An exciting change for the Fries family

Earlier tonight the Pastor Search Team from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN shared with their church that they have invited me to preach in view of a call as their next Senior Pastor [presentation website]. If you are surprised by this transition in our life, you wouldn’t be alone. We have been surprised and amazed at how God has worked in our lives through this process of turning our hearts to Brainerd and Chattanooga. I’d love to share a little bit of that story with you.

Why leave LifeWay?
Why would I choose to leave LifeWay? The very simple answer, and I’ll explain more in detail below, is that we believe God has called us to Chattanooga and directed our hearts to Brainerd Baptist Church. We had no desire to leave LifeWay. Working for Ed Stetzer over the past 3. 5 years has has helped shape me in so many ways. Our time at LifeWay and in Nashville has been so good for our family and our ministry. We love LifeWay and, more than ever, we are excited about the future of LifeWay. We believe she is well led, and has a nearly unparalleled selection of giftedness across the men and women who make up the LifeWay family. I can’t say more strongly how much we love and respect LifeWay, her leadership and the resources she provides, and how bright we believe her future is. Leaving LifeWay will be tough.

However, over the past 3.5 years that I’ve served at LifeWay, we have realized that God has uniquely designed me to serve the local church in the role of pastor. Serving on staff at our home church, Fairview Church, and providing interim leadership over much of the last year at First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS (two churches I deeply love) showed me clearly that pastoring in the local church was exactly where I was designed by God to be.

With that said, we had no plans to leave LifeWay. At the beginning of our ministry Tracy and I made a decision to never send out resumes unless we were first approached by a church/ministry. We trusted the Lord and told him that we would be faithful where he placed us, and we would trust him to move us when he was ready. We weren’t planning to leave. In fact, on 4 occasions over the past year we were approached by wonderful churches and asked to consider possibly serving as their Senior Pastor. While we were honored by each of these requests – and believed each church gave evidence of great potential – we clearly discerned that God did not want us there. We now know it is because he was keeping us for Brainerd.

Finally, we struggled with the idea of leaving because we love our church and we love the city we live in. We have developed deep relationships here. Our girls have strong friendships here. It’s hard to say good bye to those. For all those reasons, and more, we didn’t plan to leave but God seemed to make this decision very simple for us.

Why go to Brainerd?
As I said above, the decision ultimately came down to our ability to discern God’s will, and we believe God has called us to go. One story can serve as a startling example. A few months ago Tracy and I had been talking about the future. We were grappling with what would be next for our family. We didn’t know, at the time, that Ed Stetzer would soon be announcing his transition to Wheaton College, but we sensed that some change was coming our way. As we talked together about what that could look like, our conversation revolved almost exclusively around opportunities within LifeWay. However, one morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, Tracy shared with me a sense of confidence that God was preparing her to be a pastor’s wife again. This was no small moment. Tracy loved my job at LifeWay and the routine that our family enjoyed. As I said, the past 3.5 years has been so very good for our family. As she shared this with me she cautioned me that she didn’t want me to look for a position but, should a position fall in our laps, she was confident we needed to consider it and pray through it. I got in the car and drove to work. I sat down at my desk at work, started looking through emails and about 90 minutes after that earlier conversation, my phone rang. It was Richard Bethea, the Search Team Chairman, asking me to consider praying about Brainerd’s open Senior Pastor position. Although I wasn’t aware, they had known of me for 6 or more weeks, and had been studying my life, our family and our ministry in detail and felt like God had confirmed in their hearts that we need to talk. Needless to say, I was floored. The timing seemed unmistakable. Tracy and I spoke quickly after that phone call, and it didn’t take long after that, through meeting with the committee, for God to confirm in our heart that this was his desire for our family in a number of different ways.

So what’s next?
We are going to work hard for LifeWay for the next 6 weeks or so. About 4 weeks from now we are going to spend the weekend at Brainerd, in view of a call. Assuming that the church affirms me as their next Senior Pastor, we’ll look forward to beginning our ministry the first week of July. This means, of course, packing, selling our house and saying goodbye to folks who have become very good friends – some even like family – buying a new house and beginning to settle in Chattanooga. But we are excited, very excited, frankly. We believe the future is astonishingly bright at Brainerd Baptist Church. We have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future of the church and the future of Chattanooga. We believe God is putting us together with Brainerd, and we cannot wait to see how this all comes together.

Four Reasons You Need Weekly Sermon Evaluation

Any preacher who has been through bible college or seminary knows that one of the most painful experiences of a theological education is preaching class. Preaching in front of a professor and your peers, opening yourself up to their critique, is humbling and often extraordinarily painful. My experience was no different. However, as painful as it may be, a good professor and a good preaching class can help improve your preaching in significant ways. I know that mine served to do just that. I have an undergrad in theology and an M.Div. so I took preaching in college and seminary. Both experiences helped me but studying preaching under Dr. Ben Awbrey at Midwestern Seminary was one of the most helpful experiences of my academic career.

As you take a preaching course, there aren’t many things most of us dread more than the preaching evaluation forms that your professor and classmates fill out to provide objective critique of your messages. It’s an incredible relief when you get to say goodbye to those things upon the successful completion of your preaching class. In light of that, you might think I’m crazy, but one of the helpful things I did as a pastor was to create a condensed, digital version of the sermon review form and ask a handful of trustworthy people in the congregation to anonymously fill it out each week after my sermon. I was careful to choose people that were representative of the demographic makeup of the church, and who would take seriously the responsibility of responding each week. Additionally, I was careful to make sure that the form was anonymous so that they could have freedom to reply as truthfully as possible.

The benefits here are probably obvious, but let me clarify a few of them.

1. It required me to constantly remain in the posture of a student.
The pastor is almost always in a position of authority at the church. I am a big believer that the pastor needs to regularly place themselves in the position of a student. If not, pride has the potential to grow unchecked in the pastor’s life.

2. The Lord regularly used it to keep me humble.
Related to the previous point, even when I preached what I thought was a great sermon, this little form reminded me how fallible I was/am. It was a good and regular reminder of how deeply I need the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word if I am to ever be a good and faithful preacher.

3. It sharpened my preaching skills.
A few years of seminary or college is not ever enough to fully develop a preacher. This weekly exercise forced me to evaluate my preaching on a regular basis and helped provide for me tools to grow in my skill as a preacher.

4. It clarified for me missing elements in my sermon preaching preparation.
No one is able to see all of their weaknesses. We all need people we trust to lovingly call them out for us. As preachers, if we are not careful we insulate ourselves from helpful critique and then find ourselves only receiving critique that is harmful and not given from a spirit of love and affirmation. This helped remedy those problems.

You may not think this is a good idea, but in the off case that you do, I’d love to give you a free resource to help you kick this sort of reflective exercise in your own congregation. I’ve created a generic template that you can use in your own church as a Sermon Response Form. Be careful not to simply give out this link to those you want to critique you. If you do, I’m going to get their responses. 😉 But feel free to use this template to create your own free Sermon Response Form. I think you’ll find it a worthwhile and helpful exercise.

Click here to see the FREE template.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you think this is a good idea? Have you tried it before and, if you have, what advice can you give to others? Share in the comments below!

Buy a shirt, give a home!

Not long ago TOMS Shoes, behind the leadership of Blake Mycoskie, popularized the idea of charitable purchases. In other words, you bought a pair of shoes from TOMS, and they give a pair of shoes to someone in need. It’s obviously a great business model, but it also help us do good while also acquiring something we all need anyway – shoes.

We want to help do something similar, though on a different scale. We are working with the good folks at Bonfire Funds to provide a shirt for you to purchase. It’s a great looking, comfortable shirt and they’re offered at reasonable prices. However, instead of buying a shirt and having something like a shirt given to someone in need, when you buy this shirt you will be helping provide a home to an orphan in need. It’s really pretty simple and yet the impact can be pretty significant.

We are trying this one time to see how the response is. So far we’ve been pretty excited about the response. We were hoping to sell at least 50 shirts (at Bonfire’s recommendation) and, while we had 15 days to make that happen, we actually sold 50 shirts in the first 15 hours!

Now we need to sell as many as we can. If we can sell around 3,000 shirts, we can completely fund the adoption. That’s obviously a lot of shirts, but if you think about it, it’s not that bad. If a few of our friends and family can share it around and encourage their friends and family to buy a shirt, we could get it done. We’ve tried to come up with a good looking design that is fun to wear and not too specific to our adoption so that anyone would be comfortable wearing it.

So, would you do us a favor? Would you consider buying one (or two or three) shirts for you and your family, and would you share through your social media channels about this opportunity? It would be a great help to us! Click here to visit the page where you can find t-shirts, women’s cut shirts, hoodies, long sleeve t-shirts and youth shirts.

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Let’s help Syrian (and other) refugees.

The debate is swirling concerning the Syrian refugee status, and whether they should be welcomed into the US. While that’s an important conversation, and one that needs to be had, let’s set it aside for a moment. Regardless of conviction, everyone I know who claims Christ agrees that we should express love and compassion to those who are fleeing terror. The problem is that most of us don’t know what to do. How can we personally involve ourselves in serving these who are hurting? Let me briefly outline just a few ideas that will help us put feet to our compassion, no matter which side of the political debate you come down on.

1. Provide resources to assist the refugees.
You can provide monetary, or other resources, but find a way to serve those who are fleeing disaster. Our church has done this by collecting resources and sending them to northern Iraq where a number of refugees have settled, as well as sending financial support. You can also do this by giving, financially, to one of the fantastic relief agencies that are working diligently to serve these refugees. There are more agencies doing good work than I can list here, but I’ve personally worked with a few that I highly recommend. Baptist Global Response, World Relief and WorldVision are good starting places. If you know of another good organization, though, feel free to start with them. The important thing is that we do something.

2. Work with local refugees who are being resettled.
One of the most encouraging things my family has experienced recently has been working with local refugees who are being resettled due to conflict. Relief agencies who are helping resettle refugees are always looking for volunteers who will give a little bit of time to befriend and help refugee families. They need assistance with everything from resume preparation, navigating a confusing new city/area, learning customs/language and most of all, they need friends. The refugees that we have come to know have blessed our family in ways that were far greater than we have blessed them. In the Nashville area, we have worked with World Relief. Learn more about the work in your local area, and see how you can be involved.

3. Pray. Pray diligently.
Whatever your political position, refuges around the world need our love, compassion and most of all, they need our prayer. Spend some time today praying with your family for the displaced refugees. When you gather with your church, lead your church to pray for these displaced people. While there are refugees from many places, the Syrian refugees are forefront in our minds right now. Out of the 22 million Syrians, 12 million, over half, have been displaced by the crisis. They are being killed at a rate similar to the Paris death total every single day since March of 2011. 12.5 women and children are killed every day. These people desperately need our prayer.

4. Go and serve them.
I know that most of us can’t do this, but some of us can. Instead of a mission trip to an easier location, why not spend a week or two physically serving among them? I’ve spent time close to the Syrian border talking to refugees, and sharing the gospel with them. This crisis is easy to discuss in theoretical terms, but when you’ve spent time with someone who was beaten trying to cross a border, and preferred the beating because it was better than the danger back home, that theory becomes reality in significant ways. Whether it be a short-term opportunity, or a longer-term commitment through a relief agency, some of us can physically do something to care for refugees. Maybe you are one of those who can.

This is a quick list I threw together in 10 minutes from my experience. It’s not exhaustive, and it’s not meant to be. I’m just hopeful that it will make some of us think about ways we can serve those who are hurting; ways that we can show compassion to those who are in need.

What are some other ways that you, your church or someone you know is serving refugees and their communities?

Congrats to my dad, new President of the Minnesota-Wisconsin State Convention!

This afternoon my dad, Paul Fries, was nominated and elected as the new President of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention. I couldn’t be more excited and more proud. I have watched my dad for almost 37 years now, and can testify that he is a man of character, passion, integrity, faithfulness, love for his family, his church, his denomination and, most of all, love for King Jesus. My dad has spent his life showing me what it looks like to love and serve others. He is a man who deflects praise, who often serves in ways that no one knows about, and who has tremendous faith and is willing to step out and exercise that faith. My dad and mom, Cheryl, have modeled a strong, biblical marriage for 40 years and they raised 3 kids with sacrifice, love and commitment to show us Jesus.

My dad currently serves as the pastor of not one, but two churches in Richland County, Wisconsin; he is the pastor of Blue River Valley Church and the Interim Pastor of First Baptist Church in Richland Center, WI. The churches he serves are smaller; one is in a town of 5,000 and the other is a rural church located about 7 miles outside of a town of 1,000. As such he represents leaders from across the Southern Baptist Convention, but he also represents the average pastor across America who pastors smaller churches and who will never be known for their sacrifice and faithfulness.

I love the folks who make up the Minnesota-Wisconsin State Convention, and love the work they are doing for the Kingdom of God. Dr. Leo Endel, their Executive Director, is leading them well, and I am looking forward to watching my dad work together with Leo, their Executive Committee and the State Convention over the next year.

I think denominations and movements are led well when they are led by faithful leaders who model tremendous faith, character and sacrifice. My dad embodies these things, from where I’m sitting, and I hope he will serve as a model and encouragement to pastors and leaders all over.

Beyond all that, though, he’s my dad. In fact, even though I’m 37 and have kids myself, I still call him my daddy, and I’m not embarrassed about it. He is the first hero I’ve ever had, and I want to be like him more and more each day. I’m glad he’s elected because I think he’ll serve well, and is well honored to step into the role, but mostly I’m just proud because he’s my dad and I love him. Congrats Daddy, from your pretty proud son.

Friends, we are without excuse.

This article originally appeared at LifeWay.com/Pastors

I’ve seen hunger up close. In the dusty villages of West Africa, I have seen the extended bellies caused by malnutrition and the desperation in the eyes of a mother who doesn’t know how to feed her baby. These images are hard to forget. When I look at my own daughters today and think about not being able to feed them, I can’t imagine the helplessness felt by those who cannot feed their own children. I don’t want to imagine it, but for the sake of those who are hurting, I must imagine it.

There was a time when the images I witnessed in Burkina Faso would be limited to the pages of LIFE magazine for most Americans. Yet today, the information age has transformed our ability to know world realities. In a matter of seconds, we have access to the statistics, the stories and the faces of those who are affected by all manner of human needs–the most pressing of which is hunger.

  • One out of six people in the world today are undernourished.
  • 3.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of hunger-related causes.
  • One out of seven people in the United States access food banks to provide food for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, because of the crush of data and statistics around us, it can be easy to run right past these numbers. I want you to stop, though, and think about them for a moment. Consider your own family, your friends and your church. What if those statistics were born out in the circle of people you know and love? I’m positive most, if not all, of us would be moved to do something.

Friends, we are without excuse. All over Scripture we are called to serve the physical needs we encounter, yet many of us spend our days focused on our own needs and wants. How is your church addressing this global crisis? How is your family serving those in need in your community? Have you prayed for those who don’t know where to go for their next meal?

On Oct. 11, churches across the country will participate in Global Hunger Sunday, calling attention to the hunger needs around the world and in their community, as well as taking steps to end this crisis. Global Hunger Relief exists for this purpose, supporting projects implemented to feed the hungry and transform communities. I am extremely grateful that 100% of every dollar given to GHR goes directly to hunger-related projects. There’s no administrative entanglement to limit the advance of your money to help eliminate this tragic problem.

Today, GHR dollars are being used to fund a formula program in West Africa–feeding up to 300 babies a week who would otherwise be severely stunted or die from lack of proper nutrition. This project and hundreds of others are taking place through the work of GHR partners like IMB, NAMB and BGR. I wish you would consider joining us on Oct. 11 to show these faces to your congregation, tell these stories, and help us save lives in Jesus’ name.

Resources and videos for participating in Global Hunger Sunday are available at globalhungerrelief.com/resources.

You can download a free bulletin insert here.