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Dying by Degrees

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Some time ago, a church where I have been for meetings on several occasions became pastorless, and I had been praying that God would lead a man to become the pastor who could take the church to the next level. It was a ministry with great potential. A few months later, as I was in an airport on my way to an evangelistic meeting, I saw a good friend of mine who had been on the staff of this local church. I asked him if the church had yet called a pastor, and he replied in the affirmative. He told me that their new pastor was young but that he had two degrees from a certain Christian college and two more degrees from a seminary. The educational degrees he had earned seemed to be the qualifiers for calling him as pastor. The “degree” criteria seems to be very prevalent now when churches are in search of a pastor.

Download the PDF version

Size: 1 MB

Some time ago, a church where I have been for meetings on several occasions became pastorless, and I had been praying that God would lead a man to become the pastor who could take the church to the next level. It was a ministry with great potential. A few months later, as I was in an airport on my way to an evangelistic meeting, I saw a good friend of mine who had been on the staff of this local church. I asked him if the church had yet called a pastor, and he replied in the affirmative. He told me that their new pastor was young but that he had two degrees from a certain Christian college and two more degrees from a seminary. The educational degrees he had earned seemed to be the qualifiers for calling him as pastor. The “degree” criteria seems to be very prevalent now when churches are in search of a pastor.

How badly I wanted to ask my friend several questions about their new pastor! “What about his character?” “Can he preach?” “Does he have the power of God on his life and ministry?” “Is his family exemplary as a pastor’s family should be?” I began to think about the spiritual condition of many churches across our country, and I wondered if our quest for knowledge and the prestige of education is not one of the reasons for the decline of powerful, growing, community-impacting churches. It appears that our movement has more conferences and seminars about reaching people on an intellectual basis than we have about the power of God. Very few of the great spiritual giants of the past that exhibited the power of God put a lot of letters after their names.

In Acts 4, verse 13, we read, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” In the book of the Acts, the power of God was manifested through preaching. After Peter preached at Pentecost, we read in Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Thirty-eight times in the book of Acts, a form of the word “preach” is used. They preached in the market places, in the synagogues, by the riverbank, at the Sanhedrin, in Solomon’s porch, in the temple, and on Mars Hill. As it says in Acts 8, verse 4, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” One of the first questions that a local church should be asking when selecting a pastor is, “Can he preach?”.

The power of God was also manifested through praising. In Acts 2:47 we read, “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” The positive and optimistic attitude is contagious, as is a pessimistic and negative attitude. I have never been with a pastor who exhibited the power of God on his ministry who did not major on the blessings of God rather than on the negatives. Paul and Silas praised God and sang praises in prison at midnight although their bodies were throbbing with the pain of the day’s persecution. A praising Christian is a powerful Christian.
The power of God was also manifested through prayer. The church was born in a prayer meeting in Acts chapter 1, and it was maintained throughout the Book of the Acts by prayer. In two-thirds of the chapters of Acts, we read of a prayer meeting. Acts 4:31 reads, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” So a logical question for one who candidates for the pastorate is, “Does he know how to have his prayers answered?”.

In conclusion, the power of God was manifested through purity. In each of the first four chapters of Acts, there is a display of the power of God; however, in Acts chapter five, we read of a man named Ananias. (The devil will always try to thwart the blessings of God after times of refreshing.) When Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira with their sin, God sent judgment upon them for lying to the Holy Spirit. They had committed the sin unto death. The result of that purifying is in Acts 5:14, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” God blesses a pure preacher and a pure church. So the question for any aspiring pastor should be, “Is he living a godly life?”.

Coming from one whose life and ministry revolves around the training of men and women in an educational institution, these thoughts may seem odd. I am in favor of education and am absolutely convinced that a call to serve is a call to prepare. However, at Ambassador Baptist College we are far more concerned about the character of our students as they leave our halls than about the degrees they have earned. God’s blessings on our lives and ministry are not determined by the letters after our name but by the power of God on our lives.

Change in Succession of Leadership at ABC

On Monday, March 24, 2008, Dr. Comfort announced to the student body that Alton Beal would become the president and Dwight Smith would become the vice-president of ABC in May of 2009. This change was agreed upon mutually by each person and the board of directors. An audio clip of Dr. Comfort’s announcement and explanation has been posted below, along with letters from Brother Beal and Brother Smith.

Dr. Comfort’s Announcement

Listen to a recording of Dr. Comfort’s announcement in chapel on Monday, March 24, 2008:

Brother Smith’s Letter

Dear ABC Alumni,

Thank you for praying for my family and me as we travel out on the road. This week there have been several decisions to trust Christ and to come back to the Lord. Your prayers on our behalf are a great encouragement to us!

Recently, Dr. Comfort, Alton, and I began discussing the coming transition of leadership. We spoke of our roles, our gifts, and our abilities. We evaluated where and how each of these could be best served at Ambassador, and all came to the conclusion that there should be a title change. This was brought before the board last week and was unanimously approved. Thus, in 2009, Brother Beal will be the president, and I will be the vice-president. I will still travel in evangelistic meetings, teach the Preacher Boys class, the Evangelist class, and the Evangelistic Preaching class, and serve in any way I am needed at ABC.

I am aware that this may be an unexpected change in the minds of many of the alumni. However, I want every alumnus to know that my family and I are 110% behind this decision. This conviction has only grown in my heart since last week. It would be unwise and unnecessary for anyone to assume, second-guess, or over-analyze this direction. I have embraced it as the will of God and I encourage you to do the same!

Some years ago a wise preacher named Dr. Childs told me something that is very apropos to this situation. He said, “Some of you are set on being directly called to a specific area of service. You say, ‘God has called me to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist. God has called me to serve as a pastor’s wife, evangelist’s wife, or missionary’s wife.’ But you must know that Jesus Christ has above all, called you to Himself!” That is my conclusion in this matter. I am first called to the One with nail prints in His hands, and in reality, He has made this direction change. “Man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.”

My growing passion is that the cause of Christ would be advanced, that Ambassador Baptist College would be best served, and that our Lord and Saviour would be glorified. I trust that this is and will remain your passion as well. I remain…

Your servant,

Dwight Smith

Brother Beal’s Letter

Dear ABC Friends and Family:

When I came to Ambassador as a student in 1992, I had no idea that ABC would become such an important part of my life. During my first few days on campus, I met Dr. Ron Comfort and quickly saw his burden for evangelism and training men and women for the ministry. I also met a young man who would later become my best friend in the ministry, Dwight Smith. I never imagined that one day we would all get to serve the Lord together at ABC.

After graduating in May of 1996, I joined the college staff as a dormitory supervisor and began to learn what it means to pour your life into others. Two years later, I began traveling in evangelism, in addition to my duties in the Dean of Students Office. After serving as the Dean of Men for several years, I moved to the position of Administrative Assistant to assist Dr. Comfort in any way that I could, and to accommodate my increasing itinerary in evangelism.

In recent days, the Lord has made it obvious to Dr. Comfort, to Dwight, and to me, that a switch in positions between Dwight and me would best serve Ambassador and bring the most glory to God. The board of directors unanimously approved this decision on March 20, 2008. As a result, I will become the president in May 2009 and Dwight will become the vice-president. I encourage you to listen to Dr. Comfort’s announcement about this change here.

The prospect of leading this dear institution is overwhelming at times. J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, once said, “I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God. First, it is impossible. Then it is difficult; but then it is done.” These words have been a great help and encouragement to both Dwight and me over the past few months.

I love my Ambassador family, our alumni, and our friends scattered across the world, and ask that you pray for me and my family. Dwight and I have accepted this change of plans as from the Lord, and need your prayers and support to continue training ambassadors for Christ.

Under His Wings,

Alton Beal

 

Camp Barnabas 2008

Brochures are now available for Camp Barnabas. This summer ministry camp is held on the campus of ABC and is specifically designed to give teenagers in grades 7-12 an early opportunity to prepare for full-time ministry.

Enroll Now for Next MMin Module!

The next one-week module for the Master of Ministries graduate program will be held June 2–6, 2008. Ministry Philosophy and Ethics will be taught by Dr. Ernest Childs, Pastor Norman Johnston, and Evangelist Dwight Smith. Limited housing is available for the week.