society, once said he did not have time for an accountability buddy in ministry. Rather, his accountability partner was his wife. Your best partner for ministry is in your home. I have been married to mine for the last 37 years. She is my best friend, my encourager, and my best critic. She is on my team and prays for my success and helps me bear my burdens too. She knows my blind spots and protects me from other people who aim to harm me. She can sense and see them miles away. She is beautiful, intelligent, and wise. I hope you are blessed with a partner to walk this road with you.
Principle # 2: Ministry is about Leadership
Several years ago, I came across some data that suggested that our denominational offices receive calls on Mondays from church members who seek to terminate their pastor or from pastors who sense they will soon be terminated. The main reasons cited were:
1. Our pastor does not know how to lead us, provide leadership.
2. Our pastor does not know how to manage the business of the church.
3. Our pastor does not know how to get along with church members.
The basic expectation of a ministry leader is to show the way, to provide direction, and to solve problems. In this passage Dr. Luke records these words of Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” The foundational principle of leadership is to develop a vision, to help the people notice what may not be obvious. In this case, Jesus challenges his teams of two to raise their view to see the harvest and to recognize the potential. The people in your sphere of ministry expect you to lead the way. They expect you to have heard from the Lord. They expect you to have a vision and a sense of direction. If you don’t have one, seek the Lord and ask him for wisdom from above. Ask the Lord of the harvest to help you see what he sees and call it out. If the Lord shows you the vision of the harvest, speak up. Sheep like to be fed and led. That is your job.
The first responsibility of a leader is to tell the truth about the situation of the ministry or the organization. That is exactly what Jesus did. He told the truth about the harvest and in doing so, he called out a problem and an opportunity. He said the truth is, there is plenty of harvest. The problem is not the harvest. The problem is the lack of workers to collect the harvest.
The second responsibility of a ministry leader, beyond visioning, is to come up with a solution to the problem or the opportunity. Jesus said, the answer to the problem of a lack of workers is two-fold: Pray and go. He says: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go!” We are building a Buckner Family Hope Center just north of Love Field in Dallas where 90,000 people live in a three-square-mile area. CPS extracts children from there at twice the average of Dallas County; the teen pregnancy rate is three times the national average. We are serving families at the point of their needs. I have found that there is nothing wrong with the harvest. We struggle to keep up with the number of families who need prayer, are interested in Bible study, and who are coming to know the Lord as their personal savior. There is nothing wrong with the harvest. The problem is that it can rot if ignored.
Principle # 3: Ministry is about Management
Most of you will work in a ministry as part of a church or nonprofit organization. You may already know that a church in America is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) legal corporation with budgets, buildings, projects, committees, teams, programs, people, and the list goes on. There is a whole lot of management that takes place between Sundays when theological studies come in handy. I am blessed to have grown up working in my father’s business. I ended up earning a degree in business management. This ended up saving my hide in my first pastorate with all due respect to my seminary education. My counsel to you is to learn as much as you can about management. It's part of your ministry too.
Management is about having a plan to execute a vision. Once we have direction, vision, and a problem to solve, we need a plan to get it done. This is management. Luke records how Jesus gave specific instructions about how to carry out his vision of the harvest. He gives details about the mission: what to take, what not to take, what to avoid on the journey, how to approach a household, what to say, what to do, what not to do, and so on. Management is a detailed plan for how to achieve the mission. The people under your ministry will expect specific instructions to carry out their work.
Principle # 4: Ministry is about Healing and Bringing the Kingdom Near
Ministry is about healing and bringing the Kingdom near. I have been on both teams: evangelism and human welfare. I've found people need hope and they want healing. Jesus said this to the 36 missionary teams of two: when you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The Kingdom of God is near you.” Wait! Did he say heal the sick? I thought this was a missionary, evangelistic, church planting, mission trip. We have to heal them too? Yes! Exactly. This word for healing is therapuo. It is not immediate. It is a process; it takes time. And then tell them the Kingdom is near. It has arrived. And the King has arrived too. The focus of your ministry is to bring the presence of the King near to those who need him, to bring his peace, healing, and his justice to those who need hope. And they need Hope Now! But to do that, you will need the King in you; the Prince of Peace, the one who gives the peace that passes all understanding. If you can’t bring the King, if you can’t bring the Kingdom, you will have no peace, no healing, no hope to offer a hurting world.
You are ready, you are set, now go out and build your team, lead the way, manage your ministry, and bring the Kingdom near.