Reflections on Leadership Development 

The Gift and Value of Leadership Development, by Matt Agee

On August 1, I will join the people, pastors, and elders at Grace Church of Des Moines, Iowa as Associate Pastor to Young Adults. My family and I are exceedingly grateful to the Lord for His goodness, guidance, and provision. I am filled with excitement as I think of all He has planned for His people and His glory (Ephesians 3:20-21).

This time of transition has provided me the opportunity to reflect and to give thanks for the equipping I received at Parkwood through the ministry development program. Parkwood’s commitment through leadership development is to equip and deploy the next generation of ministry leaders. I, along with many others, have been on the receiving end of this biblical commitment.  

The following are my reflections on the equipping I received at Parkwood:

A passion for God’s Word is central to life and ministry. 

I remember sitting in Pastor Jeff Long’s office, sharing my desire to preach God’s Word. He sat patiently, listening to a young man filled with zeal share his heart. At the end of our time together, Pastor Jeff pointed me to an open Bible sitting on his desk. It was opened to Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” “This is the key,” he said, “loving His Word, reading His Word, and obeying His Word. You must start and end here.” Those words were spoken to a would-be preacher, but they should be true of every believer, and especially of those who desire to serve as ministry leaders. The equipping I received at Parkwood centered on God’s Word and on cultivating a passion for His Word. “You must start and end here.” I will never forget those words.  

God’s call is felt internally and affirmed externally.  

It is absolutely clear from Scripture that God calls servants to serve His people. A man or woman must feel a call to serve as a ministry leader. There must be an internal sense of calling, of burden, of heart-deep desire to give your life for God’s people (1 Timothy 3:1). However, the internal is not enough. The calling we feel internally must be affirmed by others externally (1 Timothy 5:22). This external affirmation is the foundational work of leadership development at Parkwood: shepherding young men and women to discern if and how God has called them. External affirmation happens when opportunities are taken and when feedback is provided. The opportunities, feedback, and affirmation I received (culminating in my ordination on April 19, 2015) were necessary and precious. By God’s grace, others will experience the same.

Humility is crucial for growth and development.  

Growth and development in ministry requires correction, input, coaching, course-correction (to use one of Pastor Joey Denton’s terms), etc. However, we must be humble enough to receive them. Only then will they bear the fruit God intends. This means that we must learn the vast difference between being merely agreeable and being teachable. Agreeability requires only that we nod our heads to what is being said; teachability requires much more. When we are teachable, we welcome and apply the words of encouragement, correction, and wisdom we receive from others. This calls for humility. Leadership development at Parkwood taught me that at every stage in my growth and development humility is my greatest ally and pride is my greatest enemy (1 Peter 5:5-6). There is no greater lesson to be learned.  

Ministry leaders are servants, not professionals.  

Don’t get me wrong. All believers should aim for excellence in their lives and in their various callings. However, leadership development at Parkwood showed me that ministry leadership is always servant leadership, meaning it embodies a different tone and mentality altogether. We follow the example of Christ who did not come to be served by to serve (Mark 10:45). One of the early books I read as a part of leadership development was Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Although the book is written to men in ministry, the lessons are applicable to all who serve. On page one, Piper writes, “…there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).” I would add, “There is no professional picking up trash after Vacation Bible School family night.” It is hard to appear professional while picking up trash. That’s the point.  

Gospel work is people work.  

If we are concerned with the work of the Gospel in the world today, then we must be concerned about people. Ministry leadership requires that we love, serve, and disciple people. A core component of leadership development at Parkwood is learning what this means and how it’s done. If we plan a great event, but somehow neglect the people involved, we have missed the mark. If we are reading all the best new books, but are not actively investing our lives in others, then we have missed the mark. In recent years, the book Trellis and the Vine has worked it’s way into the DNA of Parkwood’s pastors. Here is a key line: “…the growth of the gospel happens in the lives of people, not in the structures of the church.” Are structures important? Of course! However, it is possible to add and maintain structures while neglecting people. The personal investment I received through leadership development shaped me deeply. I was not neglected. I hope by God’s grace to continue the work in others.  

Discipleship is worth the time and effort.  

This reflection goes right along with the previous one. A central goal of leadership development at Parkwood is teaching and modeling what it means to disciple others. The expectation is that everything you receive you will reproduce in others. And you receive much! Of course, this is the responsibility of every disciple of Christ, but especially of those who desire to serve as ministry leaders. Through this process, you come to understand that discipleship takes time and effort. I remember riding in the car with Pastor Kem Lindsay when he explained to me that the all-important word in Colossians 1:28 is “struggling.” Discipleship requires struggling and effort. It can be messy and inconvenient, sometimes even painful (I know devoting time and energy to my development could not have been easy!) But, leadership development at Parkwood taught me that discipling others, sticking with them, investing your time and energy, is well worth it. Why? Because God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), and because He promises to finish every work He begins (Philippians 1:6). What a privilege to have a role in His work! 

The Church is God’s Plan A, and He has no Plan B.  

I could not forget this phrase if I tried, and for that I am deeply grateful. God’s work in the world is gathering a redeemed people around His Son from every language, nation, tribe, and tongue who will worship Him and enjoy Him forever. And He does this work of gathering through His people, the Church. The Church is God’s Plan A for reaching our neighbors and the nations with the Gospel. Leadership development at Parkwood taught me what it means to love the Church and to serve the Church and to commit my life to the Church. Why such a commitment? Because Christ promised that He would build His Church, and that the gates of Hell itself would not stand against it (Matthew 16:18). When we commit to the Church, we commit to God’s plan for His world. There is no greater purpose.  

So much more could be written. I could go on and on describing and rejoicing over all God taught me and all the ways He shaped me through leadership development at Parkwood. Truly, I am grateful to Christ for His people (Philippians 1:3). I know so many others feel the very same way.  

May our Lord continue His work through Parkwood until His Church is built and the earth is filled with His glory! 

4 Books Worth Reading

Over the past several months, the following books have proven to be worthy and beneficial reads. (Please note that I do not endorse or agree with every word or concept in these books. As my good friend Robert Shaw says, “fish and bones.”)

What’s Best Next by Matt Perman.

41ku6fSyZoL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_In my work as a pastor, most of the things that come my way are important. As result, I struggle with knowing what I should give my time to. Perman’s book is great at forcing you to ask and answer the question, “What’s best next?” Here is a sample…“We weren’t made to simply respond to stuff all day, but to take action and move things forward. If we don’t give attention to the discipline of personal effectiveness but instead let the flow of events determine what we do, we will likely fritter ourselves away doing all sorts of urgent things that come our way while never getting to the truly important things.” If you want to move toward being productive and effective in the truly important things, I strongly suggest that you take the time to read and apply “What’s Best Next.”

You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith.

51cBGPNUqFL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_The simply stated, profound concepts in this book have deeply impacted my thinking. The first three chapters in particular caused me to pause and ponder often. I have found myself considering the content of this book many times in the past several months. Smith lays out basic biblical concepts with clarity and creativity. “We are like existential sharks: we have to move to live. We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures directed toward some end…Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves…He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.” If you enjoy a book that makes you think, then read “You Are What You Love.”

Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung.

31QVZH+miYL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_DeYoung communicates the Scripture with clarity and conviction. He wrote this book to address the dilemma he sees emerging among believers, particularly younger believers, who can articulate a sound theology and yet live questionable lives. The book can be summed up with the following quote, “Not only is holiness the goal of your redemption, it is necessary for your redemption.” He is not saying that you earn your salvation. He exposits the Scripture to give the reader the understanding that those who have been redeemed will and must live holy lives. “To find acquittal from God on the last day there must be evidence flowing out of us that grace has flowed into us.” I pray that many will read and apply “Hole in our Holiness.”

Fools Talk by Os Guinness.

510E27T-g7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI normally do not recommend a book before I finish. I am making an exception for this helpful book. The reason for not finishing the book is two-fold. First, Guinness makes you think. I have to pause after most paragraphs, at times after each sentence. Second, Guinness writes on a deeper level than many Christian authors. The book is well worth the effort. The subtitle gets to the heart of the matter. “Recovering the art of Christian persuasion.” Let me be clear, this is not written for preachers primarily. Fool’s Talk was written with a desire to help equip every believer with the foundation and tools for engaging a post-christian culture. “At best, many of us who take the good news of Jesus seriously are eager and ready to share the good news when we meet people who are open, interested or in need of what we have to share. But we are less effective when we encounter people who are not open, not interested or not needy — in other words, people who are closed, indifferent, hostile, skeptical, or apathetic, and therefore require persuasion.” I don’t know about you but the latter are who I most often encounter. May the Lord use “Fool’s Talk” for the sake of the gospel as we seek to faithfully engage the world we live in.

I would love to hear how the Lord uses one of these books in your life.

Read my friends!


Why We Don’t Send Our Students to Summer Camp

A vast number of churches send students to summer camp every year. An array of options and destinations exist, some classic, some clichéd, and some creative. Some camp options we find like-minded, while others we find ludicrous. But we don’t send our students to summer camp. To be clear, we recognize that many summer camps are doing great work for the kingdom; and we are not opposing them, nor do we think ourselves better than them. The reason we don’t send students to summer camp has less to do with summer camps and more to do with our church and our purpose for hosting our own. We don’t send students to summer camp because we want to do our own camp. And we want to do our own camp for five reasons:

1. We want to equip our students for life and godliness. 

Of course many summer camps make the discipleship of students their primary goal, but we must acknowledge that many do not. Our desire, though, goes beyond seeing that Parkwood students are equipped. We don’t simply want them to be equipped; we want to equip them. Parkwood believes it is the family’s responsibility to equip their students and the church’s responsibility to partner with families in the discipleship of students for life and godliness. We could do that by sending our students to a summer camp, but we prefer to disciple them ourselves by hosting our own summer camp. 

2. We are accountable. 

We are accountable for our students, for our resources, and to our purpose. Accountable to our students, we are committed to pursuing their discipleship and being personally involved in equipping them for life and godliness. Being blessed with resources sufficient to host a camp, we are accountable to use those resources for the glory of God and the equipping of His church, and we believe that providing a quality summer camp that seeks the discipleship of students is a worthy use of those resources. Finally, with the purpose of glorifying God by laboring together for the growth of all believers while going with the gospel to all people, hosting a summer camp is exactly an opportunity to labor together both for growth and for sending. 

3. Summer camp is ministry development. 

As previously acknowledged, quality summer camps no doubt exist, but hosting our own allows us to include ministry development as a significant and strategic element of camp. By hosting our own summer camp, we are actively choosing an avenue for training. Each year we employ interns and summer ministry staff that are trained and developed through the preparation and execution of summer camp. We might see our students discipled if we send them to a quality camp, but if we host our own, then we can disciple our students while employing ministry development through the ministry of conducting camp. 

4. Summer camp is leadership development. 

Summer camp provides us with the opportunity for leadership development at multiple layers. Electing to host our own summer camp places the expectation and responsibility upon pastoral staff to make camp a successful event. Responsibilities that would otherwise be expected of others fall at the feet of our staff. Secondarily, significant weight is placed on interns and summer ministry staff. In a traditional summer camp setting, they may be passive chaperones. In this setting, they are being prepared as leaders. Finally, this context for summer camp extends ministry and leadership development to students. Leadership development remains a strategic focus as our leadership intimately interacts with our students. Summer camp is immediately an opportunity to communicate expectation for leadership, identify leadership potential, and begin or continue leadership development. 

5. Summer camp is fun. 

We enjoy summer camp. We enjoy being together, doing ministry together, and modeling community. The fault of a poor summer camp is likely that too much value is placed on fun and entertaining students to the neglect of discipleship and the training of students in godliness. This fault does not mean, though, that we cannot do both. We believe that discipleship and the training of students in godliness must remain the highest priority, but a proper focus on discipleship and training need not eliminate enjoyment. While summer camp is a lot of work, hosting our own camp is a lot of fun. And it’s been a fun week!

Why You Should Read More than Expected

Ned Mathews served Parkwood for twenty years as the second pastor in her history, following the founding pastor M.O. Owens. He was the senior pastor when I joined the church staff. And when he retired from the pulpit to teach at Southeastern Seminary, Ned had served for fifty years in pastoral ministry. He has recently written a book chronicling his life and ministry. Having read and appreciated it, I would now give you five reasons you should read Ned Mathews’ book More than Expected

1. You should appreciate the past.

Reading More than Expected gives the reader a perspective on the past. Mathews writes his book as a man looking back over many years of God’s grace on his life. He writes as a Southern Baptist. And he writes as a former pastor of Parkwood. However, whether you are young or old, whether you are a Southern Baptist or of a different denomination, or whether you are a member of Parkwood or haven’t the faintest idea of the church, More than Expected helps you to appreciate the past as you read through the lens of one man who has done so much and looks back upon his journey. 

2. You should celebrate victories with others. 

Of course, recounted within the pages of this memoir are one’s fair share of struggles and difficulties, but the overwhelming story is one of victory. It is truly an encouraging read. Your heart will be blessed to experience the victories and rejoice with the fruit of labor and faithfulness. Celebrating with others in their victories is a rewarding experience and a selfless discipline; it is good for you and for the victor. You can rejoice with the author as you read through the pages of his life.

3. You should be gain a perspective for the future. 

While reading the book grants a perspective on the past, it also helps to provide a valuable perspective for the future. To consider others’ success may at times be deflating and discouraging, leaving the reader with the feeling of such disparity between his own life and the subject of his reading. More than Expected leaves no such effect. The reader is not left deflated that he has no such life. Rather, he is encouraged to strive for a brighter future. It is a reminder of what might be, a speculation on what could be the “far more abundantly” of Ephesians 3:20. ‭

4. You should be informed of the cost and significance of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Historically, Mathews’ work is helpful to inform readers of the struggle in the SBC over the inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible. Most older readers will not forget, but many middle adults need to be reminded and many young adults need to know that the future of the SBC was once very much in jeopardy. Every evangelical Southern Baptist should read first-hand accounts of these perilous and turbulent times. Reading accounts like these will keep us aware, or make us aware, of the cost and significance of the Conservative Resurgence and will prepare us to be vigilant and alert for current and future opportunities to guard what has been entrusted. 

5. You should be encouraged in your walk with Christ. 

Finally, the legacy that is on display in Mathews’ autobiography will inspire readers to fight the good fight of faith. If you want an example of faithfulness and focus, an illustration of godliness and perseverance, then read More than Expected and be encouraged to faithfully follow Christ without looking back. If you read, then you will find a testimony that will inspire your walk with God. So read and be inspired. Be inspired to personally follow your Lord who is your Savior, and be inspired to leave such a legacy that others may also be inspired to follow the One who is worthy. 

See, that last distinction is the key to a book and a life that is worthwhile in the kingdom. Do not live a life or write a book that leaves the admirer or the reader inspired to follow you; rather live a life and write a book that compels others to follow Christ. It might be the aspiration and the accomplishment of an individual that convinces some to follow him, but it is the work of the Spirit alone that can use your life in such a way as to inspire others to follow the Father. If it is that type of legacy you pursue, then I encourage you to read Ned Mathews book More than Expected. In this book, he leaves a helpful resource to the Christian and the church.