Time flies when you are having fun… Or so the saying goes.
On November 1, 2013, I began my tenure at Midwestern as Dean of the College. It’s hard for me to fathom that. In many respects, it seems like only yesterday we were moving to KC, but in other ways, the community here makes if feel as if we have belonged all our lives.
Many of you are aware of the grace God continues to pour on our campus. We are seeing lives changed, church leaders transformed and Gospel impact throughout every aspect of our work here. With new friends and donors, new academic resources, and new colleagues joining the work, we are enjoying one of the sweetest seasons in our ministry!
In reflecting on my second anniversary at MBTS, I thought I would list 5 key things I’ve learned while serving at Midwestern:
It’s a great day at Midwestern! I’m exceptionally thankful God called me here. I’m thankful for the President I serve, for our trustees and the men and women I serve with day in and day out. Every day I’m reminded about the greatest treasure I have is serving the approximately 45,000 Southern Baptist Churches for whom I have the opportunity to serve by training their next pastor, missionary, or lay leader.
As the time flies, we realize more and more - God is so good!
For nearly two millennia, the church stood rooted and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.. The church offered the freedom of the cross to people groups that openly accepted the Gospel as well as to cultures that fully rejected the claims of Christ.
For nearly two millennia, the church has contemplated and been faced with it all:
The list goes on. It’s all there. As Solomon once stated, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Since the very beginning, the church has spoken to the challenges of their day by driving believers back to the ultimate authority – the Scriptures. In certain eras, the church engaged the needs of the day effectively. In other eras, the church itself became so enmeshed with the cultural norms of the day, prophetic voices arose not with new message, but one as old as the church itself – to return to the Word of God.
Each generation received a missiological mantel to engage the cultural issues of their day. They presented Truth. The Truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior over and again. As a pilgrim people who have not yet reached their homeland, voice after voice in the church championed the claims of Scripture to encourage positive aspects of culture or prophetically condemn the atrocities of the era.
For Christians, we engage the situations of the day standing not alone, but amid the throngs of generations. This “great cloud of witnesses” provide encouragement, balanced insight and a deeper context than the flash-fire of the present. It gives us the ability to wrestle with ideas along with our forbears – even when the process is less than neat and clean.
Consider the question of abortion. Evangelicals continue to hold the ground on issues of life in the womb. Not only in the Scriptures is all life upheld as precious in God’s sight, but the church carried this teaching forward. In the early 3rdcentury, Tertullian writes his apologetic work, Treatise on the Soul, arguing for a clear understanding of life beginning at conception. By the 6th Ecumenical Council in 680 the question of abortion was re-iterated leading Eastern churches to affirm in 692 that those who abort a baby or produce drugs that lead to an abortion are committing murder.
Sound like issues we might face?
Read more about ways you can stand on the shoulders of prior generations as you engage yours. You can read the full article at Canon and Culture or by clicking here.
Earlier today, Russ Moore linked to a video over at LifeNews.com that shows Planned Parenthood's top doctor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola describing how she carefully harvests a baby during an abortion in order to make the organs available for those who need the specimens. Of course, for a price.
Quickly after posting, Facebook blocked the story, but friends, you need to see this.
It is unacceptable.
It is reprehensible.
It is illegal.
These are children.
Facebook blocked it, but I wanted you to see this to know just where we have come.
I'll be in my office weeping.
UPDATE: As of this afternoon, the post has been unblocked.
WARNING: I fully intend to frustrate many parents with this post.
Here’s the thing – Integrity is hard to maintain. We embrace its value and even promote living with absolute integrity as individuals. As parents we strive to model the way we are supposed to live in front of our kids.
So why do we allow our kids to bypass EULA restrictions to gain access to a popular app? (EULA = End User License Agreement)
This issue came to a head this past week as my son was asking me to download the game, “Clash of Clans” on the family iPad so he could play. He has multiple friends at school and church who play so I didn’t think much of it. After doing a little digging around, I figured out what parameters I needed to establish (in-game purchases set to “off”) and started the download.
And that’s when the EULA notice popped open –
Uh Oh! 13 years of age minimum! My son is 11.
I know no one reads the EULAs. They are huge legal documents. Indemnify this. Exclude that. More lawyer-speak. And we are off on a nap.
This time was different. The app through iTunes on our iPad actually requires you to agree to this specific age restriction before allowing play. To allow my son access meant lying about his age.
And now we are back to the integrity issue.
I want my son to tell the truth. I want him to walk with integrity. Lying about your age is a huge issue. Yet as Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft notes, “Not only are kids lying about their age, but more often than not, parents teach them to lie about their age,”
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and most other social media websites have age restrictions set at 13 to avoid Federal legal mandates that require them to do more to police content and discussions. These are to be heeded by parents as well as children.
In some respects, as parents allow children to access these sites with their permission, they are giving their children an illegal “fake” digital ID. No self-respecting parent would give their kids a fake ID to buy alcohol or cigarettes, but we are allowing our children to access and participate in digital media not designed for them and prohibited by the distributers of the software. We cave – often because everyone else is.
In addition, children’s fake birthdates (set to a much older age) are stuck in their profiles. The only way to change a child’s date in Facebook or Instagram is to cancel the account and start over – something an active social media person is loathe to do. And this is outside of the challenges that come from the dark-side of the internet as people view profiles of your now, much “older” child.
So what’s a parent to do?
· Respect the EULA – Show integrity to your children by not allowing them to participate.
· Inform other parents – sometimes parents are simply unaware that there are age restrictions.
· Reinforce the concept of integrity with your kids – Help them see you won’t tolerate rule breaking now or later.
· Equip your kids with answers – When their friends ask why they can’t play, make sure your son or daughter has good answers to the “why”.
This is not an easy situation. My son hated my answer. We looked for other editions that may have provided a different EULA option, but in the end, my son will be waiting another couple of years before making his social media and online gaming debut.
I had the privilege of preaching in chapel this week at Midwestern. Our campus is doing a study of 2 Timothy each Tuesday (you can find the series here.)
The Southern Baptist TEXAN asked me to list ways you and your church can support adoptive families before, during and after the adoption process. Here's the run-down from their article published in the February issue of their paper:
How Christians Can Help
This particular edition had fantastic articles on adoption that you should check out. Click here for more!
My Mother-in-Law, Mary Lou, passed away on Sunday, December 14. This is the written text of the sermon I gave at her funeral. Before I preached, a Gospel Quartet sang the old hymn, "Beulah Land." I turned to Isaiah 62:1-5 for the text of the sermon "Beulah Hope".
“Beulah Land” - An odd or perhaps old fashioned word or phrase. What this song we just heard captures is the desire and longing by every believer… by every person who trusts Jesus as the sole fount of salvation for the soul.
This Gospel song, written sometime in the 1870s, draws on a passage of scripture that speaks of the drawing nearness to God. Listen to Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness,
And the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness,
And all kings thy glory:
And thou shalt be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of the Lord shall name.
3 Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken;
Neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate:
But thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah,
And thy land Beulah:
For the Lord delighteth in thee,
And thy land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marrieth a virgin,
So shall thy sons marry thee:
And as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,
So shall thy God rejoice over thee.
While more modern translations remove the terms “Hephzi-bah” and “Beulah”, the old King James version kept the Hebrew as a means of heightening our base connection to the feel of the text. In the great classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan equates Beulah land with the very outskirts of the Celestial City - the place every true pilgrim strives to reach.
For those of us who knew Mary Lou well, she was an incredible woman. A generous person who gave a smile willingly and often - A person who inspired many of her students to greatness - A person who loved her family - A person who wanted others to connect with the joy that filled her heart.
In our selected text, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah boldly declared a messianic vision of hope. A hope that would come through the promised one: Jesus. “For the sake of the people I love, I cannot be silent,” God says. “Instead, I am going to make my love so clear that no one can avoid it. It’s going to be blindingly bright and inescapable.”
In her early days working with Campus Crusade, Mary Lou spoke of this this love with others daily. She did the same with you and me and did so often. She had seen the light found in the person of Jesus Christ and sought to share the hope of that Messiah with others.
Lest we make a mistake here, Mary Lou wasn’t perfect. She was an incredible person, but a person nonetheless. What we all saw in that amazing smile, in those sparkling eyes - What we heard through her encouraging words, through the song that was always on her lips - What we encountered through her life was the reality of the light of her Savior Jesus Christ shining through her. That’s ultimately what touched our lives in such a precious way.
I remember seeing it when she sang praise to her creator in the choir. Angie stated it must have been Sunday morning choir practice she was headed for just a few days ago. You couldn’t miss it. She loved the Lord and it radiated from her.
This hope. This inescapable hope. Hope in her Savior. Hope in a secure future in His presence. Hope beyond measure that met its fullness on Sunday as her hope was realized.
As our text continues, Isaiah records an amazing concept. Not only will God bring salvation through the Messiah, Jesus, but He also will enter into an intimate relationship with as and will change our names. In this most essential of Ancient Near Eastern concepts, the name given to you by others captured the essence of who you were.
In the case of the People of Israel, as they walked in rebellion against God, they lost their way. The were called “desolate ones” in the prior chapter. They were the ones with no place to call their own. No home in which to hang their hats.
It was a desperate situation. Hopeless. Or so it seemed. But through the power of the Good News of Messiah, Jesus, not only would they experience and see Salvation, but they would experience a name change. No longer “desolate”, they would be referred to as Hephzi-bah! This name mattered! It carried with it, according to verse 3, the weight of the very crown of the King of Life! There would be no mistaking to whom you belonged. God’s people would be the opposite of “Forsaken ones.” They would be his Hephzi-bah, or, “My delight is in you.”
Don’t we know that this is how God felt about His daughter and our wife, mother, sister, Aunt and friend Mary Lou? “My delight is in Mary Lou”! As she entered her eternal home, that she would have heard, “Well done Good and Faithful Servant!”
Can this be said of you? Our promise in Scripture is that for all who trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, we experience His peace that passes all understanding. We have a destiny change and we are promised eternity in the presence of Jesus. Our identity even changes. We are children of the King! Even today, if you have trusted him, you are His child! We serve and wait for him to call us home, but we are HIS children! Too many of us forget this! We are trapped in our mistakes and trapped in our misguided belief that God could never love us. Friends, He delights in you! You are His child! You, Christian, are Hephzi-bah!
Ultimately, this intimacy with God is demonstrated even further by use of the term “Beulah.” Yes, we return to this odd word from our Gospel song earlier. It’s meaning is rather simple: “married”. If the language of Hephzi-bah threw you, perhaps you can connect here to the idea of marriage. As the people of God, we are called the “bride of Christ” - Our “Beulah” status is all because of the work of Christ.
Remember, this is based not on our abilities, not on our work, not on what we accomplish or how ashamed we are of our failures. This hope - This Beulah hope - is found but simply through Jesus.
We saw this poignantly demonstrated through Curt’s love for Mary Lou until the end. He daily attended to her needs. He cared for her every step of the way. In fact, despite the difficulty Mary Lou experienced in her final years, Curt’s love ran even deeper than it ever had before. It was a love for the ages!
Yet the love story that God writes on our heart is even greater! When he calls you his own and when he intercepts your story and begins to write His story through you, we see the love of God over and over and over again. It’s real. It never fades. His love through Jesus endures forever.
Thus, as we gather today to remember, we gather today to rejoice. We rejoice in full because we know that Mary Lou is in the presence of her Savior. We rejoice because the grips of a horrible human disease no longer effects her in any way. We rejoice because the very thing that she saw in part was finally made whole when she saw her Savior face to face. Joy reached its final destination - eternity in the presence of God.
Augustine of Hippo in his book, Confessions, wrote the immortal words, "our heart does not rest until it rests in God." His vision of heaven painted eternity as one long embrace - First and foremost, the embrace of God, and then an embrace of other people who love Christ.
Today, that would be Mary Lou’s encouragement to you. She would smile and express to you the love that is found in Jesus Christ. The hope that is found in the cross. The eternal love that can be experienced when you turn and surrender at the foot of the cross. Would you trust him with your heart and life right now?
We will listen now to one of Mary Lou’s favorite hymns “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.” Friends, as you listen to the words of this song, could this be the invitation you need to hear as God calls you to himself and you experience the truth of an intimate relationship with God? Could today be the day you experience your Beulah-hope the same way Mary Lou found hers?
I visit Gate 40 almost every week.
At Gate 40, around 130 people board a flight from Kansas City to St. Louis. Each person aboard carries a different story. Family. Business. Fun. Home. Some stick around, many simply bounce to another city.
I fly through Gate 40 every week to teach. This fall, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary launched a new extension in St. Louis to help train pastors, church planters and lay people.
Why do we do this?
We believe in incarnational teaching. While our internet education team is the best in the business and provides unique incarnational frameworks, there still is a place for a teacher working together with a classroom of students. Just visit any of our classrooms in KC or St. Louis. We wrestle with texts, consider arguments and build foundations for the future. We challenge assumptions, destroy poor logic and ground students in the Word of God. In the give-and-take of class we are sharpened by one another. There is something about presence.
It’s all part of being “For the Church.” It’s more than a slogan. We really do love the local church. Part of the dynamism of an extension is that students get some of the best faculty on their home turf. We get to serve in the context of the student’s ministry field. It helps shape our conversations in the classroom. It continues to press into our academic model the primacy of location found in the local church.
In addition, our extension centers allow us to touch base with local churches. This fall, as I travel back and forth each week, I have the unique opportunity to meet with pastors and minister with congregations in the St. Louis area on Sunday afternoons or evenings. I cherish opportunities to serve local pastors before I head to teach in the classroom on Monday morning at our extension location. There is nothing more incredible than hearing the stories of real life-change coming from churches in St. Louis!
An extension campus builds upon that very story–life change in the local church because of the Gospel. The Gospel changes lives. We are privileged to train leaders and pastors, but it’s the fruit of ministry in the local church that makes a journey worthwhile each week.
Gate 40, becomes a portal to what God is doing in the local churches. I leave behind my wife, 4 kids, and a ministry of location in KC. But the joy I find with each trip to St. Louis is wrapped in their stories–the very stories I will hear from students and those I serve over the semester. The sacrifice is hard, but God continues to show himself strong.
The news yesterday out of Seattle broke my heart. A leading congregation with 13 campuses announced that in only two months, their entire structure would cease to exist in its current form. As questions swirled around the lead pastor, giving dropped precipitously over the summer leading to the closing of three campuses and with the formal resignation of the lead pastor two weeks ago, the structure collapsed completely.
A few years ago, Dr. Thomas White and I authored a book entitled, Franchising McChurch. Our thesis -- the gathering of the body of Christ matters too much to be taken lightly. We were concerned about rapid expansion of ecclesial structures with little thought as to the long-term ramifications of how a church operates. There had to be more than the reigning “it just works” methodology – especially if the congregation wanted to multi-campus.
Our caution was simple: If a church decides to pursue a multi-campus structure, a congregation must place guardrails on the structure to keep it from being centered on one person. In the case of many first-wave multi-sites, the rapid expansion traded on the high-level capacities of the senior pastor. His vision, leadership and preaching defined the brand of the congregation thereby hamstringing the church when he leaves. And this doesn’t apply only to multi-site congregations. Many churches of all sizes struggle with the same issue. Pastors who build a strong vision tied only to themselves leave congregations with significant challenges when the eventual change of leadership occurs.
So what’s to be done?
Before we start, it’s helpful to note that the problem is not multi-site churches. The heart of the issue is found in congregations of 80 people as well as those with attendance in excess of 8,000. Below, I have given 6 ways multi-campus churches can ensure greater health ensuring continuity towards the next generation.
1.) Re-define success. As Evangelicals, we should admit that we like to win. We enjoy success that is framed and measured in ways the world even understands. Bigger budgets and buildings, increased influence and stronger platforms become the fodder for type-A pastors to focus upon. Pastoral and ministerial success is not found in numerical expansion, but in growth of the body of Christ through evangelism and the preaching of the Word. Numbers may (and often do) accompany such growth, but the ultimate standard for pastors and churches is whether or not we preach Christ.
2.) Plant churches. It sounds counter-intuitive. Send out people and resources to start a congregation instead of expanding our own brand? You bet. In an interview I had with Gene Getz sometime back, he talked about the intentionality Fellowship Bible had in the 1980s and 1990s to plant churches. When Getz reflected on how many people met weekly in a church connected back to Fellowship Bible, he remarked that the number would exceed 70,000 people – way more than the largest church in the US. But each of those churches were autonomous and Getz had zero control. I would challenge every church that decides to multi-campus to plant as many or more congregations than it keeps as part of its structure.
3.) Build an internal multi-campus structure that gives each campus the right to become self-sustaining. Make sure each campus has its own elders, pastors and identity. The campus pastors should be on the regular teaching rotation that increases every year until the main campus pastor is seen less frequently.
4.) Rotate the teaching ministry. If only one man preaches every week, that congregation is built upon that person and that person's brand. This is the joy of a strong, multi-elder structure where the entire church is encouraged in the Word of God by multiple men and our focus is on the church’s one foundation – Jesus.
5.) Ensure your elders and pastoral accountability come from inside the congregation. One of the oddest things in this particular case was the move to a board of “Advisors and Accountability” that were not members nor in that region – they were persons external to the congregation. While we all need accountability, moving to an external board for the governance of a congregation invites more “top-down” leadership and less biblical accountability from internal participants.
6.) Create a contingency plan today. What will the church do if the lead pastor is found in sexual immorality or needs to step down or suddenly passes away? The solution may be easier for a single-site structure, but for a multi-campus congregation, a contingency plan is essential for survival should something drastic occur.
As we seek to be Christ-honoring congregations, let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in Seattle so that out of this tragedy comes healing and Gospel advance in their city and beyond.
It's time to get those college applications rolling out the door!
I remember looking at all the view-books, weighing advantages between one school and the other. As soon as I finished my Sophomore year, I sent off for every piece of information I could from schools I thought I wanted to attend.
The schools obliged. I received mountains of letters, print material (this was prior to a digital world – I know I am old), and invitations to visit the campus. All of the appeals were targeted toward what I would experience as a student. They tried to quantify an intangible “feeling” that most of my peers had about attending school.
Here’s where I was different.
I knew what degree I wanted and I didn’t want to go into debt for an undergrad degree. Period.
Oh, and I would be footing the bill myself.
Yes, the images of sporting events, parties and pretty girls were nice. Yes, the newly renovated dorms were spectacular. Unless you had significant funding in scholarships, work-study or other cost-saving features, I was out. No matter the quality of the school, I knew the end result of my degree built more upon my own efforts and what I did with that degree rather than the location.
Christopher Ingram over at the Washington Post made this very claim in a great article every college bound student or parent of a High School student should read. Here’s the money quote (pun intended)
[W]e need to stop thinking about choosing a college as if it were the same thing as choosing a romantic partner. There's currently too much emphasis on "finding the right match," based on squishy and largely intangible qualities like "personal values," "learning style," "campus ambience." A college education is a purchase, and a big one at that. Yet a survey by Discover Student Loans finds that nearly half of parents say they don't even consider cost when choosing a school with their children. If prospective buyers said the same things about cars or houses, we'd think they were insane.
Parents and Students need to look at the bottom line. It does matter!
While the first delimiter should always be the desired degree (engineering, business, ministry, etc.), never forget the cost of the education itself as it relates to your budget and your family’s budget. You may have an emotional attraction to a particular school but be careful about letting that be what drives the conversation. This is one of the most significant purchases you make in your life. This fall, as final decisions and preparations for college are being made, make sure you’ve looked beyond the feeling and found the right institutional and financial fit.
As the Dean of Midwestern Baptist College, we strive to provide affordability without sacrificing rigorous training. This is a hard battle but one we are committed to engaging. I am proud that we are the most affordable, accredited private school in the State of Missouri and in the top-ten of all accredited schools in the state relating to affordability. We remain singularly focused on training men and women to make an impact globally for the cause of Christ. We have one of the finest faculty who invest personally in students to accomplish that singular goal.
That, my friends, is more than an intangible feeling. That is a solid foundation for the future.
Maybe you should surf over to mbts.edu/apply and get your application in for the fall semester! We would love to equip you for making a difference for the future!
A version of this article appeared in June, 2014.
John Mark Yeats