Expending My Ministry

TL, DR: I’m offering myself as a consultant – at no cost – specifically to smaller congregations that want an online presence and (1) don’t know where to start and (2) can’t afford a paid consultant. I’m also offering a webinar on the basics of live streaming this week. More information on this can be found here.

Ever since I answered God’s calling to pastoral ministry, I have been seeking ways to incorporate my past experience. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, I have noticed that my previous experience in video and audio production have been very beneficial as I have had to make streaming my primary means of preaching and teaching. Rewind a bit: Even before the pandemic, I have seen the need for churches to embrace streaming, social media, and other technologies such as podcasting to reach new people for Jesus. Research shows that people will check out a church online before visiting in-person. Experience has reinforced this, as almost every person who has visited a church that I’ve been the pastor of first found us online and checked out a sermon before attending a worship service.

The reality is this: Congregations and pastors that do not embrace technology are not reaching people other than those who are already sitting in their pews. Online ministry is essential in the 21st Century. Yet, the task of beginning any sort of online ministry can be daunting. There are consultants who try to sell their services, convince congregations that they must have Hollywood-quality equipment and have marketing companies to manage their social media. Smaller congregations especially do not have the means to use consultants in the first place and, the ones that do decide to use one, often become intimidated and overwhelmed. My issue with consultants is that they often have a one-size-fits-all approach and assume that what works in the megachurch will work in the rural congregation. These consultants are out of touch with the reality of the church, which is that the majority of which have an average weekly attendance of 50 or fewer and do not have a ton of money to spend.

Enter Strangely Warmed Media Group.

Strangely Warmed Media Group has been a vision of mine for a few years now but was not something that I pursued. This changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially now, I am seeing that the need for consultants with a heart for the small and rural congregations are essential so this is why I have decided to launch this new aspect of my ministry. God has shown me that using my previous experience in broadcasting in service to the church is part of my call to ministry.

I want to help congregations and pastors who want to do online ministry well but do not believe they are capable and I believe I can help because I have been there and have had to overcome many of the challenges they face.

Just to be clear of a few things: I’m not charging for any of this. This is a ministry that I want to offer to the wider church. This is not going to be a full time venture for me. I see Strangely Warmed Media Group being a resource. I will do occasional webinars and teachings (more on those in a moment) as well as some short-term coaching. I envision this ministry pointing people in the right direction for things such as equipment and giving advice on running social media as opposed to being in active management of assets.

In short, I want to take my experience and pass it along.

I have launched a website which can be found at swmediagroup.net. On there, you will find that I am offering two webinars over the next couple of weeks: One on the basics of streaming and another on effective social media. There is no cost for either and you can register right on the website. If you can not join live, a video will be uploaded to YouTube (channel coming soon).

Again, I see this as an expansion of my current ministry. I don’t want to use this as an extra source of income (hence why I’m not charging money for this) nor will I be changing careers. Rather, this is another component of my ministry that I want to offer to the wider church. Just as Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed on Aldersgate Street and just as he proclaimed that the world was his parish, so too is the world our parish. God wants to use us to warm as many hearts as possible. Often, the tool to do this is social media and streaming.

I’m no expert by any means but I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Simply, I recognize that online ministry is essential in 2020 and I want to help others do it well.

Racism and Conspiracy Theories are Incompatible with Christianity

As I scroll through social media, I’m disturbed by much of what I see. What we’re seeing is an unprecedented time in world history where information is so easily shared and, at least for the most part, this is a good thing. Unfortunately, this also means that the ease of sharing false and misleading information is also easy. Constantly, I’m seeing Christians share articles that call into question whether or not COVID-19 is real and even how the entire virus was a conspiracy by the Democrats (how this would even be plausible, I have no idea). One video even went to great lengths to try and connect Kobe Bryant’s death to COVID-19 (the mental gymnastics needed for that gave me a headache).

The sharing of racism is also easier than ever. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery has exposed a lot of racism on social media. The father and son who claim they believed he was responsible for burglaries in their neighborhood have been arrested due to a viral video clearly showing that all that occurred was the senseless killing of an unarmed man of color who was only jogging through a neighborhood. Yet, people are defending the actions of these two men, actions that amount to a lynching, which were fueled by the ugly sin of racism. Ahmaud Arbery was shot for being a black man in a white neighborhood.

I’m shocked at the number of Christians who participate in these hijinks. And, pastors: Some of you are the worst.

People are dying because of racism and the denial of medical science. There have been numerous killings of young black men in particular simply for being black and for being in the “wrong place (people like Ahmaud Arbery have just as much right to be jogging down the street as anyone else). People are believing the pseudoscience and outright lies contained in conspiracy articles and videos such as “Plandemic” and are dying because of their distrust of valid, peer reviewed scientific fact (in addition to common sense). The Christians who are sharing these articles are bearing false witness, a false witness that can literally end with someone needlessly dying.

Scripture is clear about a lot of things and speaks clearly to the larger issues surrounding racism and the spread of conspiracy theories. Moses gave this as part of the law: “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16 NLT). Jesus further clarifies in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 that all people are ultimately our neighbor. In other words, to quote the great philosopher Harry Potter: “One mustn’t tell lies.” When we spread conspiracy theories or partake in racism, we are telling lies about our neighbors, in addition to putting our neighbors at risk. God’s law can be boiled down like this when he was asked which commandment was the greatest: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT)

When we hate our neighbor because of the color of their skin, we are breaking God’s law. When we share conspiracy videos that foster distrust of the medical community and are based on nothing more than a series of coincidences, quakary, and are motivated by personal gain from fame, we are breaking God’s law. We are failing to love our neighbors when we refuse to accept facts that don’t fit our wants and desires because we are putting them at risk.

Christians, we have to do better because to do otherwise is sin.

Pastors, I want to talk to you (and myself) for a moment: Our words have a lot of power. People will take what we say as gospel more often than we perhaps realize. If we use our social media to shed doubt on a racially motivated killing or to spread lies that deny established medical facts then we are leading our people astray. People could die because of your actions. Have you ever considered that? Have you considered that people could not take precautions against COVID-19 because you share a video or an article that sheds doubt on a global crisis? Have you considered that could lead them to their death? Pastors, stop spreading these articles and videos. Stop being silent in the face of racism. Doing otherwise does mean that you are neglecting your office, abusing your power, and being irresponsible with your flock. Fact check. It takes all of thirty seconds to disprove almost all of the conspiracy theories floating around by simply using Google. As for racism, scripture is pretty clear on that. If you cast doubt on racism, it’s not me you have a problem with.

Are we truly disciples? Are we truly committed to Christ? Then we must be committed to loving our neighbors regardless of the color of their skin. We must be committed to sharing the truth and encouraging people take pandemics seriously. We have to practice what we preach and claim to believe.

Racism and conspiracy theories are incompatible with Christian teaching and belief. There’s simply no way around that.

Imagining What’s Next in the Methodist Movement

John Wesley preaching at the market cross in Epworth, England.

There was a time – 2016 to be precise – that I was completely against any sort of break off within the United Methodist Church. Part of me still wishes to find some way to maintain some sort of unity, but my views have softened as the years have gone by. The work of the Commission on a Way Forward has been completed, a special session of General Conference voted on proposals, and yet the in-fighting has continued until it has reached a fever pitch. My opinion now is that a separation of some sort is going to be in the best interests of all parties so that we can continue doing the work of God’s Kingdom. I could give plenty of “hot takes” of what this should look like, but there’s really no use in engaging in such. There are plenty of others who are eager to do this (if you don’t believe me, just search the #UMC hashtag on any social media platform).

With an inevitable split becoming apparent, I have been keeping my eye on what could be next. The Protocol on Reconciliation Through Separation that has been drafted and proposed by a group representing the spectrum of theological thought within the UMC, while not perfect, seems to be the most equitable means to end the fighting and to move forward. Since the Protocol has been released, I have been watching for proposals for changes within the UMC as well as proposals for new denominations. The only significant work toward a new expression of Methodism, at least as far as I know, has been done by the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

WCA has released two portions of a proposed Doctrine and Discipline for a new traditionalist church. The first section deals with doctrinal standards and clergy deployment. I gave some thoughts and a proposal for changes to their proposed clergy deployment strategy a couple of months ago. In speaking with someone involved with WCA leadership, my proposal was well received by those who read it. I’ve also had conversations with other pastors who I know to be aligned with orthodox theology and they expressed similar concerns to the ones I conveyed, that is that women and persons of color would have a difficult time securing placements under a modified call system. In addition to my thoughts on the proposed clergy deployment system, I offered these thoughts on the proposed doctrinal standards:

I find that their doctrine seems spot-on with expressions of orthodox Methodist/Wesleyan belief. High regard for the sacraments – including baptism of children and babies – is retained and other important Methodist distinctives are contained. I like that WCA has incorporated the creeds as foundational doctrinal standards as well.

The doctrinal standards are solid and strong, and a great representation of Wesleyan theology. In the draft, I noted no fundamentalist bent or overt attempt at excluding anyone. From where I sit, I believe any true Wesleyan would be hard pressed to find anything in the doctrinal standards they disagree with. In fact, this section is almost identical to the current Book of Discipline (with the draft’s inclusion of the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed being notable exceptions).

Since that time, a second section has been released that details credentialing of ministers and a few details of how clergy are to conduct ministry. As with the first section, I like the work that has been done, particularly in providing multiple pathways by which one may be ordained an Elder. Theological education is absolutely required – as it should be – but how one obtains that education is much more flexible under the proposed Discipline. There will still be required subject matter and approved schools but even a clergyperson who completes a course of study outside of a traditional seminary education may have an opportunity to obtain Elders orders. I believe this is a very positive step in the right direction, one that will allow more people to be ordained as an Elder with less debt that if they had attended seminary.

I have written previously (here and here) of expanding the role of the licensed local pastor (LLP) within the UMC. Under WCA’s proposal, local pastors would be ordained as Deacons and be granted sacramental authority when serving as the pastor in charge of a local congregation or charge. As mentioned above, one obtaining their theological education by course of study would be an option in seeking ordination as an Elder. There is currently an option for an LLP to become an Elder within the UMC, but the candidate must obtain a bachelor’s degree and complete additional seminary-level coursework in addition to the standard course of study. In theory, the additional material could be incorporated into the standard course of study, thus enabling a clergyperson to be ordained in a more timely fashion. Likewise, Provisional Elders would also be ordained as Deacons – a practice that ceased some years ago in the UMC – and would be granted sacramental authority while serving a two year residency in preparing for ordination as an Elder.

LLPs would also have full voice and vote on all matters within the annual conference. I believe this is a major positive, something I have also championed in the past. What remains unclear in the proposal is whether or not LLPs will be eligible to serve as delegates to General Conference (this portion of the proposal has not been released yet). The ability for LLps to serve as clergy delegates to General Conference is something I believe is essential, as LLPs currently provide a significant amount of the pastoral ministry within many annual conferences (in Mississippi, LLPs outnumber Elders), therefore ought to be able to participate in shaping the overall ministry of the church.

Overall, I like the work that has been done in this proposal (with the noted exception of the proposed clergy deployment system). Of course, we must remember that what has been presented is a proposed draft so nothing is final. Assuming that WCA’s proposed church is formed, the convening body would still have to approve a discipline, doctrine, polity, etc. Also, a split is not even final, as General Conference is the only body that can actually initiate the work of an official separation of any sort (and as of today, the UMC’s General Conference will not meet until sometime in 2021).

Diversity of thought is not necessarily a bad thing (more on that in a moment) but it’s become clear that those whose interpretations of marriage differ will continue to focus on the issue to the detriment of the mission for Christ. While I lament separation, I acknowledge that this may be the best course of action for the long term. However this shakes out, I would hope that any denominations that form as a result of a separation can carry on some mutual ministry. Missing an opportunity to have an eccumenical relationship between two bodies with the same roots would be a real shame.

I remember a sermon that Bishop Swanson gave at Central UMC in Meridian sometime leading up to General Conference 2019. I’ll never forget a statement he made: “We don’t all have to think alike to be together.” When I wrote previously of diversity, I was talking about a lot of things: Diversity of race, gender, and, yes, theological thought. Not everyone within the universal church of Jesus agrees on every single facet of theology and doctrine, yet we are all united in Christ. In my mind, a snapshot of the kingdom is our unity in Christ in spite of our differences in opinion. I have my convictions but that does not mean that I can’t minister to or be in ministry with someone whose convictions are different than mine.

I hope you will join me in praying into whatever is next in this movement called Methodism. Let’s lean in to how God is working during this time and join in that movement. God is not done with us yet.

“We Don’t Need to Stream:” Lies Churches Believe

I want to tell you a story about a guy named Vlad. First, you need to know that Vlad is not this man’s real name, it’s an alternate identity he crafted for himself as part of his hard rock lifestyle. Vlad is a guy from Kentucky who found the Facebook page for the church I was serving while I was in seminary. At some point, I noticed that this guy named Vlad was liking the streams of the sermons from our services. Soon after that, he reached out to chat about faith and I came to realize that he had experienced a lot of judgment and hurt at the hands of the church due to his hard living. Finally, one of my final Sundays in Kentucky, he showed up to meet me in person and to experience a service in-person. We lost touch a while back but I continue to pray for him and give thanks for his being receptive to God’s grace.

All of this happened because of streaming.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, I’ve had some conversations with pastors who simply do not see the value in streaming. The excuses run the gamut from a lack of equipment to “my people don’t use Facebook.” I get that there are true challenges for some churches and people to be able to stream but the vast majority can be overcome with a little creativity. We don’t need fancy productions and equipment. As for people within the congregation not using Facebook or being receptive to streaming, my experience has been that that is not entirely true. In fact, when I first started to really look, I was surprised at the people within a congregation that do use social media more than I was at who does not. I can promise you, if you believe streaming is of no value because your people aren’t using social media, you might be surprised.

Also remember that we don’t stream only for the people who are currently in the church. Consider the Vlads of the world who might discover your stream and decide to check out your worship service or even Jesus for the first time.

There has been much discussion on how the church will come out of the pandemic and whether or not we will cling to the lessons we have learned during this time. I pray that we do. I pray that we continue to embrace new ways of doing worship and discipleship. Your website and social media are the virtual front doors of your congregation. Continue to welcome people and to invite them to your physical doors but know that virtual you is the first taste most people will get of you and your congregation.

“We don’t need to stream” is a lie straight from the enemy to keep you from reaching more people than you ever could only from your pulpit.

May we not forget these lessons and may we continue to embrace them. Only by continuing to embrace these new opportunities will the church come out of the pandemic stronger than when we entered. The Vlads in your midst are not going to come to you, you must go to them. From the largest congregations to the smallest, it’s time for us to embrace new opportunities at reaching new people for Jesus.

An Open Letter to Pastors Still Having In-Person Worship Services

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

First, you need to know that this comes from a place of deep love in Jesus Christ. My intention is not to start a fight or to bash you. However, I need to have some real talk for a minute. If you’re continuing to have worship services with your congregation in your building, you’re not making good decisions. These choices are anything but faithful or loving. You’re putting your people in danger and for what? To show how devoted to God you are? If that’s your idea of faithfulness, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a Methodist and, like any good Methodist, I believe there is credibility in John Wesley’s General Rules for the early Methodist Societies. Wesley came up with these rules as a summary of the teachings of Jesus Christ. The rules are:

  • Do no Harm
  • Do Good
  • Attend to the Ordinances of God (or: “Stay in Love with God”)

How can we justify placing our people in harm’s way? How are we doing good when we expose our parishioners to a disease that could kill them? How are we attending to God’s ordinances by taking such a big risk? The short answer to all of these is, “We aren’t.” Thinking that we are somehow immune to a disease like COVID-19 is arrogant and prideful. As I saw on social media post just this morning:

“The blood of Jesus is a vaccine against sin, not against viruses.”

COVID-19 does not care how strong your faith is. COVID-19 does not care big, small, or loud your church is. There has been a direct link to churches and the spread of COVID-19. Again I ask: Why are we being so reckless?

Pastors, we have got to love our people enough to shut this down. We have got to love God enough to not put our people in harm’s way. Doing so does not please God. Frankly, you can throw all the scripture (and I’m sure a lot of it way would be used way out of its context) you want at me but we do not please God when we mistreat our flocks in such ways. Are we not shepherds, whose jobs it is to care for the flocks that we have been entrusted with? Sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people even if they don’t like it. Sometimes it means saying no. In this season, being a good shepherd means telling our people to stay home.

If you’re having drive up services and think this will keep the virus from spreading, well, I don’t believe you’ve thought this through. I considered doing this at Easter and then I researched it further. Upon studying, I decided that even a drive up service was not a good idea. Mississippi’s United Methodist Bishop, James Swanson, sent a note to pastors strongly discouraging such gatherings. First, depending on who you ask, these gatherings may violate shelter-in-place orders and bans on gatherings over ten people. Second, let me give you a hypothetical situation to consider:

Let’s say there are people in cars next to each other and have their windows down (reality is not everyone is going to leave their cars cranked even if there is low power FM). One of them coughs and the droplets go into the next car. Say someone walks through the droplet field when they go to the bathroom. And say any of them have severe underlying conditions. You’ve not only infected people but probably killed someone all in an attempt to be faithful.

Even if you give instructions to remain in vehicles or to keep windows up, there’s no guarantee that people will do this. And, really, what can we do to compel people to follow these instructions? Not much, and really nothing concrete.

Is this blood really what we want to have on our souls and on our hands?

I love being together as much as anyone else and I miss this terribly, but I love my people more. I want them to be as safe and healthy as possible, which is why I have indefinitely called off all in-person activities at my churches. My love for my people is why I’m taking advantage of modern technologies like Facebook Live, which I count as a gift from God, to facilitate worship and discipleship. Keeping my people away is the best way I can love them right now. This does not mean that I like making such decisions but these decisions are ones I know needed to be made.

I know you love your people too. I know you want what’s best for them. But please consider suspending in-person activities as an act of love. Perhaps you’re afraid of resentment, being undermined, or losing your job. I get it. But, as I stated above, sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people whether they like it or not. If you decide to start using Facebook Live and I can help in any way, please reach out. You can also read some thoughts I’ve already posted about streaming here.

Do no harm. Love your people enough to tell them to stay home.

Hello, Americus Parish (Pleasant Hill UMC and Salem UMC in George County)!

Me and my wife Jessica

Greetings, Saints of Pleasant Hill UMC and Salem UMC!

I’m Jonathan Tullos and I’m thrilled that I’ve been appointed to serve the Americus Parish beginning in June. My wife, Jessica, and I are eager to meet you all and to start getting to know you. Currently, I serve the Druid Hills-Lost Gap Charge in Meridian. Lost Gap is located in rural Lauderdale County and Druid Hills is in a residential area of Meridian.

My spiritual journey is not unlike many others in that the road has had many twists and turns. I was not always the best disciple. There was a time in my life where one could describe me as a “hot mess.” But Jesus truly saved me from some very deep sin. My spiritual awakening began when I was working at a radio station in Fort Wayne, Indiana when I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, and thinking of the bad choices I had been making lately. A voice called out to me and said, “You can’t keep doing this.” I knew it was God letting me know that I was on a path to my own destruction and I asked His forgiveness. Many bumps on the road came about after that but God always revealed His love to me. Along the way I received my call to ministry but fought it as hard as I could. Obviously, in the end, God won the wrestling match.

I was commissioned as a Provisional Elder in the Mississippi Annual Conference in 2018. As for my education, I’m a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary where I earned a Master of Divinity degree. Prior to that, I earned degrees from Liberty University (B.S. – Religion), East Central Community College (A.A.S. – Paramedic Science), and Meridian Community College (A.A.S. – Broadcast Communications). My previous careers include a time as a radio DJ and music programmer. I was also a paramedic for several years. I grew up in Philadelphia, Mississippi where most of my family still lives. Jessica and I have been married for nearly 12 years. She is a high school science teacher and holds degrees from Southern Miss and Mississippi State. We have a daughter, Hannah, who was born in 2014 but died soon after she was born. Jessica and I are also licensed foster parents.

My ministry experience has mostly been in rural contexts. My first appointment was to Oak Grove UMC just outside of Meridian, a small congregation in the Clarkdale community. While studying at Asbury, I served Shiloh UMC in Stanton, Kentucky. Stanton is a small town in Eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains, an area devastated by job loss and poverty resulting from the reduction of coal mining. I’m excited to be back in “the country!”

We’ll get to know each other better soon. As we prepare to make the transition, my prayers are with you all and with Brother David as he prepares to retire. We’re looking forward to being with you all soon. Meanwhile, please feel free to reach out on social media. I’m always glad to have more Facebook friends!

We’ll see you soon!

In Christ,
Brother Jonathan & Jessica Tullos

We're Not Called to be Selfish

True disciples of Jesus are not selfish people; we are called to be selfless

Yesterday, I ran across an account of a priest in Italy who was stricken with COVID-19 and on a ventilator. USA Today ran an article about him and his sacrifice.

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, was the archpriest of Casnigo, a town in northern Italy about 50 miles northeast of Milan.

According to Italian news site Prima Bergamo, Berardelli died sometime between March 15 and 16 and was being treated at a hospital in nearby Lovere, as his condition worsened.

A health care worker at the hospital told the Italian online news outlet Araberara that Berardelli was given a ventilator but the priest refused it so someone who was younger than him could use it.

USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/24/covid-19-italian-priest-who-donated-his-ventilator-has-reportedly-died/2906351001/

This is who I want to be when I grow up.

We’re not all called to give up a life-saving machine for the sake of another but Christians are called to show sacrificial love to our neighbors. After all, sacrificial love is the example that Jesus gave during His ministry in this world and at the cross. This is love in action, proving that love is not a mere emotion. To draw inspiration from prominent theologians Toby Mac and dc Talk: “Love (I can’t misspell it like they did, sorry) is a verb.”

COVID-19 has revealed a lot about the world. As for whether these things have been good or bad, I believe we can agree that the result has been a bit of both. We have seen so many people coming together for the common good, doing whatever they can to make sure children continue to have food and that other vulnerable persons are taken care of. Unfortunately, we have also seen another side: Jacking up prices on essential items in light of a crisis. And, perhaps even worse, we have seen people hoarding items such as bottled water, frozen food, and even toilet paper out of fear of the items running out. I have found myself at a major loss in light of these events. The term I used just today in response to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick saying that our grandparents should be willing to be sacrificed for the good our economy was, “I’m out of evens. Completely out.”

Last week, I took to Facebook Live to encourage my friends not to respond to our current crisis with fear but out of a place of love. I used the account out of Exodus 16 to illustrate how God had always provided for our needs and always would. But God something something else: He instructed the people to to take only what they needed for the day and no more. If they gathered more than they actually needed…

Then Moses told them, ‘Do not keep any of it until morning.’ But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

Exodus 16:19-20 (NLT)

God gave them the instructions to only gather what they actually needed for a reason: He was always going to supply the manna (bread) and the quail that they needed and would never forget to feed them. If they gathered more than they needed – that is, if they hoarded – then the leftover would rot and no one would be able to benefit from it. Later, Jesus said to His disciples (yes, that includes those of us who want to be His disciples today), “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19 NLT)

Friends, disciples don’t hoard. We are people of faith, not fear. We know that God is always going to look out for us and that he will never forget to feed us, clothe us, or to give us implements for the cleanliness of our tush.

We are called to share, to give sacrificially. I encourage you to please only take what you need so that others can benefit. God could be using you to enable the provision for one of your neighbors. We are not creatures of fear, we are creatures of hope and love. This is the example that our Lord gives us.

Let us go and do likewise.