Category Archives: Role Models

A Model of Unity

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That’s me, second from the right, in front of the new campus for TCCTC. (Credit: SociallyLoved)

The following article was first posted on OneChristianVoice and their subsidiary, TallyChristianVoice. Check out their site for more inspiring stories as well as news that impacts Christians around the world.


UNITY 

Imagine, if you can, a place where Christians of all colors and creeds gather together. Every believer is welcome, regardless of his or her denomination, background, education level, or socio-economic status. Together, they spend hours poring over the Bible in various translations and ancient languages. They focus on God and the Scriptures. They pray together, learn from one another, and encourage one another in their walk with the Lord.

You may think this kind of unity only existed in the first century church. (See Acts 2.) At least, that’s what I thought…until I saw it first hand at the Tallahassee Christian College and Training Center (TCCTC).

 

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Over the past 12 years, I’ve been connected with TCCTC as a student, volunteer, board member, and faculty member. With each passing year, I become more amazed that such a spirit of unity exists—and even thrives!—within this small college. In a world full of segregated churches, of discord and confusion, TCCTC stands out as a model of unity.

I sat down recently with Jo Anne Arnett, the president and co-founder of TCCTC, and asked her an important question: How does the college achieve such unity?

Below, I’ve compiled a short list of Jo Anne’s responses, as well as suggestions on how we can apply the model of TCCTC to our own churches, youth groups, small groups, and Bible studies. While I’m sure there are more elements we could include, these few items are sufficient to challenge even the most established group of believers. 

 

1 – Diversify – Seek “unity at every level.”

Since its inception in 1990, TCCTC has embraced all manner of diversification (including age, color, background, and denomination) among the board of directors, faculty, and student body. Each semester, the faculty represent 15-20 denominations, while the total student body has come from over 400 congregations. Jo Anne puts it simply: “Everybody’s welcome.”

Application: Unity does not mean sameness. Encourage diversification in your group, then seek unity. 

 

2 – Focus – “We focus on Jesus and the Scriptures.”

Jo Anne is careful to point out that TCCTC focuses on Jesus and the Scriptures. True Christianity includes the study of both, for we are directed to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 NAS).

Over the years, I’ve heard Jo Anne say, “We major in the majors…but we don’t avoid the minors, either.” In other words, the majority of classes are focused on the major topics, such as the books of the Bible, hermeneutics (how to interpret Scripture), and Church history. There are numerous other classes students can explore for personal growth or continuing education, but they are not the major focus of the college.

Application: Focus on Jesus and the Scriptures. However, don’t get sidetracked or bogged down in details to the point that you miss the overarching message of God’s love and redemption.

 

3 – Concentrate – Unity is “not about watering down” the truth.

Too often, we feel that we have to dilute the Gospel to make it more acceptable for a wider audience. However, TCCTC takes a different approach: they face difficult Scriptures or topics head-on. They trust that God’s Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” and so they search the Scriptures for clarity. (See 2 Timothy 3:16 NAS.)

As for doctrinal conflicts, Jo Anne said there are only a few areas in which real differences of interpretations may appear. For those rare instances, teachers agree up front to give “equal voice and weight” to alternative interpretations. The students can then lean on the Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to interpret the meaning of the passage. Even if students disagree on the interpretation, they can be unified in their whole-hearted approach to seeking God and learning more about His Word.

Application: Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and clarity as you dig into the Scriptures. Concentrate on the Word and don’t shy away from difficult subjects. When differences arise within your group, retain unity as you explore other interpretations of the Word.

 

4 – Appreciate – Unity involves “appreciating each other’s different gifts.”

Most of us are familiar with the metaphor of a single Church Body with many members, as seen in 1 Corinthians 12. During our talk, Jo Anne used the same Scripture in reference to the various denominations within the Church—an analogy I had never considered before.

She said that TCCTC appreciates the different roles of each denomination and the value they bring to the Church Body. Instead of trying to break down denominational walls, the college seeks to “train and equip congregations to better fulfill their purpose within the Body.”

Application: Appreciate the various roles of individuals as well as denominations and congregations within the Church. When you do, you’ll begin to build bridges and spread unity within the Body.

 

5 – Serve – “Every follower of Jesus Christ is in full-time ministry.”

According to Jo Anne, the goal of TCCTC is to “train and equip believers to fulfill their various roles as followers of Jesus, and to do so in love with a biblical basis.” They believe every Christian—not just pastors—is in full-time ministry, so those roles could be within the home, church, workplace, or community.

Application: Acknowledge that every believer has an important role within the Church Body. Encourage one another to discover that role and develop it. Don’t go it alone, though. Seek appropriate training and equipping from knowledgeable, mature believers.

 


New Semester Fall Ad

(Credit: SociallyLoved)

If you’re in the Tallahassee region, I encourage you to check out TCCTC in person. But, regardless of your location, I challenge you to seek unity in your church, youth group, and Bible study. As Paul said, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3 NAS).

No Competition

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You may have noticed that I haven’t posted a blog in a few weeks. That’s because I’ve been preparing to attend the Florida Christian Writers Conference later this month. It was this same conference that jump-started my writing efforts last year, and I’m really excited to go back and learn more.

 

The Opportunity

This time, however, I won’t just be a conferee – I’ll be a co-facilitator of a workshop on blogging!

I met nearly 200 writers last year, and I’ve had the opportunity to develop friendships with several of them, including Kristen Hogrefe, a writer of young adult Christian fiction and blogger at ThinkTrueThoughts.com. You may recognize her as a guest blogger on this site.

When Kristen asked me to co-host a one hour workshop with her on blogging, I jumped at the opportunity. Kristen has been a great mentor to me on this subject, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with other writers.

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A slide from my upcoming blogging workshop with Kristen.

 

The Example

I’m telling you this because it’s a great example of what we should be doing in the Church body. Too often, we put a wall around our niche area, our skills and talents, our position within the church, or even our role at work or at home, and we fight off others who infringe on our territory. If that means stepping on toes – even Christian toes – we tell ourselves that’s OK, as long as we’re pursuing God’s purpose for our lives.

But that’s all wrong.

The truth is that God called us to Himself and to each other. We’re to love God and our brethren. We’re to bless God and bless others. (See Matthew 22:36-40.)

That means that we should seek opportunities to help others, even if there’s a chance they could take the spotlight from us.

 

The Perspective

The difference here is perspective. We should remember that God has no limits; His storehouse never runs bare. He can give me every blessing imaginable and still have enough to do the same for you – even if we’re operating in the same field, ministry, occupation, etc. (See Deuteronomy 28:12-13 and Malachi 3:10-11.)

In other words, we aren’t in competition with each other.

When we fully realize this, we can stop being afraid that we’ll lack resources, attention, or blessings. We can even start mentoring others by sharing our knowledge and experience.

I’m so glad the people I met at the writers conference last year understood this. When they felt confident enough to share their thoughts and ideas with me, it encouraged me to do the same. Those honest one-off conversations proved as valuable to me as the classroom material.

I’m especially grateful that Kristen is giving me the opportunity to stretch my teaching muscles later this month. Please be in prayer for us, that our class goes well and that we are a source of encouragement for our students. Please also pray that we find favor with publishers and agents as we pitch them our manuscripts. (More on that topic next time!)

ELVIS! The Role Model

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Elvis! Most know him as the “hunk of burnin’ love” that “shook up” music, merging rockabilly with rhythm and blues, to become the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

While Elvis’ career is still the stuff of legend, it’s his personal impact on the world – his legacy – that makes him a role model to many of us today.

The History

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Kathleen and I at Graceland in front of Elvis’ plane, the TCB.

When my friend Kathleen and I were looking for a good vacation in 2010, we heard about a special offer at Graceland to celebrate what would have been Elvis’ 75th birthday. I have always loved Elvis, blues, and BBQ, so we packed up and headed for Memphis. It was a vacation for the books!

We first stopped by Tupelo, Mississippi, where we saw the little shotgun-style house that was Elvis’ childhood home. There, we learned much about his youth. I knew Elvis had a twin who died at birth (can you imagine two of them?!), but I didn’t realize how much his family struggled with poverty.Tupelo_House

When Elvis was 13, he and his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He had always loved music and began to incorporate the blues and Negro spirituals from his youth into his rockabilly style. However, he was painfully shy, and it took him years to come out of his shell. It didn’t help that his music teachers flunked him, in part because they didn’t appreciate his unique style.

The Legend

Kathleen and I followed Elvis’ trail up to Memphis, Tennessee. The first night, we stayed in the Heartbreak Hotel (yes, for real!). I’ll never forget sitting in the lounge, watching one of Elvis’ Las Vegas performances on the big screen. No one can deny that Elvis had the goods – the voice, the looks, and the ability to leave his audience in a fervor!

The next day, we toured Sun Studios and the Stax Museum and learned how Elvis finally got his start in the business. In 1953, Elvis tried multiple times to cut singles and join bands. Some said he couldn’t sing, while others were turned off by his shyness.

At 19 years old, at the end of another unproductive recording session (this time at Sun Studios), Elvis took out his guitar and started singing an old blues song while jumping around the recording room. The other musicians joined in, and the recording manager finally heard what he was looking for – a white guy who could sing the blues. That day, Elvis recorded his first single, “That’s All Right.” It became an instant sensation.

I had always figured that Elvis’ signature stage moves were calculated to thrill the audience. I was surprised to find out that it had begun on accident. In 1954, Elvis and his two band mates from the record single had their first live performance. Elvis naturally moved to the thumping rhythm of the music. These striking moves, combined with his nervous shaking, created quite an effect! When Elvis realized he was getting a reaction from the crowd, he was embarrassed because he thought they were laughing at him. (Can you imagine that?) He soon realized they were going bananas over him, and he learned how to exaggerate those movements for theatrical effect.

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Graceland 2010. (Photo by Ashley Jones)

The next day, Kathleen and I took the final step in our pilgrimage: Graceland. This was the home Elvis lived in throughout his adult life. What might be called a modest upper-income home today was a full-scale mansion back then.

The first thing we saw when we walked in was the front parlor with a large white velvet couch, deep blue curtains, and two stained glass windows featuring designs of peacocks. Everything was lavish, from mirror and metal accents to rich fabrics.

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As we progressed into the house, we went through the dining room and kitchen, into the jungle room (which he designed for his daughter), down the mirrored staircase to the basement where he would listen to records and watch TV, and then to the tapestry-covered game room with a couple pool tables. Everything was designed with care, but the opulence of the parlor didn’t intrude into the rest of the mansion; instead, it became more of a home with fun, sentimental accents everywhere.

We turned down a wing of the mansion and were immediately overwhelmed. Every hallway, room, and alcove was filled to the ceiling with Elvis’ gold records, movie posters, and other memorabilia. A lifetime of awards and accolades were hung with care.

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We also saw numerous stage costumes, including the white one with multi-colored stones we had seen Elvis wear earlier that week on the big screen at the Heartbreak Hotel. I had always wondered why he wore such distinctive costumes, and I found the answer. Elvis discovered karate when he served in the Army (which was after his career had taken off, by the way). He later incorporated karate moves into his act, such as punches, kicks, and splits. To ensure he wouldn’t tear his trousers, he had uniforms designed after karate “gis.” Instead of looking weird, somehow it all came together to make Elvis look striking, elegant, and larger-than-life, in a way that only he could pull off.

Over the years, Elvis combined his musical and performance talents to become what is arguably the biggest, most recognizable, most enduring musical icon of our time. He is still the best-selling solo artist in musical history, with estimated record sales of over 600 million units world-wide (a figure that increases every year). When all other artists fade into history, Elvis will still be the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

 

The Legacy

Elvis truly was a legend. But it’s his legacy that most amazes me.

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While watching his Las Vegas concert at the Heartbreak Hotel, I was amazed to see him switch from blues to gospel. This wasn’t a Christmas special; it was one of his most famous shows in Sin City! But there were no complaints from the audience! Can you imagine someone like Taylor Swift trying that today?

After the concert, we watched a short biography. It showed Elvis in the recording studio talking and playing with his band. The biographer noted that, no matter what Elvis was practicing, he usually finished his sessions with gospel music. It’s what he was raised on, and it’s what was in his heart.

The biographer also noted how he incorporated blues and Negro spirituals and rhythms into his music. He made typically “black music” acceptable to mainstream white audiences, and he included several black musicians in his group. It may seem small today, but mixing the music of the two groups helped to create a bridge between them.

You can’t talk about Elvis and not mention his wife Priscilla and their daughter Lisa Marie. Although Elvis and Priscilla would later divorce, he adored Lisa Marie, and she adored her father. Throughout the Graceland estate, there are family pictures, toys, and other sweet signs of family life.

In fact, when Elvis was young, he promised his mother that he would build her a house when he got rich. He was true to that promise and had a room made especially for her. I’ve never seen an episode of MTV Cribs where the rapper kept a room for his mom down the hall, but that’s exactly what Elvis did!

One of the biggest surprises for me at Graceland was a special room devoted to all of the thank-you cards and awards given to Elvis for his generosity. It was known back then that if you wrote to Elvis asking for money, he would give it to you. From schools to scouts, Elvis wrote plenty of checks (to a fault). We’ll never fully understand the impact those donations had throughout Memphis, Tupelo, and the surrounding areas.

Unfortunately, Elvis struggled with addiction of pain meds, and it was ultimately this that led to his untimely death in 1977 at the age of 42. People may point to this addiction, or his divorce, his gyrating moves on stage, his lack of money management, or any other fault that could be found with the man – for he was a man, after all, with all the insecurities and problems that come with the territory.

But I, like so many others, see the legacy he left behind – the family that loved him, the schools and communities that benefitted from his generosity, the country he served while in the Army, and the audiences who still enjoy his music and movies today.

 

The Role Model

Only Jesus was and is perfect, so He is our true Role Model. However, God also gave us each other to help, to lean on, and to learn from.

From time to time, I’ll highlight a person who exemplified faith, honor, integrity, or other godly characteristics in their lives. We can learn from these folks, even if they had faults in other areas. Elvis_Sign

To me, Elvis showed compassion, generosity, grace, and integrity throughout his life, even as he struggled with addiction. The gospel stayed alive in his heart, as shown in his concerts and practice sessions. And his love for his family was self-evident. Even his rags-to-riches story is encouraging to those of us who hear that we’re not good enough, or we’ll never make it out of our small town circumstances.

This week, as we mark what would have been Elvis’ 80th birthday, I hope you find encouragement in his story. And I hope you realize the difference you make to those around you.

(With special thanks to Graceland media and Wikipedia.)