Category: Ministry

A Suffering Branch

A Suffering Branch

This weekend, you likely heard the horrific news that 11 people were killed, and nine injured, in a shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation. Weekly Saturday morning services were being held at the time of the shooting. The incident goes down as the single most deadly attack on the Jewish community in United States history. According to witnesses, the shooter yelled “All Jews must die!” as he began firing.

Of course, any event of suffering or violence is worthy of prayer. We pray for those injured or killed, for their families and friends, for witnesses who emerged physically unscathed but are nonetheless traumatized, and for justice to be served. But for Christians, this particular event ought to have a unique significance. Those suffering at Tree of Life aren’t inherently more valuable than those who have suffered in other shootings and natural disasters we hear about on the news (not to mention the countless sufferings we never hear about from all over this fallen world). However, if Christians like us read our Bibles, we quickly find that we share a common heritage with our Jewish friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates that we don’t share with everyone in this world. We also find that God has used the Jewish people throughout history to bring about our own salvation.

Judaism and Christianity are both considered “Abrahamic” religions – meaning God’s relationship with Abraham in the Book of Genesis serves as a massive foundation to our respective faiths. The entire Old Testament is the story of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s offspring: the Jewish people. The significance of the Jewish people carries over into the New Testament, where nearly every single author of a New Testament book was a Jew. Jesus himself was born to a Jewish mother, circumcised on the eighth day according to the custom of Moses, hailed as the “Son of David” during his earthly ministry, and mockingly labeled the “King of the Jews” at his crucifixion.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul agonizes over the relationship Gentile Christians (non-Jews who believe in Jesus) have with Jews who do not believe in Jesus. Paul argues that if not for the Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus, Gentiles would not have been welcomed into God’s family by His grace, through faith in Jesus. This was all part of God’s plan to enact his old promise to Abraham – that in him “all families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

Paul also starkly warns Gentile Christians not to look down upon their unbelieving Jewish neighbors. He compares Gentile Christians to “wild olive shoots” that have been “grafted in” to a pre-existent olive tree, and unbelieving Jews to “natural branches” that have been “cut off” through unbelief. In no uncertain terms, Paul gives a practical warning to Gentile Christians not to be “arrogant” toward non-believing Jews. Even though those Jews may not believe in Jesus right now, Gentile Christians like those back in Rome (and like us at here at PVCC) should never forget the essential role the Jewish people played in God’s sovereign plan to rescue and redeem sinners like us.

What does all this have to do with the suffering at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh? It’s really quite simple: If we take Jesus’s example of caring for the suffering seriously, regardless of who they are or from where they come – how much more so should we care for suffering Jews with whom we are so tightly linked? We mourn with our Jewish friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates who are suffering. We reject what is sadly just the most recent iteration of hatred against the Jewish people. And we pray to God that His kingdom come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven – as our Jewish Lord and Savior taught us.

Men’s Ministry Brainstorming

Men’s Ministry Brainstorming

As many of you know, David and Erica Richards recently moved to Dallas, Texas. David and Erica both served at PVCC in numerous ways, and we miss their entire family – but we’re also happy to hear that they’re settling in well to their new home.

One of the areas of service where David left his mark is our Men’s Ministry. For several years, David did the lion’s share of the work of our Men’s Ministry, mainly through leading a monthly Men’s Breakfast. We met on Saturday mornings, starting at Hardee’s, and then ended up at Panera Bread. Along the way, we read “Disciplines of a Godly Man” by R. Kent Hughes, as well as “Visual Theology” by Tim Challies. Most recently, we studied the Book of James. From there, we took a brief hiatus over the summer.

But as fall quickly approaches, we’re ready to start back up. Our next Men’s Breakfast will be Saturday, August 4. However, we’d like to try some different things as we turn the page:

1. Instead of starting at 8 AM, this Men’s Breakfast will start at 8:30 AM. It might not sound like a big change, but an extra 30 minutes of sleep is always welcome!

2. In addition, we’ll be meeting at the church, and providing coffee, milk, juice, and donuts. We’ll have more privacy that way – and even better, you won’t have to pay anything!

3. And finally, we’re excited that our own Joe Fenimore has agreed to share a short devotion with the group.

When we meet on August 4, we’d like to have as many men present as possible – mainly to hear how we can better serve the men of our church in the future. Is the traditional monthly breakfast the best option, or are there more helpful resources we can offer? Are there better days or times to meet together? Are there books of the Bible, doctrinal questions, or practical topics that would be particularly appropriate to study? Do we need to focus less on studying, and more on simply spending time together and building friendships? What about conferences, outings, or retreats? This is your opportunity to share your thoughts, that way we can strive for more effective ministry this fall and beyond.

Of course, many men in our church have benefited greatly from our past Men’s Ministry efforts. However, we also want to know if there are adjustments we can make to benefit even more of our brothers in Christ. That’s the main goal of this event; so we hope you’ll join us!

Contact Ben Halliburton for more information.

What’s an “Associate Minister”?

What’s an “Associate Minister”?

If you’ve been around PVCC for the past several months, you heard the news that Zach Ellsworth, our part-time Youth Minister, would be full-time starting April 1. Well, it’s April 12 – and so far, so good! Zach is now full-time, settling in well to his new routines, and slowly but surely assuming more responsibilities than he had before.

In addition, you may have heard Zach recently refer to himself as PVCC’s “Associate Minister”. Why did we choose this title? Why didn’t we just keep calling Zach the “Youth Minister”? What exactly are Zach’s duties and tasks as an “Associate Minister”?

As he prepared to start full-time, Zach and I discussed his job title, and agreed that the “Youth Minister” title is too narrow for the responsibilities he’d be taking on. Zach is still the “Youth Minister”; overseeing Gravity Student Ministries (grades 6-12) is still one of his primary passions and duties. However, in addition to grades 6-12, Zach is slowly assuming oversight of our Kids Kingdom ministries (nursery-5th grade). I have no doubt Zach will put the same level of thought, effort, and prayer into Kids Kingdom that he puts into Gravity.

On top of that, there are other ways Zach will be serving PVCC that go far beyond children and students. He’ll be preaching on Sunday mornings from time to time, offering pastoral care, and eventually leading a Small Group. And of course, working in a church the size of ours means one must learn to be a “jack of all trades”; various and unexpected needs regularly pop up in the day to day life of our church, and I’m confident Zach will step up when those needs arise.

After Zach and I agreed on the title of “Associate Minister”, I shared our idea with the Elders. They agreed with our thought process, and just like that, a new job title was born!

To sum it all up, Zach is no longer simply a “Youth Minister”; nor is he simply a “Children’s Minister”. Zach’s ministry will be relevant to everyone who walks through the doors of PVCC, regardless of whether or not they have a child in some particular age range. Thus, he is our Associate Minister – and his godliness, example, and leadership matter greatly to all who call PVCC home.

If you have any questions about Zach’s transition, don’t hesitate to ask. And of course, we ask that you keep Zach, Hanna, and Theo in prayer as they get used to this new way of life. And finally, be sure to thank Nancy Kinsey for her years of overseeing Kids Kingdom. She’ll still be involved with that ministry on a volunteer basis, and I’m sure all her experience will make her a great resource for Zach as he learns the ropes. Nancy remains a blessing to our church in her role as Administrative Assistant, even as she passes the Kids Kingdom torch to Zach.

Sermon Planning, 2018: Make Your Voice Heard!

Sermon Planning, 2018: Make Your Voice Heard!

Each year (usually near the end of one year, or the beginning of the next), I spend time in thought, study, and prayer about what to preach in the months ahead at PVCC.

Thinking that far ahead is always challenging; you never know when significant, unexpected events may cause you to toss even your best-laid plans to the curb. That being said, I think there’s great wisdom in preachers patiently, intentionally, and prayerfully thinking through what their congregation needs to hear, when they need to hear it, and how to communicate that message most effectively.

As I plan ahead for sermons at PVCC, there are all kinds of factors I take into account:

1) I want to give our congregation a balanced and generous helping of Scripture (reading different genres of Scripture, spending time in both the Old and New Testaments, and examining both well-known chunks of Scripture, and often neglected portions). It’s true that sermon series on more topical concerns can be incredibly beneficial for God’s people; they certainly have a place on the plate. But in the long run, I’m convinced that Scripture is the main course of a Christian’s filling, strengthening, and sustaining meal.

2) On top of consistently presenting Scripture, I feel a responsibility to address many of the big questions and challenges the people of our church are regularly wrestling with from a Biblical perspective. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s wise to let our secular culture constantly dictate what I do and don’t preach; but on the other hand, it would be foolish to not take the more pressing issues and debates of our current day and age into account when preaching to God’s people.

3) And of course, there’s the calendar to consider! Easter and Christmas are the two major Christian holidays, so I think it would be silly to not give them their due when it comes to planning sermons each year. But on top of that, other holidays can have an impact on sermon planning as well (you probably don’t want to start an important series of sermons on a holiday weekend, when many people may be traveling).

As for this year’s preparation, most Sundays already have their assigned sermons. That being said, there’s still a handful of weeks waiting to be filled. That’s where you come in, people of PVCC:

What would you like to hear preached on Sunday mornings in 2018? What passages of Scripture, topics, and questions can we address on Sunday mornings to best aid in your growth in Christ?

Are there passages of Scripture you’ve always found confusing? What challenges are you currently facing that you’d like to hear discussed from a Biblical perspective? What topics have you found churches far too shy to talk about, to the detriment of God’s people? It’s easy for me to assume I know what my congregation wants and needs to hear each Sunday morning; but no matter how well I know Scripture, our church, and the cultural climate in which we live, it’s more than possible that I could miss something.

Of course, I can’t promise that every suggestion you offer will come to fruition; but I’d still like to hear what you’re thinking as I continue another year of the joyous, yet heavy responsibility of preaching.

Feel free to contact me however you see fit.

Men’s Breakfast 2018 Kickoff

Men’s Breakfast 2018 Kickoff

If you Google “men and friendship”, you’ll come across numerous studies – most of them suggesting the same thing. According to the experts, men are not good at friendship. Men usually have fewer close friendships than women do, and report higher feelings of loneliness. This can have a significant impact on a man’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing – especially as the ups and downs of life wear us down.

For the past several years, PVCC has offered a monthly Men’s Breakfast. Lately, David Richards and I have taken turns leading the group; Joshua Walker has led a time or two as well. We meet at Panera Bread (State Route 37 in Noblesville, in front of Meijer) at 8 AM. This is a great atmosphere for the Men’s Breakfast, and the coffee and bagels are good too.

Some simple changes are coming for the Men’s Breakfast in 2018. David Richards returns to leading each month, rather than alternating with me. In addition, we’re starting a new study, reading straight from the Book of James. This would be a great opportunity for you to jump in if you’ve never attended the Men’s Breakfast before, or if you haven’t attended consistently in some time. I’d especially encourage men who are newer to Prairie View to consider participating.

I think the Men’s Breakfast has many benefits, but it can be particularly useful to men whose schedules don’t allow them to participate in a weekly Small Group. Saturday morning may be easier than a weeknight, especially if you’re married with kids; and once per month is much less demanding than once per week.

If you’ve never attended before, don’t be intimidated! We usually have a wide age range present, and we all have unique personalities and contributions. The Men’s Breakfast ends by 9:30 AM, and consists of time for catching up, discussion of our study, and prayer. Whether you’re a new believer looking to learn more, or a mature Christian who’s attended countless events like this, we’d love to have you. I’m sure there’s much the men present can teach you, and much you can teach them.

Will attending the PVCC Men’s Breakfast solve the complex challenges men face when it comes to developing lasting friendships? Probably not. However, it certainly won’t hurt. We need each other more than we realize or admit.

I hope you’ll join us on Saturday January 20; you may be surprised by just how encouraging and edifying it can be.

Christmas at Prairie View

Christmas at Prairie View

For most of us, the month of December is a mixture of shopping, stress, excitement, joy, a little more stress, travel, and general busyness. At PVCC, we try to be respectful of peoples’ calendars; we know it’s easy to get overwhelmed at this time of year. However, we also try to offer God’s people meaningful opportunities for service, fellowship, outreach, worship, and teaching.

Here’s a general outline of what Christmas looks like at Prairie View Christian Church:

1. Last Sunday, we took our yearly trip to NorthRidge Gracious Retirement Living to do some Christmas Caroling. The people of NorthRidge love when we come to visit; one resident even gave me a thank-you card saying our carolers were “wonderful”! Caroling may not seem like much to many people, but a simple act of service to our neighbors – a small reminder that the church down the road cares for them – can be especially heartwarming on a cold December night.

2. Following our trip to NorthRidge, we gathered back at PVCC for a catered dinner. PVCC provided the food, mainly as a showing of gratitude to our congregation for another year of ministry together. We even had two strangers come in and join us for the meal! What started out as a fellowship event ended up serving as an opportunity to show hospitality.

3. This Saturday, December 16, our Men’s Breakfast will be devoted to inviting neighbors to join us for worship services on Sunday, December 24. We’ll be passing out simple invitation cards, praying that even just one person might come – and knowing that many people are more open to church attendance at Christmas than they are at other times of the year. We also ordered plenty of extra invitation cards, that way you can take some home on Sunday to share with your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family – whoever you want!

4. And finally, we look forward to worshiping with you on Christmas Eve. We’ll worship at 10 AM that morning like usual, finishing up our “Christmas in the Psalms” sermon series. We’ll worship again that evening at 5 PM, ending our time together with a candlelight singing of “Silent Night”. These two services will not be identical, so we hope you’ll join us for both. And out of respect for your plans with family and friends, our 5 PM service will last no longer than one hour.

Again, we know how exhausting the month of December can be; however, we encourage you to take time for the things we mentioned above: service to your neighbors, fellowship with your fellow believers, outreach to those who may not recognize the birth of Jesus as something to celebrate, worship of the God who has saved us, and teaching from Scripture. And every year, we hope and pray PVCC is a place where you have the opportunity to do all of those things.

For more information about any of the events listed above, don’t hesitate to ask one of our Staff or Elders.

The Five Solas: Recommended Reading

The Five Solas: Recommended Reading

This October, we’re spending our Sunday mornings looking back to the very beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, 500 years ago. Specifically, we’re examining the “Five Solas” that arose from the movement started by Martin Luther.

“Sola” is the Latin word for “alone”. The Five Solas are the core convictions that separated the Protestants of Martin Luther’s day from the Roman Catholic Church of his time. These five convictions are:

  1. Sola Fide (“Faith alone”)
  2. Sola Gratia (“Grace alone”)¬†
  3. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”)
  4. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”)
  5. Sola Deo Gloria (“For the glory of God alone”)

To learn more about these five convictions, we encourage you to join us on Sunday mornings. However, if you want to dig even deeper into the Protestant Reformation – or if you can’t attend Sunday mornings in October – here are a few recommended resources.

1. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Roland H. Bainton)

Even though this book is well over 50 years old, it is still widely considered the go-to biography of Martin Luther. Bainton tells Martin Luther’s story from beginning to end – and does so in a way that is engaging and informative. While Martin Luther is certainly not the only figure who played a role in the Protestant Reformation, he is the man who started it all. You can’t truly begin to understand the Protestant Reformation if you don’t know Martin Luther.

2. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (Michael Reeves)

In this book, Reeves examines the historical background of the Protestant Reformation. What happened in the years leading up to 1517? Why was Martin Luther a prime candidate to lead such a movement? Who followed in Martin Luther’s footsteps? What impact did the Reformation in Germany have on the surrounding world? And perhaps most importantly, the final chapter asks:”Is the Reformation Over?” This book is both entertaining and accessible, even if you don’t consider yourself much of an historian.

3. Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Kevin Vanhoozer)

This book is not a biography; nor is it simply a book of history. Vanhoozer is a Protestant theologian, and he examines each of the Five Solas through a Biblical and theological lens. What were the Reformer’s original goals and concerns? How have the Solas been criticized over the past 500 years? What do the Five Solas mean for Protestant Christians today? And just as significantly, what do they not mean? Of the three recommendations I offer, this book might be the most in-depth; get a pen ready to underline or write notes. That being said, it is wonderfully thought-provoking; you may find answers to questions you didn’t even know you had, and a new appreciation and understanding of what it means to be Protestant.

Each of these books has been enormously helpful to me in preparation for these sermons. They’re all relatively short, easy to find, and affordable. One thing we Protestant Christians aren’t always good at is knowing our history; but reading these books would go a long way in helping us better understand who we are, how we got here, and where we ought to be going as we move forward. I’d highly encourage you to dig into each of them.

Know Your History

Know Your History

Who are the most influential people in your life as a follower of Jesus? What places have played a major role in shaping you as a believer?

As I look back on my own Christian life, I can name many people and places God has used to challenge, encourage, teach, and grow me. I owe of all these people and places a great debt for their willingness to love and serve me. A few examples:

My parents.

As a young child in Tennessee, I was raised in a Christian home. My family attended Collierville First Baptist Church consistently (except for when my sister and I could convince our parents to stay home and eat McDonald’s sausage biscuits instead). I attended Vacation Bible School each year, and participated in RA’s (essentially a Southern Baptist version of Boy Scouts). I played Upward Basketball, and my sister was getting involved in the Youth Group before we moved to the Cincinnati area. My parents taught me the truth about Jesus from a young age, and emphasized the value of a church family.

Hebron Baptist Church (Hebron, KY)

This is the church we joined when we moved to the Cincinnati area. I sat and listened to sermons from a preacher named Shawn Edwards. He loved Scripture, and taught it faithfully. BJ Sanders, my Youth Minister, took a great interest in me. He was a wonderful friend, mentor, and discipled me patiently throughout my teens. Through the work of this church, I first sensed a calling from God to go into vocational ministry. God used this church in big ways during some of the most formative years of my life.

Cincinnati Christian University (Cincinnati, OH)

I attended CCU for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and met many friends along the way. The professors were gifted, experienced, and Scripturally-grounded teachers. I learned more about Scripture at CCU than I ever could have imagined, and my love for Christ, the Church, and vocational ministry was nurtured well there.

Journey (Union, KY)

Journey was a small church plant close to my house, and the first church to ever issue me a paycheck. I was a VERY part-time Youth Minister, and only served there for about a year – but I met wonderful people who loved God, and got my first taste of what it’s like to be in vocational ministry. I also learned about some of the unique challenges of working at a brand new church, still trying to get off the ground.

Batesville Christian Church (Batesville, IN)

While finishing my Bachelor’s degree at CCU, I worked here for two years as part-time Minister of Youth and Family Life. Upon my graduation from CCU, I moved to full-time at BCC for another (almost) two years. Steve Yeaton, the Senior Minister at BCC at the time, quickly became one my most trusted and valued mentors. Steve taught me just about everything I knew about vocational ministry prior to arriving at Prairie View. This is the church Olivia and I were married in; we lived in this church’s parsonage when we brought Javan home from the hospital; this is the first church to give me consistent preaching opportunities. This church gave me financial support to begin my Master’s degree at CCU. We have wonderful memories at BCC, where so many godly believers loved us, cared for us, and showed us grace as we learned how to be spouses, parents, and church leaders. Those relationships still mean the world to us, and we keep in touch with many of the believers here regularly.

If not for these people and places, I would not be serving at Prairie View Christian Church today. God used each of them in unique ways to help me become the man, husband, father, and Pastor I am today. I owe each of them a great debt, and am incredibly grateful for all of them.

Now that you know some of my history, back to the original question of the post: Who are the most influential people in your life as a follower of Jesus? What places have played a major role in shaping you as a believer?

As you reflect on that question, thank God for those people – whoever they are. Pray for those people, and for those churches and institutions that served you well. It may be easy for you to look back and lob criticisms at those people and places; that’s true for me as well, and some of those criticisms may have merit. However, don’t forget the debt you owe them. God – in his wisdom – put you in the right places, at the right times, with the right people, to get you to where you are today.

There’s great value in knowing your history. I hope reflecting back on your history as a believer would bring about the humility of knowing how much you owe God and others. I also hope you’ll be filled with gratitude for the people and places God used to shape you into the believer you are today.

Hurricane Harvey: How You Can Help

Hurricane Harvey: How You Can Help

Presumably, you’ve already seen the devastating reports out of Houston, Texas, as well as smaller surrounding communities.

Last weekend, Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Houston. The storm hung over southeast Texas for several days, dumping the largest single recorded rainfall in the history of the 48 contiguous United States. Naturally, this has led to massive destruction, heartbreaking loss of life, and immense suffering. Thankfully, there have also been countless stories of heroism in the face of great danger, and even worship in the midst of pain.

Our church asks that you pray for those suffering. Most of us cannot fathom the hardship these people are facing now, and will be facing well into the future. Pray for those who have lost so much; pray for those risking their lives to save others; and pray that Christians near and far would step up to the plate with service and generosity – for the good of those who are hurting, the spread of the Gospel, and the glory of God.

We also ask that if you are able, consider giving generously to relief efforts. If you’re looking for ways to give, but don’t know where to go, here’s a suggestion:

International Disaster Emergency Services (IDES for short) is the missions organization we partner with for our annual food-packing event. IDES is a competent and reputable resource for disasters such as these, and they are working hard to partner with Houston churches to best help those affected. If you’d like to give, but also want to make sure your finances are actually going to Hurricane Harvey relief, I’d encourage you to give through IDES. For more information, see this link.

We worship a God who is good, holy, and sovereign. We know that he is still on his throne, even when the world around us looks chaotic. And whether pain and suffering results from a natural disaster, human wickedness, or even the evil forces of Satan himself, Christians are called to pray and serve fervently.