One of the great things about attending a smaller seminary is the fact that you are able to get to know most of the other students. Jason Parker and I were in a number of classes together during our MDiv work at DBTS. I recently had the opportunity to ask Jason about the ministry where he has served since graduation.
Can you tell us a little bit about the ministry you are involved in (e.g., where you are, how long you’ve been there, and what the community is like)?
I am pastoring at High Country Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, CO. My family and I moved here in 2005 to plant this church. The city is perhaps most famous for being situated near Pike’s Peak (“America’s Mountain”) and for being the home of the US Air Force Academy. A fairly typical mid-size American city, it is sprawling, youngish, and transient, due in part to the large number of military personnel stationed here.
Can you tell us a little about your family and how they are involved in ministry?
My wife, Monica, and I have been married for sixteen years, and the Lord has blessed us with six children. I must say that I don’t think I could do this work without them. While my wife doesn’t prepare my sermons for me, her service impacts all kinds of personal and practical dimensions of the work. In all seriousness, I have to learn how to keep her from doing too much. Her hospitality is particularly exemplary. I can’t count how many lives she has touched in our home, of believers and unbelievers alike. Our children have worked right alongside us. One of our goals as a family is to have a productive and lively home, not a pit stop for lazy consumption. We want our family to be a meaningful unit where real life is lived, real work is done, real achievements accomplished. Since we are Christians, our church is central to our identity and our achievements as a family.
In addition to studying at DBTS, what other means were helpful in preparing you for the work?
My father is a pastor, so serving with him and watching him serve was certainly formative for me as a young man. My experience as an undergrad serving in various churches and ministry teams gave some breadth of experience. I also served as an assistant pastor for three years prior to attending DBTS, and the dear saints at Ordway Baptist Church patiently endured many youthful blunders. I owe them a great debt of gratitude.
What would you describe as some of your main priorities in ministry?
The main priorities of pastoral ministry never really change. Feeding the flock occupies the bulk of my energies, in preparation, preaching, and personal involvement in people’s lives. The Scripture says that persisting in these basics will save both myself and my hearers, and that is what I aim for. Right now our church is making efforts to improve our proclamation of the gospel, and I need to improve in doing the work of an evangelist.
What would you tell a seminary student who is considering church planting out West?
First, go for it. Once you’ve taken your wrap, tip your hat and hang on for the ride. There is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it. Sure, if you are like me, you will eat dirt more times than you care to count, but you just have to get back on. I’d also say that the West needs faithful plodders who are willing to work the ground that is there, not fad-riders who ride into town on the latest whiz bang doodad to achieve artificial results. Love the people who are there and work with them long term.
But I would also say this—before you get on the back of the beast, think deeply on the biblical teaching about conversion and the biblical teaching on the church. The West has never had the gospel-church connection built into its psyche, so you will need to keep a clear head in order to avoid getting lost in the blizzard of relativism and individualism.
I think I would also say, don’t plant where it is not needed. That may seem a strange thing to say in a region that is not known for having too many churches. However, I have learned that multiplying churches without clear cause is a wonderful way to cloud the gospel and confuse what the cause of Christ is about. Don’t just assume that because a place is out West it needs you to plant a church in it. Learn the area well, especially the other churches and pastors.
What special challenges do church planters/pastors face in the Colorado Springs area?
Christianity. That is to say, what most people here think is Christianity. More specifically, it is a churchless Christianity. It is privatized, individualized Christianity which assumes the ultimate goal of my religion is to feel really in with God.
This takes the form in this community of a dominant parachurch ethos. This form of Christianity thinks it can bypass the central rites of Christianity—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It can avoid difficult doctrinal positions. It thinks that discipleship can be done without “baptizing them and teaching them all that I have commanded you.” It thinks that discipleship can be done without church membership and church discipline. All we need are “authentic” relationships built around campfires and rock concerts.
Some might think this evaluation to be hyperbolic, but I don’t think I’m throwing the ball too far over the truth.
Would you be willing to share a mistake you’ve made or a misconception you had when you began church planting?
Given what I believe about the church, and how vastly different that is than what Colorado Springs Christianity believes about the church, I would definitely want to start with a functioning team, as opposed to starting from scratch as I did. I seriously underestimated how counter-cultural our efforts were going to be in that respect. In such a situation, mere teaching is often not adequate for most people. People need to see a working model of what I am talking about. The entire concept of church membership is new to many professing Christians, much less its full ramifications.
Another mistake I made was not getting and staying connected with other pastors as well as I could have. Church planting can be fairly lonely work. But even beyond that, the ideas rattling around in the church planter’s brain need to be tested before being implemented, especially when you are trying to pioneer something people haven’t seen before. I encourage church planters to talk frequently with other pastors, even with other pastors who don’t always share the same philosophy of ministry.
On the whole, however, church planting has been pretty much what I expected—a lot of fun, a lot of work, a lot of tears, eternal joys. It is a completely life-changing experience.