Mark Adams felt called to ministry as a teenager. Tumultuous circumstances caused him to perform poorly in high school, however, so he didn’t follow his calling. Adams felt his best choice was to join the U.S. Army.
What followed was a great six years serving in the first infantry division, despite moments of isolation and loneliness, especially during deployment to Iraq. During a second deployment, Adams found ways to engage in ministry that, at the time, didn’t feel like typical ministry. He was able to walk alongside servicemembers and encourage them through all types of days and circumstances. As he mentored others, and was mentored himself, Adams kept remembering the calling God had placed on his life.
As he transitioned to live as a civilian in as a government job (that he hated), Adams thought of lessons learned in the military, like management and leadership. He had learned well how to lead with authority. He and his wife, Sarah, whom he’s known since he was 10, began to sense a joint call to ministry.
Adams left the government job to serve in full-time ministry at Lamont Wesleyan Church in Lamont, Kansas. As he entered into ministry, he led people in the only way he knew how — with authority.
He soon realized he was “sacrificing people” by leading this way.
“What I hadn’t done yet was separate authority and leadership,” said Adams, who is working toward ordination with The Wesleyan Church. He knew his leadership style had to change. He began to pray that God would “just use him” in people’s lives.
“I had this idea in my mind that in order to lead, you had to be authoritative,” said Adams. “And that’s not necessarily untrue, in that authority and leadership go together. But authority is a position and leadership is a practice. I would try to have authority and then lead, instead of earning authority by leading. People who try to use authority before they try to earn authority run over anyone. They take what may be a great idea and turn it into a terrible idea.”
Adams said Rev. Steve McVey, director of Dirt Roads Network, a rural church planting initiative, taught him the value of “people over projects” — that “relationships are the goal; the ministry and the projects you work on together are the tools.” Adams continued, saying, “People give you authority, but anyone, anywhere, can lead.”
Today, Adams and his family are leading at Embrace Church in Emporia, Kansas — he is the pastor and Sarah directs the hospitality team. Planted in January 2019, Embrace Church holds a “missional community” model that “brings people together around Scripture, around God, in community with each other.” Adams said it’s more than just meeting for an hour-long church service.
“We pray together, challenge each other, learn from each other, eat together and serve our city together,” said Adams. “I never want to stand at the pulpit and say, ‘We need volunteers for children’s ministry.’ Instead, we ask, ‘What’s God calling you to do? What keeps you up at night?’
“And sometimes the answer is, ‘I just want to chip in; I’m a helper.’ And we celebrate that,” said Adams. “We’ve discovered that even if we had somebody who denied God or who had serious doubts about the reliability of Scripture, that if they saw a group of people working together to serve their city, they want to join in. It’s possible to start teaching people about the ways of Jesus even prior to them believing. This can be as inclusive as you want it to be in your community.”
Adams loves that he can “empower other people to do what God is calling them to do … that’s the role I get to serve in more often than not,” whether that means mowing a neighbor’s lawn or baking cookies for another person.
One way the Embrace congregation is serving the community is providing free clothing to residents in need in a 300 square feet building located across from the jail. Adams tells of a man who’d been incarcerated for six months and, upon release, needed a belt. Giving him a belt, to those at Embrace Church, was a simple gesture. To him, it was an expression of the gospel lived out.
“We invite the community to come to us and take whatever clothing they need,” said Adams. “[One day] there was a young guy who came in and didn’t have much. He tried on a suit and when he saw that it fit him, you could tell he felt [like he] was worth more.”
As congregants volunteer to staff the store, Adams is reminded again of the mentality “people over projects” and that “anyone, anywhere, can lead.” Hearts simply need to be willing.
Editor’s note: This video was filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.