For 36 years, Bill Kynes served as a senior pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church. He’s an author of several books and articles, a member of the EFCA’s Spiritual Heritage Committee and a council member for The Gospel Coalition. Recently, Greg Strand sat down with Bill Kynes to discuss his experience being a “pastor-theologian” in the Free Church. Here is their conversation.
Greg Strand: You served at the same church for 36 years. In God’s kind providence, how did that happen?
Bill Kynes: [Laughs] I don't know how that happened. It happened one year at a time. I went to the church [Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church] at 29 years old, with very little pastoral experience and had never preached more than three Sundays in a row. And at the time, the church had a typical schedule. In those days, you would preach Sunday morning, you'd preach Sunday night and you'd lead a Wednesday night prayer meeting. And that seemed pretty daunting. My hope was that I could make it through the first year. And then after that, I said, “I'll give it three to five years and see what happens.”
I was still wrestling with Is this really what God wants me to do? And I felt, yes. But it was only as I entered into it, that I really began to feel confirmed. Yes, this is where God wants me to be. And there was a real sense of satisfaction and contentment and joy in what I was doing. But there was a sense of this is good. This is worth doing. So I think that has always sustained me as a pastor, that pastoral work is valuable in itself.
Though you are called to the task of being the theologian in the church, you're also learning along the way with God's people.
And I never sensed a desire to “move up.” When I got there, the church was a little under 100. And there was some slow growth, but there was never any huge exponential burst. But going to a bigger church never attracted me because I was content with doing what I was doing. I wanted to preach, I wanted to pastor, be involved with people's lives. I loved the intersection of theological truth, gospel truth with real lives. And so I was content to do that. This one suburban local church. And I so enjoyed the fact that there was that continuity. You just develop deeper relationships, there's generational relationships, there are community relationships and connections and contacts that grow over time.
Greg: Why is the model of pastor-theologian important to you, and why do you commend it as a model to others for pastoral ministry? Who were your models when you began pastoral ministry?
Bill: Well, I think every pastor will be a theologian.
Greg: Whether they know it or not.
Bill: Exactly. You will be teaching people theology as you preach the Bible. And the question is, are you going to be a good theologian or a poor one? And I wanted to be a good theologian. And I knew that would take effort, it would take study, it would take education and training and continuing to learn and grow.
And I had some very good models: my pastor in college, I thought was very thoughtful in his preaching. Various pastors I had as I continued education, modeled very thoughtful, careful, exposition of the Bible that reflects good theology. One of the models for me in those days was John Stott, whose careful, faithful biblical exposition was a model of how the Bible should be treated and preached and expounded well.
Greg: The other joy, brother, is, you don't enter into this with all the answers yourself. Though you are called to the task of being the theologian in the church, you're also learning along the way with God's people. And the other thing I like, Bill, about the notion of what you're saying is, 36 years in one place, pastor-theologians are localized. We are not, first and foremost, global theologians. We're not global pastors. We are pastors of local churches.
Bill: Yes, in some sense, all theology is contextualized. And it needs to be contextualized to this group of people.
Greg: As a pastor of a local church, how do you balance life at home, pastoring in a local church, preaching and teaching multiple times a week and keeping up with what is happening in your local context and in the world? In other words, how to remain grounded in your primary calling to a ministry of the Word while hearing but not becoming consumed with the social media “hot takes”?
Bill: You start by talking about different roles that you play, including family life, and that sort of thing. As a pastor, I'm not just a preacher-teacher, I'm meant to be a moral example, a spiritual example of what a mature Christian looks like. And that includes all of life. I can't divide my life into ministry, and other, because all of it is combined.
I'm modeling what it means to be a father; I'm modeling what it means to be a Christian husband; I'm modeling what it means to be a Christian citizen, Christian neighbor, all of that. I use the illustration of a decathlete; the decathlete has 10 events, and he's got to be decent in all of them. He may excel in a few. He can't neglect any of them. And we all wear different hats. And as a pastor, I want to be respecting the lordship of Christ in all those roles.
Greg: If I could just interject there. I remember you saying that it's taught biblically. The training ground for elders is how you lead at home. In one sense, we are given the privilege and the expectation that you better attend your home.
Bill: The reality is, if I got divorced, I would get fired. In our church's bylaws, under the responsibilities of a pastor, the very first one is his responsibility to care for his family. The second [question] is how do you keep up with everything? And that's always a challenge. You try to find a few sources that have things that are going on that you trust, that aren't pushing an agenda but are helpful and trustworthy. That's harder to do these days. Honestly, Greg, you've been a tremendous help to me, in helping me to stay up with what things are going on that might be relevant. I think the Free Church Theology Conference has been a wonderful help to understand some of the issues that are percolating out there that people in your church may be picking up that you need to understand and respond to.
Greg: I think your image of the decathlon is a wonderful image: we're generalists. To some degree, it reminds us of our need for others along the way, and our absolute dependency upon God.
You have to recognize you are not the Messiah. You will not heal every broken person.
Bill: We are generalists. And we're like GPs [General Practitioners]. I think that's part of what some would call the crisis of the status of pastors: [it] has diminished in the culture because the culture is more and more dependent upon experts. And a pastor isn’t necessarily an expert on anything, but has, as you say, a generalist perspective. But that's what you need when you're dealing with people at the broadest level. The positive is that everything is in view and everything is part of what you do.
Greg: While giving priority to the home and then the church, how did you and Susan navigate that, especially with four busy, active sons? How did you prioritize your marriage?
Bill: First of all, there was a sense of deep partnership. My ministry was her ministry, and her work was my work. We had a sense of oneness about what we were doing. I couldn't have done what I did without her, and I don't think she could do what she did without me. So we were intimately connected to one another in that way. We had different roles to play and each role fit our own gifts and temperament. We found satisfaction in each of those.
I always wanted her to know that she was a priority in my life. And though ministry would make its demands, I wanted her to know that I would rather be with her, even though I had to travel from time to time. [With] raising the kids, part of what was helpful is the church helps to raise the kids as well. I think you need a church to raise kids. They found helpful models in the church that weren't just their peers. They knew older men who they became friends with. That was always a joy to us to see people take an interest in them.
Greg: What are some of the more pressing doctrinal matters for the church today? What about the EFCA?
Bill: I think one of them is unity. What is it that unites us? What is it that holds us together? Is it the gospel? Is it our understanding of God's revelation of Himself in Christ; who we are in Christ? Or is it something else? And I think that's critical for local churches. It's critical for the EFCA. Can we negotiate differences on secondary issues? I love the expression, convictional kindness. Can we hold together in grace and truth? So I think that's one.
Culturally, I want to say, “Who is God?” Because there is just a total lack of understanding of who God is, and particularly the Holy God, who's revealed Himself in Scripture. And without our appreciation of the holiness of God, the whole Bible makes no sense. It makes no sense. Once you lose the holiness of God, once you lose who God is, then you lose who we are as human beings. That’s where we've come in the culture: what does it mean to be a human being?
What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? So sexuality issues are just so confused. What is gender, all these kinds of issues. They've lost their mooring in who God is, as our Creator and this notion of a divine design and His creation.
Greg: What counsel would you give to a young pastor about developing the habits and disciplines of being a pastor-theologian?
Bill: Young pastors entering the responsibilities of pastoral leadership can feel overwhelmed because the needs are limitless. You have to recognize you are not the Messiah. You will not heal every broken person. Even the Lord Jesus did not do that in His earthly life. So, recognizing that there are limits to what you can do can relieve you of a good bit of guilt, because there's always things that are left undone, and could have been done better or you could have done more. So have a realistic expectation about yourself.
I think it's also to have a realistic expectation about the church. The church is a glorious thing in the sight of God. It is the bride of Christ, it is the body of Christ in the world, it is the temple of the living God in the world. It's a society of saints, holy ones, but the church is also an association of sinners. All you have to do is read First Corinthians, you can see there's never been a golden age of the church. And at the church you pastor, there will be sinners, and they will do sinful things.
But the reality is, that same sense of glory and depravity is in ourselves. We are glorious creatures in the sight of God, redeemed in Christ, we’re seated at the right hand of the throne of God with Jesus. And, at the same time, we still sin. So, as you’re patient with yourself and seek the gospel for yourself, you'll seek it for your church.
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