On December 1st, I will celebrate (yes, celebrate) three years as lead pastor at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church. This time of year always gets me thinking about where God has taken me in ministry. When God called me into the ministry in 1992 (I was 20 1/2), I had no idea where that call would take me, but it sure came in interesting—often painful—stages to get me to where He’d have me. The biggest place he’d have me venture is the path from significant pride to continued humbling. It took a while to find God’s place for me—but if we humbly present ourselves to God, He will show us the ministry He’s called us to fulfill.
I learned painful but positive lessons over the years, mostly about myself. Regardless of what arises in churches and in life, I have found that I am often my own worst enemy. But thankfully, God is still working in me, saying to me as He said to Archippus, “Fulfill your ministry” (Colossians 4:17).
A little history, if you will.
My Pleasureville Years. From 1995-1998, I was a full-time seminary student at Southern Seminary and a part-time music minister at Pleasureville Baptist Church in Henry County, Kentucky. I was a mostly-city boy in a farming community. I’d learn Bach, Vivaldi, and Chopin by day, then try to lead worship and children’s choir on the weekends. The conservatory-model training I had in college and seminary made the connection tough—I just didn’t know how to be non-academic in how I talked and led. I was just about to get the hang of it by the time I left in March 1998. I learned I had to speak the language of the people, not of academics. Fulfill your ministry by being clear and talking to your people, not at or over them.
My Clewiston Years (1998-2001): After I left seminary, I was called as Minister of Music and Youth at First Baptist Church, Clewiston, Florida. This were pivotal, wonderful years for me. We had a great mix of older and younger demographics. I was 26, not only leading worship, but direction youth, adult, and senior adult choirs, overseeing preschool and children’s choirs, all the while being their youth pastor.
My first six to nine months were some growing pains. They were used to musicals, and I had never directed a musical. My predecessor, Joe Glass, was very skilled at these things, and set the bar very high. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was then that God brought along Sean Scheffler, who knew how to direct dramas (and to throw a killer lock-in, by the way), so he began to direct while I directed the music—and it was a wonderful partnership. It was there I learned that I didn’t have all the answers, but God would provide others in the church to help advance the Kingdom—thus helping them fulfill their ministry as well.
Halfway through my tenure there, God called me into the preaching ministry. Having seen what struggles pastors went through, I did not embrace this. Sure, I loved preaching (as green as I was), but I knew preaching wasn’t pastoring. Could I lead and connect and love people—even those who disagreed with me? It was there I realized that when God calls you to fulfill a ministry, he will relentlessly pursue you until you surrender. So, in 2001 I surrendered. I announced it with tears to my church that I adored in April 2001 with my last Sunday being in June.
My Cox’s Creek Year (2001-2002). I served for seven months at a church back in Kentucky that was just a poor fit. And sometimes, you just don’t know until you’re there. I followed a youth pastor that was a rah-rah guy who had 70 kids at this little church on Wednesday nights. I was just a rah guy. When he left, most of them left. They had expectations, I didn’t fulfill them. But, remember, God called me to preach. I ran, he pursued. I was at that church, again, as a music and youth guy. That wasn’t what God called me to do. I realized that being outside of what God calls you to do is not obeying His call to fulfill ministry.
My Highview Baptist Spring (2002). After leaving that little church, I went and played piano at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville for a few months. Had God called me into music ministry, this was a dream. A band, 12 piece orchestra, 50 voice choir, and serving under a veteran music minister named Bob Johnson—it was wonderful. It paid little, but it paid while I was looking for another ministry—but what? As much as I loved it there and as much as I loved listening to Kevin Ezell and Hershael York preach, I was restless until I fulfill the ministry God laid on me. I soon took another church.
My English Year. At 30 years old, back at seminary finishing my MDiv, I took a church in Breckinridge County, Kentucky: English Baptist Church. A tiny, 25-30 member Baptist church surrounded by Mennonites. What a great group of believers! Our family of three drove 100 miles one way to preach and minister at that church over the weekends. We conducted the first VBS there in four years; we had our first baptism there in at least three; we met a Lottie Moon goal of $500 with $575! You might say like others did, “They could find a preacher anywhere—why should you go there?” This was the ministry God called me to fulfill, and God had humbled me enough to say, “OK, Lord—where? Here? Yes, Lord—I will follow!”
My Boone’s Creek Years (2003-2011): This church, Boone’s Creek Baptist Church outside of Lexington, Kentucky, that’s 229 years old was the first church God called me to as a full-time pastor. I was 31—a month shy of 32. A child! A child leading people old enough to be my grandparents. I understand why Paul told Timothy not to have a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). I listened to my first sermons there. Hoo, boy. In finding my voice, I would try to be funny like Driscoll (but that came off goofy), passionate like Piper (but folks told me I sounded angry), thick like MacArthur (but I’d lose them because, well, I’m not MacArthur). It wasn’t until 2005 that God gave me the voice He had for me.
But all along the way, I tried to heed the advice of other pastors who said, “Preach the Word, love the people, don’t change much at the beginning. Then they will trust you when change is needed down the road.” And God gave me eight wonderful years. We contributed to helping a church plant in Hazard, we took our first international missions trips—in this case, to Trinidad and Tobago. But even more, I have friendships that will last a lifetime that I will always treasure. When I left Boone’s Creek in 2011, I had a special called meeting with my deacons. One of them named Leonard said something I’ll never forget: “Bro. Matt, everything you did, you backed it up with the Word of God. I’ll always be grateful and I’ll never forget.” I realized that in fulfilling the ministry God gives, if you don’t love the people where they are and given them the Word where they are, you won’t be able to take them or the church where they need to be.
My Colorado Years (2011-?): So, here I am at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in South Denver. All of those lessons I’ve learned in previous chapters have come into play. But even here, God is stirring and making me sense that this chapter will look markedly different from the previous ones. Serving with people that are more and more buying in to reaching our neighbors and turning ARBC into a Great Commission missions hub is a venture I love leading and loving them through. I’m serving with very Kingdom minded men on staff, in our association, and with our state convention. I dream of setting up groups in our communities through our Sunday School and long to plant a church in an area that needs a gospel witness here. I trust God’s Word and His Spirit will stir the spirit of our people, as He’s always promised to do. I’m learning all over to seek His face and to fulfill the gospel ministry He’s given me and us at ARBC in Denver.
To be continued…