Category Archives: People

“In All Things” podcast episode 22 describes EPC Ukraine relief efforts with Bruce Anderson

 

Episode 22 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Bruce Anderson, Founder and Coordinator of the International Theological Education Network (ITEN) of EPC World Outreach. This week, host Dean Weaver and Anderson discuss how relationships built over more than two decades of ministry in Eastern Europe are providing avenues for donations to the EPC’s International Disaster Relief Fund to be put to immediate use helping people suffering in the war in Ukraine.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Colorado family finds hope after suicide through Cherry Hills’ Alpha ministry

 

On the first Saturday evening in September 2019, Will and Maria Bales slipped into the back of the room at an Alpha meeting at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo. They weren’t sure they really wanted to be there.

Tyler Grissom

“I noticed them sitting off by themselves,” said Tyler Grissom, Evangelism Director at Cherry Hills who leads the church’s Alpha Course—interactive discussions that explore the basics of the Christian faith in an open and informal environment. “So I went and sat with them. They slowly began to open up. Then the tears started flowing.”

Grissom learned that the eldest of the Bales’ two sons, Nick, had taken his life almost a year earlier. He was only 17.

Their grief hit close to home for Grissom, who also is the father of two boys and lost his father in a tragic accident a few years before. He went through weeks of counseling afterward to find healing.

“I was able to share my own story with them, which helped,” Grissom said. “It enabled me to connect with them in a way I could not have if I had not experienced loss myself.” Most of all, though, Grissom just listened.

Friendship evangelism

He learned that the Bales—who did not have a church home—came to the Alpha meeting at the invitation of a friend.

“I will never forget that day,” said Ashley Gonzales, who attends Cherry Hills. “There were eight of us who knew Maria from playing tennis together. When we heard about Nick all of a sudden there was this chain of phone calls and we were all there.”

The women, who came from all different backgrounds and had never even had a spiritual conversation, did the one thing they could think of to do in the moment. They joined hands and started to pray.

“After the funeral, we wanted to continue to support Maria so we decided to meet every Friday for prayer at her house,” Gonzales said. “We didn’t even really know what to do, so we’d read a devotion from Jesus Calling, then pray and see where it would lead. Sometimes we ended up having deep conversations about life and faith.”

Nick and Maria Bales. (photo courtesy of the Bales family)

The women started calling themselves “The Prayer Warriors” and soon began to grow closer to God and to each other. Occasionally Will also would come in and listen.

“That’s when I got the idea to invite Will and Maria to Alpha,” Gonzales said. “Pastor Tyler had just announced that Alpha would be starting up again. Another friend in the prayer group had been through Alpha at her church, and we both thought it was worth mentioning to them.”

Gonzales had her doubts that they would say yes. But she knew that Alpha could provide some tools that the Bales needed to work through the grief, so she was willing to take a chance.

“I remember walking in that first night of Alpha, so anxious about whether or not they would show up. I realized this was my one opportunity, so I sent a text to Maria during worship saying, ‘I hope you can come.’”

Maria said their initial experience with the Alpha group was both “a good and bad experience,” but they returned the next week. At that meeting, they asked Grissom if he would speak at the remembrance ceremony for Nick in the Bales’ back yard on Sunday, September 29, which was the anniversary of his death.

A divine appointment

At Alpha two weeks later—on the night before the ceremony—Maria raised her hand during an invitation to say “yes” to Jesus. Her hope and peace were now in Christ, strengthened by learning from a relative that Nick had opened up his heart to Jesus before he died.

“I know that I’m going to see Nick again,” Maria said. “As much as I want to have him here, I am thankful to God for taking care of him. There’s no better place to be than in heaven.”

On the day of the ceremony, Grissom pulled into the neighborhood and saw cars stretched down the block, lining both sides of the street.

“There were a lot of people,” Gonzales said. “Young kids and families all there to support the Bales. I was praying hard for Pastor Tyler. I knew he wanted to acknowledge and celebrate Nick’s life, but also use the opportunity to share the gospel.”

Grissom delivered a powerful message, and when he asked if anyone would like to receive Christ, hands shot up all across the yard.

A few weeks earlier, Maria and some friends were in the mountains west of Denver when they were suddenly surrounded by a swarm of white butterflies. Maria said she knew at the time that it was a sign from Nick, so she ordered 1,000 butterflies in individual boxes for guests to release at the end of the remembrance ceremony. As dozens of people made the decision to begin a new life in Christ, the sky above the Bales’ home filled with butterflies rising toward the heavens.

“I believe God creates miracles every day,” Maria said. “Nick had a mission here—to be a light among all of his friends. Losing him was hard, but he has brought so much hope to other kids. I know that was Nick’s purpose.”

Nick Bales

When he was 9, Nick lost a friend to suicide. Three more friends took their lives later. His own battle with anxiety and depression started in the 6th grade.

When he was a 15-year-old sophomore, he launched an apparel company called Brought to Reality (BTR). He designed the T-shirts and hoodies to send a positive message, and he donated 10 percent of his profits to mental health efforts. He shared the story of his friend’s death on his website, and wrote these words to his peers: “My message is that life is precious, and I want to live every day to the fullest by being present, being myself, and following my dreams.”

But he started to isolate himself again early in his junior year and grew increasingly agitated. He even pushed away his brother, Tyler, which broke Maria’s heart because the two had always been close. One day after a heated argument, she exclaimed, “I don’t know who you are anymore!”

The pain in Nick’s eyes told her he did not either.

“I will never forget that moment,” Maria said. “The look he gave me was one of desperation.”

She threw herself into the fight to pull her son through his illness.

“It’s like a cancer,” she said. “Their brain is lying to them. It’s real, physical, brain pain. I can’t tell you how awful it is to watch your child suffer.”

As Nick started his senior year the next fall, he seemed to have turned the corner. He was doing well academically, playing on the hockey and lacrosse teams, and planning a Spring Break trip with his friends.

Tragedy

But on Friday night, September 28, he went to a football game, then texted his mom to let her know that he would be getting home late. Maria, who normally would have texted back a quick “Thanks for letting me know. I love you!” was particularly tired that night and fell asleep without responding. A friend brought him home a few minutes later.

The next morning the Bales found Nick’s lifeless body.

“Nick was a really good kid,” Maria said. “Mindful and sweet, athletic, energetic, so full of life. He was kind to everyone, and they all loved him. He was as comfortable with adults as he was with his peers and would talk to everyone in the room. He always liked to make sure people were included.”

Grissom emphasized that the Bales’ grief journey did not end at the remembrance ceremony, and more than two years later continue to walk a difficult road. Yet he noted that the tragedy of suicide is not beyond God’s redemptive work.

“What happened at the remembrance ceremony was all about the things that Alpha is built around—prayer and dependency on the Holy Spirit,” Grissom said. “God is unfolding His plan and allowing us to be a part of it. Only He could write a story like this.”

He hopes that Alpha will continue to be a place where families like the Bales can ask honest questions and find hope in Christ.

“Jesus was asked 183 questions in the New Testament,” Grissom said, “And He only answered three directly. Even His way of ministering to people—especially those outside—was to ask questions and let people wrestle with the answer until they came to a place of receiving the truth.”

The Bales family now runs BTR as a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called the Nick Bales BTR Foundation. The Foundation continues to produce “Street Wear for a Cause” and supports teens suffering from mental health issues and aiding in the prevention of teen suicide.

“All the proceeds go to helping pay for therapies for those less fortunate,” Maria said. “We don’t ever want young adults to make a permanent decision because they could not afford therapy.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) is a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons and those around them with support, information, and local resources.

“In All Things” podcast episode 19 welcomes Roy Yanke, Executive Director of PIR Ministries for discussion of pastoral transitions, health, coaching

 

Episode 19 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Roy Yanke, EPC Ruling Elder and Executive Director of PIR Ministries, a commended resource of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee. This week, host Dean Weaver and Yanke discuss how he got involved with PIR, and the services the ministry provides to pastors, Presbyteries, and local churches.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Colonial Presbyterian Church member Sandra Revelle weaves stories of reconciliation and hope

 

Colonial Presbyterian Church (Kansas City) member Sandra Revelle shared the stories behind her tapestry art on the four Sundays in February.

Simple stitches, ragged edges, and contrasting fabrics. Wrapped from start to finish in prayer.

That’s how Sandra Revelle—artist, storyteller, and member of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City—brings the buried narratives of former slaves to life using machine- and hand-sewn panels vividly illustrated with scenes from the past.

“I see my characters as the lesser-known stars in the vast heavens of Black history,” said Revelle, who researches Depression-era archived interviews that Federal Writers’ Project journalists conducted with former slaves and turns them into historical fiction.

Revelle then takes those stories and stitches together fabrics, textures, and patterns to illustrate scenes from the lives of her characters.

Sandra Revelle with her 29″ x 25″ piece, “If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Could Ride.” When a much younger Sandra wished for a change requiring patience and insight she did not yet possess, this quote would roll from her mother’s tongue.

“These were ordinary people, just like you and me—people who endured unimaginable hardships but kept hoping and persevering in spite of the losses,” Revelle reflected. “That’s why it’s so important to tell their stories.”

During February, Revelle shared her art exhibit with Colonial’s two campuses as part of a “Kingdom Oneness” initiative that the congregation held in conjunction with Black History Month.

“I always try to insert a character in my stories who encourages from a Christian standpoint,” Revelle said. For example, in one of her stories a young man helps ferry escaping slaves across a river—risking his life to help others find freedom. “Although that young man is not particularly spiritual, the person who encourages him to take that step of faith is a believer.”

Jim West, Colonial’s Lead Pastor, believes it’s important for the church to hear these stories.

“God’s given Sandra a gift of being able to share a difficult history in a way that doesn’t shame anyone, but rather elevates our awe and respect and reverence for what people had to endure,” he said. “How they kept their faith in God amidst great suffering and injustice is a beautiful part of Black history that is not often told.”

Jim West

West acknowledges both the history of (and the current) racial tension in the United States. He says the church cannot ignore it.

“The redemption work of God has to start in the church,” he said. “I feel it happening slowly in our church and in other churches—particularly within the EPC.”

Through the Kingdom Oneness initiative, Colonial is intentionally seeking to hear and understand each other’s stories, champion diversity, and promote unity. Church leaders are building on efforts of a group called “the Bootstraps” that started organically within the congregation.

Rosie Bettis, a Colonial Ruling Elder and founding member of the Bootstraps group, said discussing issues of equality and racial differences “goes a long way” in promoting unity.

“We have Kingdom Oneness conversations every Wednesday, and that will continue past Black History Month,” she said. “We use a curriculum based on some of Tony Evans’ race relations material, which talks about how it’s not a ‘Black thing’ or a ‘white thing’—it’s a ‘Kingdom thing.’” The group is led each week by Greg Ealey, Campus Pastor for Colonial’s South Kansas City campus.

Bettis said Colonial also promoted specific events to acknowledge Black History Month. When a local theater put on a dance production telling the history and heroics of the Underground Railroad, the church purchased tickets and encouraged church members to attend. Bettis also went on a trip with five other women from the Bootstraps group to visit the Greenwood Rising and Cultural Museum in Tulsa, which tells the story of Black Wall Street and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. When they returned, they shared the story with the whole congregation.

Bettis says the trip was “uplifting,” “convicting,” “eye-opening,” but that the greatest benefit was the relationships forged among the women who participated. The experience had such an impact on the group that they have scheduled an overnight bus trip to the museum in April, and anyone in the church can attend.

A bumpy road

But the road to Kingdom Oneness at Colonial has not always been easy.

When Bootstraps originally launched, “Be the Bridge” groups were formed to bring people together to talk about race in light of the gospel. The meetings were so well-received that Colonial soon invited local African American congregations to join the conversation. Relationships were formed, groups grew rapidly, and the congregation seemed eager to truly “be the bridge” to racial reconciliation.

Then came the pandemic, followed by police incidents around the country that provoked racial tension. Suddenly the divide seemed wider than ever.

The rift impacted the church.

“It reached a point where you could not mention reconciliation without someone getting triggered,” West recalled. “It was so painful to my heart as a pastor.”

The 24″ x 18″ work “Sidney ‘Charity’ Still” portrays a runaway slave-mother who left two young sons in bondage. She persisted in prayer for years over her boys. Forty years later, one son came through the doors of her youngest child, William Still, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Peter was reunited with his parents. A mother’s prayers were answered.

When Revelle joined the church and was willing to share her gifts with her new church family, it was like a breath of fresh air.

“When she starts out by saying ‘I joined Colonial in November of 2021’ it takes all of the political angst away from the conversation,” West noted. “She’s part of our family. She chose us. That’s our sister telling us about her gift and her passion and her heart for this, and it endears us to her immediately. So we hear it from a whole new perspective—from her perspective.”

Revelle says that she is still amazed at how her work has been received.

“When I first started writing and when God first impressed on me to make the themes for the panels, I started thinking, ‘Lord, who’s going to want to see this?’ But I just kept creating them. I wasn’t sure what people would think. It’s been completely from the Lord. I just stepped out in obedience.”

Her exhibit—originally planned for two Sundays in February—ended up showing on all four weekends. One participant left this comment: “Amazing doesn’t describe the gifts and talents that this Woman of God has. Thank you so much for blessing and sharing your beautiful journey with us!”

“So many people at both campuses loved her art and hearing her story and getting to know her as a person,” West said. “She’s a storyteller who captures the pain of the slaves and Black history, but she’s so full of grace. Her heart just comes out.”

A place to call home

Revelle said she knew from the first time she visited Colonial that she had found her home. Bettis had the same experience years earlier.

“I joined the church because I heard the word of God,” Bettis said. “Those beliefs are the same throughout. The word of God is final. The word of God is the benchmark.”

Both women hope the conversations around race will soon be embraced more readily.

“It’s difficult for some people to talk about,” Bettis acknowledged. “Like if we avoid the conversation, then the tension doesn’t exist. In Bootstraps we use the term Imago Dei—we are all made in the image of God. I don’t want to be defined by the color of my skin. I want my friends to say, ‘All I see is Rosie.’”

Revelle said that having her artwork on display has helped spark conversation.

“My first desire is Kingdom,” she said. “If we can all just learn to walk as Jesus walked and keep our hearts pure before the Lord, He’ll show us where we are diverging from the truth and bring us back into unity.”

For more about Revelle’s art, see www.remnantsarise.com.

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Jerry Iamurri to assume missions agency leadership post

 

Jerry Iamurri, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk, has been named the Chief Executive Officer of InFaith.org, effective April 4. InFaith is an evangelical, non-denominational ministry based in suburban Philadelphia. Iamurri said the organization serves some of the most “overlooked and underserved” people in the United States through nearly 200 U.S.-based missionaries.

“These missionaries serve in urban ministry, rural ministry, church planting, discipleship, children and youth ministries, chaplaincy, prison ministry, camps, and much more,” Iamurri said.

“I am deeply disappointed personally to not have opportunity to continue to serve with Jerry,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “However, I am thrilled for the opportunity he and his wife, Sandi, are stepping in to. I know God will use Jerry in mighty ways leading InFaith, just as He has used him in the EPC.”

Iamurri has served Assistant Stated Clerk since 2017. He previously served as Pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Havertown, Pa. Under his leadership, the congregation transitioned to the EPC in 2012. Iamurri previously served Presbyterian congregations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas. In addition to his ministry experience, Iamurri was an Assistant District Attorney for the Philadelphia (Pa.) District Attorney’s Office from 1999 to 2003.

He also is a former chairman of the EPC Ministerial Vocation Committee.

“I have been incredibly blessed to serve the EPC over the past five years,” Iamurri said. “It’s been a privilege, pleasure, and the greatest blessing of my life. With this new call from the Lord, I am looking forward to helping InFaith reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we do in the EPC.”

“In All Things” podcast episode 16 examines loving Muslims with Timothy Harris

 

Episode 16 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Timothy Harris, longtime EPC Teaching Elder. Host Dean Weaver and Harris discuss Harris’ life in ministry, including his recent book, Loving Your Muslim Neighbor: Stories of God using an Unlikely Couple to Love Muslim People, and How He Might Use You to Do the Same. The book is available at www.lovingyourmuslimneighbor.com.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

John Manon, former Presbytery of the Midwest Stated Clerk, dies at 87

 

John and Diane Manon

John Calvin Manon, Ruling Elder for St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Auburn, Ind., and longtime Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest, died on March 3 at his home in Auburn.

He was born in Auburn on February 18, 1935, to Walter Calvin Manon and Mary Kathryn (Owens) Manon. He graduated from Auburn High School in 1953 and attended Tri-State (now Trine) University in Angola, Ind., and Indiana University in Bloomington.

Manon served in the U.S. Army from 1957-1959, as an administrative clerk. He was assigned to the Eighth U.S. Army Headquarters, Chief of Staff Section, in Seoul, South Korea.

After discharge he managed two family-owned Texaco Service Stations in Auburn and worked briefly as an insurance agent before beginning work at Cooper Engineered Products in Auburn. He retired in 1992 following 30 years in Cooper’s sales department.

On February 27, 1971, he married the Rev. Diane Marie Davis in Auburn, who currently serves on the Session for St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.

In retirement he served as volunteer administrator of the Presbyterian Self-help Ministries in Auburn and an assistant soccer coach at Lakewood Park Christian School. He served on the first advisory board for DeKalb Area Schools at Home (D.A.S.H.). He also was a funeral attendant at Feller and Clark Funeral Homes in Auburn and Waterloo, Ind.

Manon served as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest from 2001 until 2018. He was a founding member and the first Clerk of Session of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and served the congregation from its inception in 1993 as Ruling Elder, Trustee, and Deacon. He also served nine years as the Church Administrator. He had served as Clerk of Session, Elder, and Deacon for his previous church, Auburn Presbyterian Church. At both churches he was a worship leader, a teacher of new church members, an officer-training instructor, a Sunday school teacher, and served as Sunday School Superintendent for many years. In 1982, Manon received a certificate as a Lay Preacher from the Lay Preacher’s Institute of his former denomination’s Presbytery of Wabash Valley.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Diane; daughter and son-in-law Angie and David May of Columbus, Ind.; daughter Molly Manon of Auburn; son and daughter-in-law John and Amber Manon of Auburn; son and daughter-in-law Justin and Joni Manon of Fort Collins, Colo.; granddaughters Katrina Ann May, Cassidy Marie May, and Lynlie Rae Manon; and grandsons Liam John Manon, Jonah Calvin Manon, and Judah Kelso Manon.

Memorials can be sent to St. Andrew Evangelical Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 6041, Auburn, IN 46706.

“In All Things” podcast episode 15 explores church planting in the EPC with Tom Ricks

 

Episode 15 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Tom Ricks, leader of the EPC’s Church Planting Team. This week, host Dean Weaver and Ricks discuss why church planting is a strategic priority in the denomination. Ricks also shares poignant memories of Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., who died on February 19.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Death of church planter Kirk Adkisson

 

Kirk and Deb Adkisson

Dear sisters and brothers of the EPC,

It is with great sadness that I share the news that our church planter in the Presbytery of the Central South, Kirk Adkisson, has fought the good fight and is now fully with his Savior. Please join me in prayer for his bride, Deb, and the congregation of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., which they planted in 2017.

Deb set up a Caring Bridge page, www.caringbridge.org/visit/kirkadkisson where you can share your love and support. As she posted late last night, “I take comfort that our separation is only temporary.” I praise our Lord that we all can cling to that promise.

Coram deo,

Dean Weaver
EPC Stated Clerk

Collaboration Team seeks to grow inter-department discussion, ministry efforts

 

Led by Michael Davis, the EPC’s Chief Collaboration Officer, representatives from a variety of EPC ministries and committees met via video conference on February 10 to cultivate and enhance ministry efforts. The goal of the monthly meetings is to enhance alignment between the Office of the General Assembly, EPC World Outreach, the Next Generation Ministries Council, the Revelation 7:9 Task Force, and other permanent and interim committees of the denomination.

“God has always made sure that we had a redemptive plan, not just for the here-and-now, but for the generations to come,” Davis said. “In our mission, vision, and every component in which we do our ministry, it’s not just to think about what we are doing now but how it will affect generations down the road.”

He emphasized that the next generation of leaders in the EPC—whether they serve in the local church, on the mission field, or in denominational staff roles—are affected “by what we do now. We are not just seeking to be effective and efficient in aligning the strategic priorities for strategy’s sake. We want to align so we look like a puzzle that’s all together and not separated into our parts.”

Davis also noted the strategic priorities of Multiplication (church planting), Transformation (church health), Global Movement, and Effective Biblical Leadership “are not just a good idea. We are setting the landscape and the trajectory to teach our children, and hopefully their children’s children, how to effectively win people for the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The group discussed ways to identify and enhance alignment, as well as some tactics for collaborating across the various committees and ministry areas.

Joining Davis were Gabriel de Guia, Executive Director of EPC World Outreach; Jason Dunn, Associate Director of World Outreach; Greg Aydt, Chairman of the Next Generation Ministries Council; Andrew Smith, Co-Chairman of the Revelation 7:9 Task Force; Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk; Jerry Iamurri, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk; Brian Smith, EPC Director of Communications and Digital Strategies; and Vanessa Mullendore, Strategic Priorities Administrative Assistant.

“In All Things” podcast episode 9 features EPC inner-city church planter Brian Evans

 

Episode 9 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Brian Evans, Pastor of 5point7 Community Church in Detroit, Mich., and member of the EPC National Leadership Team. This week, host Dean Weaver and Evans discuss the importance of the local church in effective inner-city ministry, as well as Evans’ background growing up in the same underserved neighborhood he now serves.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

“In All Things” podcast episode 7 highlights EPC communications with Brian Smith

 

Episode 7 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Brian Smith, EPC Director of Communications and Digital Strategies. This week, host Dean Weaver and Smith discuss how the Office of the General Assembly’s Communications Department serves the EPC. In addition, Smith recaps a chapter related to communicating EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson’s two-year imprisonment in Turkey.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Florida magazine profiles EPC church planters

 

If you live near Jacksonville, Fla., and happen to pick up a copy of the “Ponte Vedra Beach Neighbors” magazine this month, you may notice some familiar faces on the cover.

Brady and Christy Haynes, EPC church planters in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, were featured in the magazine, which is mailed to every home in Ponte Vedra Beach. The publication shares stories about local citizens who are making a positive impact on their community.

Ponte Vedra Beach is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Jacksonville on Florida’s “First Coast”—so named because 30 miles further south is St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the United States.

“In July of 2021, the editor of Ponte Vedra Neighbors Magazine reached out and asked if they could profile our family,” Brady said. “The editor is a Christian, and she said that God had laid it on her heart to call us. We took this opportunity to share our family story.”

The Haynes lived in Ponte Vedra for six years while he served as Director of Family Ministries at Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church. In October 2019, they felt God calling them to move to Vilano, a community 20 miles south of Ponte Vedra and just outside St. Augustine. Little did they know that in just a few months a pandemic would shut down the world and God would open a new door of ministry for their family.

Ripe for harvest

“If you were to do a search for churches along the 16 miles of barrier island that stretches between South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach, you would notice that there are no churches at all,” Brady said. So when COVID hit and public beaches were closed, the Haynes had an idea.

“We hit the sand across the street from our home and started ‘Devotion by the Ocean’—a daily video posted on several social media platforms,” he explained. Filmed at sunrise and set against the background of Christy’s beautiful photography, the videos included Scripture, a devotional thought, prayers, and music.

“Our purpose was simple,” Brady noted. “We wanted to create something that would lift people’s spirits with the Word of God and also encourage them with a sunrise on the beach.”

The videos gained an audience, and it wasn’t long before the Haynes were getting comments from neighbors about how much they enjoyed the series and missed connecting with a church. At about that same time, public beaches began slowly opening back up.

“A lot of people were still uncertain about meeting indoors, so we started a Sunday Bible study on the beach at sunrise,” Brady said. Neighbors began to tell other neighbors about the service, and soon people from all over the community were showing up on Sunday mornings.

“Through all of this, God has confirmed that He has called us to plant a beach church in our area that ministers to the needs of the people here,” he said. “With over 33,000 people in the South Ponte Vedra to Vilano stretch of the island, the field is ripe for harvest.”

The area has seen a lot of growth over the past seven years, with many of the new residents coming from New York and California. The business market of Vilano has also grown in the past two years, lending to the vitality of the island.

“Our calling is to plant a beach church that loves God and loves people while capturing the ‘vibe’ and heartbeat of this unique place,” Brady said. “There are a lot of hurting and spiritually hungry people in desperate need of the gospel, and they are looking for a place to connect and to serve.”

On October 16, Haynes was ordained by the Presbytery of Florida and Caribbean and he and Christy began to lay the foundation for Seaside Church.

Seaside by the sea shore

The Haynes hit the ground running, establishing Seaside Ministries in November. They meet every Sunday morning on the beach, and have seen attendance continue to grow. When the weather does not permit them to meet outdoors, they gather in homes across the street, and have even had local families host the services.

At Thanksgiving, the group served a meal to homeless families. On Christmas Eve, they gathered for a lighting of the advent candle, traditional carols, and worship. The evening also included their first communion as a church.

21 families joined Brady and Christy Haynes for a Christmas Eve candlelight service at the beach.

“Brady led us in some traditional Christmas carols as the sun set behind us over the Guana nature preserve,” Christy said. “Once it was dark, we all began to light our candles. It was a very special time of worship, with over 21 families who have been coming faithfully to Seaside Sunday Services.”

Even though the church does not officially launch until next year, the families who have been attending the gatherings are impacting the community. They have partnered with several local ministries—raising money to help rehabilitate women in the sex industry, collecting clothing items for the women’s shelter and food for the local food pantry, and supporting a local therapy center that works with children and veterans.

The Haynes plan to sponsor a community surf event next summer as a means of reaching youth, and partner with a local surfing ministry to put on a camp for underprivileged children in Vilano Beach. They have begun hosting block parties around the fire pit and leading beach cleanup days alongside their neighbors.

The Haynes have also earned the respect of their neighbors as small business owners in their community. Christy has been using her photography skills to photograph families and do beach fashion shoots for the past 12 years. In addition, she owns two beach-themed stores—Beach Chic Weddings and Beach Chic Threads. The Haynes can now look back and see how God has been preparing them in every aspect of their lives to serve in a coastal community.

“I grew up in a home that didn’t go to the beach very much,” Brady said. “When vacation time rolled around we headed to the mountains. When I married Christy, who is a nine-generational Floridian, I not only fell in love with her, but I also fell in love with the ocean. We have been blessed to serve in some amazing places. But we have found ‘our people’ to be coastal people.”

Seaside Church will officially launch on Easter Sunday, which will be held at Guana nature reserve (Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve) beach access.

“We are very excited about launching Seaside Church in 2022,” Brady said. “God has been affirming His calling in our lives through this process, and we cannot wait to see what He does here in our coastal town. Vilano is called ‘the island without a name.’ We want to show this ‘island without a name’ that hope has a name in Jesus Christ!”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

EPC Teaching Elders named PIR Ministries regional representatives

 

Anne Horton and Jason Yum have been named Regional Representatives for Pastor-in-Residence (PIR) Ministries. Horton is as Pastor of Cedarville United Presbyterian Church in Cedarville, Ohio, in the Presbytery of the Midwest. Yum is currently without call but serving on the Nominating Committee for the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest.

PIR Ministries is led by Roy Yanke, a Ruling Elder for Grace Chapel EPC in Farmington Hills, Mich. The ministry helps exited pastors navigate vocational transition by providing a proven process of restoration within a caring and restorative environment.

Jason Yum

“We are excited that the Lord has led Anne and Jason to become a part of our ministry family,” Yanke said. “Their individual experiences have made them both passionate about pastors’ health. Because we are a highly relational ministry, our volunteer Regional Representatives continue that emphasis through their natural connections with those in ministry, including those in crisis and transition.”

Horton said she is excited to work with PIR Ministries.

Anne Horton

“We work with pastors in crisis who have left or were asked to leave churches, but also with those in the pulpit who want a little help navigating day-to-day ministry,” she said. “Clergy coaches provide a confidential listening ear as they walk alongside a pastor who is struggling with such ministry realities as conflict, self-care, addiction, and stress. In my opinion, clergy coaching is the best gift a church can give a pastor—or we can give ourselves—especially as we continue to navigate these extra-stressful times.”

PIR Ministries offers a variety of services to ministry leaders and churches, including the Pastor-in-Residence restorative program for pastors in transition; Refuge Church, a place of protection and security for exited pastors; Clergy Coaching; Ministry Spouse Care; the Pro-D Assessment professional development assessment; and more.

Roy Yanke

“Anne and Jason are helping us put flesh and bones on the hope that the gospel and grace of Christ offers to those in vocational ministry for a healthy ministry life,” Yanke added. “They are good at listening, encouraging, and helping ministry leaders find the resources they need for renewal or restoration—many of which PIR Ministries offers. As Regional Representatives, they will be volunteering their time and effort to share information and the resources of PIR Ministries in their areas of influence.”

PIR is a commended resource of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee. For more information, see www.pirministries.org.

EPC congregation suffers effects from quad-state tornado outbreak

 

The Dresden , Tenn., Fire Department suffered significant damage from the December 10-11 tornado outbreak. In the background is the damaged Dresden Cumberland Presbyterian Church. (Photo credit: Dresden Enterprise)

The deadly December 10-11 tornado outbreak affected at least one EPC congregation. Paul Tucker, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Greenfield, Tenn., reported on December 13 that a family in the church who lives in Dresden, Tenn., suffered “a total loss.”

“They survived in a stairwell closet,” Tucker said by email. “That’s all that I know of at this time. Dresden is our county seat, so we know many are affected.”

The Dresden Enterprise reported that the downtown area received significant damage, including total losses to City Hall and the Fire Department and Police Department buildings. Dresden is about 12 miles northeast of Greenfield, in northwestern Tennessee approximately 15 miles south of the Kentucky state line.

Other EPC churches in the affected area reported no effects from the storm.

“Though we were under a tornado watch here in southern Illinois, were passed by,” said David Fischler, Pastor of First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Anna, Ill..

Mike Wey, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Blytheville, Ark., reported no damage to the church property or any homes of the congregation. Blytheville is about 30 miles west of the Monette (Ark.) Manor nursing home, which suffered a roof collapse and the death of one resident due to the storm.

“Thanks for checking in on us,” Wey said. “Everyone in my congregation is fine. Our church is OK too.”

Several other EPC churches in the region have been contacted, but as of December 15 have not responded to requests for information. We will update this story as details emerge.

Secure online donations to help EPC churches in the affected area with identified needs can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Heartland Seminary’s innovations benefit students and EPC congregations

 

TE Kent Mathews serves as President and Academic Dean for Heartland Seminary and School of Ministry in Kansas City. The school is a commended resource of the EPC Ministerial Vocation Committee.

“Why is it,” Kent Mathews keeps asking, “that preaching is the only class in which seminary students are required to practice what they’re learning?” An EPC Teaching Elder who serves as President and Academic Dean of Heartland Seminary and School of Ministry in Kansas City, Mathews asks a long list of other questions related to seminary education in the 21st century:

  • Why are academics so often separated from application?
  • Does someone learn to become an evangelist simply by reading books and listening to lectures—shouldn’t he or she be required to actually “do” evangelism, or apologetics, or pastoral care?
  • Why don’t seminaries attempt to make traditionally academic subjects like theology or church history more practical?
  • Why are students not asked to reflect on how what they study might apply to their daily lives or their current ministries?
  • Why aren’t students required to identify and meet weekly with a mentor—someone who is resourced by the seminary to invest his or her life in the life of the student and whose purpose is to discuss the student’s failures and successes; patterns, processes, and learned behaviors; attitudes and approaches to ministry? In short, to take the student under his or her wing and impart the things that seminary doesn’t address?
  • Why is so little of what future pastors actually do in day-to-day ministry taught—or even talked about—in seminary courses?
  • Why is seminary education so expensive?

Mathews knows students are asking them too, along with this one: How will I pay off my exhorbitant student debt why working in my modestly paid pastoral position?

“According to a ten-year-old study, seminarians were asked if they could change anything about their seminary experience,” Mathews noted. “The top three answers were to reduce the cost of tuition, allow me to practice what I’m learning or make seminary courses more hands-on practical, and provide a mentor to invest in my personal development.”

Mathews explained that those answers are the basis for Heartland Seminary’s Master of Divinity program.

“Heartland is the first accredited MDiv program to make all three of these things non-negotiables,” he said, adding that the program meets all of the EPC’s educational ordination requirements for Teaching Elders and was recently recognized as a “Commended Resource” by the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee.

“The MVC was very excited to commend Heartland as a resource for the EPC,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. Iaumurri serves as the Office of the General Assembly’s staff resource for the MVC. “As seminary education continues to evolve to meet the needs of the next generation, Heartland offers students a unique avenue for ministry preparation that will surely benefit the EPC and its churches.”

Heartland is firmly committed to conservative biblical scholarship, Reformed theology, and the Westminster Confession. Tuition for the 72-credit Master of Divinity degree is $500 per course.

“Typical seminaries charge between $1,500-$2,000 per course,” Mathews said, adding that each Heartland class is completely accessible online and incorporates a close mentor relationship for every student.

Heartland also maintains an in-person Master of Arts in Applied Theology program in the Kansas City area that has been pioneering its program since 2000.

“The plea for practical training has been proven in our program,” Mathews said. “Our second-most popular course is Cultural Analysis and Engagement, where we talk about the major issues that are currently polarizing both culture and the church. We discuss how to understand both sides and how to engage positively in the discussion and affect change.”

The most popular course? “How to Not Only Study the Bible, but Actually Apply It in Your Life.”

Mathews said the curriculum is also non-traditional in that “up to half of the books students are required to read are books that the student identifies for himself or herself—as long as they are approved by the professor—which allows each student to focus on areas of particular interest to him or her within the scope of the course curriculum.”

He added that assignments in all courses are geared toward application.

“For example, students read top-level, highly regarded texts on each of the three broad periods of church history, then are required to write research papers on the 25 most important people, events, and developments in each period and how they should affect both daily Christian living and effective pastoral ministry,” he said.

Julien de Leiris and Paulo Barros are “textbook examples” of the effectiveness of Heartland’s innovative approach. De Leiris has just begun his MDiv studies while Barros completed his this past summer. Both men are on staff at Colonial Presbyterian Church EPC in Kansas City, which hosts the in-person Heartland classes.

Paulo Barros

Barros, who serves as Colonial’s Director of Worship and Arts, has been a worship leader for more than half his life—the last 21 as a fulltime vocation. At 57 years of age, he was the oldest student in the program.

“I hadn’t been in school for a long time and it was tough,” he admitted. “But I always wanted to learn how to pastor others. I needed that knowledge and felt drawn to it, so this was part of my dream to be a better worship leader. When you work with vocal leaders and musicians, you develop relationships, you shepherd them. I can do that much better now.”

De Leiris, Colonial’s Executive Director of Ministry and Programs, also leads Called to Serve, a ministry intending to do no less than “energize and revitalize the Reformed Church that is slowly dying in France.”

Julien de Leiris

Two years ago, after two decades as CEO of major public works projects for the city of Leon (the second largest city in France), de Leiris felt God calling him “to serve Him, not just faithfully but fully.” To the consternation of his non-Christian extended family, he resigned his job and moved his wife and children across the Atlantic and half of the United States to be obedient to that call.

Called to Serve will bring French youth leaders to study a variety of successful churches in the Kansas City area for several months before returning to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge in local French Reformed Churches,” De Leiris explained. “The FRC funds one-year of sabbatical for every pastor after his or her fifteenth year in ministry. We are developing a practical continuing education program for them over here as well.”

“Just like Paulo and Julien,” Mathews said, “all of our students gain invaluable skills and insights that will bless both them and their ministries. But the benefits to the EPC go further. EPC churches will be able to call new pastors who won’t make all of their initial mistakes at the expense of their first churches.”

Mathews emphasized that Heartland MDiv graduates “have acquired more than just information from their education. Churches will also be able to call pastors who don’t have five to ten to twenty years of student debt to pay off. And the denomination will begin to develop a growing subculture of ministerial leadership development—one that believes the current generation of pastors should be involved in the discipleship of the next generation of pastors.”

For more information about the Heartland Seminary and School of Ministry, see www.hsmkc.org.

by Craig Bird
EPConnection correspondent

Reformed Theological Seminary dedicates Jeremiah Patio

 

EPC Stated Clerk Emeritus Jeff Jeremiah and his wife, Cindy, were honored on November 3 with the dedication of the Jeremiah Patio at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Orlando. The 32-by-16-foot fellowship space is centrally located adjacent to the main entrance of the campus and features seating for up to 20 people, lighting, and two woodburning fire pits with removable tabletops.

“I am very grateful for the relationship that I’ve enjoyed with Reformed Theological Seminary that extends back to the mid-to-late 1980s,” Jeremiah said. “I especially remember conversations with leadership of RTS then about the possibility of online learning and how that might expand the education of the next generation of leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.”

In remarks made prior to cutting the ribbon to open the patio, Jeremiah thanked Scott Swain, RTS Orlando Campus President; Leigh Swanson, RTS Executive Vice President; Mike Glodo, RTS Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Jeremiah’s predecessor as EPC Stated Clerk; and the staff of the EPC Office of the General Assembly, many of whom attended.

In noting the heavy travel responsibilities of his 15 years as Stated Clerk, Jeremiah also thanked his wife, Cindy, “for her sacrificial commitment to her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, the sacrificial commitment she made to the EPC, and the sacrificial commitment she made to me.”

The patio was announced at Jeremiah’s retirement banquet during the 41st General Assembly in June and is a joint effort between RTS and the presbyteries of Florida and the Caribbean, East, Gulf South, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and West.

Swanson also spoke at the dedication, thanking the EPC and the contributing presbyteries “for making this beautiful fellowship space possible.”

“We also honor Jeff and Cindy, thanking God for their ministry,” she said. “They have been steadfast in their service to Christ. They have given care to countless pastors and their families. They have made sacrifices well beyond what we have seen. It is our privilege to name the patio in your honor.”

EPC launches “In All Things” podcast

 

The EPC has launched a new podcast, “In All Things,” hosted by Stated Clerk Dean Weaver. In each week’s 30-minute episode, Weaver and his guests discuss topics related to the EPC and the greater Church. In the first episode, three members of the EPC’s National Leadership Team (NLT) discussed the group’s scope and function. NLT Chairman Glenn Meyers; Brad Strait, Moderator of the 41st General Assembly; and Rosemary Lukens, Moderator-elect of the 41tst General Assembly), also provided an overview of the EPC’s four strategic priorities.

“I am very excited to talk to leaders throughout the EPC and tell our story in this long-form podcast format,” Weaver said. “We call this series, ‘In All Things’ because as the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1, all things were created through and for our Lord Jesus—He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. So we plan to discuss ‘all things’ as they relate to the EPC. The Office of the General Assembly exists to serve our churches, and we are offering this podcast as a way for people to hopefully better understand some of the ways we do that.”

Guests in future episodes include leadership staff at the Office of the General Assembly, committee chairmen, EPC authors, and many more.

Episode 1 is available below, and also can be downloaded on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Pastor-spouse retreat: a gift of refreshment and healing

 

Annie Rose

by Annie Rose
TE, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes

From October 18 to 22, about 70 EPC pastors, spouses, and global workers gathered in Seven Springs, Pa., for the first-ever EPC Pastor-Spouse retreat. I was blessed to be a part of this group as we came together to rest and be refreshed by the Lord.

Our retreat was led by Jim and Shari Hobby, Anglican pastors who masterfully guided us through an exploration of lament via Psalm 13. Together we reckoned with the biblical invitation to:

  1. Bring our pain to God.
  2. Ask God to intervene, and
  3. Embrace hope.

The Hobbys wove this teaching together with their own personal stories of struggle and lament, which gave everyone in the room permission to be honest and vulnerable about our own challenges. As we sat around our tables throughout the week, brothers and sisters gave voice to the burdens of their hearts, and together we lifted our voices to our heavenly Father, seeking His intervention and clinging to the hope we have in Christ.

Each day we were led in praise and worship by Jeremy Casella and Matthew Montgomery, both talented musicians who led us in praising God through singing Psalms and the great hymns of our faith, often set to new melodies. Jeremy and Matthew also blessed us with a worship concert one evening, which was a wonderful way to bookend the day in praising the Lord.

Following on the intensity of leading a church through COVID, this retreat was for me an oasis. It was a beautiful opportunity to engage in a rhythm of life-giving worship and interaction with my brothers and sisters in the mornings and quiet solitude in the afternoons. What a gift to put aside all other responsibilities for a few days and be fully present to one another and to the Lord!

During those quiet afternoons, retreat participants had several options for how to spend their time. Some took naps, while others explored the hiking trails of Seven Springs or enjoyed bowling or golf. Many took advantage of the resort’s spa services, and perhaps even more were eager to sign up for spiritual direction with the Hobbys or counseling with Tara Gunther or Laura Duggan—professional therapists the EPC brought to the retreat to minister to us! We had a smorgasbord of options for pursuing rest and growth in the Lord, and the cost of everything we did on the grounds of the resort was covered by the EPC.

And speaking of a smorgasbord, all of us were overwhelmed by the quality of the meals provided at Seven Springs. Especially for those of us who are the cooks in our families, it was a gift not only to rest from meal planning but also to enjoy such delicious and healthy food. Our bodies and souls were well fed on this retreat! Our mealtimes were rich with fellowship in the Holy Spirit and with laughter. They were a taste of the world to come!

Finally, one of the subtle but meaningful blessings of the Seven Springs retreat was the participation of our denominational leadership. Stated Clerk Dean Weaver not only led the retreat planning team and recruited all those who served, but he and his wife, Beth, also fully participated in every part of the retreat. Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri also participated, and World Outreach Director Gabriel de Guia and his wife, Rachel, were there as well. Seeing our leaders make the time to not simply run a retreat but participate in it validated the importance of the experience and in an unspoken way gave the rest of us permission to put aside our normal tasks and responsibilities and commit our full attention to the deep work the Holy Spirit was doing among us.

I can’t say enough about how wonderful the retreat at Seven Springs was. As Presbyterians, we know the blessing of coming together to worship and to conduct church business. What a blessing to see that we can also come together simply to enjoy one another and be refreshed by the Lord’s Spirit together.

“I will sing of the LORD, because he has dealt so lovingly with me;
Indeed, I will praise the name of the LORD Most High.” —Psalm 13:6

For details about the February retreat in Orlando, see www.epc.org/pastorspouseretreat.

Worship was a key component of the Pastor-Spouse Retreat.

Leigh Swanson named Executive Vice President at RTS Orlando

 

Leigh Swanson

Leigh Swanson, member of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Fla., has been named Executive Vice President of Reformed Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus. She will oversee campus administration, community relations, and campus development efforts.

She previously served as Associate Dean of Students from 2012 until 2017, when she became Vice President of Community Relations. The Executive Vice President role reflects her work on behalf of the students, staff, and donors who are part of the growing Orlando campus. In 2018, she launched “Teaching Women to Teach” at the RTS Orlando campus. The program has since equipped scores of women in churches around the world.

“Over the past five years, Leigh Swanson’s leadership in development has resulted in significant growth in student scholarships and a number of important campus facility improvements,” said Scott Swain, RTS Orlando President. “In addition, she has taken on increased responsibilities in the president’s office, campus administration, and financial aid. Her new role and title are meant to recognize her excellent service in all these areas.”

Swanson is a former member of the EPC’s National Leadership Team. Her husband, David, serves as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.

Church Planters Retreat offers fellowship, equipping, connection, refreshment

 

With 9,500-foot Cheyenne Mountain as backdrop, more than 80 EPC church planters and others gathered at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., the week of October 18 for the annual Church Planters Retreat.

The theme for the three-day gathering was “Resilience” and featured guest speakers Becky Lanha and Thurman Williams, worship led by Adrianna Christmas, and couples’ coaching sessions led by Cron and Elizabeth Gibson. In addition, participants enjoyed plenty of free time to relax, fellowship with one another, connect over shared experiences, and enjoy the fall colors and striking mountain vistas.

Pete Roman Jr. and his wife, Renee, attended from Saint George, S.C., where he is planting The Village Church of Saint George.

“This week has been fantastic,” he said. “To be able to be around other church planters and encourage one another—to hear the struggles that are going on and the praises and encouraging things that are happening—it’s a huge blessing to be a part of it.”

He noted the similarity in church planting to the eight years they served as missionaries in Bulgaria.

“Nobody really understands missionaries except for other missionaries,” Roman said. “You could be at churches explaining who you were and where your heart is, but unless they had been on the mission field themselves, they just wouldn’t fully get it. This has been the same experience. Being able to be together here and be fed and worship with other people who ‘get’ you is a huge thing.”

In plenary equipping sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, Thurman spoke on “The Fuel for Resiliency: The Power of Weakness,” and “Advancing the Gospel Through Adversity.” Lanha addressed “Evangelism: The Art of Making Friends” and “The Beauty and Pain of Perseverance.” Thurman serves as church panting pastor of New City West End (PCA) in St. Louis, Mo., and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. Lanha is the church planting pastor of Goodland Church (ECO) in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Friendship and evangelism go hand-in-hand

On Tuesday afternoon, Lanha said friendship is the key to evangelism.

Becky Lanha

“We have made telling our friends about Jesus into a very pressure-filled, event-driven thing,” she told the attendees. “But evangelism is an overflow of the heart, and it starts with friendship.”

She explained that evangelism and friendship go “hand-in-hand,” noting the five thresholds of evangelism described in the book I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus.

“The first threshold is that a person once trusted a Christian—let that sink in,” she said. “So how do we build trust with people? We need to know how to make friends.”

She then outlined five ways to help make friends: Become the mayor of Starbucks, go beyond speed dating, remember what it was like to get your learner’s permit, be Ted Lasso, and unmute yourself from Zoom.

Describing how a daily customer who “lingered longer” received an honorary mayoral title at his local coffee shop, Lanha asked how someone gets elected mayor.

“Becoming a mayor is letting yourself show up, be present, and be fully aware in a place,” she said. “In the early church, they walked into villages and towns with an expectation. They knew that if they were sent there, God was already at work there. So the first step in making friends is to be the mayor. And not only do they get to know you, you get to know them.”

To “go beyond speed dating,” Lanha noted that “we know a little bit about a lot of people, and we let a lot of people know a little bit about us. The safe part, the good part. Instead, we need to open ourselves us to depth to relationships. It’s risky because people hurt people, and it takes a lot of trust in Jesus. Most of us—and most of the world—are struggling with a loneliness epidemic. And it has gospel ramifications.”

Lanha’s fourth method for developing friendships is to remember the excitement of having a learner’s permit.

“You wanted to drive everywhere, any time, with anyone. Remember? And when you only have a learner’s permit, you have to drive with someone else,” she said. “The gospel stories are full of this. Jesus brought people with Him on the greatest journey ever. Invite people along for your ride.”

To be Ted Lasso, Lanha recommended building community through friendships.

“Ted Lasso has a million one-liners, but my favorite is the scene in the first season when two people who know him but don’t know each other come into the room. Lasso said, ‘Congratulations you just met an awesome person!’”

The point, Lanha said, is that Lasso shares his friendships—he doesn’t hog them.

Greg Austen, Assistant Pastor of Church Planting for Ashland Church in Voorhees, N.J., partakes in communion served at the Church Planters Retreat on October 20.

“Not only do people need a friend, they need a place to belong—a community that knows and loves them. Our churches aim to be that, so a step in building friendships is building community.”

She explained the importance of “unmuting yourself from Zoom” was “to be open to letting who you really are come to the table. When we let others know who we really are, we invite others to let us know who they really are.”

She concluded by re-emphasizing that friendship is the “first step” in evangelism.

“There is so much hurt,” she said. “People can come near to Jesus because we have extended the hand of friendship. There is something very, very compelling about friendship. Non-Christians smell it out when it’s only about getting them into your church.”

‘The invitation is to experience suffering’

Speaking from Romans 5:1-11 on Wednesday afternoon, she reminded the attendees that the word “suffering” in verse 3 is a picture of the overall afflictions of life.

“Paul was not caught off guard by this idea of suffering. After all, he was the one who persecuted those who claimed to follow Christ. It was his job, so he knew what he was getting into. But we in the church have created the message that Christ is going to make your life better. We may not do it out loud, but we believe that narrative. But it’s clear here that the invitation is to die and to experience suffering.”

She added that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because “it’s part of the deal—it’s what he signed up for. We need to normalize suffering in the Christian faith. If you’re suffering, you’re doing it right!”

In describing Paul’s progression of suffering producing endurance producing character producing hope, Lanha noted that the hope is “the assured finish line.”

“We will stand in the glory of God restored to relationship 100 percent. It’s certain,” she said. “Jesus walked the road we walk. His obedience to the Father brought suffering. But here’s the thing: In that obedience, Jesus demonstrated complete and total confidence that God will be faithful to His promises.”

In a similar vein, on Wednesday afternoon Williams told the attendees that adversity is the instrument of the gospel’s advancement. He spoke from Philippians 1:12-14 in his session, “Advancing the Gospel Though Adversity.”

Thurman Williams

“When I first read this passage, I thought that advancing through adversity meant that the gospel is so powerful that God is able to advance the gospel even in the midst of adversity, even in spite of adversity,” Williams said. “But that’s not what Paul is saying here. What Paul is saying is that his adversity is not a hindrance but is the very means of advancement. That is what God uses to advance the gospel.”

Williams explained that in verse 12, Paul says the whole Imperial Guard heard the gospel because he had been imprisoned in Rome.

“How else could he share the gospel with the entire Imperial Guard of the Emperor?” Williams asked. “Through his adversity, he was able to share the gospel with people he never would have been able to.”

He encouraged the church planters to look for opportunities to “enter into the pain” in their communities and find opportunities where God can use adversity.

Fellowship dinners in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain provided striking views of Colorado Springs and opportunity for connection and relaxation.

“The ultimate instrument of the advance is the cross itself—Jesus becoming a curse for us,” Williams declared. “The impact of the cross of Jesus Christ on unbelievers is that everyone who calls on His name will be saved. The impact on believers is that they will be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. So this passage calls us to enter into adversity and see the gospel advance through it, not in just spite of it or in the midst of it, but because of it.”

In addition to the equipping sessions and couples’ coaching sessions, attendees enjoyed morning yoga with Jessie Steadman, whose husband, Brian, is Pastor of Resurrection Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and evening fellowship meals at a large home in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain.

“I am thrilled that we can resource this event for our church planters,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “In so many cases, these brothers and sisters are doing an incredibly difficult work in a culture that sees their efforts as increasingly irrelevant. Yet they are standing firm on their calling and persevering through the adversity that they understand is the very thing God will use to help them reach their communities for Christ.”

The retreat is an annual resource for EPC church planters, hosted by the Church Planting Team. For more information on EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting.

Worship is a key component of the Church Planters Retreat.

Noted leadership author Tod Bolsinger headlines annual Executive Pastor/Church Administrator gathering

 

Tod Bolsinger, Senior Congregational Strategist at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Tempered Resilience and Canoeing the Mountains, explains the Adaptive Change Process to attendees of the first of two Executive Pastor/Church Administrator gatherings on October 21 in Denver, Colo.

At the first of two EPC Executive Pastor/Church Administrator workshops, noted church leadership expert and author Tod Bolsinger discussed the topic “From Surviving to Thriving: How Not to Waste a Crisis.” The event was held October 21-22 in Denver, Colo.

Bolsinger drew from his books Tempered Resilience and Canoeing the Mountains as he described the challenges of being a ministry leader over the past 20 months, noting that 2020 was like 1918, 1929, and 1968 all at the same time.

“We had a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a cultural crisis,” he said. “I don’t know anyone in ministry who isn’t exhausted.”

Bolsinger told the 20 attendees that in Crossing the Unknown Sea, author David Whyte said the antidote to exhaustion is not rest, but “wholeheartedness.”

“Many of us are doing our best, but we have fallen into half-heartedness,” Bolsinger said. “We didn’t go into ministry because we wanted to follow state or local ordinances, or whatever the shifting opinions are. We got into this because we love God and love people, and want to connect people to the God we love. We didn’t go into ministry to be in a place of conflict.”

Bolsinger outlined five steps for not simply surviving a crisis, but thriving within it:

  1. Identify adaptive challenges
  2. Refuel on trust
  3. Focus on the pain points of those you serve
  4. Find yourself a few Sacagaweas
  5. Try some aligned things

Regarding the idea of identifying adaptive challenges, he explained that a crisis has two phases: acute and adaptive.

“The goal of the acute phase is to stabilize, protect, and buy time,” he said. “Think of a medical triage situation, like a hospital emergency room.”

In the adaptive phase of a crisis, leaders should address root issues that they may not have had the will to confront before the crisis.

“You thrive in the acute stage through relationships,” he said. “You survive in the adaptive phase by learning to face losses and addressing the underlying issues that keep you from moving forward. An expert can solve technical problems, and those solutions serve a really important purpose. However, adaptive challenges require people to make a shift in values, expectations, attitudes, or habits.”

Concerning trust, Bolsinger noted that people don’t resist change, they resist loss.

“When trust is gone, the journey is over,” he emphasized. “We need to continually grow our trust account and wisely invest it in what will truly transform. People won’t judge us on intentions; they judge us on impact.”

In focusing on the pain points, Bolsinger described a fundraising effort among a group of potential donors for Fuller Theological Seminary, which he serves as Vice President and Chief of Leadership Formation.

“They told me that nobody cares if your institution—which of course in our case here is our church—stays alive. They only care if your institution cares about them,” he said. “You have to go out and talk to people and know their pain and how you can help with their problem. Nothing will change the more we focus internally. The way to move forward is to ask how we can meet the pain points.”

In explaining the need to “find yourself a few Sacagaweas,” Bolsinger related the story of Sacagawea, the Native American teenaged nursing mother who helped lead the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery across the Rocky Mountains.

“She had no voice, no privilege, no power whatsoever, but she became the key to their being able to continue,” he said. Among other contributions, Sacagawea interpreted for a meeting with a tribe they encountered—and discovered that the chief was her brother. Bolsinger emphasized that the episode was critical to the survival and ultimate success of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“We need to find some Sacagaweas who can interpret a culture that may be foreign to the one we know.”

In trying “some aligned things,” Bolsinger emphasized the importance of prototypes that align with existing core values.

“Try some experiments that are safe, modest, and aligned,” he said. “Don’t launch the ‘first annual’ thing, just do a one-off thing. And afterward, don’t ask, ‘Did it work?’ Ask ‘What did we learn?’ It’s not failure if we are learning.”

Bolsinger earned MDiv and PhD degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Prior to being named Vice President at Fuller in 2014, he served as Associate Pastor and Senior Pastor in two Presbyterian churches in California. He is author of Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change; Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory; Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience; and It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian.

The gathering, now in its eighth year, is a two-day event for EPC executive pastors and directors, church administrators, and others in senior operational leadership positions.

Twenty EPC church leaders attended the workshop. In addition to discussing recent challenges and opportunities in their ministry settings—particularly related to changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic—participants shared best practices on a variety of topics related to church administration and operations, technology systems, personnel, vision and strategy, finance, and more.

“There are a lot of conferences out there that you can go to and get something out of,” said attendee Mark Eshoff, Executive Minister for Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif. “But the things we talk about here are the things I work with every day. Minute-for-minute this is absolutely the best use of my time.”

The workshop is a resource of the Office of the General Assembly. The second roundtable, which also features Bolsinger and has the same format as the October 22-22 event, takes place November 11-12 in Orlando. For more information or to register, see www.epc.org/xpadmingathering.

Andrew and Norine Brunson celebrate third anniversary of return to U.S.

 

October 13, 2021, marks the three-year anniversary of Andrew Brunson’s return to the United States from his two-year imprisonment in Turkey.

An EPC Teaching Elder and longtime pastor in Turkey, Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and held imprisoned on terrorism charges until his release on October 13, 2018. He told his story in God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Endurance, published in 2019. Brunson currently serves as Special Advisor for Religious Freedom with the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

The entire EPC celebrates with you, Andrew and Norine!

Next Generation Ministries Council hosts leadership summit for EPC ministry leaders

 

Collaboration, encouragement, fellowship, and worship were on the agenda for more than 30 EPC children’s ministry, student ministry, and family ministry leaders on October 6-7 in Orlando. The workers from local churches in all 14 Presbyteries met for the inaugural Next Generation Ministries Leadership Summit, hosted by the Next Generation Ministries Council (NGMC).

The focus of the two-day “think tank” was to consider best approaches for ministry to children, students, and families, as well as discuss a variety of challenges facing age-group ministry in the current cultural landscape.

Jen Burkholder

“While the good news of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Church needs to think hard about how we can best reach and disciple the young generations of our communities with the gospel in an ever-shifting culture,” said Jen Burkholder, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Coalition for Christian Outreach and a member of the NGMC. “We cannot wait any longer to figure out how to equip them for leadership in our denomination and world.”

Among the topics that launched robust discussion among participants were practices, identity, diversity, and networking. Following a presentation on each issue, participants engaged in small group discussion to both foster dialogue and help build community among ministry peers.

Enid Flores, NGMC member and Ruling Elder for Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, led the discussion on diversity.

“When we work with relationships, we get to know our neighbors,” she said. “When we get to know our neighbors, we get the opportunity to have discipleship. And with that, we get a deeper friendship. And at the end, we love our neighbors as He loves us.”

As each table presented highlights of their group discussion, a theme emerged of the desire for broader diversity in the church.

“We talked about how to have the conversation in our church if they don’t want to embrace diversity—even if it’s an age diversity and not a racial one,” said Blaise Shields, Pastor for Youth & Families at St. Andrew EPC in Auburn, Ind. “It makes sense to me that someone who visits the church would feel more at home if they see someone in leadership who looks like them—whatever that may look like.”

Connected to reach the world for Christ’

As part of the discussion on networking, NGMC Chairman Greg Aydt said the Council’s goal is for a stronger level of collaboration among Next Generation Ministry leaders, both within and across Presbyteries.

Greg Aydt

“We are all connected to reach the world for Christ,” said Aydt, who serves as Pastor of Youth Ministry for Advent Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tenn. “We have a strong belief in the wisdom of the collective—of the group. It’s Trinitiarian in a way. There’s power in that fellowship.”

He said the Council hopes to help foster creation of ministry peer networks all across the EPC.

“Our desire is that no NextGen worker is on an island. Networking has a bunch of strengths—resourcing, collaboration, mutual edification,” Aydt said. “We are thrilled to have denominational leaders who are invested in Next Generation ministry and want to see it prosper.”

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk, said the Council’s work to connect Next Generation Ministry leaders to each other and also the larger vision of the EPC was already bearing fruit for the Kingdom. Weaver spoke to the gathering on Wednesday afternoon via video conference.

“I have no doubt the God will continue to bless the vision and energy these leaders have for reaching young people in their communities,” Weaver said. “They are natives to the culture that the people they are trying to reach are in, so they are in a unique position that not all of us can be as effective in.”

Jerry Iamurri, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk, noted that the passion for evangelism and outreach among the attendees “signals that both the present and the future of EPC leadership looks promising.”

“These folks are at the tip of the spear in evangelism in their churches and other ministry contexts,” Iamurri said. “Listening to these folks describe how they are reaching their students for Christ is incredibly encouraging.”

Aydt noted that “the next generation is going to reform the Church; whether or not they are formed in the likeness of Christ is up to people like those in the room.”