Graduating from the Greenhouse

The decision where to attend seminary is without a doubt a crucial part of one’s overall formation for pastoral ministry. Seminary provides a rigorous training in Biblical exegesis, systematic theology, church history, Biblical languages, hermeneutics, and many other areas that are critical for adequately preparing someone for a lifetime of faithful ministry. However, another key decision one makes when preparing for pastoral ministry is which church to be a part of while in seminary. Although there are certainly many wonderful churches here in Charlotte, we are thankful to call Uptown Church our home!

Pastor Tom and the rest of the Session at Uptown Church have long been committed to a vision of Uptown Church as a “leadership greenhouse,” where pastoral interns are raised up, trained, equipped, and ultimately sent out into various ministry roles. Over the years, the Lord has worked powerfully in making that vision a reality. Today there are pastors, missionaries, church planters, and many others who spent a season of their lives serving the people at Uptown Church, and are now faithfully serving the Lord all over the world. I am grateful and humbled to add my name to that list of former Uptown interns.

So what makes the Uptown Internship so great anyway? While there are countless things I could point to, here is my “Top 5” list of what makes Uptown a great place to serve and grow:

1) Christ-Centered and Biblically Faithful Preaching

One of the very first things I was looking for (and found) when I arrived at Uptown almost four years ago was Biblically faithful preaching week in and week out. God’s Word shapes us in powerful ways as God speaks to us, changes us, cleanses us, and forms us into His holy people. Sometimes that change is hard to notice, but similar to being a parent, when we then step back and look at our lives 5, 10, or even 20 years later, we see how we are no longer the people we used to be (praise be to God!).

Tom, thank you for your service to us all and to the Lord in preparing sermons and preaching God’s Word to us every week. I have benefitted greatly simply from sitting under your preaching, and am continually reminded afresh how the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), profitable for teaching and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), and able to save our very souls (James 1:21). Thanks be to God!

2) Intern Training

Uptown has several different avenues through which they train their interns. The first is monthly mentoring meetings with your supervisor. These are a great way to have someone who knows you and loves you look into your life and give you candid feedback about strengths as well as areas for improvement – an important part of any good pastoral internship. Dave, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me and put up with all my questions over this past year and a half! Your deep love and care for the people of Uptown is a great encouragement and inspiration to me.

Uptown also provides opportunities for training and growth through monthly intern training lunches. There are few things better (for a seminary student at least) than getting to sit down with seasoned pastors and fellow interns to talk about important theological and practical ministry topics, all while enjoying a delicious fried chicken sandwich with sweet potato tots.

Finally, Uptown also has opportunities for interns and their wives to meet with the pastors and their wives for training throughout the year. These training sessions have been tremendously helpful for both Maria and I as we learned all about things like how to balance family life with life in ministry, preventing ministry burnout, and more. Uptown doesn’t just care about their interns, they care about their families as well!

3) Staff and Session Meetings

I still remember when Pastor Tom asked what I thought of Uptown staff meetings right after I attended my very first one. I had just left my job as a Financial Analyst at Bank of America the week beforehand, so my response was that for starters, I loved being able to now study the Bible and pray for one another during staff meetings – something we never did in corporate America! As an intern (and now as an Assistant Pastor), it has been an honor to serve alongside such a talented staff of men and women who love God, love the people of Uptown, and whom God has uniquely gifted to serve and be a blessing to His church.

Interns are also encouraged to attend session meetings. These meetings provide an insight into the heart of the leadership at Uptown Church. Uptown, you have been blessed with a fantastic group of teaching and ruling elders, men who love and care for you, and who are “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Heb. 13:17). Attending these meetings and watching as our elders encourage and exhort one another in the Lord, deliberate over important matters, and pray together for our members has not only been a tremendous blessing, but also a great reminder for us all to be praying regularly for these men and their families as they lead and serve the church!

4) Church Planting

When we first moved down here to Charlotte, Uptown made the process of finding a new church home easy for us. Having come from a PCA church plant up in Chicago, we knew from the outset that we wanted to either be part of another PCA church plant, or a church that was committed to planting new churches. We love Uptown’s church planting vision and are thankful to God for the strong legacy of church planting they have left (and continue to leave) behind.

I remember “Googling” PCA churches in Charlotte, and one of the first ones that I checked out was Cross Park. While I loved worshipping with everyone there, I was living in Uptown at the time so Cross Park was a bit far away. When I mentioned this to Jeff Hardy, he said “if you are living in Uptown, why don’t you check out Uptown Church?” I did, and the rest is history. Planting churches isn’t easy – there is always a level of sacrifice involved, which often includes saying goodbye to close friends who decide to go with a plant. However, church planting plays a critical role in the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20), and as new churches are planted and established, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and lives are transformed, we are reminded that this is an endeavor that is well worth the sacrifice!

5) The People!

I know I know, everyone always says the thing they love most about their church is the people. But it’s true! When Maria and I first moved to Charlotte from Chicago, we didn’t have any family here. Now, we have hundreds of brothers and sisters here – Uptown Church, YOU have become our family! Living in community with you all has been a pivotal part of not only my internship, but of our entire life in Charlotte as well. Whether it’s sharing life together through Life Groups, learning together in Adult Sunday School, serving together in the nursery or on the welcome team, or getting to know one another through many of the other events or aspects of life at Uptown, we are thankful for the work that the Lord has done and continues to do in and through our community. Your feedback and encouragement have not only helped confirm this calling that the Lord has placed on my life, it has helped sharpen and strengthen me in my walk with the Lord as I rely daily on Him!

A few other shout outs/thank yous: Sumner A., I always enjoyed (and still miss) our coffee break chats while I was at the Bank.  Grae G., thank you for meeting with me to talk about faith and work back when I was still at the Bank as well. Jeremy C. and Albert S., our prayer triad has been (and continues to be) a great source of encouragement to me as we chat together and pray for one another. Forde B., thank you for the time you have invested and continue to invest in mentoring me each month. To the McNamee/Kraska/Irvin Life Group, thank you for walking through life with us and loving us so well during our time here at Uptown. Finally, thank you to all of our Young Adults in The Gathering! Your love for the Lord and for the church is a great encouragement to me, and something I praise God for. I look forward to continuing to work with and serve you all in the year to come!

There are many others I should thank here as well, but for the sake of brevity I will simply echo Barr’s words from his own recent blog: “It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a church to raise an intern.” Thank you to each of you that has played a role in that process for me!

We love you Uptown Church. We are extraordinarily grateful to the Lord for the kindness and goodness that He has demonstrated to us through you all. And to that end, we are excited that the end of my internship does not mean goodbye, but rather marks the beginning of a new chapter for us here! I am delighted to now serve the Lord in the year ahead as an Assistant Pastor, as we also continue to seek the Lord’s guidance and will about planting a new daughter church in the near future. Whatever that ends up looking like, and whatever else God has in store for us, we look forward to partnering with you all for the sake of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the months and years to come! Soli Deo gloria!

Grace + Peace,
Mark

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