The summer between by Sophomore and Junior year of high school, I ventured with my church’s youth group on a service trip to a church camp in the mountains outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Being from the relatively flat midwest, this trip was my first time seeing a mountain and I was impressed!
Once we arrived at camp, the staff put us to work cleaning bunkhouses, building horseshoe pits, and shoveling manure in the riding stables. After a day of work, the camp staff would lead us in an evening of programming that usually consisted of some songs (think Shine, Jesus Shine!), a devotion, and some time for “sharing.” One night we were in for something different as the counselors announced that we were going to take a night hike to the top of a mountain. There were two rules:
1. Absolutely no talking.
2. Take a flashlight, but only turn it on when we tell you.
After a half hour or so we ended up on the top of a small mountain peak and were instructed to lay on our backs and stare at the sky. The sight was amazing! The stars seemed humongous and so close; like I could reach out and touch one. Once we had gazed at the stars for a couple minutes the counselors handed each of us a different folded piece of paper and told us to turn on our flashlights so we could read the paper to ourselves silently five times. I turned on my flashlight and opened the folded piece of paper and it revealed the words of Matthew 28:19-20.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)
This was certainly not my first time reading this section of scripture. I learned about it in Sunday school and knew that people referred to it as the Great Commission. After reading it five times, we were instructed to turn our flashlights off and sit in silence for ten minutes and reflect on what we had just read. As I sat there, I was still amazed by the stars in the sky. My eyes followed a blinking red light from a satellite from the right horizon to the left.
As I was sitting there in total (somewhat eerie) silence, I heard a not so quiet voice whispering. I focused on what the whispering voice was saying. “Serve My Church. Serve My church.” Where was this voice coming from? My imagination? A fellow high school participant? A counselor? God? I glanced around and saw that none of the other teens or counselors were saying anything. I was a bit freaked out.
To this day, I can’t tell you for sure the source of the whisper. I can tell you that the 16-year-old me thought it was God saying something important. The present day me agrees with the 16-year-old me. By the way, if it was God talking to me, you need to know that he sounds a lot like James Earl Jones.
As I sat on the mountain, my thoughts focused on the words that had been whispered to me. I recall thinking “I think God wants me to serve his church in some really big way.” I was unclear on exactly how he wanted me to serve - the whisper wasn’t very specific! I had never pictured myself as a pastor, mostly because all the pastors that I knew were stodgy old men who always seemed angry, maybe because of the uncomfortable looking robes and collars that they wore. I didn’t have much time to think things through that night, but I began exploring ways that I could serve.
I had always wanted to be a teacher. Childhood playtime with my little brother consisted of me having him sit at a desk and copy things I wrote on a chalkboard in our basement. I still apologize to him today for that! During my senior year of high school, I decided that I would serve the church by teaching in a Christian grade school. I headed off to a Christian college and received my degree in Middle & Secondary Education. My first job out of college was teaching middle school social studies and religion classes at a Christian school. I loved it. The kids were great, I was having fun, and I was serving the church by teaching the next generation about Jesus. It wasn’t long before enough people told me that I should be a school administrator that I earned my Masters in Education Administration and took a job as principal at another Christian school. The work was challenging, but I loved it. I was serving the church by growing a school that taught kids about Jesus.
After being a school principal for a while, my pastor tapped me on the shoulder one Sunday after church and mentioned that he would like to have coffee with me someday the next week. I agreed and received the following email from him the next morning:
Hey Bryan – hope you are doing well.
Any chance you have some time to visit?
I’d like to catch up, and see what you are up to.
(That’s pastor code for talk you into something).
When we met for coffee later that week, he was direct. He talked to me about joining the staff of the church I attended in a leadership position focused on building the organizational side of the ministry. After a few months of discussion, I accepted the position and began work. I’m still there and I love it. Church work is challenging, but there is nothing like serving full time in a local church. I get a front-row seat to see how God is working in the lives of His people.
While serving the church, I was constantly being asked by pastors and staff members from other churches for advice or to come speak to their staff and leadership. After doing this a few times, and an idea was born. What if I could keep serving my church full time, but also find a way to partner with other churches to help them grow? Not long after having this idea, I launched Blackford Ministry Solutions. I now partner with churches to help them plan and organize their ministry to fulfill their God-given mission. I couldn’t be happier with where this idea has taken me: around the country helping churches overcome obstacles and grow!
So, here I am, serving God’s church. I am journeying on what I have discerned to be my mission while here on earth: to Serve the Church. It all started with a whisper on a mountain.
What is your mission?