I began as a youth leader in my home Church, Seattle Aurora. When I came to NNU I soon began to help the Nampa First Church Youth Group in charge of the Junior High Ministries. Later I became an official intern at the Valley Shepherd Church of the Nazarene. All of these ministries during college were extremely powerful in my ongoing formation. I recall quite profoundly reading and learning about Barth and Bonhoeffer in class, while trying to lead 30 Junior Highers each week, all who were simply trying to survive adolescent angst. I learned early on the very crucial lesson of how the Church and the classroom must continually be in conversation. This life lesson has done nothing but grow with intensity and power.
My wife and I did eventually head to Kansas City so I could attend Nazarene Theological Seminary. After a couple of months, I was hired as the Youth Pastor at Belton Church of the Nazarene. This was the first time I was the lead youth pastor and the first time my wife and I did not have a youth ministry team to work with. Yet God was with us and encouraged us and blessed the ministry. Here I learned that ministry did not need money and resources. While my previous ministry was at larger churches with strong budgets, this church had little resources yet loved me and the youth.
A couple years later I was invited to be the Youth Pastor at Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene. I knew in taking this assignment, this was more than simply a job during seminary, but would be an invitation to a long-term relationship. This assignment reinforced the importance of long-term ministry for me (to date, this has been my longest ministry assignment). The staff and lead pastor became, and still are family to me. One of the things I learned most powerfully from the lead pastor there (Jesse Middendorf) was how to be secure in one’s own giftings. While our lead pastor was extremely talented, he gave room for me and another pastor (Roger Hahn) to be part of the regular preaching team. By the time I left this assignment to pursue doctoral work I had responsibility to plan worship for our largest worship gathering as well as a host of administrative tasks throughout the church. All of this leadership experience was a result of Dr. Middendorf empowering, entrusting, and allowing me to lead. Also during this time I entered into leadership with the district NYI. The people who served in this group today are some of the most influential leaders in our denomination. However, with all that talent, I recall everyone worked and served hard together. While we could have seen each other as competitors (we were all youth pastors in a 10 mile radius) we were each other’s friends and cheer leaders. I learned a great deal from this talented group of people.
After being asked to interview to be a real pastor (aka Sr. Pastor) and sensing God opening other doors I began my doctoral program. We moved to Chicago as I began doctoral studies and became pastor of Chicago Northside Church of the Nazarene. There I learned the importance of bi/tri vocational ministry. I was a pastor, working at UPS to pay the bills, a full-time doctoral student and trying not to be a terrible father and husband.
As I was nearing the completion of my doctoral work I was invited to teach at NNU. Let me say that I have been privileged to be at NNU for 10 years now. I love teaching. Yet I must also confess that I also desperately miss the local church ministry. Thankfully I was able to volunteer at Nampa First Church and have recently come on staff part time at College Church in Nampa. I love being a pastor. I love the gift that people allow you into their lives.
CPL: Often the academy and the parish have been at odds with each other. How do you challenge, teach and model to your students how to bridge the gap that sometimes exists?
As I mentioned previously, if I could articulate my life long calling it is to keep bringing the local church and academy together. It is very easy with my students. I continually raise conversation with them about how the concepts we are discussing in class impact local church ministry. Additionally, our students at NNU are required to be in ministry during their entire time at NNU. This is not to keep them busy, but to celebrate how both contexts can teach and speak into each other. The key for young pastors is to celebrate the wisdom in the academy and the wisdom of the local church together. While challenging, I have found that with love and grace they can both live in a grace-filled tension that fully leans into what the Church is called to be. The academy alone can lose touch with the reality of many people who are struggling in their daily existence. The local church alone can become so narrow focused that perspective can be lost. Together, the Spirit can continually transform and mold in powerful ways.
CPL: You have been instrumental in creating space within our denomination for an appreciation and practice of worship that makes room for a greater role for the sacraments and a Wesleyan understanding of liturgy. Tell us how you came to this place.
Let me begin by saying that many have gone before me who have paved this road. Many pastors and theologians have been helping the Church of the Nazarene recover what it never had. I am privileged to be simply building upon their great work. Most of my passion for worship and the sacraments came from my time at First Church in Kansas City. We had a Word and Table service as part of our Sunday services and the entire church was deeply formed by the Church year and the sacraments. This was simply a very early taste into an area I never knew would become a passion. When applying to Ph.D. programs I mostly applied to programs in Systematic Theology, but I applied to one program in Liturgical Studies. This degree was mostly focused on the Church and how its rhythm of worship and mission shaped its continual formation. In the end, the Lord led us to Chicago where I entered this program. This program opened me up to the world of sacramental and liturgical theology which I also learned was central to the Wesleyan Revival of John and Charles.
CPL: How long have you been following the lectionary readings as a preacher and why?
At First Church in Kansas City, Pastor Jesse was following it and I first picked it up there. Roger Hahn is perhaps the best lectionary preacher I have ever heard. What is most challenging is finding ways to weave in multiple texts together. Some weeks the themes are visible, other weeks there is no clear theme. What Dr. Hahn taught me was to be honest if there was a lack of a theme. I would also say that is it not always required to preach on multiple texts. While I do encourage more than one text to be read/prayed, just living in one text is also faithful. One of the biggest gifts of the Lectionary for me is forcing me to explore texts I would not venture to tackle on my own. However, be careful of simply just picking the easiest of the four texts. I came to KCFC in 1999 so I have been around Lectionary preaching most of that time. I also think that doing some series away from the Lectionary also bears great fruit.
CPL: In your work at NNU, what have you found to be the most meaningful and effective ways to encourage and support the next generation of pastors and preachers?
I want to encourage pastors and preachers to study hard. I think living deeply in Scripture helps you to see texts in light of the whole in powerful ways. When one lives deeply with all of Scripture you also become less susceptible to allowing a text to draw conclusions that other portions of Scripture would reject. Along with Scripture I think a robust and creative reading pattern can become another source of illumination.
I also want to encourage each pastor to find her unique voice and style. While young preachers can try to emulate others, it is important that a preacher becomes comfortable in her own skin. Don’t try to be someone else. I also think that preachers should regularly have people evaluate and critique their sermons. This was one of the main gifts I received early on: feedback from people who loved and encouraged me to keep maturing as a preacher. I would also encourage preachers to remember it is not about her or him. As much as possible, check your own ego at the door. The preacher is simply filling a function and this is not to draw attention to oneself, but to Jesus Christ. Finally, preach as much as possible. Experience with helpful feedback is a great gift in one’s development as a preacher.