A.T. Hargrave | CLC Participant
A.T.’s motivation, vision and call to become a commissioned pastor.
I desire to be obedient to Jesus Christ. If He decides to use me somewhere else then I will do my best to adjust, however, I feel called to serve the church for the rest of my life.
My vision is to make disciples. That is people who are learning to live with Jesus, through the Spirit, doing what the ordinary things of life as He would if He were them. I hope to help the church live separate from the world but for the reconciliation of the world.
I was called when I was 16 years old and though ordained in the Southern Baptist Church it is good for me to submit to the RCA process and learn.
I had the privilege of growing up in a home that was saturated with knowledge of the Lord. I am third generation pastor on both sides of my family. I can remember being seven and going into my dads bedroom at night and telling him that I was a sinner. He led me to the Lord on the edge of his bed. The Lord has sovereignly watched over me. I felt a call on my life at age fourteen; surrendering to ministry. At age sixteen I preached my first sermon. I was always a curious person. During my teenage years I asked my father thousands of questions both theological and ecclesiastical. No one told me to think about the church but that is what I thought about and still think about.
In the summer of my freshman year, I came home university and worked as an associate youth pastor at First Baptist Church, in Atoka Oklahoma. For some reason, I chose to stay home the next fall to stay on staff. This was turning point for I played baseball and golf in college. It was choosing ministry over sports.
I remained on staff at First Baptist Church while attending Oklahoma Baptist University. Challenging the status quo became a common theme during those years. The passion to see the church flourish in power and gospel ministry as it did in the beginning, collided with tradition and academia. In my naiveté, I assumed the passion and power of the early church and tradition were mutually exclusive. My presumption was they could not exist together.
While at FBC Atoka, we experienced great success. Though I was the associate youth pastor, the youth pastor I was under, saw gifting to teach in me. He gave full teaching responsibility to me. He was a gifted administrator and strategist. The Lord blessed us. At one point the youth attendance was greater than the rest of Sunday morning attendance. It was during that success the youth pastor had a moral failure and resigned. I assumed his role and responsibilities while working to heal and restore the wounds that were created.
During this season of seeking to heal and restore the hearts of so many, I realized how shallow my teaching had been. Though the number of people attending had grown there was not much substance. This profoundly impacted my perspective of ministry. It also led to the realization that I was not above moral failure. Realizing this resulted in a deep and recurring prayer for God to do what He needs to do in me in order that I might finish well.
After two years at FBC, with prayer and wise counsel, I resigned my position at FBC not knowing what I was going to do next. The next month I was contacted by Dr. Brad Jones, founder of Church Renewal International and Senior Pastor of Crestwood Baptist Church and Dr. Blake Gideon of First Baptist Church, Idabel, Oklahoma. Both offering me petitions. This decision would fundamentally shape my life and ministry.
Dr. Brad Jones, had experienced a genuine move of God in his church in the 1980’s, knew my father and wanted me to come on staff. He told me that Crestwood Baptist Church was on life-support. After 2 decades of decline, an eighty year old building, in the inner city of Oklahoma City, in a neighborhood that had transitioned into a minority neighborhood, the church had reached out to him as a last effort. Dr. Brad traveled twenty-five weeks of the year with Church Renewal International and needed an associate who could preach and lead while he was gone. He said he had an experience with the Lord and felt strongly that there would be a healthy church there, whether or not it was the present congregation he was not sure. They could pay me $12,000.
Dr. Gideon, of FBC, Isabel, Ok, was a young fiery man. First Baptist was experiencing massive church growth and because they were land locked, were going to plant a church in a neighboring town. He wanted me to come on as His associate and then lead the church plant. Starting salary was $42,000. Which at twenty-one was a lot of money!
As I prayed, I sensed the Lord giving me the freedom to choose. I also felt, it would help define my ministry. That being the case, I wanted to see or at least learn about experiences with God. I chose Crestwood Baptist Church to learn from Brad. Within six months of coming on staff he passed away. The church asked me to stay and be their pastor. I was twenty-one and had no idea what I was doing.
My twelve years there were full of transitions. I transitioned Crestwood from democratically ruled to elder led, from cessationalism to empowered evangelical ministry, and from traditional to contemporary worship. When I resigned in September of 2016, that one-hundred and twenty-five member congregation with 2 decades of decline, bankrupt in every way to measure bankruptcy, was a four-hundred member thriving congregation in the same location.
During those twelve years I learned how much I did not know. I learned how to be a learner. I completed my bachelors of science in Biblical studies and started my M.Div. Personally, I learned how to bleed on Jesus during betrayal, pain, conflict, and strife. I learned from Dallas Willard and Richard Foster how to practice disciplines necessary to meet Jesus and be formed by Him. I learned about the gifts of the Spirit from men like Jack Deere, John Wimber, and A.B. Simpson. I learned how to think about the scriptures from men like John Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Dr. Martin Loyd-Jones, John McArther, Kenneth Wuest, and N.T. Wright. I learned how to lead a missional church from men like Tim Keller, Stanely Hauerwas (Duke University), and many more. I learned how to find healing for my soul and the additions that plagued it from men like Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend, and Francis McNutt.
My marriage also went through drastic changes over those years. From almost divorcing in the early years, to ten years and two kids later, experiencing the best years of our lives together. I had to learn how to set boundaries, to say “no”, to manage my time, to intentionally adjust to meet my wife and children’s needs. But most of all, I have learned to trust that God will be for me what I cannot be for myself. Together, my wife and I, have had to learn how to love the other as they are and not as we want them to be. We had to learn how to forgive and how to live forgiven.
These life experiences have afforded me opportunities to see the faithfulness of God, the depth of my own depravity, the sufficiency of Jesus, as well as, given me a high value for the church in all its forms. I am a churchmen. I have a deep conviction to help classical evangelical churches experience renewal, to engage their context with the gospel in power and truth. I hold a deep commitment to scripture and the responsibility of pastors to preach without diluting it. Last, I have a value for the presence of God. God desires a people to Himself filled with His fullness and I am committed to being used by Him, as He wills, to serve such a people.