Jon Middendorf has served as Senior Pastor at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene since August of 2007 and as Youth Pastor, Sr. Associate and Pastor of Student Ministries prior to that. He will be one of the featured speakers at the NTS CPL 2017 Preachers Conference (Finding Your Rhythm: Preaching the Church Year, September 26-27) on the NTS Campus. In this CPL interview Jon talks about ministry over the long haul – its joys, challenges and his hopes for the future.

 

CPL: You served as Youth Pastor at OKC First before becoming her Senior Pastor. Tell us about both the challenges and joys you experienced as you moved from one role to the next?
Let me start with the challenges - the challenges of moving from youth to senior pastor in particular. There was a whole segment of the congregation that had trouble shifting their perspective about me. That is, from seeing me as the young buck who was willing to wear strange clothes and play funny games to someone who could hold theological authority in their lives. For some in the church, it was too much of a stretch. They weren’t able to let me grow up and become something other than the youth guy. It was never going to be palatable for them so they moved on. But for others, I just had to out live that ‘box’ I’d been put in.

Regarding the joys – I am in my 26th year here now and I’ve been able to do things now that I wouldn’t have in my 1st, 2nd or even my 24th or 25th year. For instance, I wouldn’t have had the joy of welcoming a new board member that I had lived life with during high school. He lost his dad as a teenager, entered adulthood, got married, become gainfully employed, began to have children and now serves on my board. I’ve begun to dedicate the children of the kids who were in my youth group. It is an incredible joy to have had that long and ever deepening relationship with people over a long swath of time. These folks have become my friends not just my parishioners.

And because I have that long and deep relationship with so many of my people, I can deal with some pretty significant issues now and challenge them in ways I couldn’t have before. Recently, the topic of racism has been one I’ve confronted. I couldn’t have ‘pounded that nail’ even 2 to 3 years ago like I can now.

CPL: Speaking of racism, OKC First is located in a transitioning neighborhood. You’ve chosen to stay. What was your preaching strategy when you were trying to decide to go or stay and now as you are in transition as a church body?
My primary preaching initiative over the course of many years has actually been what Steve Green, my predecessor, started and that is, give the people a Wesleyan understanding of the world and make sure we are all operating with the same Wesleyan definitions of key theological terms. Take eschatology for instance. Are we to leave this place for another? Or we to be about restoration or abandonment? Is our God in the business of making all things new or just making new things? I preach about terms like that and what it means for us to understand them as Wesleyans. I also try to help my people understand them on a corporate level, too and not just as individuals.

There are two sermon series in particular that come to mind as I think about this transition we’ve been in the midst of. The first one was on the book of Revelation which I believe is primarily about ecclesiology rather than eschatology. I preached about how the church should go about being the church. I tried to paint a picture for my people of where we were going.

The second series centered on the lectionary texts from the book of Acts during one Easter season. This is when the church began to sink her teeth into her calling as the Body of Christ resourced and led by the Spirit doing things and crossing boundaries they never had before. Interacting with and being responsible for sets of folks we hadn’t yet, for example.

CPL: What are the joys and challenges of preaching to what is probably an increasingly diverse congregation?
OKC First, as a whole, is a lot more integrated than what you might experience on a Sunday morning. Actually, this is the only time when we aren’t fully integrated and even that room is beginning to show some color too, in some beautiful ways. We do have a Hispanic Congregation that meets for worship in our church and has been for about 7 years. I appreciate their desire to maintain their cultural identity but do wish we were in the same room together more often. However, I don’t want to ask them to go further than the majority white congregation is willing to go in order to make that happen.

Thankfully, our children’s department is fully integrated. I think the task for us now is to make sure we hang onto these young adults as they exit high school and also strive to maintain that diversity as these folks age together. We’ve also been strategizing about potential mentoring partnerships that could happen across our diverse populations.

We’d love to grow into an integrated congregation but, unfortunately, the last place this typically happens is in the sanctuary so we are trying to take the long view. I am looking forward to the tapestry that emerges.

CPL: What has helped you the most to grow and develop as a preacher?
The best answer to that questions is Tuesdays. From ‘day one’ my church has supported a different configuration of the work week for me when I transitioned to the senior pastor role. I take Monday ‘off’ and Tuesday ‘away.’ On my day off, I do chores – laundry, mow the lawn, etc. But on Tuesdays, I go away. I pray and immerse myself in a text, I pray through my study and the sermon. I don’t think that I could pull off the ‘sermon a week’ thing without my Tuesdays.

You know, I don’t ever ‘finish’ hardly anything. I never ‘get done’ with things, with the list. If I am not encouraged to stop some of these other plates from spinning or hand them off, I can’t preach the way God and the church needs me to preach. And I am super grateful for a church body that understands that and respects that time I take off. They even hold me accountable to it. Ultimately, this is how the church participates in my sermon prep – by helping me protect Tuesdays.