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


Church Music: Content, Unity, & Style

“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
-Col. 3:16, ESV

My pastor is preaching through Colossians this summer; and he covered chapter 3, verses 12-17 this past Sunday. This triggered some new thoughts in my mind about how we should select songs for our worship services.

My priorities, in order, are: content, unity, and style. 

1. Content
First and foremost, the content of a song needs to be true. The words need to communicate something and that something needs to be biblically accurate. I also believe that that communication needs to balance theological depth with clarity. In other words, I’m still glad to sing “A mighty fortress is our God,” even though no one knows what a bulwark is in anymore; but we need to be careful with overusing songs like this that need translation.

If we’re honest, there is a tendency in the human heart to view archaic things (even archaic language) as sacred simply because it’s archaic (think the KJV-only mindset). We need to resist this urge. Theological depth doesn’t mean we have to talk like Puritans. Every language in every time period has the capacity to communicate clearly and robustly.

[And just so I’m being fair: some also tend to consider me-centered, self-help psychology language in our worship songs to be sacred too.]

Why do I place content first in my priorities?

Because here in Colossians 3:16 the Apostle Paul makes a direct connection between “The word of Christ” and singing. One of the ways in which the word is to dwell richly among us is in our singing.

For this reason, I think one of the best practices in song writing is to paraphrase or summarize specific passages of Scripture. Also, one of the great features of many hymns is the movement from addressing sin or struggle to proclaiming the gospel and future glory (e.g. “It is Well,” “O Great God”).


2. Unity.
In the context of Colossians 3, and other similar passages in the New Testament, unity in local church worship is of the utmost importance.

Col. 3:12-14 says, “Put on then…compassionate hearts…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Ephesians 5:21 says, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for God.”
And 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “Let all things be done for building up.”

Unity under content and over style means that each church member exhibits passionate devotion to the truths of God’s word and deference toward the others’ preferences. In a context of obvious diversity, one should find themselves regularly and joyfully thinking: “This song isn’t really ‘my thing,’ but I’m so glad that it ministers to the mind and heart of my brother or sister.” This is what Paul means in Philippians 2 when he says, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 3-4).


3. Style
Every culture in the world has its own unique expressions of worship; and this, so long as it is biblical, is beautiful. It is a picture of the diversity of the kingdom of God, and we should celebrate this diversity.

I don’t think that this means that every church must become as culturally diverse as possible; but, let’s be honest, at this point there seems to be little danger of that. As Lecrae pointed out, “Most segregated time of day is Sunday service / Now what you think that say about the God you worship?”

Truth is, just like we tend to consider archaic or emotional language sacred, we all tend to think of our favorite worship style as sacred. And that’s where the southern American church went wrong 20+ years ago. “Traditional” and “Contemporary” church members alike used their tongues to “bless our Lord and Father, and…curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (Jas. 3:9). They sacrificed unity on the altar of preference.

Yep. For me, this subject always seems to come back around to the regret I feel for what was and what could have been. Instead of gently integrating new styles of music into the church, the young started talking against “the old people;” and instead of being excited about and accepting of new cultural expressions of worship, it was said that we were letting the world’s (or the Devil’s!) music in. And the result looked more like Darwin’s rapid and catastrophic evolution of species than the advancement of the kingdom of God.

I truly believe that if the southern American church had prioritized depth and clarity of content (particularly on the contemporary side) and unity (on both sides) over style in the 90s and early 2000s, our churches would be healthier today and our witness to the world would be much more convincing.

Unfortunately, we can’t go back.
But we can move forward.
And I pray we will, with theologically rich, edifying singing.