My New Side Hustle Ministry: Reach, Teach, Lead…Meet The Team!

I was recently recruited into a new “side hustle ministry” called, Reach Teach Lead (RTL). It was founded by my friend and fellow pastor, Nick Swarthout. I am super pumped about this exciting new ministry! The mission of RTL is to provide “hope, purpose, and direction through writing, teaching, training and coaching. Reach Teach Lead helps lift the fog to show the way and equips you (as a leader in your specific context) to help others do the same.” What a great mission! What a great vision! So, who are the guys leading the way in this new ministry? Meet the team players below…

Nick Swarthout, RTL Founder & Overall Awesome Human Being

RTL Founder, Nick Swarthout, is a husband and father of four. He is an Iraq War veteran having served in the U.S. Army as a Communications Operator from 2002-2008. He is an entrepreneur and a pastor currently serving in various roles that blend his passion for missions, evangelism and church planting among young families and international students in East Tennessee. He holds the Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and through his work with families and RTL, he recruits and equips servant leaders to better the world around them by enhancing the quality of their leadership and reproducing themselves in the lives of others. As Founder of Reach Teach Lead, Nick produces content, crafts and casts vision and provides overall direction for the organization.

Bud Houston, RTL Strategic Content Developer (AKA. The Baptist Yoda)

Bud Houston is a husband and father of five. He has background in the automotive industry, specifically writing training curriculum and helping others perfect their craft. His passion for improving the work and lives of others shines through in his unique ministry role as the North American Hub Director for an evangelical mission agency. He holds the Master of Theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is actively launching house church movements in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. As part of the RTL Leadership Team, Bud is a writer, a teacher, a missionary and a coach who produces content and provides strategic leadership to help us navigate into the future.

Dave Cotner, RTL Organizational Administration Guru (AKA. The Asian Invasion)

Dave Cotner is a husband and father of four. He is an Iraq War veteran having served in the U.S. Army as an Intel Analyst from 2006-2010. He currently serves as the lead pastor of a local Baptist church in Southeast Iowa while providing leadership for numerous local and state level evangelical organizations. He holds the Bachelor of Arts degree in Pastoral Studies from Faith Baptist Bible College and is a gifted communicator and administrator who is passionate about preaching the Gospel. As part of the RTL Leadership Team, Dave is a critical thinker, educator and administrator who produces content and provides leadership in the area of organizational administration to ensure we stay on task, on target and on time.

For more information on RTL, please visit our website (a work in progress) at Reach Teach Lead | Equipping Servant Leaders to Bring Hope to the World

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A Prayer For My Son, Derrick…

Gracious Heavenly Father,

I come to you with a heart that is overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with your goodness, generosity, and grace. As the psalmist once proclaimed, I too proclaim, “You are good, and you do what is good; teach me your statutes.” Thank you. Thank you for being a good, good Father to me…

Indeed, as I think on your goodness, I am so very aware of my badness. In thought, word, and deed, I often fail, and fail miserably. As the hymn writer once sang, I too sing, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” Forgive me. Forgive me for my wanderings and cover me anew with your mercies that are “new every morning…Great is your faithfulness!”

And oh, how I thank you and praise you for the gift of my son, Derrick. Born from another, but ours brand new. His life so fresh, yet tainted too. What a blessing, a reward, a symbol of hope! His life is in the palm of your hands, but thank you for temporarily placing him into our hands.

Love – Wisdom – Trust. Carve these virtues deep into my soul and my wife’s soul too. Help us to love Derrick by showing him your love; help us to raise Derrick in your wisdom; and help us to trust you through the storms that lie ahead. Heavenly Father, as an earthly father, I ask that you grant to me the strength to provide and protect for my new son. Indeed, I can’t teach him everything, but I’ll teach him what I know about you and your Word, and then I’ll unleash him so that he might change this world…Bless my son, Derrick Roland Justinian Cotner, for his good and your magnificent glory…     

In Jesus’ Name – My Savior’s Name, Amen.

2020 Lead Pastor’s Report

Dear Members and Friends of Prairie Flower Baptist Church,

The year 2020 has hurled us into a brand-new reality. As we survey the broken pieces of such a chaotic year, our hearts hurt with the destruction that was unleashed all year long. From the global pandemic that touched our country in March, to the race riots that erupted throughout our nation in May, to Iowa’s derecho in August that crumbled crops, homes, and businesses with hurricane force winds, this year has been unpredictable and turbulent.

BUT GOD – “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). BUT GOD – “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us…” (2 Cor. 7:6a). BUT GOD – “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive…” (Eph. 2:4-5a). Yes, despite the wonkiness and wickedness of 2020, our God intervened into our church family with his love, comfort, and mercy. So, despite a hurting heart, I rejoice; and so should you.

The love, comfort, and mercy of God has been so evident in the life and history of our church. Simply put, our sovereign God has been faithful to our church family in every season of life. From the bloodshed of the Civil War, to the destruction of two World Wars, to the riots of the Vietnam era, to the smashing of civilian aircraft into our beloved infrastructures on Sept. 11, 2001, to our present evil unrest, our God’s hand of protection and faithfulness has sustained us and grown us. Yes, from our beginnings as Richmond Baptist Church in Richmond, IA to our present-day location at Prairie Flower Baptist Church here in Washington, IA, our God has been faithful – faithful to us for 167 years! And make no mistake about it, God will remain faithful to us for he cannot deny his perfect character.

Unmerited Favor Amidst Chaos…

It is nearly breathtaking to survey all the good things that our great God allowed us to accomplish this past year. Indeed, in a year when we were given a free pass by the world to lock it all down, shelter in place, and go into survival mode, we graciously, and with full submission to our governing authorities, pressed forward and saw God work in wondrous ways. Below are the most important stats we experienced (by God’s unmerited favor) this past year:

  • Salvations – 5
  • Baptisms – 1
  • Members – 8

Praise the Lord for these numbers! Yes, all the praise, honor, and glory go to our great God who redeemed these dead souls, caused their heartfelt obedience in the form of believer’s baptism, and motivated them to join us in our mission “to be a strong church that makes disciples for the glory of God.” It is my prayer that we continue to see new and better disciples becoming a part of God’s great work out here on the prairie and beyond.  

This year also brought us some great improvements in the form of a new Pavilion for fellowship, a new Playground set for our young people, and a completely renovated Sanctuary for beautiful praise and worship. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation go to my fellow laborer in the Lord, Pastor O’Tool, who administrated these projects with timeliness and great attention to detail. Also, a very hearty shout out to all of you who dedicated your time, talents, and treasure to the completion of these wonderful building projects!

A Cause For Pause…

Before continuing with the rest of my report, I do believe there is a cause for pause as we reflect upon the lives we lost in 2020. Yes, this past year with all of its unexpected growth and improvements was also a time of great loss and sadness for some of our families here at Prairie Flower. This past year, the following individuals were promoted to Heaven: Maryhelen Gates, Kenny Schipper, and Carl Benson. These folks are dearly loved and missed. Please keep the families of these precious individuals in your thoughts and prayers.

Pastoring During A Pandemic…

Pastoring during a pandemic has proven to be quite challenging. From contemplating covid protocols that will ensure the safety of our people while simultaneously facilitating our need for corporate worship, to navigating the challenges of various building projects around the church has made for one great year of personal growth and development. In many ways, I am grateful for this past year as I was able to grow in my leadership and administrative capabilities. Indeed, my tolerance for chaos and unpredictability has increased, and I’m grateful for that, but also slightly nervous at what God is gearing us up for.

Pastoring during a pandemic was also remarkably easy. Why would I say that? Because of the fantastic team of leaders and servants we have out here on the prairie. From our Associate Pastor, to our incredible deacons, to all of you who serve and care for our church family in a variety of ways, I say THANK YOU! I do not take any of you for granted. You are seen, appreciated, needed, and loved. THANK YOU for making my job as one of your pastors a great joy.

Pastoring during a pandemic was also very unique in many ways. For instance, my preaching and teaching ministry went online via YouTube and our Livestream, increasing our reach and impact of people with the Gospel message. My duties as a Council of 10 member with our State Fellowship went virtual through multiple online Zoom meetings, allowing us to continue to help struggling churches in our State Association. My duties with the Camp Board at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp wrapped up in October, but we were still able to accomplish the initiation of the Rock Project (i.e., a new gym) as we met virtually and in-person to plan for this big project. As for pastoral care, that is probably the biggest impact of the pandemic to my overall ministry as my counseling and hospital visits came to a complete halt. Please pray that these vital areas of my ministry are reopened soon. Also, despite the turbulence of this past year, I continued my community outreach through our local Kiwanis group, joined the local American Legion, and continued to accept speaking invitations to various churches and camps. I was also able to join in marriage our very own Gary and Janine Mellinger…What a great day that was! Please pray that God continues to give me strength, passion, humility, and gratefulness as I serve you as one of your pastors.

Planning Under God’s Sovereignty…

If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it should be that God is sovereign and he does whatever he pleases. Yet, we have a responsibility to plan and steward our lives and ministries under his gracious sovereignty. May God’s will be done as we endeavor to accomplish the following goals this year…

  1. Wrap Up Matthew – We are currently in Matthew chapter 18. We only have 10 more chapters to go in our “Jesus In The Manuscript Of Matthew” series. I would love to wrap this series up this year. Can I do it? I don’t know, but I’m going to try.
  2. Finalize Our Constitution – We’ve been talking about this for years. After successfully revising our Articles of Faith (2016) and our Biblical Principles of Church Membership (2018), it is time to revise our Church Constitution (2021?). After January’s strategic sermon series on the church, our revised Church Constitution will be presented to the Constitution Review Team. The desire is to have them review this document and give it back to the Leadership Team by April. We will then have another strategic sermon series in May that will help all of us understand the proposed constitutional improvements, and then the congregation will be presented with the Church Constitution for review in June. If all goes as planned, we will vote on this new document in our July Quarterly Meeting.
  3. Install Lay Pastors – A large part of our constitutional revisions surrounds the concept of staff and lay pastors. Staff pastors are full-time and paid by the church, and they focus on the day-to-day operations of the church. Lay pastors are part-time and unpaid by the church, and they focus on the week-to-week operations of the church. As we envision growth in the future, installing new lay pastors will be a key element to successfully stewarding that growth.

May God be glorified as we enter this new year. I don’t know what this year holds for us, but God does. And I rest in his sovereign, wise, loving hands; and so should you.

With Measured Excitement For The Future,

David Cotner

Lead Pastor, PFBC    

Who Cares If America Falls? (The 2021 Edition)

Back in May of 2016, I wrote a blog post that gained big attention in the small evangelical pond that I swim in. Why so much attention? Two main reasons: 1) My intentional and slightly inflammatory blog title acted very well in generating clicks of curiosity as to why an Army veteran turned pastor would say something so dramatic, and 2) Four and half years ago, as I sat at my desk, out here in the middle of a cornfield, I was challenging people to reconcile their Sunday theology with a quickly changing and turbulent political scene…And people have a love-hate relationship with being challenged, especially when it comes from a nerdy, no-name pastor in the middle of nowhere…Let me give to you a flashback of the scene in 2016…

Back on May 3, 2016, Senator Ted Cruz suspended his presidential campaign. Seeing no viable path to the presidency, he bowed out with dignity and grace. Then, without skipping a beat, my Facebook feed exploded with status updates and tweets ranging from sadness to anger over Cruz dropping out and the inevitable Trump VS. Clinton showdown that would happen in the fall of 2016. There were angry posts about the end of our country as we know it, cries concerning the fact that moral conservatism is dead, etc. And then, there were the usual posts articulating the moral degradation of our society, #NeverTrump, etc., etc.

I know A LOT has happened since May of 2016, but do you remember how dark and depressing that time period was, especially for us Bible-believing, Gospel-loving Christians? But those dark days almost seem like sunshine and rainbows in comparison to the true insanity that erupted in the years after the Election of 2016. Indeed, do I really need to bore you with the list of absolute craziness that we have endured these last four years, and especially in 2020? I think not. It’s. Been. Insane.

In fact, the divide between people is so thick in our country, I can’t help but think that some form of secession or Civil War is brewing (or has already erupted) in our cherished country. From the George Floyd riots to the Capital Hill riots (both awful and egregious, albeit in different ways and with different consequences) seem to point all of us towards a clear and scary path of outright war. And no, I don’t think I’m merely being reactionary or emotional in saying that. Indeed, many of you are feeling this with me, but are trying hard to distract yourself from such a grotesque reality by comforting yourselves with various forms of entertainment. But others of you, like a family watching a grandparent enter Hospice care, are already grieving the death of America and the fall of such a great titan of freedom and justice for all.

But may I courageously and consistently say what I said back in 2016? That is, who cares if America falls? I mean let that question unnerve you and upset you for a bit. Then, step back and realize who is asking you this question…An Army veteran, who deeply loves his country, and was willing to lay down his life for the principles of this country, BUT has a greater love and allegiance to the heavenly country and the King of that country. And my King is known by many names, “The Prince of Peace”, “Messiah”, but my favorite is the name given to him by his adoptive father, Joseph, that name being “Jesus…for He shall save His people from their sins.” So, yes, primarily because of my personal, grace-based relationship with King Jesus, let me say it louder…Who cares if America falls?

You know it seems to me that our true theology truly shines in moments of despair and disappointment. On Sundays, we’ll sing joyfully that Christ is our Redeemer and our gloriously returning King. But when Monday happens our true theology shines with: “Jesus is our returning King! But oh, we need President Trump in the meantime. Oh, he lost the election?! Oh, he just conceded?! Oh, what a mess we’re in!” Really?! Seems to me that a lot of our street level theology is failing us and leaving us, not with hope, but with despair. And side note…such theology of “Jesus on Sunday, But President Trump (or Whoever) Filling In Monday-Saturday” will always leave us in a state of disappointment, anger, and eventually bitter cynicism.

Again, who cares if America falls (morally or economically)? America is not ultimate and Jesus still reigns supreme. Now before you write me off, let me just state again: I love America! I certainly bleed red, white, and blue. I served this country in the U.S. Army from 2006-2010, twice deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I love America. And my family (both biological and church) loves America. We want her to succeed, to thrive, to return back to morality and repentance toward God. But I (and hopefully you reading) also understand that America might fall…it just might be the end of social conservatism in America as we know it (or maybe not…time will tell), but that’s ok. Because America (as much as I love her) is not ultimate. Jesus is ultimate. The Gospel is ultimate. Heaven and Hell are certainly ultimate. But America is not, and historically speaking, is but a blip on the radar of time.

I mean truly, these are exciting times for the true Church of God! It would seem, with everything happening in our world (not just the storming of Capital Hill this week, but everything) that cultural Christianity is giving birth to true Christianity. In fact, I would say that covid did a fantastic job of thinning the herd, separating faithful Christians from unfaithful Christians. But still our churches are bloated with all kinds of people, professing to love Jesus and wanting to serve Jesus. But do they really? Well, if America is truly falling, and our freedoms are truly being stripped away, and persecution is truly coming…then we are to rejoice! Not only will our faith be tested, but the church will be purged, and what will be left is a more holy, passionate, and pure Church (just look to the book of Acts to see how suffering and persecution resulted in the true growth and purity of the Church and God’s great glory).

Also, if America falls and immortality and paganism run rampant, then what an opportunity to shine, evangelize, and glorify God! Think about it: It was Joseph who thrived, not in morally conservative Israel, but in the pagan Egyptian Empire. It was Jonah who thrived, not in morally safe Israel, but under the pagan Assyrian Empire. It was Jesus and His apostles who thrived, not under the loving conservatism of Israel, but under the pagan Roman Empire. Some of the greatest heroes of the faith and some of the greatest times of growth and blessing came, not under the Golden Age of Conservatism, but under the immorality and paganism of godless world empires.

But I think the bottom line is this: Christians have lost their focus. Things like staying missional (Matt. 28:19-20)…staying relational (John 13:34)…and staying spiritually strong (Eph. 6:10ff) are far from the average Christian’s gaze. We have bought into the Americanized version of Christianity that says the Great Commission is solidifying a true conservative Republican in the White House, not making disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve bought into the false and egocentric notion that the heart of legalism has something to do with dress code, music styles, and Bible translations, instead of realizing that true legalism neglects the heart of the Law which is LOVE and MERCY. We’ve traded our source of strength from being “in the Lord” and bartered instead for a cheap bowl of soup, like four more years of President Trump. We’ve lost our focus. Our vision is too narrow. Our perspective too limited to the here and now.

My proposition (both in 2016 and now again in 2021): Let’s get back to 30,000 Feet Christianity and remind ourselves of some basic eternal realities: 1) What America needs is Jesus as Savior, not President Trump or any other social/political conservative as Savior; 2) What the true Church needs is a renewed commitment to the Great Commission-which is “make disciples”, not “ensure a Republican is in the White House”; and 3) Eventually we who are conservative Christians need to stop fighting our culture with outlandish emotionalism, but instead engage our culture with bright intellectualism rooted in unwavering faith in a sovereign God. And at the end of the day…so what if America falls? America is not ultimate and Jesus (my King) is returning and reigns supreme!