When I was 14 years old I went to Washington, DC with a group of Mississippi teenagers to join a national gathering of Nazarene Youth to worship, learn, fellowship/hang out, be discipled, and serve. Up until that point, I had been heavily involved in those first four initiatives, but I had no involvement and (frankly) no interest in the last — serving. Little did I know that my life was about to change forever.
That week was full of new experiences. I ate regularly at Roy Roger’s restaurant. I hung out in National Park areas in the rain listening to DC Talk, Amy Grant, and others sing what was emerging as Christian contemporary music. I remember eyeing street vendors’ products and wondering if my parents would let me wear those t-shirts with inappropriate words on them once I returned to Summit, MS. I remember a roommate from Alaska who told me that in the summer it doesn’t get dark and in the winter the sun doesn’t shine very often. I remember meeting my first ever California girl who could have said anything and I would have smiled, laughed out loud, and said “righteous.” But what I really remember is the day I boarded a bus with my gloves andcut off shorts to go into the inner city and volunteer at a homeless shelter. That day is forever on my mind, in my heart, and foundational to my call.
In a matter of a few hours of service, I met my first homeless man. I served my first meal to hungry people. I cleaned up in the stairwell of the building where men living on the street spent nights sick from the disease of substance abuse and saddened by the reality of their brokenness. That one day of service was my point of entry into a mission of sharing in the lives of those who aren’t quite able to make it on their own; those who need someone to believe in them and to share in their station. When I walked through the door of that mission in DC I was really walking through a door for a lifetime of serving others and I had no clue what had just happened.
While a student at Trevecca (TNC), I volunteered with Room in the Inn ministries and the Nashville Union Rescue Mission. As a youth pastor, I took students to DC, Atlanta, Memphis, Toronto, and the inner city of Nashville to serve others. When I lived in Houston, I volunteered with the Open Door Mission and Loaves and Fishes. It was a blessing to work for a faith-based orphan care ministry connecting congregations and community partners to help children and strengthen the family with Arrow Family Ministries across the USA. Even while visiting Alaska a few years ago, my favorite ministry was touring the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center serving the hungry masses on the streets of Anchorage. In Newark, OH we are engaged in a monthly outreach to the homeless of our smaller city, an active food bank, school partnerships for underserved families, a great community garden network, and support services for foster families. These ministries are making an impact on many, including me. The stain and smell of serving in that stairwell has never quite gotten off my hands or clothes, and it certainly has never left my heart. It isn’t a dirty smell, or hungry smell, or a sinful smell. It is the smell of being used by God in the service of others. It is, in fact, a sweet aroma that I can not get enough of (2 Corinthians 5:15-17).
I have only one life. So far it is taken me from MS to DC to TN to TX, and to OH. I have lived as a student, a case manager, a pastor, an organizational leader, a professor, and back to an assigned pastoral position. In all of those places I have served others, and sometimes I have done so through the memory of that first encounter in a shelter serving the needy and broken. Sometimes I have sought to serve from a different angle or with a different strategy, but service has been what it’s about. I have been at my happiest place when I have walked the streets and shared in the pain with prayer and helping hands. I have been the most spiritually isolated when I have withdrawn from compassionate contact and concern.
With this one life to live, I know that service is my path forward if balance and blessing are to be my friend. The world needs more mercy and compassion from those who are rooted in faith, hope, and love. Homeless people need it, but so does the addict, the orphan, the mentally disabled, the aging adult, the terminally ill, the prisoner, the immigrant, and all others who are isolated, in poverty, or just broken down by the weight of life. It is our choice to show compassion and serve them OR to turn more inward and serve ourselves only. I want to be deliberate in serving others no matter who they are, where they have been, or which way they are headed. My prayer is to be a part of a movement that seeks out others to serve and gets busy serving them instead of outsourcing love, referring compassionate cases to others, and only funding programs that give an expected return on our investment.
In early August 2018 I was elected by the board of directors of the Center for Student Missions to become their next president (learn more about CSM at http://www.csm.org). It is an honor and privilege to be considered and now entrusted to lead this 30 year old ministry. I am grateful for the trust that the board and staff have shown me to continue their mission and expand its impact as God makes clear a new vision. Therefore, I will transition from the lead pastor role at Newark Church of the Nazarene in September and become the President/CEO of CSM. We will remain in Newark in the short term, but look forward to reconnecting and partnering with ministry friends in Nashville, Houston, Chicago, Philly, DC, NYC, LA, Denver, and San Fran where CSM is currently serving.
Someone asked me this weekend why I did not want to pastor or preach anymore. They asked me if I no longer believed in the local church. My response to them (and you if you are wondering) is that in this role I will still be a pastor, I will still be preaching, and I will still be engaged in the local church. My calling is settled and constant although my status and location might always be fluid. My title and my employment are not the main thing. Sharing the hope of Christ with all is why I was born, called, and entrusted to serve others as a ministry leader. I am trying to do that as faithfully as I know how.
I am thankful that CSM has called me. I am grateful to Newark Church of the Nazarene and the wonderful staff that have allowed me to lead these last three years. I am privileged that Jamie, Davis, Drew, and Julia have been wonderful ministry partners all along the way. I am blessed by friends and colleagues that pray for me and counsel me on what they hear God saying. Most of all I am undone by the grace of God to call me, send me, and still be interested in using me after all of these years. I am more convinced than ever that “He who began a good work in me will see it through to the end (Philippians 1:6).” So with only one life to live, I choose to live that life in service to the kingdom of Christ from here to there and to the ends of the earth. Let’s serve together and make a mark for what God is up to in our time. Even if the mark we make seems unnoticed by the world, let us live in service to others and make a difference in one person’s life for the glory of God.