I have spent most of my morning on the phone answering questions concerning my announcement last evening to my church. I announced that I would begin exploring the possibility of a ministry transition. I am finding how hard it is to explain in only one phone conversation all that has factored into my decision. I have come to some firm conclusions concerning ministerial philosophy and ministerial structure (polity). I have also become more firmly entrenched in my theological emphases that dominate my ministry in the Word. God has used a long and complex process to help me better understand my “holy ambition” (to borrow John Piper’s terminology). Below is a general letter that is reflective of the announcement that I made to the congregation of Tri-City ministries last night.
Recently, I had introduced the idea of a holy ambition during the course of one my sermons at Tri-City Ministries. This idea is not unique to me, but it is one that I ran across during the course of my private reading. It is an idea that made a profound impact on my life. Simply defined, a holy ambition is something that you really, really want to do, and God wants you to do it, too. This is what gives our lives focus. A holy ambition not only keeps us from following selfish or sinful ambitions, but it also causes us to forego pursuing even other good things. There are many good pursuits in life, but we can’t do everything. We must weed through the many good things that we could do and follow what is most important to us and what God wants us to do most. It is a holy ambition, for instance, that kept Paul from doing a good thing, namely going to Rome. There was something more important that God would have him do. Developing a holy ambition is a key sign of spiritual development.
My holy ambition has developed more clearly over the last few months, but not before God taught me some key lessons.
1. God had to teach me the joy and satisfaction of handling His Word accurately, powerfully, and joyfully despite how many people were gathered to hear it. My joy of handling the Word cannot be derived from the size of the audience, but rather from the privilege of speaking of Scripture’s central topic: Jesus Christ.
2. God had to teach me that ministry passions and a holy ambition make the pursuit of position irrelevant. I cannot allow a rank or position to cloud what God would have me do. By His grace, God has begun and is still working in me to delight in serving according to my ministry passion rather than pursuing a particular position or rank. Following hard after Christ and my holy ambition is supremely more joyful and commendable by God than pursuing rank, notoriety, or position.
Once God worked in these specific areas, my ministry passion or holy ambition became more sharply known to me. Most uncomfortably, I have had to reckon with the fact that the pursuit of God’s ambition for my life at this time demands a change of ministry direction. I believe it is necessary for me at this time to forego something that has been very good, in order to pursue what is most important to me and what God wants me to do most. Serving at Tri-City has indeed been a good, commendable, and blessed thing.
It has been good to serve with my whole family.
It has been good to serve wonderful, loving people.
It has been good to serve godly and willing servants training in the seminary.
It has been good to serve under caring leadership.
It has been good to serve with dear friends.
God’s leading, however, requires that I follow after a ministry passion that is burning in my heart and cannot be ignored. My change of ministry direction does not require that I launch into uncharted territory, but to return to a type of ministry with which I am familiar. I have spent most of my adult life in a college setting teaching and ministering to college age students and singles. This has been my life. I love college students, I think like college students, and I love the opportunity to give biblical data to those at such a critical crossroads of life. Having been away from this kind of ministry over the last couple of years has caused me to miss it greatly. The saying is very true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
God seems to be directing me back toward a ministry that is more intensely involved in the lives of singles and college-age adults. God has already begun this process, and I want my friends to hear the details from me personally before I pursue another ministry possibility any further. Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville, SC has asked if I would consider becoming their Singles’ Pastor. This position would include several aspects of ministry.
1. I would be responsible to shepherd, disciple, and teach a group of single adults through the structures of Sunday School and various Bible studies throughout the week.
2. I would greatly desire to see the area secular colleges reached with the gospel of Christ. I specifically would like to target Furman University through Bible studies and student-led events. I think God has given me the desire, personality, and academic background to minister effectively on a college campus.
3. I would also oversee the mentoring and additional ministerial training of the many ministerial students who attend Hampton Park. Bob Jones University is a large Christian school and the faculty desires to mentor all of their students, but it can be nearly impossible. I don’t think we should lay the blame on BJU. I think the local churches in the area should take up the slack and mentor this next generation of ministers of the Word. I would consider this particular ministry a great privilege.
4. My drive to teach in an academic setting would also be fulfilled. Not only would I teach Bible at Hampton Park Christian School, but I would also pursue teaching in a college or seminary as an adjunct faculty member.
I have had several conversations with Hampton Park’s pastoral search committee. They have voted unanimously to have me come to the church to candidate. I will be preaching and teaching at Hampton Park on Aug. 3. The church will then take a vote later in the week to decide whether or not to call me. I am asking for you to pray with me about this. I want nothing more than to follow the ministry passion that God has given me. Someone may ask, “Why would a guy who is an Associate Pastor move somewhere else to become a Singles’ pastor rather than pursue the next step of being a senior pastor?” I refer to the earlier discussion. I must follow my ministry passion first. God will take care of position. I must take care of the depth of my ministry, and God will take care of the breadth. Will I ever be a senior pastor? I don’t know. If that is the position that would best allow me to live out my ministry passion, then I accept it joyfully. I don’t believe that is how God is leading me right now.
I have found the following Puritan prayer particularly encouraging and convicting in the last few months:
I hang on thee, I see, believe, live,
When thy will, not mine, is done;
I can plead of nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace,
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure.
If thy mercy makes me poor and vile, blessed be thou!
It is the meek and humble who are shown thy covenant,
know thy will, are pardoned and healed
who by faith depend and rest upon grace,
who are sanctified and quickened,
who evidence thy love.
Help me to pray in faith and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou has promised;
Strengthen me to pray with the conviction
that whatever I receive is thy gift,
so that I may pray until prayer be granted.
Lord, help me to cry out in prayer
as parched ground opens wider and wider until rain comes.
So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.
To the praise of His glorious grace,
Christopher D. Barney