On September 18, Rev. Tony Rhone, Pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK, preached in OBU Chapel. He addressed students, faculty, and staff from Habakkuk 3. You can watch his sermon here:
by Jeff Crawford
Lead Pastor of Ministries, Teaching Pastor, Cross Church (Springdale, AR)
I recently had the opportunity to preach from 2 Corinthians 5 as part of a teaching series we called My Mission. One phrase from one verse has had a lasting personal impact upon me and how I view my role as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That one verse is verse 20 and that one phrase is:
“We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
As followers of Jesus, our standing affords to us many privileges as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not the least of which is that we are joint heirs to that Kingdom with all the benefits of adoption into the Royal Family. But there are also responsibilities, namely the responsibility to serve as ambassadors for God’s Kingdom.
The role of ambassador carries with it a certain understanding, or at least it should. And that’s really the point of this post.
Thinking about it all from a worldly geo-political point of view, let’s say that I was the United States Ambassador to Spain. That would mean that while I am a citizen of the United States, I would live in Spain. I would also shop in Spain, drive the streets of Spain, eat the food in Spain, and I would probably even learn Spanish. But most importantly, I would build real relationships with real people in Spain. All for a single purpose: to represent my country, the United States of America. You see, an ambassador doesn’t represent himself or herself. If I were the ambassador to Spain, it would never be about me; it would be about the United States, about the current president who appointed me, and about the government that sent me. I would be there to represent them.
I would also be about the business of something else, something very important. In fact, the primary role of any ambassador is to deliver a message. In the same way that an ambassador represents the one who sent him or her, an ambassador also speaks for the one who does the sending. This is critical; vital, even, to the life of the mission.
Back to our example: if I were the ambassador to Spain, I would be very, very careful with my words. I would have a crystal-clear message from the president of the United States and it would be my job to keep that message pure. I would have talking points and I would, as they say, “stay on message.” This means that I would not be on Twitter blowing off steam about how I felt about some restaurant in Spain that gave me poor service. To do such a thing would make the one who sent me look bad. It would also risk cutting off important relationships with Spaniards who love that restaurant. What I’m saying is that as an ambassador to Spain, it doesn’t really matter what I think about some particular topic. It doesn’t matter my viewpoint on the politics of Spain. It’s not about me. Let me say that again: IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. It’s only about the one who sent me and about what he thinks and about what he wants me to say. I am only a mouthpiece. A messenger. My conduct and my words must be designed to reflect, in the best way possible, the one who sent me.
By now you surely know where all this is headed. Pastor, you are an ambassador of the Kingdom. You have been sent by the King to live in “Spain.” Your words and conduct out of the pulpit are actually, at times, more meaningful than what you do or say in the pulpit. I am continually shocked and disturbed by what my fellow ambassadors feel free to say in the world of Social Media. It’s as if the mantle of ambassadorship is taken off hung on the coat rack when logged on to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. My fellow laborers, I appeal to you, be very careful what you say when roaming the streets of “Spain.” This is a divided world we live in. I think it may be more divided than in anyone’s lifetime. EVERYTHING is political. It doesn’t really matter what you personally think about guns, or walls, or this president, or climate change, or you name it. Once you lay down a personal position on any of these topics and more, you have surely alienated as much as 50% of your audience before you even begin to deliver the message of the King. A good ambassador would never want to do such a thing. The message of the cross is offensive enough by itself. It doesn’t need help from you turning people off before they have a chance to hear it. Remember, it’s not about what you like or you think or you believe about this or that. It’s only about the King and the Kingdom. God is making his appeal through you.
Live this. Preach this. Social media this. And lead your congregation to be excellent ambassadors alongside you.
Jeff Crawford, Ed.D., is the lead pastor of ministries and teaching pastor at Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, a multi-site megachurch and one of the nation’s fastest growing churches according to Outreach magazine. Dr. Crawford is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and the author of three books, the most recent of which is his debut novel, Finding Eden. He and his wife Julie (also of OBU) have two married adult children and two teenagers living at home, with their first grandson arriving in December.
On September 4, Dr. Heath Thomas, Dean of the Hobbs College of the Theology and Ministry, Associate Vice President for Church Relations, Floyd K. Clark Chair of Christian Leadership, and Professor of Old Testament at OBU, preached in OBU Chapel. He addressed students, faculty, and staff from John 10 and introduced the chapel theme for the fall semester, “Christ the King.” You can watch his sermon here:
On most Fridays at the Hobbs Blog, we highlight something related to the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry: faculty, publications, students, alumni, and the like. Today we’re highlighting one of our faculty members, Dr. Alan Bandy.
Dr. Bandy, Rowena R. Strickland Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek, has served at OBU since 2009. Prior to his appointment on Bison Hill, he was the Assistant Director of the Ph.D. program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Louisiana College. He is a graduate of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College (B.A. in Ministry, 1998); Mid-America Seminary (M.Div., 2002); and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D., 2007).
His area of expertise is the New Testament with a specialization in the Apocalypse of John. His dissertation, The Prophetic Lawsuit of Revelation, was published in the Sheffield New Testament Monograph Series (2010). He has also published several books and articles on Revelation as well as resources on Biblical Prophecy, Hermeneutics, Greek language, and Biblical backgrounds. Most recently, he has published an Apostolic Fathers Greek Reader (Wipf & Stock, 2018) and is finishing a book on Paul’s life and journeys with Baker Academic.
Alan married his high school sweetheart, Necoe, in 1995. They have five children: Alexandra, Josiah, Victoria, Mackenzie, and Titus. He has over twenty years of ministry experience having served as a student pastor, senior pastor, and interim pastor of churches in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.
He is passionately committed to the Great Commission and regularly leads student GO trips to the Amazon basin and around the globe. He also leads academic study tours to Turkey and Israel.
by Andrew Hébert
Pastor, Paramount Baptist Church (Amarillo, TX)
Many younger pastors often feel two interesting and competing impulses: first, there is a growing sense among many young leaders that denominations aren’t that important; second, there is a strong desire for relationships with others in ministry and a willingness to participate in affinity-based networks.
Traditional denominational membership and involvement has declined over the past few years, and yet at the same time new networks have emerged and grown quickly. I think this reveals both young leaders’ eagerness to connect with other pastors and churches, and also their desire for those networks to be meaningful and effective. In other words, young leaders are willing to participate in denominations and networks, so long as they see the value in it. They want to make sure that cooperating with a particular denomination or network is worth it.
As a Southern Baptist, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in our particular network of churches. We are in many ways like a large (sometimes dysfunctional) family. And yet I continue to cooperate denominationally. I see value in partnership with other churches. Here are five reasons why denominations, conventions, associations, cooperatives, collectives, networks, and other affiliations matter:
1. Theological Identity
Denominations are inherently confessional. There is something powerful when a group of churches say together in unity, “This we believe.” It says to those inside and outside the denomination what it is that brings these particular churches together.
My children and I love to eat sugar-filled cereal in the mornings. My wife prefers healthy cereal that tastes like cardboard. I’m thankful for cereal boxes that clearly label what kind of cereal is in the box. Because of the label on the box, I know what product I am getting.
Denominations are a way identifying the beliefs of a certain group of churches. It’s a way of identifying what’s in the box, so to speak. Labels, however much our postmodern culture hates using them when it comes to theological boundaries, are a clear way of being identified as believing X, Y, or Z.
This is helpful for those who are trying to decide which church to join. Theological commitments distinguish groups of churches from one another. Clear confessional statements are also helpful for churches and pastors because they make it easier to identify with other churches and pastors of like faith and practice. They help the church at large to avoid divisive disagreements about theology because those who are in the denomination or network already know what each other believes about the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the particulars of denominational identity.
2. Missiological Partnership
There’s an African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Put another way: we can do more together than we can apart. This is a basic principle of denominationalism. Denominations afford churches the chance to work together in common endeavors such as theological education, missions, church-planting, and disaster relief.
As a Southern Baptist, it is a privilege to partner with over 40,000 other churches across the country. We pool our resources in a giving system known as the Cooperative Program. This allows us to plant new churches around the world, fully fund thousands of North American and international missionaries through our mission agencies, and train thousands of future pastors and ministers through our seminaries. The Southern Baptist ecosystem also facilitates cooperative partnerships between churches at a local and a state-wide level.
3. Ministerial Training
Denominations often create various avenues for ministerial, theological, and practical training, including institutions like colleges, universities, and seminaries, as well other pathways. Whether through conferences, coaching, or formal education, pastors and others often find that some of the best theological and ministerial training in the world is available through their denomination. In the Southern Baptist Convention, training is available through denominational colleges and seminaries, national entities, and state conventions.
Personally, I benefited from attending a college affiliated with my state convention and then a Southern Baptist seminary. As important and as helpful as that training was, I have found training provided through my state convention and other national entities to be just as helpful. In fact, I found that training provided through the convention often had a practicality to it that was sometimes lacking in more formal institutional settings. Conversely, training provided through our formal institutions provided expertise and depth that I greatly appreciated. Taken together, my denomination has been a tremendous source of training both for me as a pastor and for the laypeople in the congregations I have served.
4. Pastoral Accountability
Denominations have the ability to provide a broad-based network of support and accountability for churches and pastors. This sometimes takes place through formal means, such as when a denomination disassociates from a church for a theological or functional reason. Sadly, this hasn’t been done frequently enough. However, the framework exists within voluntary networks to be able to enforce membership standards.
More commonly, denominational accountability takes place informally. If a pastor is erring theologically or personally, the pastors around him can admonish, rebuke, challenge, encourage, pray for, and approach him both with a level of concern and agreed-upon intentionality that would not be there a mutual commitment to be bonded together in a relationship.
5. Ecclesiastical Fellowship
Ministry is tough. It is often lonely. Denominations allow pastors and churches to have an avenue of fellowship that often doesn’t exist otherwise. Pastors can draw strength and encouragement from one another. Churches can enjoy the broader unity we share in Christ as we fellowship together. Whether it’s a group of local pastors meeting for lunch every month or larger groups of churches or pastors meeting together for annual gatherings and meetings, God often uses these opportunities for fellowship to renew, refresh, and reinvigorate us.
Together, churches that come together demonstrate to a watching world the power of gospel to reconcile and unify people and churches.
Denominations can be a source of frustration at times, but they also can be a tremendous blessing. They allow us to embody the spirit of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12,
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for the efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
We are truly better together.
Andrew Hébert is the pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He and his wife Amy have four children. He is a graduate of Criswell College and holds a doctorate in leadership and discipleship from Southern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.
On most Fridays at the Hobbs Blog, we hope to highlight something related to the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry: faculty, publications, students, alumni, and the like. Today we’re starting off this series by highlighting another series from the Hobbs College, the Hobbs College Library. This series is designed to
[equip] Christians with tools for growing in the faith and for effective ministry. The library trains its readers in three major areas: Bible, theology, and ministry. The series originates from the Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University, where biblical, orthodox, and practical education lies at its core. Training the next generation was important for the great Baptist statesman Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs, and the Hobbs College that bears his name fosters that same vision.
The series is edited by Hobbs College Dean Heath Thomas and includes contributions from Hobbs College faculty (past and present), pastors, ministry leaders, and faculty from other institutions. Each volume is written with pastors and lay leaders in mind, so that, “Whether you are a seasoned church leader or a beginner in the faith,” every book in the series “will work to strengthen your knowledge of God and his Word, and will train you to minister according to his ways.”
The latest volume, Who Is the Holy Spirit?, by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, can be purchased here. For more information about the Hobbs College Library, visit our B&H Academic page.
In June, OBU hosted two panel discussions with guests from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The second, on “Christian Civility for a Contentious World,” featured Dr. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC; Dr. Andrew Walker, Director of the Research Institute of the ERLC; and Dr. Matthew Emerson, Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion, and was moderated by Dr. Heath Thomas, Dean of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University. You can watch the full panel discussion below.
In June, OBU hosted two panel discussions with guests from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first, on “Human Dignity in Today’s World,” featured Dr. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC; Dr. Trillia Newbell, Director of Community Outreach for the ERLC; and Dr. Dan Darling, VP of Communications for the ERLC, and was moderated by Dr. Heath Thomas, Dean of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University. You can watch the full panel discussion below.