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Steve Childers, President of Pathway Learning

Forty years ago, Steve Childers became the founding pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, serving there from 1977-1982. Steve began helping start Heritage in August 1977 with, what The Daily Oklahoman called, “a small, faithful band” of mostly elderly people who refused to leave their rapidly declining neighborhood near downtown Oklahoma City. Their church was called Northminster Presbyterian and they had been without a pastor since 1964. Their membership had dropped from more than 700 to a handful of 13 faithful people[1] who were meeting together every Sunday afternoon in their almost empty sanctuary for worship, bible study and prayer.

They also refused to give up their vision of having a theologically conservative, evangelistic, Presbyterian church, like the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) denomination, that would truly serve their deteriorating, multi-ethnic, high-crime area of the city. Just before they were about to be told to disband by retired pastor Robert Cox, who’d been sent by the RPCES to evaluate them, Cox received a phone call from a young man named Steve Childers, who just graduated from Oklahoma State University with a business degree.

Heritage Presbyterian Church in 1977

Bob and Steve began meeting in the basement of the old church building, that was literally falling apart, to talk and pray about the great need for a new church in that community. Rather than telling this small band of faithful people to disband, Bob recommended they call Steve to help them start this new church. With no seminary education, he accepted their invitation a week later.

On August 13, 1977, The Daily Oklahoman reported the story with the headline, “Congregation, Pastor Looking for a Miracle,” quoting Bob Cox saying, “I think there is potential here, but maybe the only possible answer is a miracle.” Bob then left Oklahoma City to return to his home in Alabama. Steve began serving as their full-time “Student Supply Minister” on August 17, 1979, according to the terms of his call these people wrote by hand on a piece of notebook paper:

[Steve is] to teach in Sunday School, conduct the Sunday morning worship services, have the responsibilities of the midweek bible study and prayer meeting and serve in a pastoral capacity for all members and friends of the congregation, especially the sick, feeble, and sorrowing, following up all contacts brought to his attention. Weekly remuneration for his ministry shall be $50 per week salary and $25 for pastoral expenses.

Childers preaching at Heritage Presbyterian in Oklahoma City

Almost two years later, the new Heritage Reformed Presbyterian Church was formally received into the RPCES denomination and Steve Childers was ordained as their first pastor. On April 1, 1979, The Daily Oklahoman reported this story with the headline, “Ordination Rites Slated For Sunday,” quoting Bob Cox again. But this time he said “It’s a miracle that he’s here.” Steve continued serving Heritage until 1982 when he and other church leaders determined the church was healthy enough for him to leave to attend seminary. During that year, the RPCES merged with the PCA to become one denomination.

After seminary, Steve was the church planter and founding pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Plano (North Dallas), Texas from 1985-1995. For the next 22 years (1995-2017) he was a resident practical theology professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, teaching courses in evangelism, discipleship, church planting, church renewal, leadership, and missions.

Steve earned Masters degrees from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, and a doctorate from Reformed Seminary in Orlando. He has also done doctoral studies in global mission and leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission in Pasadena. He and his wife, Becky, live in Orlando, Florida, and have three daughters and three grandchildren.

Training the Trainers in a Pathway Learning cohort course in Muslim West Africa (French)

As Steve traveled overseas as a seminary professor, he learned there are millions of church leaders around the world who don’t have access to high quality, seminary-level education. In response to this critical need, he founded Global Church Advancement, continuing today as Pathway Learning, with the mission to provide these under-served church leaders the training and tools they need to develop churches that transform lives and have a lasting impact on their communities.

Drawing on the latest educational technology, Pathway Learning provides a blend of online and onsite courses that increase the effectiveness of church leaders by providing them access to affordable, seminary courses–where they live, in their language, and for their culture. This allows them to receive their necessary education and credentials without leaving their families and the churches they’re serving. Pathway Learning courses include biblical, theological, and practical studies.

In June 2017, after 40 years of ministry on the field and at the seminary, Steve began serving Pathway Learning full-time. This year Pathway Learning is launching courses in English for North America, courses translated into French for West Africa, Mandarin for South Asia, Japanese for Japan, and Italian for Western Europe. The goal of these projects is to develop an effective, scalable model for educating under-served church leaders. To date, Pathway Learning has helped train thousands of church leaders from more than 300 denominations representing over 50 countries in 7 languages on 5 continents.

Steve is looking for prayer and financial partners to help him bring this solution to many more church leaders around the world. To learn more about Pathway Learning go to www.pathwaylearning.org

[1] This core group included Jim and Irene Franklin, a retired machinist, Jim and Lucille Donnell, a retired truck driver, Humphrey and Jennie Bard, a retired newspaperman, and several widows.

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After 49 years of distinguished service as a seminary professor at three seminaries, Dr. John Frame retired last month. He has been a mentor, faculty colleague, and dear friend–as our seminary offices have been next to each other for the last 17 years. He has distinguished himself as a prolific author and one of America’s foremost theologians and philosophers—significantly shaping the thought of Evangelicalism today.

Many of today’s most influential Christian leaders and authors, like Tim Keller and John Piper, readily acknowledge the significant impact John Frame has had on them. Although widely known and deeply respected in church leadership and academic circles for decades, his works are now, finally, becoming well known to the general public.

This is the fourth of a four-part series taken from Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.04.39 PMthe foreword I wrote for his book, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1, by P&R Publishing. I wrote this with the goal of helping to introduce Frame and his writings more widely to the general public, with the hope that more people would begin mining the rich theological, philosophical, and practical gems that have for too long been mostly in the hands of academics and church leaders.

“You are a gentleman and a scholar.” 

It’s a phrase used in the Catcher in the Rye. But it’s been used for centuries throughout the British Isles to describe a rare person worthy of being considered not only a scholar but also a gentleman. Not all scholars are gentlemen. Not all gentlemen are scholars. John Frame is both.

john_frame sketch

One would understandably think that a scholar with Frame’s intellectual rigor and theological acumen would likely carry with him an aura of haughtiness. Instead, as one who has had an office next to him since 2000, I can tell you firsthand that John is a man marked by a rare blend of remarkable intellect and authentic humility.[1]

He is a model of living out what he writes about in his popular booklet Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus[2] (his grandfatherly advice written originally for incoming students at RTS-Orlando).[3]

Those who engage John in theological or philosophical debate (and there are many) experience his charitable and fair spirit—his genuine willingness to take a serious look at both sides of an issue. He’s well known for treating an opposing view graciously and respectfully, even while deconstructing it.

Many don’t know that John is also a classically trained musician (piano and organ) and a critic of film, music, and other media. His passion for and writings on worship and music have provoked controversy, especially in Reformed circles, because he regards contemporary worship music, and even liturgical dance, as biblically permissible and even enjoyable in worship.

John often confuses people because on a Sunday he can enjoy leading a new church plant in informal worship by playing an electric keyboard as part of a contemporary music ensemble. Then on Wednesday of the same week, he can greatly enjoy leading the seminary community in formal worship by playing a sixteenth-century hymn on the majestic, custom-built organ in the RTS-O chapel. Chapter 38 of this book is titled

“Twenty-five Random Things That Nobody Knows about Me.”

This list came from a Facebook game that his students “dragged [him] into.” What I love about this final chapter is that it gives you a glimpse into the personal life of this renowned theologian and philosopher. Here are a few of my favorites:

#3: I was always the last guy chosen for sports teams, and with good reason.

#4: We listened faithfully to Pittsburgh Pirate games from 1950–56, when the team had the worst record in baseball.

#18: My priorities for ministry were (a) missions, (b) pastorate, (c) academic theology. A visit to mission fields in 1960 ruled out (a). A year and two summers of pastoral experience ruled out (b). So I embraced (c) by default, as God’s calling.

#23: I did not marry until I was forty-five. God was preparing someone special.

#24: In 1999, I led a worship team of myself, a saxophonist, and a trombonist. The other two musicians were in their late seventies, but we really rocked.

John has shared with me how he is sometimes concerned about spending so much time in the privacy of his office writing, rather than being more actively involved in public ministry. So my role over the years we’ve worked together has been to periodically reminded him of what he already knows and teaches – that

There’s nothing more practical than sound theology.

I’ve seen firsthand how his theological writings are having a significant practical impact on the lives and ministries of Christian leaders around the world.

John is much more than a theologian, philosopher, and apologist. He is also a loving husband to Mary, father to his grown children, and grandfather to his rapidly growing gaggle of grandchildren. He is a humble and quiet man who prefers writing in the solitude of his office to coming into the public limelight.

All this is to say that it’s worth your time to read through these rare theological and philosophical gems in Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Here you will find his “Primer on Perspectivalism”—a clear, concise summary of triperspectivalism that will enhance your knowledge of God, yourself, others, and the world. Other chapters include foundational topics such as these: “What the Bible Is About: One Thing and Three Things,” “The Gospel and the Scriptures,” “Introduction to the Reformed Faith,” and “The Main Thing.”

Then enter more deeply into Frame’s ongoing humble but bold dialogues by reading essays such as “Reformed and Evangelicals Together,” “Is Justification by Faith Alone the Article on Which the Church Stands or Falls?,” “N. T. Wright and the Authority of Scripture,” “Cultural Transformation and the Local Church,” “The Bible and Joe the Plumber,” and, of course, the rest of the “Twenty-five Random Things That Nobody Knows about Me.”

If you’re new to reading the works of Frame (or theological works in general), let me strongly encourage you to take the time to explore his other writings. Here are just a few introductory readings I recommend that you consider to begin priming your theological pump:

  • Salvation Belongs to the Lord[4]—a brief mini-systematic theology that is easily accessible to the average reader.
  • Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus—practical advice for incoming seminary students and all new students of theology.
  • Browse his website, http://www.frame-poythress.org, where you’ll find many of his writings. He shares this website with Vern Poythress, Calvinistic theologian, philosopher, New Testament scholar, and one of his former students.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.04.01 PMWhether or not you’re new to reading Frame’s theological works, sooner or later you must own and begin making regular use of his magnum opus—Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief [5] with a Foreword by J.I. Packer. This remarkably accessible and practical work is the culmination of his nearly fifty years of studying, writing, teaching, and applying the Word of God to all aspects of life. World Magazine recently recognized it as “Book of the Year.

I am extremely grateful to God for this man and his ministry. This is why I so strongly promote the reading of his books and articles in all my seminary classes at RTS-Orlando and at the church leadership training events where I speak and teach in North America and abroad.

It is a great privilege for me to commend this book to you. Here you’ll find a wide array of important topics written in Frame’s inimitable style of robust charity. Enjoy mining the rich truths in these winsome and provocative essays.

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 1: Introducing The Man and His Message

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 2: Influencers on His Thought

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 3: Why It’s Hard to Frame Frame

Coming Next: The 100 Books That Have Most Influenced John Frame’s Thought by Frame and Childers

COMING SOON: “Applied Theology: A Systematic Theologian and a Practical Theologian Apply Theology to Life and Ministry.” By Childers & Frame

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[1] With his nearly five decades of participation in seminary convocation and commencement ceremonies, I know of no one who has worn academic regalia more often, and holds wearing it in more disdain, than Frame.
[2] John M. Frame, Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus (Orlando: Reformed Theological Seminary, 2002).
[3] As one of the “Fathers” (older professors) at RTS-O, Frame has also had a significant personal influence on all the “Brothers” (younger professors—including me). For instance, almost every time I see him, he asks me the same question: “Tell me again, how’s your book coming along?”
[4] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006).
[5] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013).