2015 President's Blog
Pastors Conference 2015 Panama City
"Ministry in the Middle"
At this time we have been called to be Faithful and Fruitful. More often we seem to pursue Fame and Fortune. Then we wonder why all that we get is Frustration.
As we meet here today, it would seem that we, as ministers of the gospel, should be the happiest people on the planet. We have a task that has been given to us by Almighty God. We have been assured that ultimately we will be totally successful, because the victory has already been won for us and the winner of the victory continues to work with us. We have been given a working partnership in our pursuit by the very author of the work. We know that in our pursuits we will never experience a shortage of raw material or a lack of need for our service. We know that despite the greatest opposition of our adversaries our work will continue successfully. This sure success is shown by the continuing march forward since the very beginning of time. There is no thwarting the will of our leader, and there is no stopping His Mighty Army.
Yet, far too often when we meet as ministers of the gospel, we are far less than the happiest people on the planet. Rather than being filled with unquenchable joy and vigor, we are despondent, defeated, depressed and from our appearance and actions one would think that we are destitute. The children of the King look and act far more like paupers on the roadside seeking a handout of approval from an alien society. We complain about our heavy work load, our lack of respect, our lack of power, our lack of social standing, our lack of compensation, and the general disrepute in which we are held by modern society. Often we long to be in the lead, carrying the banner, molding the message, changing society, raising the hopes of the people, and generally occupying the spotlight of adulation. Yet we find ourselves often mired in minutia, mending messed up lives, bandaging broken relationships, and seeking to plaster over the cracks in our culture.
WE ARE TOLERATED AT BEST, OSTRACISED OFTEN, RIDICULED ON A REGULAR BASIS, AND LEFT FEELING THAT WE ARE OPERATING ON THE OUTER FRINGES OF EFFECTIVENESS. WE SINCERELY DESIRE TO LEAD, BUT WE ARE MOST OFTEN CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE FLEETING MOMENTS OF JOY AND FULFILLMENT AND THE NAGGING QUESTIONS OF OUR PLACE AND PURPOSE.
It would be very easy for us to despair and assume that no one who has ever lived seeking to serve our Lord has ever faced such overwhelming obstacles of being mired in the middle between great aspirations and the gloom of seeming defeat. YET, I WANT TO TELL YOU THAT WHEN WE ARE IN THIS UNCOMFORTABLE TENSION WE ARE IN HE COMPANY OF MANY OF THE GREAT SERVANTS WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE COMPANY OF THE MAN WHOM JESUS DESCRIBED AS THE “GREATEST BORN OF WOMAN.” LET US SEE WHAT OUR LORD HAS TO SAY TO US AS WE CONSIDER MINISTRY IN THE MIDDLE AS SEEN IN THE LIFE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. And in so doing let us ask ourselves, “Am I willing to Minister in the Middle of God’s will; In the Middle of a perverse culture; In the Middle between Success and Failure all for His Honor and Glory?”SCRIPTURE: John 1: 6-31
Matthew 11: 2-6
While the time and setting are vastly different, the dynamics and characteristics of the ministry of John the Baptist and the minister of today are amazingly similar. Let’s look at some of the elements that made John so effective as he Ministered in the Middle. These elements are still relevant to us. The ministry of John seems to have been bracketed by two statements. In the early days of John’s preaching, Jesus came into the area, and John made the singular announcement that defined his place of Ministry in the Middle. When John saw our Lord approaching he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.” In this one statement he cast a bright light on the needs of the world and the ministry of Jesus. Later, after having followed our Lord’s commands faithfully John found himself in a prison cell facing imminent death. At this point, we find the other bracket of his Ministry in the Middle. When John sent his disciples to Jesus he gave them only one question. The question did not deal with fine points of theology or seek for some popularly held Op Ed statement. John simply asked Jesus, “Are you the one, or do we look for another?” John’s question certainly did not cast doubt on Jesus’ greatness or goodness. John simply sought to determine whether he had been accurate in his assessment of the life and work of our Lord.
The description of Ministry in the Middle given in John 1, reveals several elements that are essential for us if we are to occupy this favored position today. Let’s look at these.
John: The Man - In John 1, the author of John’s gospel, not to be confused with John the Baptist, had just described Jesus as the light that was to come. He showed the comparison between Jesus and John the Baptist as that of the light and the one announcing the light. John was a man - a good and even great man - but just a man. Jesus was God coming into the world in the flesh, but John the Baptist was a man sent from God. We need to be very careful dealing with Bible characters so that we do not ascribe to them superhuman qualities or powers that were not real. These men and women were just like we are - men with similar weaknesses and faults. While we must not make the subordinate characters of the Bible into something more than they were, we must also be careful that we do not assume for ourselves any of the characteristics that belong to God alone. I have told my students for many years that we have to be very careful that we do not get caught up in a dangerous progression that says:
I speak for God - I am the only one speaking for God - Perhaps I am God
We must remember that we, just like John the Baptist, are men. Not only was John a man, he was in some ways a most unlikely man to carry out the role that was given to him. He was not of the highest pedigree, with the greatest credentials, the finest honed skills, or the most pleasing manner.
In fact, John the Baptist would not have won any awards in ministry today, especially being voted as “Most Likely to Succeed” or Alumnus of the Year from his college or seminary. No one would want him for their model in the Best Dressed Category since there would be no place on the spectrum from jeans and tee shirts to three piece suits and ties that would accommodate a locust crunching, honey sipping man in a camel hair wrap. I am amazed at how often we discuss particular ministers more by the way in which they are dressed rather than what they have to say about Jesus. John would have never been bothered by the ACLU or other purveyors of liberalism seeking to recognize him with their Award for Political Correctness.
John the Baptist was a man - to many a very strange man; to some a most aggravating man; to all a man who could not be ignored; and to God just the right man. Today, if we are going to Minister in the Middle of the hurts and heartaches of a desperate society we must recapture what it means to display the dignity of manhood. I am not talking about being a steroid styled, testosterone driven, biker shorts clad, dominating tyrant or a hyper feminist, wimpy, wilting wall flower. The world has enough bravado and ego. When we stand before the people, they are not looking for a Spiderman, an Iron Man, and certainly not an Ant Man. They are looking for a Gentle Man. Our Lord gave us the supreme example of such quality, and the Apostle Paul described the needed character of the Man of God in Philippians 2 when he said that we need to have the mind (character) of Christ in us. We have tried to substitute power for authority, and we have often forgotten that what authority we do have comes as a gift from God and not from our pedigree or religious genetics. God is still calling, and the church is still needing men who are unashamed of the gospel, aware of their weaknesses, and depending upon Christ alone. This is not a call to a life of debauchery but a call to dependence on God to know and use us to His honor and glory. GENTLEMEN, IT IS TIME FOR MINISTERS IN THE MIDDLE TO “MAN UP!”
John: His Motivation - Whenever we are engaged in any life pursuit, especially that of ministry, we must be sure of the source of our motivation. The scripture tells us very clearly and succinctly that John was a man sent from God. His motivation came through the call of God, through the guidance of God, in the power of God, to do the will of God, for as long as he was directed by God. Any motivation other than that which has all of these characteristics will never stand the pressures of Ministry in the Middle. Often, in the maelstrom of ministry, I am challenged to revisit my call in order to make sure of the reason that I am doing what I am doing. Anything less than the call and direction of Almighty God is not sufficient to keep us on the front lines doing the necessary work of Ministry in the Middle. I have heard many individuals say that they have simply chosen ministry as a life work because it seemed to match their personality and appeared to be a clean hands job. I try to share with these folks that for me Ministry in the Middle is not a matter of a choice among many options made on my part but a singular choice made by God when He called me. We will not face successfully the challenges of Ministry in the Middle if we are serving as the result of a call from Mama, Daddy, a favorite aunt or uncle, or even a favorite pastor or church. Nothing less than a call straight from God will suffice to energize and sustain us.
We are challenged to revisit not only the source of our call but its strength and resilience as well. Often I have found that students or other younger pastors have bristled at the idea of revisiting their call in order to find fresh assurance about its source, strength and resilience. They will usually say something like, “To do that would be questioning God and my call.” In truth such revisiting is exactly the opposite of this conclusion. Revisiting our call is not questioning God; it is reassuring ourselves that we have heard, followed and persevered accurately. A call that is not strong enough to stand revisiting is not strong enough to sustain us during Ministry in the Middle.
John: His Message - John’s message had a singular point, a singular power, and a singular person. His message was CHRISTOCENTRIC in every sense of the word. John’s message was not a “feel good” gospel. He had no time or inclination for currying favor with any special interest group at the expense of watering down his message. “Political correctness” was not in his vocabulary, and “would to God” it was not in ours. Both the temple elite and the king felt the effects of John’s insistence on Christ alone as the means of salvation and the rule for measuring acceptable conduct.
John knew who Christ was, and he knew who he was. As I noted earlier those ministering in the middle of the struggles of the world can sometimes get confused and work and worry as though the growth of the kingdom and the ultimate victory is dependent upon us. He is God - We are Not! It is just that simple! The world will be reached through His plan, purpose and power - not ours. We really can rest in Him. We also must remember that the church already has one Bridegroom, and it is not a bigamist - it does not need another spouse. It is His church.
John knew that he was to point people toward Jesus - not toward himself. He quickly and eagerly proclaimed that he was not the light of the world, but he was a witness to that light. John’s singular task is that which we have today. We can become so infatuated with the trappings of office or the access to the spotlight that we forget that the world really does not revolve around us. For a toddler to assume that the world is centered on him and have a fit when it does not act according to his whims is cute, but it is not cute behavior for Ministers in the Middle when they compete for attention and accolades. John was more than content to be known as the voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. He was content and even eager to proclaim that Christ was superior in that He came before John and that He was greater than John. John was quick to deny that he was a prophet or one of the great Fathers of the Faith. He was content to say that he was merely a man who had the great privilege of proclaiming the good news of the Master’s coming. (What greater honor can we receive?)
John: His Proclamation - When John was baptizing it must have been something of an ego filling time. The crowds were coming, and his disciples were reading the poll numbers. Yet, when John saw Jesus coming toward him he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29b) This bold proclamation places the first bracket around his ministry that leads to my characterizing it as Ministry in the Middle. This statement reveals a high point of revelation and inspiration. It reveals that John was centered upon Christ alone, and he wanted all of those who were following him to find their focus in Christ as well. He had to know that this would lead people to abandon their allegiance to him and follow Christ. Yet, with his position and popularity challenged, he made a clear statement as to the work and primacy of Christ. As we see in a related statement asked about the situation by his disciples, John made it very clear that Christ was the center of his ministry, and John’s own position was not a concern for him. “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
John’s proclamation set him on a collision course with the powerful leaders of the day. The temple elite sought to entrap and silence him because he challenged their authority and religiosity. The king imprisoned him and eventually put him to death because John confronted Herod over his debauched lifestyle. For John, the proclamation that he made about Jesus at the place of baptism immediately encompassed his whole life. Everything focused on the plight of man and the only answer for that plight. Status meant nothing. Obedience meant everything. When Jesus asked John to baptize Him, John immediately displayed humility in the recognition that in Christ there is a greater baptism. The question of status that would concern his disciples later was never a concern for John. With status put into proper perspective, obedience came to the forefront and John baptized Jesus. Quite often today we are tempted to reverse John’s situation in our own lives. Status is so alluring and seductive that the great temptation is to sacrifice obedience for the momentary adulation of the crowd.
John: His Predicament - With single minded obedience John followed his great proclamation with a life that centered upon the good news about Jesus. Whatever the time, the situation, or the audience John proclaimed that man was sinful and that the only answer for that sin was to be found in the person of Jesus Christ. He continually found himself at odds with the religious elite and the politically powerful. There can be no doubt that he could have eased his situation and created a far more pleasant life if he had been willing to compromise, tone down his condemnation of sin, or state that such sin was wrong only for the other folks rather than those to whom he was talking. He probably could have traded his prison cell for a country club membership with only what would appear to be a few minor equivocations. In the opinion of some, I am sure that John was being far too narrow in his viewpoint and did not realize that just a little compromise was not going to hurt anyone. After all these were the up and out elite of religious and political society. In spite of the opinions of the crowd, John saw one thing very clearly; there is no middle ground between right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness. In our current society there is the call for a life in which there is no absolute right and no absolute wrong. What is right for me depends upon me and my judgment. I can rationalize and explain my way into or out of any situation. The fact that John’s ministry had no place for such a philosophy meant that he was in a life and death predicament.
John: His Petition - Faced with the predicament that would bring death, John turned to the Man who would bring life. As John languished in prison wondering what the next few days or hours would bring he reviewed his message and his Ministry in the Middle - ministry in the middle of a wicked generation that had no idea of its condition and no concern about the consequences. This situation sets the ending bracket for our situation of Ministry in the Middle. From the perspective of the world and possibly from that of some of John’s disciples it must have seemed that all was lost and that John had been wrong in his great proclamation. It appeared that sin had won. Herod was about to have John beheaded, and it seemed that the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” would be silenced forever. Had he been wrong? Did he miss something? Had he misunderstood? These and other questions must have haunted that prison cell. With death just before him, John did not languish in silence; he did not recite a litany of his misgivings; he did not talk about Jesus is some nebulous way. In the only way that he could, John went to Jesus and asked directly if he had been right in his life and ministry. John sent his disciples and merely asked, “Are you the one, or do we look for another?” Perhaps some would characterize this as a statement revealing weak or faltering faith. Quite the contrary, this was the statement of a man with great faith who was willing to ask the toughest question and depend upon Jesus for the ultimate truth. He would not try to hedge his bets or stack the deck in his favor. John would ask Jesus and live and die with His answer. We would do well to take the example of John and be willing to admit our lack of understanding and trust Christ for His answer to our greatest need.
John: His Paradox - There is no way that even the most skilled author or playwright could take the fate of John the Baptist and bring it to a victorious conclusion. This is not possible with man, but it is totally possible with God! Faced with John’s question, Jesus sent him a message of victory, hope and assurance. Yes, I may not be doing what I am doing in the manner that you or any of my other followers expected, but those in the greatest need are receiving the greatest miracles that could come from my hand alone. John had not questioned as the result of indifference or unbelief. He had questioned from the base of a great faith that wanted to make sure that his limited understanding had not lead to a misrepresentation of the life and work of Jesus. Too often we seem to think that we have life and death figured out and that when unanswerable questions come it must be due to someone else’s fault or misunderstanding. Or perhaps it could be that God just has not done things the way we would.
John Died and Won the Victory - Jesus did not deliver John the Baptist from the executioner who was serving Herod. That would seem to the casual observer to mean that John and his ministry had come to a cataclysmic failure. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus gave His approval and accolades to John the Baptist. Jesus did not scold or condemn him. He told John’s disciples to go and tell him that all that he had believed and proclaimed and more was being fulfilled. Jesus then went on to describe John as the greatest man born of woman. What a tremendous statement of approval from our Lord. What Herod meant to be the action that would snuff out the life of John the Baptist merely served to usher him into the very presence of God in Heaven. He went form a life well lived to the pronouncement of a job well done.
Conclusion - John the Baptist was a man sent from God who came with a specific purpose, a singular message, and a dogged determination to carry out that which he had been commissioned to do. Neither personalities, power, prison nor persecution in its most violent form could dissuade him from the great commission that he had been given by our Lord. John the Baptist was called to Ministry in the Middle - standing out in stark contrast to the society in which he lived and the social conventions that were being practiced. In this ministry bracketed by his Great Proclamation of the work and life of Christ and his Great Petition concerning that life and work, John the Baptist gives us the prime example of the Fruitfulness of a Faithful servant of our Lord. John would not substitute comfort for calling, passion for praise, or wealth for witness.
THE QUESTION BEFORE US TODAY IS REALLY QUITE SIMPLE. WILL WE AS MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL:
SERVE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF CHRIST ALONE
KEEP A SINGULAR PURPOSE
ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS WILLING TO ACCEPT CHRIST’S ANSWERS?
If we will, the paradoxical victory of pleasing our Lord, completing the task and transitioning into that rest that He has provided will be ours as well as the inheritance of those whom we encounter along the way. There will be no immediate ease; no safe harbor; no counterfeit reward. There is only a life to be lived; a Calling to be followed; a Death to be experienced; and the “Well Done” of our Lord to be Cherished.
The man who has learned to Minister in the Middle is the man who can say:
I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content.
I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?
Are you the one, or do we look for another?
And still remain vibrantly faithful.
ARE YOU THE MAN?
"Ministry in the Middle"
Thomas A. Kinchen
Report to the Program Committee Of the State Board of MissionsMay 28, 2015
The Board of Trustees of The Baptist College of Florida met for its annual meeting at the home campus in Graceville on May 14-15, 2015. Board members participated in a modified schedule since the meeting was combined with an anniversary celebration and the College’s spring graduation. Committees met on Thursday morning with the plenary session held on Thursday afternoon. Thursday evening was the time set for the celebration of the College President’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary as CEO at BCF. The College’s Wellness Center was filled with a capacity crowd including trustees, faculty, staff, longtime friends and family members of the President and the First Lady. Music was presented by members of the BCF Male Chorale. Speakers for the evening included: Don McLaughlin, Kenric Conway, Evelyn Conway, Dr. Alex Kinchen, Dr. Wayne Briant, Dr. Glen Owens, Dr. John Sullivan, and Dr. Jim Henry. The ceremonies closed with remarks by BCF President, Dr. Tom Kinchen and Dr. Craig Conner. During the evening Trustees honored the BCF First Lady, Ruth Ann Kinchen, with several gifts and a bouquet of twenty-five long stem roses. Dr. Kinchen was honored with a cash gift (that was given directly to Ruth Ann), a sabbatical leave, and the announcement of a new building on to be built on the campus and named in the couple’s honor.
During their meeting Trustees approved the 2015-2016 Operating Budget for the College. The new budget of $7,000,000 was essentially unchanged from the one in 2014-2015 with the total increase being $9,500. Kinchen noted that the new budget includes a $10 per hour increase in tuition. There was no tuition increase in 2014-2015, so the total increase for the two year period was a total of three percent. The Baptist College of Florida remains one of the least expensive Baptist colleges in America. With the increase in tuition costs being more than taken up in an anticipated decrease in Cooperative Program receipts coupled with an increase in employee insurance and utilities, the budget includes no salary increase for any employees.
Trustees learned that the College has received reaffirmation of its accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Music. Administration and faculty committees are preparing for the reaffirmation of accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Members of the Board toured the Deese Center which is approximately ninety percent complete in its construction. This facility will provide a new dining and meeting center for the College. There will be seating for over 300 persons in the main dining center with a private dining room for 80. The building will also feature a covered patio adjacent to Lake Albert in the center of the school’s main campus.
The Board of Trustees also received the report of a recent gift to the College. Two of the school’s faithful donors recently approached the President and indicated that they wanted to do something for the College. They asked the President about the needs for buildings on the campus. When the President shared with them the need for a new building to house the expanding teacher education program, they indicated their desire to make a donation of fifty percent of the cost of the building. The donors made one request and that was that the building would be named The Kinchen Center in honor of Dr. Thomas A. and Ruth Ann Kinchen. The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees affirmed the desires of the donor and recommended to the entire Board that the building be so named and that the Board transfer additional unrestricted funds to the account for the project. With the funding noted above and subsequent funding received from donors since the Board action, 65% of the projected one million dollar cost of the building has been pledged or donated.
During graduation ceremonies fifty-four individuals received the diplomas of the College. Of the fifty-four graduates, four received Masters degrees from the school. Three graduates received the Master of Arts in Christian Studies diploma. The first Master of Arts in Music and Worship Leadership diploma in the history of the College was also awarded.
As a part of the graduation program, the College awarded two Doctor of Christian Letters diplomas. The awarding of an honorary doctorate is the highest honor that any academic institution can bestow upon an individual. One doctoral diploma was awarded to Mr. Charles R. Parker. Mr. Parker is a retired Navy Captain who received both combat and peacetime medals for his service. A longtime supporter and friend of the College, Mr. Parker has served as Vice President of Development at BCF for the last eleven years. The other doctoral diplomas was presented to Dr. John Sullivan, retired Executive Director Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention. As a pastor, convention executive and Baptist statesman, Dr. Sullivan has distinguished himself as a faithful servant of our Lord. The College and I were greatly honored to recognize each of these men.
Thomas A. Kinchen