Interview with Brian Petak

As Christians, we are called to spread Christ’s message to the world. Often, however, we encounter trials that make spreading God’s Word difficult. On the broadcast, Brian Petak, Fellowship Outreach Pastor, shares about missions and overcoming obstacles in teaching.

About Brian

Brian is the Pastor of Outreach and Missional Living at Fellowship Bible church in Brentwood, TN. He oversees both the global strategy of coming alongside and supporting long-term strategic partnerships, and the local reality to help people follow Jesus in every area of life through “missional living”, that is, the posture, thoughts and attitude of a missionary—right here, where we live, work and play—engaging our community and culture in ways that reflect the life of Christ, and the mission of the Church.

Brian is also husband to Heidi, father of four very active boys, a runner, and piano guy.

Click to read Transcript

INTRODUCTION: My name is Rosman Khamati, Founder and Director of PEACE International. PEACE International initially worked in South Sudan, but currently in Northern Uganda due to the influx of refugees from South Sudan due to the infighting. We ask that you come along to give to us to the education of this children that it would make a difference in their lives and in the nation of South Sudan. Thank you.

EASLEY: After Christ’s resurrection, and several events recorded in the New Testament, He instructed his eleven closest friends, His disciples to meet Him in Galilee on a mountain that He had designated. In Matthew 28:17 we read: When they saw Him, they worshipped Him, but some were doubtful and Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go there and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Christ told us make disciples of all, the word is ethnos, all nations. In the church then, and many shapes and forms and sizes has tried to carry out this so called Great Commission. Now you know the story of the book of Acts. Acts is the recounting of the work of the Holy Spirit through the disciples to take the ministry that Christ gave them to the world. Acts 1:8, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth. So here it is, three years Christ is on the earth. We call it His earthly ministry. He’s left many disciples in place, lead by the apostles and they’re now going to make disciples of all ethnic groups. So the book of Acts really is a theological and geographical story of how the church is born and then the message is spread to the whole globe.

We are thrilled today to be in studio today with Brian Petak. We co-labor at Fellowship Nashville, a church that has been here since 19..(unfinished thought).

PETAK: 1998. And Brian was on the ground early. You were involved with the church from the very beginning.

P: It’s an honor to be here. Thanks for having me.

E: You started out as a Worship Pastor, right?

P: Yes, for the first eight years.

E: You have migrated around the globe, literally.

P: I took a backwards approach to being an Outreach Pastor, that’s for sure.

E: Before we talk about the outreach of Fellowship and what you’re doing in particular, we have introduced you today with a clip from Rosemary Khamati. Brian tell us a little bit about Rosemary.

P: Rosemary is a dear friend and she has become a dear friend to me. She is certainly a friend to Fellowship and we met her a number of years ago, actually I think it was in the early 2000’s. We were taking our first trips into Lietnam, South Sudan and she was working with an organization called World Relief. We weren’t actually partnering with World Relief at that time, but we were part of a collaboration of different organizations and met Rosemary through those relationships. Over the years she’s moved from one organization to another and started her own organization a couple years ago, but we’ve remained connected with Rosemary and she is one of our strategic partners at Fellowship.

E: We’re going to come back and talk a lot about partnerships and so forth, but tell a little bit about Rosemary’s backstory because she’s got quite a traumatic history in how she ended up where she is today.

P: She comes from Nairobi. She lives in Nairobi, actually. Her heart is with the people of South Sudan. She began working in South Sudan many, many years ago. She was married and has four beautiful daughters, and almost all of them have worked in South Sudan at one time or another. Over the years, she has worked with specific people groups in South Sudan in particular, in Boma, South Sudan and then she moved to another place in Biong South Sudan, but recently in December when all of the tribal warfare broke out mid December, basically everybody from the people group where she was working in Biong fled. Many homes were burned and they became part of the almost million people that are part of the internally displaced peoples in South Sudan and so now she’s shifted her focus to actually South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda.

E: You mentioned internally displaced peoples. We call them IDPs.

P: Yes, and she’s working with a specific IDP camp, internally displaced people camp in Unyama in Northern Uganda.

E: Let’s take a step back and you and I have had this conversation many times. Most churches have missions programs or maybe they partner with a parachurch organization of some kind and they send teams, or adults, or a medical trip to some destination. Your fingerprints are all over Fellowships model and philosophy, of this global idea. Differentiate and explain what’s different than the typical church mission program and what Fellowship and other churches do that we call global and especially strategic partners.

P: Well, I would say traditionally over the last fifty years there have been many missionaries that have been sent and have gone from the west to other parts of the world to do missions and that’s wonderful. There have been so many benefits that have come from that. However, recently and especially since those missions were so fruitful there’s been a shift, a transition, to working with the already existing indigenous leaders in those hard to reach places, so that’s been our focus. Rather than sending missionaries, and we’re not opposed to that, we have  actually sent missionaries also and if somebody feels that call from the Lord on their heart, we will enthusiastically send them, but our focus is with indigenous leaders on the ground, in these countries that we call strategic partnerships.

E: For clarification, indigenous being for example, if we’re in Nigeria we’re looking for a Nigerian national, someone born and that’s their home, that’s their culture, as opposed to the old mindset. We sent British, Western, European and American missionaries and you spend years learning a language; you integrate into that culture; you live abroad for a term, long term missions for example, and the effectiveness of indigenous missionaries.

P: Oh, it’s exponential because they know the culture. It is their culture, it’s their language and there’s no dropoff in the contextualization of the gospel because it’s their people; it’s their language; it’s their culture. So we do send teams. I think the way I would articulate it is we’re not trip driven, we’re partnership driven. We’re strategic partnership driven in our approach, but from time to time it becomes obvious that a trip that would involve some of our own people is aligned with part of their vision. It’s the vision of our strategic partner that drives that. It’s not the missions program and the missions trip that drives it.

E: Brian, just in case the average church is thinking about what you just said, let’s differentiate a little bit more about trip driven vs. strategic driven.

P: Ok, traditionally for years many missions programs were missionary driven and then there became a wave of not only sending missionaries, but also a focus on sending mission trips and there has become basically a cottage industry of mission trips. Millions and millions of dollars are raised every year. It’s an industry and it’s born great fruit, no doubt, but there’s a difference between being driven by the strategic partnership of your indigenous leaders and their vision vs being driven by this machine or a program that needs to crank out or send out so many people per year, or so many trips per year. We’re not really focused on those numbers. We’re not concerned about those, in fact we’ve taken some thoughts from a number of really good resources, one of them being, When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert, to not really focus on the global trip in the sense that if a trip doesn’t need to happen we’re not going to try to make it happen.

E: I’ve often pondered if, and again, as you said, “A Lot of great ministries happen,” if you took per price for a cinder block brick, that the average American Church has spent sending their kids to build cinder block houses in different countries, we’ve probably spent millions per brick to put those houses up. Obviously, the teenager or the young adult, or whoever goes gets great benefit from doing that good, altruistic ministry, but at the end of the day what do we have?

P: Not to mention, the stories we’ve heard that when an American team goes and maybe builds a wall and a building according to our standards or our codes, and then leaves it and comes back home, often times that wall or that building is rejected in that community around them because it wasn’t built by their people or wasn’t built according to their standards. It looks different  than the rest of the buildings so we want to be very mindful to that and attentive to those kinds of details that really should be coming from the culture itself or from our partners as opposed to from our own ideas.

E: When we speak of strategic partners we’re going back to the same location with a group of people that we know, so again I’m on a missions committee; I’m part of a church that has a vital board. I’ve got the big board of all the pictures of different countries and the pins and who’s there. We’re not saying that’s bad, or wrong, or change it, what we are saying is what if you designated one area in a strategic fashion, how would you coach them to do that?

P: I would coach them to start with a relationship because everything is about relationships. All of our current partnerships, they all germinated with a relationship either with someone who attends our church, or one of our pastors has met in years past, or somebody took a trip twenty, thirty years ago and maintained that relationship. So I would be slow to build a big program and feel like we have to fill up a map with pins. I would be much more concerned with building, even just starting with one relationship and lets stick with these people if we trust the leader, and this is a people group that we’ve prayed over, that we believe our hearts resonate with their vision. Lets go deep with them over a long period of time and slowly, but surely over the years we’ve added a partner here or a partner there, but we’re very slow in adding partnerships.

E: When you define them as a partner, what kind of expectations are there?  Because they’re not a mission organization vetting these missionaries and we have a missions committee that reviews them and says, “Yes, we’ll support you for x a month” or “No, we won’t support you.” So it’s a relationship; you’re going to send trips; you’re going to send teams from time to time, how do you advance it?

P: Well there’s no doubt that every organization has financial needs, but if it’s the financial needs that drive the partnership then that’s all it becomes about; then it becomes about writing and sending a check. At least the way we approach our partnerships; it’s relationship driven, in fact, Brian Fikkert in When Helping Hurts, talks about being asset based as opposed to need based. What he means by that is rather than asking a partner or an organization overseas “What are your needs and let’s see how we can fill them,” which becomes about checking boxes sometimes.

E: It’s endless.

P: Yes, it’s endless. It never, never ends. Rather than that, looking together, sitting down together, in this room and looking at what their assets are, then juxtaposed them against true needs for their ministry to be viable, and to be effective, and reaching out with the gospel and then we work together with common goals, with accountability, with consistent communication. It’s a relationship and in fact what we’ve done at Fellowship is, I’ve delegated out to different people within our body. I have a country champion for each one of our strategic partnerships and they are basically charged with the lionshare of the communication on an ongoing basis; hence, the relationship when it comes to establishing objectives or the vision, the common shared vision with the partnership. Now I have the humbling neat privilege to be able to be connected relationally with all of our partners as well. I take that on and we skype often, a lot of emails, and a lot of communication, but it’s also good to be able to delegate that out as well.

E: Let’s jump to communication. You and I were talking about aerograms and one hundred years ago there were these one piece-all in one envelope letters and you could write on certain panels and glue it and send it and maybe it got there and maybe it didn’t. E-mail has changed global ministry forever, and skyping, and google chats, and all the different technologies. You can do all of this. Explain again how you got these captains or partners.

P: In fact the communication of today has made the world a lot smaller. We have the country champion that works with the partner to establish the mutually shared vision of our partnership going forward. It is really driven by the partner but then that country champion is also working closely with a partner to determine if a trip is needed, and what type of trip that might be, if it would be a student ministries lead kind of trip, or if it’s strictly focused on teaching. A lot of our trips are sending teachers from here to other places to come alongside and train, equip and launch leaders overseas. It’s a lot of communication and takes on a lot of different forms, in fact my e-mail inbox and my skype folder, it’s very very active, almost on a daily basis especially because there are time changes involved and time zones that the communication is almost endless.

E: But what a gift compared to even fifteen years ago when you were hoping that the aerogram got there or that package got there. Phone calls were not only prohibited; some places you couldn’t even call. You were dependent on ham radio operators, shortwave in those days.

P: Then also I would say with social media, with Twitter, and Facebook and things like that, we have active Facebook and Twitter operations. When one of our partners has a prayer need or when there’s something happening strategic in their ministry, oftentimes we’ll get an e-mail and put it out there on Twitter or Facebook and people in our community around the world are praying instantly for those things.

E: You mentioned earlier there’s not enough money to do any of this. There are always more needs than dollars and you do a unique thing at Fellowship called our Global Christmas Offering. You set some pretty high metrics for this. For example: these are the baseline budgets and then this past year you did some neat things saying, “If we had this much, and if we had that much.” Share a little bit about how that came to fruition and some of the results.

P: Well the idea of Global Christmas actually predates me being in this position. Twelve or fifteen years ago we began focusing in the month of December on our global partnerships around the world and we asked ourselves this question: “What if we put less under our tree and gave more to the world?” So our catch phrase has been “Less under our tree, more for the world.” So we take three or four weeks depending on how Christmas falls and we tell stories; we often have a global partner to come in and speak, show a lot of pictures and video; we sometimes do highlights from the years missions trips and things like that. Then we take an offering on that last Sunday, or the last weekend before Christmas and we call it our Global Christmas Offering. Our body has been so generous. It’s been wonderful to see how everyone responds to that call of “Less under our tree.” We’re not saying, “Don’t put anything under our tree.” We still want to enjoy Christmas and the Spirit of the season that Christ displayed for us and the generosity, but we want to be generous with the world. To your point, how we did things a little bit differently this year: for years we’d been pretty general with how we communicate about our Global Partnerships; I mean we would be specific about the vision, very specific about the names and faces that are involved and the types of ministries. We had been less specific about the actual dollar for dollar need and I think we had seen a trend over the years of the offering diminishing over the years and so we had this idea last year, what if we were more specific this year? What if we communicated to our church family true specifics at different varying levels of giving? We did that. We actually created a baseline budget that was built on the previous years offering (they were color coded) and then we had two more levels above that. One I think was at the next one hundred thousand dollars, and the next level was more dreaming. If we went one hundred fifty, or two hundred thousand dollars beyond that, what could we do with our partnerships? Honestly, in that category we were dreaming. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we’d ever get to that point, but the Lord moved on people’s hearts and they gave above and beyond our highest goal.

E: That’s a lesson for any ministry, whether it’s missions or whatever, the more specific you are, and what you’re going to do with those investments.  I’m embarrassed to say, I learned this just in the last couple of years. I have always been consistent in our giving for global, local, the church, but we never really evaluated and said, “Ok, we’re giving to missions.” It was like we cut a check to it. We’re supportive.  But looking at it through the perspective that, it’s just as important to say, “Am I committed to this individual, he and his wife? Is that a good investment? It’s a stewardship call. So as we vet our global partners, or other new interests, and we’re saying, “Is this a good investment of the Lord’s money? Because there is only so much and yet if it’s used wisely in a stewardship fashion, we can look at some pretty remarkable results.

P: This is where the relationship part of our strategic partnerships really came into bear specifically this past year. We did have this generous offering that came in based on what we had communicated to our body about very specific ways in which those dollars could be used and allocated, and yet the tribal warfare hit in South Sudan and everything changed for South Sudan, but rather than sending a check for some absorbent amount that no longer applied so directly to the previously communicated needs, we’ve been working with Rosemary. We’ve been working with James Bock, and Peter Gurung, on the ground in South Sudan to reorient the needs that are there on the ground because the needs have changed because of the political and tribal landscape in South Sudan.

E: Let’s circle back to our Christmas Global Offering. I think that one piece that also would benefit any church is that when we do those three or four weeks of information, the children’s ministry do a similar kind of thing and so these kids are learning in their Sunday School class, or Learning Center Class, about individual missionaries and their part, so it becomes a family affair not only the lesson Under our Tree, More for the World. Kids start hearing that at a young age. What can we do for somebody else?

P: Absolutely! We do the same lesson Under our Tree, More for the World there. In fact last year we had our partners from Peru come to America and come to Fellowship to speak. On Hill was speaking in the main worship center, during the worship services and Nellie his wife was in full traditional Peruvian garb and speaking to our children in all four services that morning as well. The children were exposed to the world just as much as the adults have been.

E: To me, and I know churches do it lots of different ways, but I think that owning it for a month and the other piece I’d say as a pastor for all these years, people start to go crazy with their spending about Thanksgiving through the end of the year. If you’re getting them Biblically minded saying, “Wo wo wo.” It’s not bad to celebrate and have holidays and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and buy gifts, but before you go crazy think about the world. It’s been neat to think about Fellowship and to see how the body there has grown over the years. I would just say to anyone in that capacity in the local church, this is an incremental thing, but over three to five years, it could have a tremendous impact on a culture of a church and how they look at consumerism and materialism.  If I was to reduce ten percent of my Christmas spending, that would be significant over the lifetime of a church.

Let’s talk a little bit about an organization you’ve become familiar with recently JETS in Amman, Jordan.

P: I’m actually going to be going there in a few weeks. They’re going to be doing a grand opening with a new facility, and graduating one of their classes of masters students. JETS is Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary and Dr.Imad Shehadeh is one of your classmates from Dallas Seminary from back in the day. We’ve begun a relationship with him a few years ago thanks to your introduction. It’s another one of those examples of where the relationship began and slowly has grown. I know Dr. Shehadeh pretty well now and took a trip last February and met with he and his leaders there on the ground in Amaan. What they’re doing at JETS is simply remarkable.

E: It’s other worldly.

P: Yes, because it’s right in the center of the Middle East. It’s right in the center of the Arab world. Our motto is so focused on the indigenous church launching, equipping and launching church leaders, in their indigenous context and that’s exactly what JETS vision is.  In fact, they are very clear in articulating that in that, rather than sending their very best Arabic students to Dallas Seminary or Trinity or somewhere here in the United States, in which case many of them would rather stay in the states and may not return, the vision of JETS is to equip and train them there in the heart of the Arab World and then launch them right there in the Middle East in the Arab World.

E: Brian, if someone wants to find out more about how Fellowship does this, how do they get a hold of you?

P: My contact information is there on the web. My email if [email protected]. You can find it there on the web as well. My phone number is there. I would welcome anyone to call me. I’d be glad to answer any questions.

E: I would just echo Fellowship is here to serve. If there’s anyway we could come alongside you, we would love to do that . Thanks for listening. This is Michael Easley inContext.

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