2020 was quite the year. I learned so much about what it really means to pastor a local church, and I am humbled by all the connections I have had the privilege of making. I have come to love the bride of Christ more deeply than I can describe, and I have come to understand pastoral servanthood, humility, devotion, and sacrifice more fully than ever before. I continued my pursuit of a PhD, and am finally seeing the importance of others’ constructive criticism. I turned thirty, and I can say I am only now beginning to understand what it means to love like Christ does.
This year, my personal ministry received non-profit status. We spent a total of $6,050.15 in 2020.
If you contributed to Christoa Ministries, my personal ministry to churches and pastors around the world, in 2020, your gift is tax-deductible. Please contact us to receive your total contribution amount for tax purposes. Here are our latest missions projects:
As far as the proclamation of the Gospel, our audience grew by 55% to almost 50,000 readers, listeners, and watchers in 2020 from 212 nations and territories around the world including all but three of those listed on Open Door’s world watch list for 2020. Countries and territories we did not reach in 2020 include North Korea, Turkmenistan, and the Russian Federation. Our top five countries and territories in 2020 were the United States, India, Philippines, South Africa, and Nigeria with significant audiences in Kenya, the UK, Fiji, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. These numbers do not reflect our interactions on social media, which analytics are difficult to trace. They also do not account for secondary exposure to our content. We support pastors in Pakistan, Liberia, Kenya, India, and the United States who are reaching communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and advancing His kingdom of peace and justice on this earth through means of forgiveness rather than violence. Our people are on the front-lines against persecution, war mongering, child trafficking, and unjust government worldwide—all by simple Gospel proclamation and the power of the Holy Spirit. We are making disciples of all nations and seeing the results. What a privilege it is to be a part of something so great and world-shaking.
In 2020, we started a slew of podcasts, started work on our first expository commentary, published books and articles, and connected with more pastors for the sake of expanding Christ’s kingdom around the world. In 2021, we will be having a series of Gospel webinars to (1) reach more people with the Gospel and (2) help to train missionaries and church leaders/planters we have connected with in 2020. Contact us to reserve your place at these webinars.
I want to especially thank the amazing congregation at The Church at Sunsites for supporting me and pouring into me as much as I do them. I would not be able to do anything I get to do without them. Be sure to connect with The Church at Sunsites at thechurchatsunsites.com. Despite a pandemic, our work has expanded and the kingdom of Christ has advanced in 2020. I hope you join me as we seek to obey Christ’s Great Commission in 2021. You can get involved by:
- Subscribing and reading/listening/watching,
- Purchasing books or church merch (all profits to missions),
- Publishing with us,
- Writing content for christoa.com,
- Sharing content from christoa.com,
- Plugging into a healthy local church–see you at TCATS soon 🤓.
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This year, I thought I was done. The pandemic, heightened tensions worldwide, a desperate desire to reach my community with the Gospel, difficult studies, and my frustrations with others all led me to, once again, consider leaving the ministry. I wasn’t overcommitted. I was too determined to make things happen, to follow my own vision. When I was in the university, at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee (OK), I had an incorrect perception of ministry. I majored in applied ministry with an emphasis on youth. I thought building a successful ministry was about being as relational and dynamic as possible. That’s what I strove to be—a D.A. Horton or Matt Chandler sort of personality. It worked. I was credited with doubling and tripling the size of youth groups. One of my lead pastors even told me that I had done the impossible, saved the youth ministry of the church. My misperception of ministry was engrained. You build ministries and churches by being a good enough celebrity and offering the best ministry amenities. I got good at those things and am confident that I could easily build up the numbers of any church… It’s not that difficult. There is one danger of modern youth and children’s ministry: We produced a celebrity culture that keeps people ignorant rather than building them up, and we celebrate people who can attract numbers to a campus. That’s not what church is about, though. I had opportunities to speak in front of hundreds of students and started to be invited to different churches around the nation to speak. Why? It wasn’t because I would benefit anyone. It was only due my charisma as a speaker (personally, I’ve always been a little awkward). It was not healthy.
While I was at Gorman Baptist Church in Durham (NC), I started learning how to serve and care for those under my care as a pastor rather than an entertainor. My pastor, C. H. Bordeaux, took the time to mentor me and model what it meant to serve people rather than merely expect them to show up because I had put together a good show that required audience participation. My definition of ministry began to change. I devoted more time to study so I could actually benefit others. I started preaching through the Bible as much as I knew how instead of teaching what I felt like teaching or what seemed cool or revolutionary. I started doing discipleship. Then, I received a call from a church in Oklahoma to serve as lead pastor for the congregation.
I served at Eastside Baptist Church in Sallisaw (OK) for a-year-and-a-half. It was hell, a trial by fire and one of the most sanctifying experiences of my life. I tried to serve the people well, and it was never good enough. Bless those few members who took the time to encourage me. When serving people didn’t really please anyone, I defaulted back to what I knew—preach well enough and attract people with some kind of public charisma. Surprise… It worked, and the hellish church began to grow. Little did I know that it was not good for an unhealthy church to be growing. The core members became more hateful, and I failed to disciple them like I needed to. Why? I still defined ministry success by numbers and compliments. After that, I served as the interim pastor of a small church in Chickasha for four months before being called to pastor The Church at Sunsites in Pearce (AZ).
I had built up walls and, though I served according to the minimum expectations set forth by Scripture and by the congregation, I did not give myself wholly to the congregation. I was still dealing with hurt and was guarding myself from being hurt again. I was trying to fulfill my ministry like I didn’t really have any teammates. I was wrong, and I didn’t even realize I was trying to do things on my own. Well, things came to a head this year. I realized that the walls I had built up were driving people away from me and caused me to be paranoid about the intentions of people around me. I have known plenty of marriages that have ended because of trust issues. Every relationship is the same. I had to tear down these walls. I did, and I can see more clearly than I ever have before. The experience was sanctifying rather than damning. I can give of myself more than I was ever willing to before. Jesus served beyond what was required, for He was not required to serve at all. He is Lord! Therefore, I can serve beyond what is required because I love and care for my church family. Pastoral service is more than merely teaching and making “pastoral” phone calls and visits. That all became mechanical, a matter of routine. Pastoring means loving my congregation so much that I would do anything for her, build her up, dress her in white, wash her feet, and continue to redeem her in every way possible to me. As a pastor, I am the example living sacrifice for the whole congregation. The congregation is a living sacrifice for the whole community and world (yes, church membership is an office and not only a status).
One of the conversations I most remember this year was between a man who claimed to be a Christian and myself. He had great head-knowledge but scoffed at the bride of Christ because of her wretchedness. I guess he did not realize that Christ clothes His bride in white and sets her apart as holy. Woe to us if we do not take the same care with the church of Christ despite her shortfalls.
The realization brought me to my knees in repentance. Why, God, had I not realized ministry as servanthood rather than entertainment before? I taught that ministry was not about entertainment and thought I understood what I was teaching, but I didn’t even come close. Why did no one take the time to mentor me concerning pastoral servanthood before I started my public ministry? No pastor should ever be convinced that the congregation needs him. Similarly, no congregation should be convinced that the pastor needs the congregation. Ministry is not one-sided. We are all expendable. We need one another. Every Christian fills an office in the church by grace. I have the amazing opportunity to talk with and counsel pastors around the world. I’m not really sure why they want to connect with me or how my name became known to so many others. It really is an honor. I was counseling one brother who did not feel he was needed at his church. He did much, but when others wanted to do something he felt like his position or responsibilities were being threatened. I was the same way for a long time. That sort of mentality is the result of the messiah complex we all share before we are humbled—before we realize that we are not needed. Our positions, responsibilities, and opportunities are all by grace. Only when the pastors or elders of the church realize that they are not the only officers of the church with all the responsibilities, they are ready to lead. Pastors function as servants—as do deacons and church members. Everyone has something to offer. No one can do everything. To serve with humility is to elevate and empower others to fulfill their ministries. After all, the ministry is Christ’s ministry through the local church—not through one person or a small group of people.
Pastoral humility and service as the pastors train the saints necessitates devotion. It is easy to have one foot out the door. It is easy to love those who love us and spite those who spite us. Such is the natural way of the world. The role of a pastor requires unconditional, patient endurance and forgiveness. Pastors must have soft hearts and unending devotion to their congregations—not returning wrong for wrong or accusation for accusation or argument for argument. Almost no one understands biblical devotion or loyalty. I knew what the word meant before this year. Philosophically, I could extrapolate a doctrine of ministry. But, I did not feel it. There was no heart knowledge concerning pastoral devotion. Such a devotion is not a devotion to persuade others concerning my theological viewpoint. It’s a familial devotion. The Holy Spirit is thicker than blood. One cannot claim to love Christ without pure and unconditional devotion to his or her brothers and sisters in whom the Spirit flows. How can a congregation ever grow into maturity without elders who will be devoted to service, sound doctrine, and their families (household and church)? It takes a real man who is not afraid of pain, pugnacious, or led by his emotions or paranoias to fill such an office—a broken-hearted gravitas. The type of gravitas a real man has in his love for his wife. No matter her fault, he is too stubborn to abandon her—meek strength, the type of strength it takes to manage a household well.
I have come to understand more the pastors’ priestly role in the New Testament covenant community (cf. Isaiah 66:21). Like the priests offered sacrifices, pastors administer the ordinance of communion (eucharist or the Lord’s supper). Like the priests instructed Israel concerning the Law, pastors teach the whole counsel of Scripture. Like the priests judged Israel, pastors oversee the spiritual health of the local church and administer positive church discipline. Like the priests forewent the luxuries of the world, business, and of an inheritance in the land, pastors depend wholly on the generosity of their congregations. Pastors are the leading living sacrifices of the congregation. The ones who deny themselves the most and who lead the kingdom of priests to do the same to the extent that is appropriate to each Christian’s particular office in Christ’s kingdom according to each one’s calling and measure of faith. For me, it meant sacrificing my own vision for ministry and much of my ministry to become a better servant and to elevate others. It meant rejecting the career I wanted early on and the American dream. In a sense, I was liberated from the success syndrome. If we wish to be great, we must become servants. We will either make ourselves slaves to others or try to make others slaves to us. I choose the former like every sincere pastor does. The advances I have made in ministry are not because of me; they are despite me.
On another note, the PhD program I am in at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is the most sanctifying education experience I have had. After figuring out how to study, I breezed through university and the Master’s program I was in with minimal effort. I was never really challenged. Memorize the information. Answer the questions. Write something that meets the minimal requirements to achieve a high enough score. It was more-or-less boring and non-stimulating with the exception of a couple classes. On the PhD level, I am being challenged. I have received more constructive feedback in the last year than I did the nine years I spent in bachelor’s and master’s programs. I love the care that the men at Midwestern put into discipling and mentoring their students. I do not know whether I will succeed or not, but I know I hope to glorify God and be sanctified in my striving after the knowledge of our Lord.
This year, I have understood Christian love more deeply. I read 1 Corinthians 13 with fresh eyes and a renewed heart. To think that love means never holding anyone’s wrongs against them is humbling—never regurgitating past blunders, always thinking the best of others, caring for enemies, praying for persecutors, and even wanting the best for those who condemn us. I have noticed a dramatic shift in my interactions with others. They were once uncharitable; I would pull apart someone’s argument and put it six feet deep with no regard for the person. I can win arguments very easily most of the time. But, I started caring more about the person behind the argument or whatever criticism. My goal is no longer to win arguments but to win the person behind the argument, or at least build them up. I started caring about how they were perceived by the public. This year, I have been heavily condemned because of my eschatological view (though no one has really taken the time to understand it). I have been told that I am filled with the spirit of Satan, and that the church I serve has the spirit of Jezebel. I have been told that I am unloving, uncharitable, intellectually dishonest, a heretic, and more. Yet, I am called to love unconditionally and forgive—never bringing up others wrongs against me again. Because of the Holy Spirit within me, I feel compelled to make enemies into friends. Even if someone has sinned against me, I desire to bless him or her and proclaim the amazing forgiveness we get to experience in Christ. I have come to understand that programs which elevate people because of their race or social identity, because of some past sin, or succumbs to cancel culture is contrary to love because love judges justly and keeps no record of wrongs—period. Such is the love Christ desires we have for one another. That’s the only type of love that will actually make us better people, a better nation, and a better world. Unconditional, limitless love is the key and people have no idea what that sort of biblical love really looks like. They are stuck trying to figure out what love and equality are, and they only succeed in creating hate and furthering inequality by fighting for their own rights or reparations. Social justice as we have made it is just selfishness repackaged. I hope people get back to the true church in 2021. Only through the true church by the power of Christ’s love will our land be healed and humanity sing together in unity. That’s what I’m fighting for in 2021—love, sweet love, sweet building up perfecting love. I hope you join me.