In my second week of my series, I would like for you to meet my friend Chris Burkhart. Chris and his wife Emily are our good friends here at Asbury. We first met at a spouse and family ministries dinner during orientation week and have continued our relationship through classes, Lost, Noonball, and our mutual searches for a church home. Chris and Emily have been together since their High School days, and will be married 2 years in June. Chris is one day going to be a UM Minister, at least he thinks that is God’s plan. He also likes to play basketball, which he gets to do, and drums, which he does not currently get to do. He is a very good friend, who keeps us laughing and thinking, which is tough to pull off at the same time. So without further ado, on to the questions.
1. Name a formative experience in your relationship with God?
–This is a tough question. I spend most of my waking hours trying to forget that I need formative experiences with God. In other words, if God gave humanity a pill that made it so that we would not have to go through formative growth experiences, I would take it. Most of my formative experiences are pretty painful and usually a result of my realization of how badly I needed that experience. I guess that’s why Seminary is so nice, constant formative experiences without the hassle of the giant mistakes that are made previous to the experiences.
The one that comes to mind of course is the first. Because of some stuff that went down in my eighth grade year, I decided to get as far away from my hometown as possible and go to Camp Indi-Co-So, a United Methodist Church Camp, where for the first time ever I truly heard that God cared about a wretch like me, so much that He knew every hair on my head (at the time I had a GORGEOUS head of blonde). It was then that I decided to follow after him for the rest of my life.
Amazing how many of us have probably had a revelation of God’s amazing love at a Church Camp or similar type experience. Those intense experiences are not just about emotional commitments to Jesus (though they can be), but they can also set the path for life-long discipleship.
2. You are a funny guy, what do you see as the role of humor in the ministry, and its possible positive and negative effects?
– Well as it turns out (and I know you’ll be shocked) not every one thinks I’m funny. And I’m only as funny as the situation allows. In other words, I will never do stand up. I can repeat other peoples stand ups, but will probably never come up with routine of my own. Just as with anything else, with humor you have to know your audience. I tried to make jokes during sermons last year that I thought would KILL and got nothing. Then I would say something flippant that I didn’t intend to be a joke and the whole place would be in a uproar. This was because (as it turns out) most middle aged people don’t find me the least bit amusing. One of the negative effects of this is that sometimes that message that I was trying to give would be clouded for much of the people there because they were trying to figure out what I meant in the joke. But on the other side, the younger crowd at the church, (which were few and far between) said that they experienced God that service because of my general attitude of humor etc. So I guess humor is appropriate as long as it is not getting in the way of how Christ is using you to deliver the Father, through the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit don’t think it’s funny, it probably shouldn’t be said.
I agree that humor is tough to predict, and sometimes we make the critical selfish mistake of making FUNNY sermons instead of SERMONS that fittingly are humorous. Sometimes our jokes can be all that people remember instead of remembering the point of the sermon through our humor. I really like the concept of the Holy Spirit thinking that something is funny. I also believe Jesus laughed, a lot.
3. As a UM, what do you see as the biggest opportunities for growth as a denomination and how do you think that young clergy like ourselves could be instrumental in that growth?
The answer to this question changes by day, minute, mood, and month. Recently I heard in one of my classes of a description of United Methodists as “functional atheists,” meaning that to walk into most UM Sunday Morning church services one would not necessarily have to encounter the Triune God of the Bible and the Sacraments. Instead we’re usually seen as functioning as a Church (prayer, preaching, singing hymns etc) but in some congregations it seems as though God himself is never directly addressed. On top of that, there seems to be no culture of expectations of God speaking to us. While I think this assessment is a bit harsh, with the church I grew up in its not altogether untrue. So the greatest opportunity I see for growth in the UM and in churches globally, is to create a culture of expectations where we earnestly seek the face of God, (through prayer, preaching, music, etc) and get knocked off our socks when He responds.
Couldn’t say it better, so I won’t add anything.
4. You worked as an associate pastor for a while before you came to Seminary, what was the best thing to come from that experience and what was the most challenging thing to come from that experience?
Last year was a tough year to be sure. Not long after I accepted the position my parents left that church because of changes the head pastor was making, so that was the environment that I came into. (not fun) So I guess the most challenging thing was working shoulder to shoulder with people who had deeply hurt my parents in ways that they still have not recovered from.
The best thing was probably the “real world” experience I gained, and the opportunity to try on some “ministry shoes” which I will now proudly hang on the shelf never to put on again. The head pastor their told me that this would be a good job for me so that I could go to seminary and tell the old staunchy professors that “the church really can’t/doesn’t/won’t function that way.” But what I have found in short time I’ve been here is that precisely the opposite is true. It has been seminary that has helped me to see the was that “the church really shouldn’t but does” act in certain ways.
It is interesting to me that this negative experience while working at a church has occurred to several of us who are in Seminary. I agree that it has been refreshing to be caught up in the hope of the church instead of the pessimism of church.
5. How is God moving in your life currently and how can we pray for you now?
-I think God is trying to instill in me a sense of peace and surrender now. I”m learning to surrender to His teachings and use this time to grow closer in a more intimate way with Him. So for prayer I guess I would ask that the Father through the Spirit would continue to grant that peace, grace, and surrender, that He knows I need so badly.
Will do, Chris.