Challenges: Serve the Church

*This post is part of a series on challenges I’ve faced while in seminary.

Not long after reaching that low point I mentioned earlier, I found myself standing on the quad at the seminary looking up at the chapel steeple and pleading with God: “Please let me stay. I came here because you called me to. Please provide a way for me to stay.”

And He did…blessing me far beyond what I asked for or deserved.
He provided a job to meet our needs…and not just a job…a family…a church.

I plan to write more about my church in the coming days, but in this post I want to emphasize just how important the church is to a seminary education. I am absolutely convinced that the only way to rightly navigate your time in seminary is to be an active member of a local church. 

One of the great challenges in seminary is retaining all that you are learning. Information is flying at you so quickly that it’s difficult to file everything away for future use. That’s why you need to use the knowledge God is giving you in the context for which it was created – the local church.

My seminary “exists to glorify God by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.” The knowledge we gain is not for knowledge’s sake. It’s not to pat ourselves on the back. It’s not to win arguments or brag about how much we know. It’s to “serve the church” and “fulfill the Great Commission.”

But so many seminary students are content to simply attend church.

They might object, “My church is so big. It’s hard to find a place to plug in.” But many times this is simply a cover for a misunderstanding of the value of the local church. The local church is given that we might be sanctified and grow together into the image of Christ. 

You won’t learn how to teach or preach until you do it.
You won’t learn how to deal with difficult people and situations until you do it.
You won’t learn how to dream up, plan, and execute programs until you do it.
You won’t learn how to share the gospel or disciple someone until you do it.

And the local church has been given to all of us (not just seminarians!) that we might develop our gifts for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom. In this context, so far as you are open to the wisdom and correction of others, you will discover your strengths and your weaknesses – both personally and ministerially. And, seminarians, you will be able to (humbly!) pass along some of the great things you are learning to those who may never have a chance to sit in a seminary classroom – reinforcing these truths.

An Update from the Duke Family

Dear friends,

I’ve been wanting to write this update for a while now, but a number of factors have delayed it. As of my last post, our church plant team was considering the city of Greeley, CO for our location. Within 24 hours of that blog post, we felt redirected to the town of Windsor, CO. After two week-long vision trips and lots of conversations with local pastors and North American Mission Board representatives, Windsor very clearly rose to the top of our list.

One of the reasons I’ve hesitated to announce this outside of our church is that I was waiting for confirmation from the Lord. I knew what I wanted to do; but so often the Lord’s plans are different than our own.

Then, a few weeks ago, we got word that a new baseball sports park (the largest in the world!) is going to be built in Windsor. Construction starts October 1. The influx of people that this development will bring into the area will in itself more than justify the planting of a new church. Windsor is on the verge of incredible growth, and we want to be right in the middle of the kingdom growth that this will bring! We had already chosen the northwest corner of the town as our target area, and this just happens to be where the new sports park will be built! All of this is very exciting, and it was the kind of confirmation that I was looking for.

To date, we have four couples on our church plant team, and our home church, Christ Baptist, has agreed to support us for five years. I am blown away by God’s provision!

We leave this Sunday, July 9th, for a 6-day mission trip to Colorado. About half of the mission team is also on our church plant team, and they will spend a couple of days during the trip doing research in Windsor. Our mission trip will involve prayer walking, gospel conversations, man-on-the-street-type Q&A, cookouts in the park, and hosting a “thank you” dinner for the volunteers at a sister church plant.

We are in the process of applying for partnership with NAMB, and we hope to be invited to in-person interviews September 26-27.

If all continues to move as smoothly as it has thus far, team members will begin to look for housing and employment in the last quarter of 2017. Our church plant team will also form a new small group which will meet weekly beginning August 25th.

By early 2018, our new youth minister at Christ Baptist should be in place, and throughout the spring of 2018, team members will make trips to Windsor to secure homes and employment. Our target move date is July 15, 2018.

We will spend the first 18 months in Colorado learning from other church planters in the area, loving our neighbors, and having gospel conversations. Our vision is for a church where every member is a disciple-maker. We hope to develop at least two strong small groups before considering acquiring a facility in which to meet.

Our desire is to then obtain a multi-use facility that will add value to the Windsor community. We have a ton of ideas here. Maybe it will function as a co-op workspace or cafe. Perhaps fitness or art clubs will use it during the week. It could house an after-school program and/or counseling and recovery groups. And, of course, our church will worship there every Sunday evening.

How can you help?
1. PRAY – continue to pray that God would confirm the calling He has placed upon the lives of our church plant team.

2. LISTEN – if you hear of anyone that is moving to northern Colorado in the near future, please connect them with me. We would love for them to consider joining our team.

3. INVITE – from January to July of 2018, I hope to spend time casting the vision for our plant in churches around the country. My goals in this are to build a network of prayer support and seek out others who might join us in Windsor. If your church is open to me coming and speaking, please let me know.

Thank you all for your friendship and encouragement over the years!
I really feel like God has been preparing us for this work for a long time.
Knowing that you are behind us makes all the difference!

In Christ,
The Duke Family


Denver: Days 3-4

Our team is sitting in the Denver airport about to fly home, so I thought I’d take these few minutes to finish telling you about our vision trip to Denver, CO. Thank you so much for the prayers and encouragement via comments, Facebook, email, and text. They have been an invaluable part of the trip.

On day 3, we spent the morning with a precious family in the northern Front Range, who is a friend of one of our team members. They were so gracious. They prepared breakfast for us, mapped out a tour of the Fort Collins area, and took most of their morning to show us around. Thank you Matt and Becky!

In the Fort Collins area we found a culture that felt familiar to us North Raleighites, along with more affordable housing. We also drove by the newly constructed Mormon temple.

There seems to be a stronger church presence in Fort Collins than Denver, but there is still great need.

For example: the Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Lamier County states: “On average, one person in Larimer County [the county in which Fort Collins is located] dies from suicide every 4 to 5 days.” Our team talked about how hard this is for us to understand. Fort Collins is highly educated and affluent, offers almost unmatched opportunity for recreation, and has the Rocky Mountains for its backyard. Why then is there such depression and hopelessness?

I would never want to oversimplify a problem as big as this, but as believers we understand that beautiful landscapes were never meant to offer lasting peace. Their beauty is intended to cause humans to recognize the Creator and worship Him. No amount of knowledge, money, or fun will quench our spiritual thirst for love and joy. This is why a continued and ever-growing gospel witness through church-planting is so important.

We finished our morning tour with an even clearer vision of the need for church planting along the Front Range and with excitement about where God might call us. And since we weren’t able to secure any more meetings for Saturday afternoon/evening, we decided to head into Rocky Mountain National Park for some fun and to talk through all that we’d experienced over the previous 48 hours.

Once inside the park, it’s not hard to see why the mountains are such a draw. They are magnificent! God was just showing off when He formed those jagged peaks and crystal clear streams.

After our time in the park, we headed back down to the city of Denver. What a contrast! We transitioned from taking pictures of Elk (who couldn’t care less if we were around) to attempting to navigate the city’s public transportation system.

I’m really glad that we ended our exploration of the Front Range by spending Saturday night walking around the city. To me cities accentuate most vividly the brokenness caused by sin. How can a person who has limitless parties, partners, entertainment, food, and drink never find contentment? How can someone who has lived in the city for almost a decade soberly and sincerely state, “I have no friends” (True story told to us by one church planter, and apparently not an uncommon one)?

They need Jesus – the Friend of sinners – to heal their brokenness and satisfying their longing. And they need the church – His body – to be the tangible representation of that healing and satisfaction.

On our last day, we visited a brand new church plant (in only their second week of public worship services), which is working hard to be the hands and feet of Christ; and after worship, we had a final team meeting to discuss where we need to go from here.

There is still a lot of work to be done before it can be decided if Denver is where we will plant. Many follow-up emails need to be written and phone calls made. Further study needs to be done on specific neighborhoods. But more than this, as all of the knowledge we’ve gained and experiences we’ve had begin to settle in our minds, we need God to direct us.

Pray that He would continue to direct us.
Pray that if Denver Metro or somewhere else on the Front Range is where He wants us to plant a church, He would make that clear.
And pray that when steps of faith need to be made in the coming days, we will not shy away from them but move forward in obedience to our King.

For His sake and for the joy of the nations,

Denver: Day 2

Our team’s second day was spent in the city. We met Dave, the city missionary, downtown at 8:30 AM and spent the whole morning driving around two sections of the city. First, we drove west from the heart of downtown to the edge of Denver Metro. Houses went from packed-in and fairly small to huge and more spaced out. I thought to myself, “Urban, suburban, or somewhere in between? Are you calling us to this city, God? And if you are, where specifically do you want us to plant our lives?”

To be honest, Friday was a difficult day. The whole group was filled with mixed emotions, and it seemed like the more real estate we surveyed, the more muddled things became in our minds. Dave did an amazing job giving us snapshots of the city. (I can’t imagine doing this without his help.) But it’s daunting to consider where you should plant a church when over 100 are needed in Denver Metro, and there are 30 more cities in our nation in the same kind of spiritual shape (or worse).

In addition to this challenge, Denver has become a very expensive place to live over the past few years. The metro area has become one of the fastest growing cities in America, and housing construction has not been able to keep up. For this reason, homes cost around 40 percent more than the national average. Obviously, this is a big factor to consider in church planting. As I said before, there are reasons why the most underserved cities in our country are as they are.

So Friday was tough, as all of these realities began to sink in.

But that afternoon, as I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to get some perspective from the Word, a lady walked up to me; and, seeing one of my books sitting on the table in front of me, she struck up a conversation. She was Catholic, but also held to some tenants of other religions. We had a great conversation, and I was able to speak truth into her life a little; but I believe that this encounter was mostly what God knew I needed in order to get my head back in the game.

You see, talking about facts and figures is important, but it is also, by nature, impersonal. It’s the conversations like the one I had with this lady that remind me why we’re doing what we’re doing. She needs the gospel. She is working so very hard to “stay in grace” with God. But this is a position/state which Jesus has already purchased for her! And it’s our job to tell her this. I certainly tried, but discipleship takes time, which takes presence, which takes believers planting their lives in a community.

So for the sake of the souls of people like this lady, I ask the same thing that Paul asked the Colossians: “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:3). Pray that He will make it clear to us where we are to plant our lives that we might plant His gospel and His church.

Good Devotional Books

Faith is a community project. Christians are called to learn and grow in the community of believers. We are to do this most frequently and faithfully in the context of a commitment to a particular local church – through listening to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, singing God’s Word corporately, and engaging in relationships with people whom we allow to truly know us and to whom we give permission to correct us and challenge us.

Another amazing thing about the Christian faith, however, is that we can engage in this community project not only with those in our local church but also with believers from all over the world and throughout church history. The perspective of a southeast Asian believer can sometimes shed new light on God’s Word for a southern American like me; and the perspectives of believers like John Wesley and St. Augustine can also open up new worlds of understanding.

The above reason is why I appreciate (some) devotional books. Devotional books attempt to briefly and simply teach and apply God’s Word, and I believe there is a lot of value in this.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of junk out there. I won’t go on a rant, and I won’t name specific books, but I will encourage you to choose your devos wisely. Don’t pick devos that only intend to “encourage,” being akin to self-help psychotherapy. One of the greatest encouragements a believer can receive is a rebuke from the Word of God. Just like the growth of a child depends on the discipline of her parents, our spiritual growth depends on the discipline of our Heavenly Father. (see Heb. 12:5-11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17).

So my recommendation, for what it’s worth, is to pick devotionals that attempt to unpack and explain and apply the Scriptures. Stay away from devos that attempt to speak for God, and run to devos that acknowledge that God has already spoken for Himself in His Word. And seek to understand His Word with the help of mature and careful believers.

That said, here a few of my recommendations to this end:

1. By God’s Word by Phillip Jensen (2 volumes):

2. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers:
Website –
Purchase –

3. New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp:

4. Solid Joys by John Piper (FREE mobile app and online):
App –
Website –

5. Daily Growth by Ken Boa (FREE online):

This is only a brief list of good options. What are some of your recommendations?