Category Archives: Ministers

Cameron Shaffer: Bethany Christian Services policy change a compromise with sin

 

Cameron Shaffer

In the 1980s, the EPC endorsed and commended Bethany Christian Services (BCS), a Christian adoption and child services organization, to our congregations as a valuable resource for assisting orphaned children. We did this in the shadow of abortion: if we were to condemn abortion as evil and murder, then we needed to be able to step up and help children who were not wanted. Of course, that is not the only reason to support adoption—caring for orphans and other vulnerable children is what true Christianity looks like. But in the face of abortion, the value of adoption is made clear. Life is better than death; healing is better than harm.

In 2019, the EPC began reevaluating our endorsement of BCS when they changed their policy in Michigan (where they are headquartered) to allow gay couples to adopt. The decision followed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that jeopardized BCS’ contract with the state’s Department of Human Services. At the time, BCS maintained the national policy that marriage is between one man and woman. Outside of Michigan, BCS would not place children for adoption with gay couples. Fast-forward to March 2021, when BCS announced that they would be changing their national policy and begin placing children with same-sex couples.

As a result of these decisions, the EPC’s Theology Committee will bring a recommendation to the 41st General Assembly in June to rescind the denomination’s endorsement of BCS.

Any honest observer would interpret the approval of that recommendation as the EPC believing it is better for a child to be stuck in the foster system than adopted by a gay couple, or that we think being aborted is better than living in a home parented by two dads.

Why would the EPC dissolve this long-standing relationship? Why not place children with gay couples? Why refuse to support adoption agencies that do so?

The answer is how the Bible defines the terms being used. Specific to the EPC’s endorsement of BCS: what is family, who decides, and into what are children being adopted?

When BCS changed their national policy, they also dropped from their position statement that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman. If their previous affirmation—and the historic position of Orthodox Christianity—is correct, then a gay couple is not married, no matter what the law recognizes. We may refer to them as married for the sake of social convention, but conformity to the biblical nature of marriage is necessary for it to be marriage. No matter how loving, caring, and committed a gay couple is, they are not married in any biblical, and therefore real, sense of the word.

Our culture has redefined human identity and institutions in terms of its own preferences and sense of fulfillment. Yet biblical truth declares that families require parents. Husbands and wives are to be the father and mother of their family. Families are fathers and mothers together with their children. Multigenerational families are just that: multiple generations of children with their fathers and mothers.

Of course, some families are broken in different ways: divorce, death, adultery, abuse. Sin of all kinds distorts the blessing of God’s design for marriage and family. In all these cases, children are the victims of sinful disfigurements of God’s design for marriage and family. An internet search on the effects of single parent households on children reveals study after study that reinforce biblical truth: Children need both fathers and mothers.

Adoption is intended to be a means by which parentless, family-less children are joined to a family that can be the father and mother that their biological parents cannot. Adoption is to be a balm of healing to the injuries of sin. Children need parents, and parents are fathers and mothers. Other caregivers can be good and helpful, but the foster system with its inherent lack of stability also lacks the permanent family unit.

Do children need families? Yes. Do children need fathers and mothers? Yes. However, children adopted by a gay couple are not being protected from sinful distortions of marriage and family. Rather, they are placed into a sinful facsimile of them.

The EPC withdrawing its endorsement from BCS is the Church signaling that it cannot condone an agency willing to place children in couples that are not families.

Undoubtedly, many same-sex couples are more caring than some fathers and mothers. Many children adopted by gay couples have better lives with them than they would in the foster system. But those observations mask adoption’s design. Adoption is not for getting kids out of the foster system, or for finding the kindest caretakers. Its purpose is to join children to families.

The church should care for the physical and mental wellbeing of children. But its primary calling is to care for their spiritual wellbeing. The spiritual nurture of children includes raising them to love and obey God as He is revealed in Scripture. A same-sex couple in an inherently sinful, distorted relationship is intrinsically unable to do so.

Is withdrawing endorsement from BCS the Church abandoning children? No. Numerous   Christian adoption agencies still hold to God’s design in where they place children. In 2019, BCS changed their policy in Michigan following court battles, but a federal judge there later sided with Catholic groups that refused to accede to Michigan’s demands. The truth is that BCS abandoned their fellow Christian adoption agencies when they abandoned the Scriptural definition of family.

Individual Christian families are still able to adopt through BCS—which is a good thing. But a family adopting a child is different from a Church endorsing an agency whose desperation to avoid legal consequences leads to a compromise with sin.

God’s design for children is for them to be raised in a family. By the biblical definition of “family,” same-sex couples are not it. That standard should be what the EPC and Christian adoption agencies follow in caring for orphans.

Cameron Shaffer is a member of the EPC’s permanent Theology Committee. He serves as Pastor of Langhorne Presbyterian Church in Langhorne, Pa., in the Presbytery of the East.

Session 6 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of the sixth monthly session of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. “The Revitalization of the Congregation, Part 2: Revitalization Through Worship” was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcast versions of each session of the workshop are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

A South Memphis matriarch’s home burned down. Her community—including the EPC’s Downtown Church—rebuilt it

 

Betty Isom’s Memphis, Tenn., home was severely damaged in a 2018 fire. With help from neighbors and church family at Downtown Church, her home was rebuilt. Photo credits: WMC5 Action News (left); Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal (right).

Betty Isom was fast asleep when the fire started.

Her grandson woke her up in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2018, alerting her to the blaze, later determined to be an electrical fire. Isom and her family were not able to douse the fire themselves; the pipes in her home had frozen. It had barely gotten to 25 degrees on New Year’s Eve in Memphis, according to weather records.

The moments after Isom and her family left the house were chaotic. Isom, who hadn’t even had time to grab shoes on her way out, tried to run back inside to get her car keys so the family could sit in the car to escape the cold. She eventually went to her neighbor’s home, but her family feared she had gone back into the house and told firefighters she might be inside.

None of the 10 people who were inside when the fire broke out were injured, but the fire made the home on Tate Street uninhabitable. The Memphis Fire Department said at the time there was at least $10,000 worth of damage to the home and $5,000 worth of damage to the contents, according to reports from WMC Action News 5 and WREG-TV.

Betty Isom sits in the new ministry room that was added when her fire-damaged home was rebuilt. Photo credit: Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal.

Isom said she had no idea what to do—almost everything in the home was destroyed. They went first to Isom’s daughter’s home, then to an apartment on Tate Street. Her pastor and his wife helped them to get some necessary items, and Isom, in an interview this week, thanked God for the help she received from family and friends.

Now, three years later, Isom’s home has been rebuilt by friends and her spiritual family at Downtown Church.

“My children, they were really upset because we lost everything. I said, ‘Don’t be upset, because one thing about it, we didn’t lose a life. Because you can’t get a life back. Material things you can always get that back,’” she said. “The Lord blessed us…whatever I lost, I regained more than I had.”

Money was donated by members of the church and a member who works in construction was able to call in favors to get the project over the finish line, Pastor Richard Rieves said.

For him and the rest of the congregation, it wasn’t even a question if a new home would be constructed for Isom.

“Because of Betty’s ministry here in the neighborhood, because of what she means to South Memphis, especially Tate Street and just this part of South Memphis, we knew that we needed to get this house rebuilt,” he said.

A matriarch of South Memphis

Isom, 68, was born in Ruleville, Miss., but moved with her family to Memphis when she was a kid. The family settled in LeMoyne Gardens, and she has lived in South Memphis ever since. In 1998, she became the first homeowner in her family when she bought a house on Tate with the assistance of a program administered by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.

“Betty’s home became known as a haven for people in the community who were homeless, hungry, and hopeless or those who were transitioning and needed an overnight stay and a hot meal,” a church member wrote in a letter honoring Isom at the dedication of her new home.

Described as a matriarch both of her church and her neighborhood, Isom has spent her entire adult life working and volunteering for religious and social services organizations, including Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association and Emmanuel Center.

She’s hosted an anti-violence block party each year in June—except 2020, due to the pandemic— or more than 20 years. The event draws hundreds from across South Memphis; Rieves helped cook 50 pounds of catfish for the party a few years ago.

By 2016, Betty Isom had hosted the annual Tate Street anti-violence block party in South Memphis for 18 years. The community event brings hundreds of local residents and police officers together. “The mayor said to keep going and I told him I wasn’t going to ever stop,” Isom said. Photo credit: Brad Vest, The Commercial Appeal.

Isom is something of a celebrity in her neighborhood. People call out to her when she walks down the street. Many refer to her simply as “momma.” When her new home was dedicated, people from the neighborhood brought over food to help her celebrate. Naturally, she invited everyone from the neighborhood over to share.

She’s fed and housed so many people she’s lost track. People text Isom and stop by her home constantly to reminisce and thank her for what she has done for them and their families.

For her, helping others has been a source of blessings. Everyone needs help at some point, Isom said. And every situation, including the pandemic, is an opportunity to help people, to bring people together.

‘Betty just exudes love’

Isom has moved into the new, one-story house on Tate Street where she lives with extended family. The house was constructed to include a ministry room, with a separate entrance, where she’ll host her Wednesday Bible study and other gatherings.

She said she’s also concerned by an uptick of violence she’s seen in her neighborhood in recent years and hopes she can use the space to host peaceful community gatherings.

Isom credits the congregation at Downtown Church with helping her get through the past three years. Church members helped support her and her family physically and financially. She greets them every Sunday with, “Good morning, Downtown family.”

“I love Downtown Church because we’re all different. And when you go there, everyone just loves on you. It’s amazing,” she said.

Richard Rieves, (in blue vest) leads a prayer before the start of Downtown Church’s worship service at the historic Clayborn Temple. The building was home to Second Presbyterian Church from 1893 to 1949. It was sold to the A.M.E. Church and was the staging ground for the Civil Rights movement in Memphis in the 1960s, including the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. Photo credit: Jim Weber, The Commercial Appeal.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “1:00 a.m. Sunday is our most segregated hour,” referring to the lack of diversity within churches. Rieves, a native Memphian, said he founded the church after returning from Colorado with the aim of changing that, bringing together people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

He said Isom represents that spirit. She welcomes everybody into her home and the church. She cares for anyone who needs her help. Rieves said Isom constantly put herself last. She used to sleep in a chair so others would have a bed.

In creating a new home for her, the Downtown Church family was able to serve Isom the way she had served so many others.

“Betty just exudes love. Her ministry, which is really just her life, she just pours out to people in this community and she welcomes everybody. She’s the epitome of what I think Jesus calls us to be and do,” Rieves said.

by Corinne S Kennedy
This story first appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on April 21, 2021.
Reprinted by permission.

Revitalization through worship the topic of April 28 Church Revitalization Workshop

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, April 28, with a discussion of how to utilize worship as an engine for church revitalization. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session, the revitalization of the pastor, and ways to revitalize the congregation through evangelism.

Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

2021 Leadership Institute features Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, Rufus Smith, practical training workshops

 

Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, and Rufus Smith are the keynote speakers for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s sixth annual Leadership Institute. The Institute is a strategic component of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly, to be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of the plenary speakers will address a topic related to this year’s General Assembly theme, “God Will Restore.” The theme is based on God’s promise in Joel 2:25 that He “will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten … You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you … ”

Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., will address “Combating Biblical Anemia: Scripture, Discipleship, Worship, and Preaching” on Tuesday, June 22. His presentation will be available via live stream on the EPC website.

On Wednesday morning, June 23, Robertson will discuss “Soul Care for Pastors.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, host church for the Assembly.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith will speak about “Kindness that Leads to Reconciliation.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis. Both Wednesday sessions will be available via live stream and include time for Q-and-A.

Four ministry-specific leadership development gatherings will be available for in-person Assembly attendees.

  • Chaplains Workshop, featuring Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, and Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser. Berry will lead sessions on “Why Religious Freedom Matters and What Our Nation’s Founders Intended” and “Threats to Religious Freedom and What We Can Do to Protect It.”
  • Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, led by Tom Ricks, Lead Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and Chairman of the EPC Church Planting Team.
  • Transitional Pastor Training, led by Bob Stauffer, Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
  • The Israel of God, a discussion of the identity of Israel in the biblical narrative—apart from contemporary political considerations—in which God’s purposes for His covenant people as revealed in Scripture will be examined, as well as thoughts on how Christ’s church should respond with compassion and justice to both Israelis and Arabs. The seminar will be led by Mike Kuhn, Missional Theology Specialist for EPC World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network.

Each of these workshops is open to anyone attending the 41st General Assembly in person.

See www.epc.org/ga2021leadershipinstitute for more information on the Leadership Institute, including full seminar descriptions, times, and speaker bios.

See www.epc.org/ga2021 for more information about the 41st General Assembly, including a full schedule, links to online registration, and more.

#epc2021ga

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk models Revelation 7:9 with local outreach efforts

 

A beacon of hope and light sits on the top of a hill in Nassau, Bahamas. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk is a church with a rich history and tradition. It was established in 1810 to bring the rites and traditions of the Church of Scotland to Scottish immigrants—some of whom were “loyalists” banished to the Bahamas following the American Revolution nearly 30 years earlier. But the picturesque, inviting structure houses a congregation that looks very different today than it once did.

“When I arrived at the church in 2010,” said Pastor Bryn MacPhail, “There were about 40 persons attending worship and only two or three children.” He added that the congregation was predominantly white in a country where 90 percent of the population is Black.

“I really believed our church should reflect the diversity of the community around us,” he noted. “I found an orphanage nearby called Ranfurly Home for Children and started volunteering there once a week so I could build a relationship with them.”

Bryn MacPhail

MacPhail also discovered that the church bordered the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhood in the city, known as Bain and Grant’s Town. He began volunteering in a local community center, the Urban Renewal Center, and soon was bringing others from the church with him to play sports, provide tutoring, and take kids to lunch.

“It took a while for people to warm up to us,” MacPhail recalled. “But we kept going, week after week. That went on for a couple of years. Eventually the director of the center told me that most of these kids did not go to church. She suggested that maybe we could find a way to get them there.”

So St. Andrew’s hired a bus and driver, which cost $60 a week. They began driving around the neighborhoods of the inner city, inviting kids to come to church. In the first year and a half, they averaged two to four kids per week on the bus.

Their persistence paid off—eventually the bus filled up with kids from the city, and a second bus was added to bring youth from the Ranfurly Home. On any given Sunday, as many as 50-60 children and youth came for Sunday worship.

MacPhail soon realized that the influx of young people was more than the church could handle, so he asked a local missionary, Bob Mastin, to become the church’s ministry partner. In addition, a St. Andrew’s deacon who had served as Assistant Commissioner of Police stepped in as the point person to help with logistics and to make local connections.

Luncheons for area residents are just one of many ways St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk blesses its neighbors in Nassau.

Mastin, who serves with Bahamas Youth Network, already had a strong rapport with the youth and ran a parallel ministry in Nassau. He had moved to the island in 2017 after several years of visiting on short-term mission trips. As a coach and teacher, his love for youth and passion for sports were natural connection points for helping him relate to inner-city kids.

“My heart is in working with underprivileged kids,” Mastin said. “When I arrived, I was the only white guy in my neighborhood. One day I was out canvassing the streets when the police pulled me over and asked for my ID. They thought I was lost and warned me that I was in a dangerous area. I told them that this is where God had called me and my wife, and we were here to stay because we wanted to help the community in whatever way we could.”

Mastin agreed to partner with St. Andrews while maintaining his commitment to Bahamas Youth Network—which keeps him busy visiting local high schools, coaching soccer, and teaching family life classes.

“We’re all doing this together, and it really is making a huge difference and having an impact,” Mastin noted. “I recently had lunch with two guys who I have built a relationship with. One of them is schizophrenic and has been in the mental hospital 12 times trying to kick a drug habit. He told me that since I came down and brought the gospel, he has found meaning and purpose for his life. I told him that it’s not me, it’s the Lord. And he said, ‘But you are the vessel God used in my life.’”

The partnership between Mastin and St. Andrew’s is bearing fruit in the form of a Thursday night discipleship group with eight boys between the ages of 12 and 18, which started in January.

“We’re studying a curriculum that invites them to talk about painful moments in their lives,” MacPhail said. “One 14-year-old boy shared about how on his sixth birthday he watched the police come and arrest his Dad and take him away. The stories we hear are horrific.”

St. Andrew’s has a long-standing partnership with McDonald’s to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in several neighborhoods near the church in downtown Nassau. The backpacks were filled with books, pens, pencils, and other supplies. Children who received the backpacks attend the St. Andrew’s Sunday School and Big Harvest Community Sunday School.

Mastin believes that growing up in a tough environment has made them more resilient.

“They really are great kids,” he said. “You can see that they are hungry for something different, and they are growing in their faith and seeking after the Lord.”

A few of the youth have chosen to be baptized, and some of them serve on St. Andrew’s audio/visual team.

“I can’t wait to watch their stories unfold,” MacPhail said. “We told them that we will invest in them every week, and our hope is that they will grow in their faith and become deacons and leaders in the church someday. We even promised them that if any one of them feels called to be a pastor we will help with their education.”

The group already has an inspiring role model who is one of their own—Jude Vilma.

“Jude was born in Nassau and grew up in a Haitian Creole community on the island of Abaco, about 100 miles north of here),” MacPhail said. “Through a variety of influences he graduated from high school, received a scholarship to work with Bahamas Youth Network, and started attending college.”

It was around that time that Vilma—who currently is studying at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando—met MacPhail and got connected with St. Andrew’s.

“God called me to full-time ministry, and I served as a Youth Coordinator with the Bahamas Youth Network and also a pastoral intern with St. Andrew’s Kirk,” Vilma noted. “This partnership enabled me to serve in the church and work with this community organization that is big on discipleship. I was also eager to take theology classes online because of my love for God’s Word and for learning.”

Jude Vilma

MacPhail said his dream is that Vilma will one day return to the Bahamas and become the Senior Pastor at St. Andrew’s.

“God’s been gracious to me and has blessed this ministry, but a white foreigner can only do so much,” said MacPhail, who hails from Canada. “Most of our inner-city kids are from a Haitian background, and many of the adults do not even speak English. I believe the church would absolutely explode in size if Jude took over. He can speak to them in a way that I can’t.”

Vilma said that he plans to return to the Bahamas once he has completed his education and as the Lord leads.

“My hope for the church in the Bahamas,” he said, “is that there would be more pastors and leaders who proclaim sound doctrine, that there would be unity among believers, and that Christianity would be seen as a lifestyle—not just a religion or something you do on a Sunday.”

Until Vilma’s hope is realized, MacPhail said St. Andrew’s will continue to faithfully serve their neighbors in Bain and Grant’s Town, even though the pandemic has not made it easy. He said they have been unable to visit the orphanage in 13 months, and they started operating a food pantry out of MacPhail’s office just to try and meet all the needs. He reported that in the past year alone they distributed more than $50,000 worth of food.

“People occasionally ask me what the secret is, and how we have been able to succeed in the face of adversity,” MacPhail said. “I tell them one thing: Just keep showing up.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

A good lament: remembering Pastor Tim Russell

 

by George Robertson, Senior Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church (Memphis, Tenn.)

March 30, 2021, marks the one-year anniversary of Tim Russell’s hospitalization and death from COVID-19. I’ve been asked to convey some pastoral thoughts, which typically means, “Say something comforting.” While I always desire your comfort, I think it would be best to share honestly how the Lord has had to comfort me with the same gospel I offer you.

After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis published a journal of his mourning called A Grief Observed. It’s poignant, honest, raw, and very helpful. Similarly, by opening their grief to us, the psalmists teach us how to lament. They teach us that experiencing the Father’s comfort requires climbing into his arms through lament. While leading worship, Tim often urged us to “make a good confession.” I want to urge us to make a good lament.

In the Psalms, we observe a good lament begins by recounting our painful story to the Lord. Of course He knows it already, but healing requires that we voluntarily expose our wounds to the Father of mercies. My lament begins something like this, “O Lord, those were nine Calvary-like dark days!

Tim and Kathe had just returned from New York to celebrate the birthday of a very old friend. New Yorkers were beginning to contract the mysterious virus, but it still seemed a remote issue to us. Tim returned with what seemed like a bad chest cold, so he jumped right back into his ministry here, including joining a large group of us planning for Holy Week services.

Within a few days he couldn’t walk. Within a few more days he was battling the neurological and respiratory effects of COVID. And within a few more days he was in the arms of your Jesus he knew so well. Why, Lord! Why did he have to contract it? Why did he have to be among the first to die in Memphis?

Lewis said, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” Tim’s death has been excruciatingly painful for Jackie and me, as it has been for many of you. And even those descriptive words can’t capture what it is like for Kathe. Many a night, we have cried ourselves to sleep. Certain places can still trigger amputation-like pain. For weeks I couldn’t go back into the conference room where I last saw him. And I’ve yet to go into his office, neither the old or newer one. Neither am I ready to eat at Cozy Corner.

Even patriarchs, prophets, and our Lord let out “great and grievous lamentation” (Genesis 50:10), “cried with a loud voice” (2 Samuel 19:4), and were “deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled (John 11:33). Paul did not prohibit grieving, he just told us not to “mourn as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Recalling and rawly expressing grief to the Lord is not unbelief; it is the first step of hope.

As only a sovereignly gracious Father could do, the God of all comfort ironically uses the spiritual discipline of lament to deepen our faith in the hope of the gospel. Lewis said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

The painful recollection of Tim’s final days forces us to recall the miraculous preservation of his faith. Though like Jonah he literally felt like he was drowning, he confessed, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Like Job, he trusted the Lord who it seemed was “slaying” him (Job 13:15). Counterintuitively to his physical and mental experience, he was able to exclaim with the psalmist, “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). “Through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4), assuring us the gospel is a foundation to life deeper than experience and as long lasting as eternity.

The way Tim died is not an example for us to follow as much as it is a testimony to the supernatural keeping power of Jesus’ love. That shield of faith by which God preserved Tim from apostasy forces us to look back to the many things we heard him say and do as God was preparing him for that last battle. His commitment to morning and evening worship, his love for “joining Jesus already at prayer,” his making a “good confession of his sin,” his singing hymns from memory, and his boldness in alerting us to the gracious character of Christ by shouting, “That’s the Jesus I know!” were not pietistic displays, but evidences of God’s making him fit through the means of grace to finish well.

This past Sunday, just before entering the pulpit, I snugged up the laces on my shoes and chuckled at the sight of my socks. I bought them at a store in London Tim liked. Whenever I wore them, Tim said, “Nice stockings, Pastor!” He said many funny things. Recall those, too, and laugh with one who “laughed at the future” (Proverbs 31:25). You’re not dishonoring Tim, because he is more joyful than ever! Tim was in our home many times, mostly by his own invitation as my family’s CC pastor. He would call and ask “when” (not “if”) would be the most “opportune” (not “convenient”) time to come by and pray a blessing over every member of the family, “especially the children.”

May you hear from Tim’s life what we last heard from his lips, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” While Tim was alive, the Russells had one name: “Tim and Kathe.” Mercifully for us—albeit painful for her—the Lord has left Kathe with us, so she will have the last word of this article. When Tim passed away, Kathe posted, “Tim has seen the face of God. Be at peace, my love.”

 

George Robertson serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. Prior to his death from COVID-19 complications, Tim Russell served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults. This article first appeared in the weekly email newsletter of Second Presbyterian Church, “The Messenger” on March 24, 2021. Republished by permission.

Session 5 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Congregation, Part 1” of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. The workshop is being held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021.

The presentation was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registration for future installments of the workshop is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcast versions of each session of the workshop are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

March 24 Church Revitalization Workshop addresses congregational vitality

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, March 24, with a discussion of how to develop and maintain the vitality of the congregation. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session and the revitalization of the pastor.

Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

Session 4 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Session, Part 2” of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. The workshop is being held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021.

The presentation was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The video recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registration for future installments of the workshop is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcasts of each workshop session are available on the EPC podcast channel and iTunes.

Leadership development the topic of February 24 installment of Church Revitalization Workshop

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, February 24, with a discussion of how to develop a leadership pipeline for the church officer nomination and training process.

Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

‘Pastor separation syndrome’ looms as pandemic fatigue digs in

 

The absence of a personal touch in ministry amid COVID-19 lockdowns, limited seating, and separation from parishioners is leading some pastors to experience what has been dubbed “pastor separation syndrome.” In addition to physical separation from their congregations, the phrase reflects the exhaustion many pastors are feeling from a dramatically increased phone and Zoom-based ministry, such as conducting virtual-only worship and Bible studies.

EPC Stated Clerk-elect Dean Weaver, who for 15 years was Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, said the past year “was in many ways my most challenging year of ministry as a pastor. In 35 years of pastoral ministry, I have never experienced anything like it.”

“Many EPC pastors I’ve connected with admitted that they are exhausted, and they see no end in sight,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Many have also expressed a sense of uncertainty about the future that’s unsettling. Some are wondering about their call to ministry in general, or to the specific church they currently serve. I’ve lost count of how many told me that they are a ‘people person’ and miss being face-to-face with people.”

Wade Brown echoes Jeremiah’s experience. Brown serves as the Regional Executive Director for PastorServe’s Rocky Mountain Team. PastorServe is a partner ministry of the EPC and specializes in coaching and crisis support for pastors. He said that many of the pastors with whom his team has counseled over the past year have lamented the lack of in-person ministry during the pandemic.

Wade Brown

“We’ve been around over 20 years, and like the insurance commercial says, ‘we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two,’” he said. “Pastor separation syndrome is one of the things we’ve observed pastors struggling with during this pandemic.”

‘Virtual fatigue’

Brown said stories “tend to come in sound bites” during coaching and care conversations with pastors.

“Pastors have said things like, ‘I miss being with my people in person,’ ‘Zooming with someone is better than a phone call, but it’s not as meaningful as being with someone in person,’ ‘I long to look people in the eyes again and pray for them in light of their pain and difficulties,’ and ‘Preaching to a camera is not the same as preaching to people in person, where I was able to pause and lean into the pastoral moments during my sermon and linger a moment or two as I had eye contact with people,’” he noted.

Another EPC ministry partner is Pastor-in-Residence (PIR) Ministries, which specializes in pastoral coaching and ministering to church leaders in transition. Roy Yanke, PIR Executive Director and Transitional Pastor for Grace Chapel EPC in Farmington Hills, Mich., said pastors he has talked to are learning to adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, but long for a return to in-person ministry.

Roy Yanke

“In the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was scrambling to figure out how to endure the lockdowns and get online,” he said. “The stories we heard were mostly frustration and a weariness from having to become not only pastors but tech gurus.”

Yanke added that as the pandemic has continued during a season of political unrest, many pastors have experienced their ministry morphing into that of peacemaker.

“Some are being peacekeepers, and they are finding it very wearying to be that—to just try to keep everybody happy,” Yanke noted. “Because people are not happy, no matter which side you fall on in terms of restrictions and point of view on all of this. It’s a no-win situation.”

Jeremiah added that several pastors he has talked with told him something like, “No matter what I do on any issue I will get vocal opposition in the congregation—and often in my Session.”

Weaver noted that many pastors are simply not used to making so many quick and essential decisions in such a small space of time.

“It seems that no matter how hard we worked at getting the best information—which was constantly changing—and get the most possible input, we found ourselves making decisions that we knew would upset one part of our congregation or another. Or both,” he said.

The struggle is real

Brown said he tells pastors dealing with obstacles in ministering to their congregants during this time that “it’s not their fault. There is no guilt or shame in this.” He recommends focusing on using the tools at hand to make connections.

“We encourage them to continue taking advantage of the pathways that are available to them such as calls, social media, videos, Zoom, etc.,” he said. “Many pastors are optimizing the power of small groups in this season. People are learning to shepherd, encourage, and be there for one another in deep, meaningful ways through small groups. Clearly, this type of ministry brings Ephesians 4:11-13 to life for pastors.”

Yanke said a pastor he is counseling told him that the pandemic has resulted in the normal weight of everyday ministry now being “on steroids.”

“They have their own personal expectations about what their ministry should look like,” Yanke said, “and are trying to make that work in the current situation with the restrictions and the current limitations they are facing. And that, coupled with having to deal with the expectations of people, is making their ministry more challenging.”

He added that in many cases, the expectation of personal visitation in homes has changed dramatically during the pandemic—with some parishioners still having that expectation.

“It’s like during COVID a pastor getting grief about why they weren’t personally visiting people in their homes,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation. They want to do that. They want to continue to have that influence in the lives of their people. But it isn’t just a matter of them analyzing their own level of risk, but understanding if they do that, they could be putting other people at risk. So you’ve just got to weigh that. It’s a real challenge for them.”

Take time to recharge

Brown suggests that pastors facing varying degrees of loneliness and frustration after months of pandemic-induced physical separation from their congregations take time to pay attention to the health of their own souls—which oftentimes is neglected even in normal circumstances.

“Crisis has a way of exposing things in us: fractures in our relationships, our marriages, the state of our spiritual health,” Brown said. “Crisis exposes our heart-idols of power, approval, security, and comfort.”

He added that in “countless conversations” over the past year, pastors are “more than willing” to address that topic.

“We believe God is using this season of the pandemic to get our attention and bring us to a place of greater desperation for His intervention. If pastors will pay attention and seek to steward this season of spiritual formation well, we believe they’ll be in a better place to serve their people because they’ll be healthier as Christ-followers, leaders, and shepherds when the pandemic-induced physical separation is over,” Brown noted. “Having said all this, I’d encourage pastors to initiate. Connect with other pastors. Pray for one another. Encourage one another.”

Yanke emphasized that pastors may find comfort in falling back on some of the “tried and true” methods of ministry that can help alleviate “virtual fatigue” of Zoom meetings and Bible studies, as well as other online-only activities.

“Hands-on, personal, across-the-table kind of connections is woven into what ministry is all about,” he said. He added that “putting pen to paper” by writing a personal note or making a quick phone call can not only be good for a pastor but communicates the pastor made a physical effort to communicate personally with a church member.

“It also can open a door to two-way communication.”

Available resources

PastorServe and PIR Ministries are recommended resources of the EPC Ministerial Vocation Committee.

PastorServe specializes in coaching and crisis support for pastors. For more information, visit www.pastorserve.net or call 877-918-4746.

PIR Ministries specializes in pastors in transition, especially those in forced exits, as well as coaching and placing interims. For more information, visit www.pirministries.org or call 844-585-1234. Numerous free resources are available on their website at www.pirministries.org/resources, including podcasts, video archives, blogs, and helpful articles.

Andrew Brunson to speak at March 5 virtual “Imprisoned for Christ” event

 

On Friday, March 5, EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson will be a featured speaker for the Voice of the Martyr’s “Imprisoned for Christ” virtual event. The free webcast begins at 6:30 p.m. (Central) and is scheduled to conclude at 10:00 p.m. (Central). Also featured will be Petr Jasek and Dan Baumann.

A longtime pastor in Turkey, Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and held imprisoned on terrorism charges until his release in October 2018. He told his story in God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Endurance, published in 2019. Jasek was arrested in Sudan in December 2015 and spent 445 days jailed with ISIS terrorists. He is the author of Imprisoned with ISIS: Faith in the Face of Evil. Baumann was arrested in Iran in 1997, falsely accused of espionage, and detained in a high-security prison for nine weeks. He tells the story in his book, Cell 58.

While all three struggled to find God’s purpose in their suffering, they ultimately recognized His faithfulness and love amid desperate circumstances.

Brunson, Jasek, and Baumann will share their testimonies and participate in a panel discussion moderated by VOM Radio host Todd Nettleton. In addition, Dove Award–winning artist Natalie Grant will provide worship music.

For more information and to register, go to www.persecution.com

Puerto Rico churches gather for virtual prayer summit

 

On January 21, the Sessions of the EPC’s three churches in Puerto Rico gathered virtually for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. Nearly 30 individuals participated in the video conference.

The congregations are Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church) in Bayamón, Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez (Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Mayagüez), and Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica en Añasco (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Añasco). All are members of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The group, which included pastors Juan Rivera (Bayamón), Abraham Montes (Añasco), and Ariel Toro (Mayagüez) convened the prayer time to give thanks for the blessings received during 2020, and pray in the same spirit for the church, its projects, the sick, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Enid Flores, Ruling Elder for Westminster Presbyterian Church and current Moderator of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean also participated.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to pray together, using the best tool that we have in our hands to entrust our life, our projects, and serve the island of Puerto Rico,” Enid said. “To God and God alone be the glory!

________________________

Comenzando el año 2021 las tres iglesias del Presbiterio de la Florida y el Caribe de la EPC ubicadas en Puerto Rico que son la Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (IPW), la Iglesia Presbiteriana en Mayaguez (IPEM) y la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Añasco (IPEA) se unieron, en un solo espíritu, en un tiempo de oración para la gloria de nuestro Señor.

Los tres Consistorios, con sus pastores, Pastor Juan Rivera, Pastor Abraham Montes y Pastor Ariel Toro lideraron el tiempo de oración con el fin de dar gracias por las bendiciones recibidas durante el 2020 y orar juntos en un mismo espíritu, por la iglesia, sus proyectos, los enfermos, Puerto Rico y los Estados Unidos en los momentos que estamos viviendo.  Los acompañó como invitada la Moderadora del Presbiterio de Florida y el Caribe, la Anc. Enid D. Flores.

Damos gracias por la oportunidad de orar juntos, utilizando la mejor herramienta que tenemos en nuestras manos para encomendar nuestra vida, nuestros proyectos, y con ello servirle a la isla. ¡A Dios y solo a Dios sea la gloria!

Session 3 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Session,” session 3 of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop, is now available. The workshop is being held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021.

The presentation was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registrations for future installments is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcasts of each workshop session are available on the EPC podcast channel and iTunes.

Church Revitalization Workshop continues with January 27 session on sessions

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, January 27, with the topic, “Revitalization of the Session.” The discussion will focus on the practical, cultural, and spiritual aspects of shepherding the session of a local church.

Facilitators include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.