At Desert Heights, we don’t have a traditional Sunday school program. Our heart is to equip our people to serve knowledgeably and effectively. We do this by developing and offering college-level Bible courses we call Equipping Classes. Over the past two years, we’ve offered classes in ministerial philosophy, Bible overviews, Old and New Testament surveys, and several classes of systematic theology: the Bible, The Kingdom, God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Man and Sin. I’m looking forward to teaching the doctrine of salvation, and the doctrine of the church later this year. Interest is growing in our Equipping Classes and it excites me to see people interested in enriching their walk with God through the study of doctrine.
Throughout the week several people from DHC meet together in homes for a time of building one another up, praying together, and sharing what God has been teaching them through his word. Because as a church we are all on the same Bible reading and journaling plan (SOAP), we come to Life Group having read the same chapters of the Bible. Hearing how God has specified his word to each person is a rich experience. Often, people point out verses that made a huge impression on them but you might have missed. It is a visible testimony to God's faithful working in conforming his people to Christ. It is rewarding to having meaningful, building up, accountable, relationships with other Christians. On several occasions, people have come to Life Group with heavy hearts and the group has built them up. This is how Christian community should be. After two years at DHC, I’m pleased to see God growing Life Groups.
When I first began at Desert Heights, DHC Youth was the single most discouraging part of my job. Because our church is comprised of many young families, DHC Youth went through the pains of snail-paced growth numerically and spiritually during the first year. Now, DHC Youth is my favorite part of job. DHC Youth does not have a big budget. It does not have special facilities for teenagers. It is not centered around the triviality that defines far too many youth groups. DHC Youth is a youth group that is hungry for the Bible. For the past two years we’ve been working our way through the Gospel of John. This last Tuesday, we finished chapter 16. As we've journeyed through John's theologically rich gospel, we've discussed a variety deep doctrines as the text presented them. Youth pastors who treat teenagers like they can’t handle Bible exposition are really doing these young adults a disservice. Teens need to know that Christianity is a viable and superior worldview to competing religious and secular perspectives. Teens need to understand that Jesus is lord. Teens need to submit to the authority of the Bible. The teens of DHC Youth don’t come every week because we play rad games (we don’t). They don’t come because I’m Mr. Cool (I’m not). They come to be learn. They come to interact with Christian friends. They come to receive Bible teaching. I could not be more proud of my teens, I love them and at times wonder at the privilege God has given me by entrusting them to me. It is a joy and an honor to serve them.
I plan on writing a longer post on Shepherd’s Conference soon but for now I will share a few things. To put it concisely, Shepherd’s Conference was incredible. I waited years to attend and it finally happened this year. I was refreshed by the substantive preaching, doctrinal singing, and incredible fellowship with other pastors. I also got meet one of my ministerial heroes and mentors, John MacArthur. Last year I went to Together for the Gospel in Louisville, Kentucky. I am convinced that pastors should attend a conference like T4G or Shepherd's annually. It keeps them sharp through fine expository preaching, and rigorous theological discussion with close friends. Just being ministered to is itself refreshing and makes conferences like these worthwhile. Shepherd’s Conference was a delight in every way and it will become an annual event for me. I cannot wait to get back to Grace Community Church next year for this special time.
Coming Back Down to Earth
When I was at Bob Jones University, I remember Dr. Bruce McAllister speaking about those finishing seminary and entering into ministry needing to come back down to earth. After years of theological study, it’s necessary for new pastors reorient themselves from the academy to the church. This is not to say that pastors should not be engaged in scholarship or that preaching shouldn’t be theological. On the contrary, it would suit pastors and their congregations well for the pastor to reclaim his status as pastor-theologian.
Dr. McAllister wasn’t saying to disregard theological education and be a dummy. Coming back down to earth means meeting the congregation where they are and building them up to where they need to be. Few in the church care about the distinctions between soteriological systems, or ridiculous critical theories advanced by German liberals, or who John Owen was and why they should know about him. Ordinary people in the church are concerned about the sin that is plaguing their family, or wrestling with why God would allow them to suffer through health maladies, or just how to even do something as simple as reading the Bible. Many young pastors make the mistake of speaking above their people so much that they hurt themselves long term because people assume they are arrogant or they just give up trying to follow along with the pastor is saying.
Christians should know about Arminianism and Calvinism. Christians should know about the dangers of liberal theology. Christians should know the history of the church. But most importantly, Christians should be equipped to walk with God through Bible reading, prayer, Christian community and service. The rest will fall into place when people are walking with God.
I didn’t enter into ministry expecting people to be theological jedis nor did I try to impress anyone with C- knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. But the longer I am in ministry, the more aware I am becoming that my people need me to be an example of Christlikeness to them and need me to clearly and simply communicate to them what the Bible says. I will still teach my people systematic theology, historical theology, and church history and show them how critical it is to be familiar with these subjects. What has changed is how I do this. I am now slowing down, and being intentional with making things as simple and clear as possible. I am also learning not to get frustrated when people aren’t where I think they should be. While obvious, it's easy to overlook or to forget that not everyone has had the privilege to attend a Christian university and seminary. As long as people are walking with God, they will get to where they need to be in his time. My people don’t need me to be seminary professor. They need me to be a pastor-theologian who loves them, teaches them, and models Christ for them. Josh, teach deeply, but do it in a way that doesn’t make people feel like theology is out of their reach. Josh, encourage your people, don’t drop the hammer on them every time the opportunity presents itself. Shepherd them gently:
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." ~ 1 Peter 5:1-3This was probably the biggest take way from year two. God is working on my heart to be more patient, more understanding and more gentle with his people.
My time in pastoral ministry at Desert Heights has been amazing. Being with God’s people, administrating Life Groups and Equipping Classes, leading DHC Youth, and regularly preaching and teaching have been the greatest privileges I have experienced in my life. I don’t take the role of a pastor lightly or for granted at all. It is sheer mercy that I get to do this for a living (2 Cor. 4:1). I look forward, God willing, to many more years of Desert Heights Church and of pastoral ministry.