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

April Jeremiah Journal reports on National Leadership Team meeting

 

In the April 2021 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah reports on the April meeting of the National Leadership Team, including the EPC budget they will recommend for approval at the 41st General Assembly, June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

 

41st General Assembly registration open

 

Online registration for the 41st General Assembly is now open. The Assembly meets June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. The Assembly will be a hybrid of on-site and virtual participation due to local social distancing requirements that reduce the capacity of the host church’s Sanctuary, meeting rooms, and other facilities.

The theme of this year’s annual meeting is “God Will Restore,” 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 … ”

The theme references not only the lament in the church and the nation over the pandemic and social unrest over the past year, but also—and importantly—the assurance that God is in our midst.

The annual Leadership Institute will feature three plenary speakers and four ministry-specific leadership development gatherings, each of which is open to all General 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.

The Tuesday plenary session will be led by Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss. He will address the topic of “Combating Biblical Anemia: Scripture, Discipleship, Worship, and Preaching.”

The Wednesday morning plenary speaker is George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, who will discuss “Soul Care for Pastors.”

The Wednesday afternoon plenary speaker is Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church. His topic is “Kindness that Leads to Reconciliation.” Both Wednesday sessions will include time for Q-and-A.

The first of five business sessions convenes on Wednesday afternoon, June 23, at 4:15 p.m. (Central). Business sessions continue on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.; and Friday at 11:00 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

Worship service speakers include:

  • Phil Linton, Director of EPC World Outreach.
  • Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk.
  • George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis.
  • A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.
  • Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly.

Other gatherings for on-site participants include a wide variety of Networking Lunches each day, as well as World Outreach, women’s ministry, and ministry wives.

For complete information, see www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

March 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support continues above projection

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through March 31 total $1,810,425. March PMA support was $400,603.

The total is $261,927 (16.9 percent) more than the $1,548,498 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

PMA support at the three-quarter mark of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) is $51,856 (2.8 percent) behind the $1,862,281 contributed over the same period in FY20, and only 3 percent lower than the original FY21 PMA projection—which was later reduced by 17 percent and approved by the 40th General Assembly in September 2020 as the “Bare Bones Plus budget.”

“I think I’ve said this every month now, but I am very thankful for the PMA support that our churches provide,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am especially grateful that God has blessed our churches in such a way that they can continue to contribute so generously to the EPC over the past year.”

Of the $1,810,425 received, $362,085 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $4,195,783 in designated gifts were received through March 31. This total was $272,555 (6.5 percent) lower than the $4,468,338 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20. Jeremiah noted that the difference can be attributed to more than $350,000 in donations to the Emergency Relief Fund in fall 2019 following Hurricane Dorian, and a December 2019 gift of $250,000 for church planting.

“Giving to specific projects outside of those two funds is up more than $360,000 this year over the previous year,” Jeremiah said. “I am grateful for this level of generosity in such extraordinary times.”

Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

Of the total, $4,088,595 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $107,188 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

VitalChurch offers Transitional Pastor training event

 

VitalChurch Ministry, a commended resource of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee, is holding an online training event designed to equip transitional pastors, denominational leaders, and anyone else interested in helping churches in transition or crisis. The four-day training is scheduled for May 24-27, with each day’s presentation taking place from 12:00-4:00 p.m. (Eastern) via Zoom.

Participants will discover strategies to diagnose real problems, facilitate change, resolve conflict, manage destructive powerbrokers, and deal with the idols at the root of many congregational issues. A flexible and workable model of church governance, the use of transition teams, and a proven method for strategic planning highlight the topics to be addressed. Other features include:

  • The why and how of VitalChurch’s intentional transitional pastor ministry, based on more than 25 years of experience serving churches.
  • The opportunity for participants to self-assess their transitional ministry potential and learn the qualities of a successful intentional transitional pastor.
  • An electronic and hard copy Interim Pastor Training Manual that provides detailed information on all topics covered in the training.
  • A “check list” for a transitional pastor’s first 90 days in a church.
  • Four days of learning, growing, and reflecting through a combination of formal information sessions, individual and small-group exercises, and whole group. discussion designed to both deepen and broaden the understanding of transitional ministry in the church.
  • Networking opportunities with like-minded pastors and professionals, as well as with VitalChurch’s speakers who have decades of experience in transitional ministry.

“When it comes to evaluating and training Transitional Pastors, VitalChurch is one of our valuable resource partners,” said Jerry Iamurri, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk. “The experience and expertise they bring to the table has helped a number of our congregations when they were between pastors. Anyone interested in what transitional pastorates are all about will benefit from this training.”

The cost is $599 (through April 12), and $699 beginning April 13. Those who register by May 10 are guaranteed to receive an Interim Pastor Training Manual by mail prior to the event.

Featured presenters are Dave Miles, VitalChurch Founding Partner and Interim Pastor Team Leader; Tom Wilkens, VitalChurch People Development Leader; Gregg Caruso, VitalChurch Diagnostic Team Leader; and Wade Thompson, VitalChurch UK Executive Director. Guest Presenters include Keith Webb, President of Creative Results Management and author of The COACH Model for Christian Leaders; and Jeff Arthurs, Professor of Preaching and Communication at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

For more information and to register, see www.vitalchurchministry.org/2021-training.

For additional Transitional Pastor, Church Revitalization, Pastoral Care, and other resources of the Ministerial Vocation Committee, see www.epc.org/ministerialvocation/mvcresources.

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

Jeff Jeremiah: Easter means living hope

 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade!” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

This great passage declares a number of significant and life-changing truths that we celebrate each day, but especially on Easter Sunday. One of the most prominent and precious is the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Can there be a greater contrast between the world’s view of hope and the Christian’s hope? The world’s view can be summed up well in the little boy’s statement, “Hope is wishing for something you know isn’t going to happen.” You can hope for something to happen in the future, but it’s ultimately futile because you can’t control what happens in the future. Hoping is no more than wishful thinking. The testimony of God’s Word is that hope isn’t wishing. Hope is a certainty, a fact that God has promised and will fulfill. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday is the event in human history—the certain, factual basis of our hope as Christians.

Here’s another distinctive about our hope. It’s alive. What does that mean? The opposite of living hope would be dead hope, and that calls to mind a similar phrase: dead faith. In James 2:26, the Apostle writes “faith without works is dead.” Dead faith has no effect, no power, no influence. Living faith—and, by analogy, living hope—has power and influence. In short, it impacts your life. This living hope makes a difference in our lives today in at least three ways.

First, hope that lives gives you courage to face the challenges and trials of life. We’ve certainly faced enough of them in the past year! You need not cower in fear, for you know at the end Jesus is victorious over the greatest enemy to life. In Him, you will be too. If He’s solved the problem of death, you can be sure He’s taken care of all the other problems, difficulties, and trials we face. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Second, hope that lives gives you confidence because you know who’s in control. The resurrected Christ is not only alive at this moment—He’s alive in power and glory! The sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords is in control of creation, in control of human history, and yes, in control of your life. Because of what He did for you on the Cross, in love—giving His life for you—you can know that He’s personally, positively, and passionately committed to you. You can be confident because you know His purpose for you is good, for He declares, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Third, hope that lives in your life gives you comfort in the face of death. You’re freed from the fear of death, because you know that as Jesus conquered death, so too shall you. And that victory will usher us into an eternal life that is glorious, where in the presence of God Himself you’ll enjoy praise and peace, love and joy. There will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more death. This is the living hope that can be yours because the tomb is empty, because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead!

There is a reason why hope is described in Hebrews 6:19 as “an anchor for the soul…both sure and steadfast.” Because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, ours is a hope that is certain, ours is a hope that is alive, ours is a hope that is a difference-maker as we live as followers of Jesus Christ.

Jeff Jeremiah has served as Stated Clerk of the EPC since 2006.

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”).

RE Brandon Queen cooks up gumbo of ministry and community service in south Louisiana

 

In 2017, Brandon Queen was ordained as the first African-American elder at the 150-year-old First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux, La.

Thibodaux, La., is in the heart of Cajun country—a place where you find a mix of landscapes, cultures, people, and food. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. A gumbo. Brandon Queen’s life has been God’s own special gumbo recipe, with a mix of ingredients that includes his family, First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux, and the people who invested in his life from an early age. The resulting dish has been a blessing to all.

Queen cannot remember a time when he was not a believer. He could quote Scripture at the age of 5—before he could read. His family was mostly Baptist, with some Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Methodist relatives. He, his 10 siblings, and some cousins were raised by his grandmother, Eunice Queen, in a small government house.

“She had a big variety of ages of kids stacked in on top of each other in that home,” remembers Betsy Magee, a member of First Presbyterian Church.

Eunice Queen did not want any of her grandchildren to go into the foster care system, so she took them all in. She signed them up with the Angel Tree program that provides Christmas gifts for underprivileged children; their names were passed on to the church. However, she didn’t want the kids to just receive gifts. She was adamant that the children be involved in the church.

Brandon Queen with his grandmother, Eunice, in 2014 when Brandon was awarded The Silver Beaver Award, the highest service medal for adult Boy Scout leaders.

“Eunice was a real kick to know,” Magee said. “She did the very best she could for those kids. They were fed. They were loved. They were cared for. But she didn’t put up with much nonsense.”

Sensing the great need for support, church members stepped into the lives of the Queen family to fill the roles left vacant by absent mothers and fathers.

Magee had three boys and owned a Suburban. She would fill her Suburban with Queen kids and take them to all the activities at the church. Her family “adopted” Brandon as one of their own, making certain he always had school supplies and other necessities.

Magee says that she didn’t have a choice.

“It was something God put in our path, taking that family under our wing,” she said. “We have been blessed, even more than Brandon, by the relationship we have with him.”

Queen said Magee “was basically my mother. She just did it, without asking.”

By the age of 11 Brandon began to understand who God is and what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He was baptized and became “entrenched” in the life of the church.

“Brandon stayed with the church and the church stayed with Brandon,” Magee noted. “We encouraged him in his faith, grades, studies, tutoring, and whatever else he needed.”

Brandon Queen with Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, agreed.

“It’s not a guarantee that you feed into someone’s life, give them opportunities, share the gospel with them, and they engraft into the body of the church,” he said. “But Brandon has done that.”

Another important person in Queen’s life was Rhonda Bridier, a local scout master and church member who got Brandon involved with the Boy Scouts. He would go on to earn his Eagle Scout and The Silver Beaver Award, the highest service medal awarded to adult leaders in recognition of commitment and leadership within the organization.

Magee proudly described Brandon’s work ethic. She explained that once he was old enough to work he would ride his bike to various jobs. While working for Office Depot, he learned enough about photography to start his own business—Brandon Queen Photography—taking photos for seniors and other classmates.

After finishing school, Brandon became a correctional officer and found that he loved interacting with the inmates. He graduated from the police academy and became a patrol officer, and later, a juvenile detective with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Becoming a police officer resulted from watching his mother battle drug addiction her entire life. He saw that people around him were “getting caught up in bad decisions and situations,” he said, adding that he learned from their mistakes.

As a juvenile detective with the LaFourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Brandon Queen is Thibodaux’s own “Basketball Cop” often stopping his patrol to interact with local young people.

“I want to encourage other young people to stay out of trouble and do productive things with their lives,” he said. “I can relate to the kids out here today who get themselves stuck in some of the things they get themselves stuck into. I love people. God has given me the gift of loving people which has enabled me to do the things I do in this job.”

Magee also sees this in Brandon’s life. “God has used the gifts He has given Brandon—his life experiences—to be able to reach out to at-risk kids and to counsel others with his Christian values. God has put Brandon in great positions.”

In 2017, Brandon was ordained as the first black elder in the 150-year-old Thibodaux congregation. Crawford says that Queen’s ordination was the natural progression of Brandon’s journey with the church.

“We were just affirming what we already saw in him,” Crawford said. “When you meet Brandon, what you find is someone who has an enthusiasm and optimism for life, and a character where if you didn’t know the rest of his story, you would never guess it. We don’t see color in him. We see Christ.”

As if being a juvenile detective, Ruling Elder, and photographer weren’t enough, Queen also serves as an at-large member of the Advancement Committee for the Southeast Louisiana Boy Scout council and produces a podcast called “The E.A.R. (Evangelical and Reformed) Podcast” in which he and his guests discuss social, political, and cultural issues from a theological perspective.

He also is a member of the EPC Revelation 7:9 Task Force, which is studying how the EPC “can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces, worships with, and serves our neighbors from every nation (ethnicity), tribe, people, and language.” These neighbors include people of differing genders, ages, education level, and socio-economic status.

Brandon believes that Revelation 7:9 is both a descriptive and prescriptive verse, in that God—through the Apostle John—describes how Heaven will look and prescribes how the Church on earth should look.

“Our ethnicities are different for a reason, but not different enough for us to segregate ourselves purposely,” Queen explained. “The Church should put our differences and cultures to work for good. If we do, it will work the way God intended for it to work.”

Though he is quick to point out that he has faced challenges regarding race—especially in light of his career as a juvenile detective.

“I have been called a race traitor, an Uncle Tom, and even a ‘porch monkey working for the white man,’” he acknowledged. “But I know who I am in Christ, and I am doing what I do to glorify God. It doesn’t make me hate that person. It makes me want to pray for that person and to love that person.”

He knows that many African Americans may not understand why he chooses to stay in a congregation and denomination that is predominantly white. His response?

“I stay because I love the theology, the liturgy, and the fact that I am loved, supported, and never judged for the color of my skin,” he said. “In Heaven, it’s not going to matter if you are Asian, Chinese, black, white, Hispanic, or whatever. We’re all going to be a mix, standing in front of the throne, worshipping God. That right there—that’s my gumbo.”

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

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.

2020-21 Book of Order now available

 

The spiral-bound, printed edition of the 2020-21 Book of Order is now available for purchase through EPC Resources. The cost per book is $11.51 plus shipping.

“This updated edition of our Book of Order includes all the decisions ratified by the 40th General Assembly last September,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. “All of our Teaching Elders and Clerks of Session will benefit from having a copy of this resource.”

The 252-page book is Volume 1 of the EPC Constitution and is comprised of the Book of Government, Book of Discipline, Book of Worship, Rules for Assembly, Acts of Assembly, and Forms for Discipline. This year’s edition includes amendments to the Book of Order and Rules for Assembly ratified by the 40th General Assembly (2020), as well as Acts of the 40th General Assembly.

The Constitution of the EPC consists of the Book of Order, the Westminster Confession of Faith (including the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), and the document “Essentials of Our Faith.” All these are subordinate to Scripture, which is “the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.”

February 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support continues above 2020 projection, behind 2019 level

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through February 28 total $1,585,346.

The total is $219,918 (13.4 percent) more than the $1,645,094 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

While FY21 support remains strong, contributions the first eight months of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) are $83,146 (3.6 percent) behind the $1,668,492 contributed over the same period in FY20. In addition, February PMA support of $175,524 lowers the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $192,394—approximately 5.8 percent less than the rolling average as of February 28, 2020. The rolling average has declined over the previous year’s level for the sixth consecutive month.

“The ongoing downturn in our monthly rolling average is a cause for concern, because that is an indicator of longer-term trends,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, I think the strong PMA support we are seeing is a good indication that not only are our churches demonstrating their commitment to the EPC, they also are experiencing commitment to financial stewardship from their members. I praise the Lord for how He continues to bless and work in the lives of His people.”

Of the $1,585,346 received, $317,069 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $3,733,540 in designated gifts were received through February 28. This total was $363,671 (8.9 percent) lower than the $4,097,211 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20.

“At face value, the decrease in designated giving is disappointing,” Jeremiah said. “However, in our previous fiscal year we received an anonymous $500,000 gift for church planting, plus we received more than $360,000 into our Emergency Relief Fund in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and wildfires in the West. If we don’t consider those two items, designated giving to EPC ministries and causes is actually up significantly. I am grateful for this incredible generosity!”

Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

Of the total, $3,647,476 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $86,063 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

March Jeremiah Journal outlines 2021 Leadership Institute adjustments

 

In the March 2021 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah describes some additional scheduling changes for the upcoming 41st General Assembly since last month’s edition in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s Assembly is scheduled for June 22-25, 2021, at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

Revised Leadership Training Guide now available

 

The revised edition of the EPC Leadership Training Guide is now available for purchase at www.epcresources.org/products/leadership-training-guide. Subtitled “A Resource for Pastors, Elders, and Church Leaders of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church,” the guide was developed by the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation and Theology committees, and produced by the Office of the General Assembly.

Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said the fully updated, second edition of the Leadership Training Guide is “an invaluable resource for congregations seeking to train current and next-generation leaders to serve in a variety of roles in the church. It presents this important material in a succinct, practical, and winsome style. In addition, the fresh new look is a welcome improvement over the previous edition, which makes the content even more accessible.”

The 230-page, spiral-bound book is designed to assist churches in leadership development and includes instructions on how to use the material to prepare ministers, Ruling Elders, and deacons for their ordination vows. The 15 chapters are Early Church History, Reformed Church History, Reading the Bible, Theology, Anthropology, Christology, Soteriology, The Holy Spirit, Ecclesiology and the Sacraments, Eschatology, The Purpose for Which God Created the World, Church Government, The Officers of the Church, The Life and Character of the Officer, and Leading Healthy Churches. Each chapter concludes with practical leadership applications and questions for review and discussion. Also included are the EPC ordination vows and an Emotional/Spiritual Health Inventory.

The cost per book is $12.69 plus shipping.

Helga Hoffman, wife of 15th GA Moderator Wayne Hoffman, dies at 87

 

Helga Hoffman, 1933-2021

Helga Svanhild Tofteland Hoffman of Urbandale, Iowa, wife of 15th (1995) General Assembly Moderator Wayne Hoffman, died on January 27. She was 87.

She was born in Luverne, Minn., on August 27, 1933, to Reinert and Tilda (Akersmyr) Tofteland and raised on the Tofteland farm where the family spoke Norwegian. She first learned English when she began her education in a one-room schoolhouse. She graduated from Augustana Academy and furthered her education at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Iowa.

Helga married Wayne Hoffman on June 21, 1953. Through their 67 years of marriage, Wayne and Helga lived in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Helga was an integral and vital part of Wayne’s ministry in the many churches he served as a Presbyterian pastor. During his service as General Assembly Moderator, he was Pastor of Westkirk Presbyterian Church in Urbandale, Iowa. They served the Westkirk congregation until his retirement in 2002, when he was named Pastor Emeritus. The Hoffmans continued to make their home in Urbandale.

Helga had a strong connection to her Norwegian heritage, which she lovingly shared with her family through food, language, and traditions. She was greatly loved and admired by her family who continue to be blessed by her sweet and kind spirit. Her deep and abiding faith in God were evident in her gracious and gentle nature. At every dinner or party, Helga was everyone’s favorite companion due to her genuine warmth and friendliness. When you left her home, she was always at the front window and gave her famous “grandma wave.”

She is survived by her husband, Wayne; daughter and son-in-law Peggy Ann and Tom Radio; daughter and son-in-law Pamela Jo and John Merrick; son and daughter-in-law Eric Jon and Rebecca Hoffman; Daughter and son-in-law Nancy Helga and Stan Thompson; son and daughter-in-law Jason Wayne and Tina Hoffman; 14 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Click here for a full memorial notice.

Two Minute Topics video series continues with IRS non-profit organization group exemption changes

 

In the latest installment of the EPC’s video series, “Two Minute Topics,” Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri discusses two steps EPC churches must take in order to comply with recent changes to the Internal Revenue Service’s non-profit organization group exemption.

“Two Minute Topics” are short, informative videos that address questions that the Office of the General Assembly frequently receives.

 

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.

February Jeremiah Journal notes 41st General Assembly adjustments

 

In the February 2021 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah describes two key changes being made for the 41st General Assembly, scheduled for June 22-25, 2021, at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

January 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support 6 percent above projection, slightly behind 2019 pace

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through January 31 total $1,409,822.

The total is $190,581 (15.6 percent) more than the $1,219,241 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

PMA support in the first seven months of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) is $61,312 (4 percent) behind the $1,471,134 contributed over the same period in FY20, and roughly the same percentage lower than the original FY21 PMA projection—which was reduced by 17 percent and approved by the 40th General Assembly in September 2020 as the “Bare Bones Plus budget.” In addition, January PMA support of $174,936 lowers the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $195,210—approximately 3 percent less than the rolling average as of January 31, 2020.

“I am very grateful that as we turned the calendar from 2020 to 2021 our churches continue their commitment to the EPC through Per Member Asking,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “God gets the glory that PMA contributions have remained strong. At the same time, we made some drastic cuts to this year’s budget that are not sustainable for the long-term. So even though we are ahead of our projections, I hope our churches continue to commit to PMA.”

Of the $1,409,822 received, $281,964 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $3,386,153 in designated gifts were received through January 31. This total was $235,107 (6.5 percent) lower than the $3,621,260 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20.

Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

Of the total, $3,314,830 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $71,323 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

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.

Virtual Church Planting Workshop features noted author, church planter Carey Nieuwhof

 

On February 2, the EPC Church Planting Team hosted a virtual Church Planting Workshop with special guest speaker Carey Nieuwhof. A former lawyer, Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church in Ontario, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including Didn’t See It Coming, and speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

“Since last year our EPC national church planting team has pivoted to find new ways to encourage and stay connected to our church planters,” said Tom Ricks, Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and leader of the Church Planting Team. “This was our fourth Zoom conversation in the last six months, and we were blessed to have Carey Nieuwhof spend an hour and a half with our church planters.”

The recording also is available in the “Presentations” and “Church Planting” playlists on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80.

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!