College of Christian Studies
Christian Studies graduate ministering in fast-growing Northwest Arkansas
In the Anderson University College of Christian Studies, Nick Bethea discovered a theology program with a solid biblical foundation that has helped equip him as he serves at Cross Church, a growing congregation in Northwest Arkansas. He continues to invest in the lives of others, much as his professors invested in him.
Tell us about yourself and your calling into ministry.
I grew up in Georgetown (South Carolina). I wasn’t raised in the church. At 12 years old, I was invited about the hundredth time to go to this student ministry at a local church. I finally obliged and went. I walked in and the first person I met was a man named Wes Patterson, who was the student pastor at the time. Wes led me to the Lord when I was 12 years old and was baptized shortly after. It was not long after that that I was given the opportunity to become a leader within our student ministry. I wasn’t in any way, shape or form as biblically literate as many, not being raised in the church and a new Christian, just trying to understand what it meant to live a Christian life, let alone be a leader within the Christian church. But I took that to heart. As I was raised up in that student ministry, I took any opportunity I could get to lead.
When I was a senior in high school, I felt a very intense call internally and then got external confirmation that I was called to ministry. I’m a big believer and have been for quite some time, ever since that moment, especially that when you know God’s calling you to do something, you don’t delay. So I began to pursue what that looked like.
I believe that your call to ministry doesn’t need to be something that you just see in yourself and it’s not something that’s taken lightly, but something that must be walked through in a season of time so that you can have that confirmation with others around you as well. And that’s something I began to experience and to take steps in.
Tell me about coming to Anderson University.
When I felt called into ministry, the objective was to find a school where I could get a theology degree… I wanted to stay in South Carolina but my desire was to not stay so close to home that I couldn’t begin to make decisions on my own and grow up a little bit.
I visited Anderson, and from the moment I stepped on the campus, it became very clear that was where I was supposed to be, based upon loving the Upstate of South Carolina—a love that I still have; but also the intentionality of every little aspect that I saw… If I was going to be called to ministry where I felt like I was going to be called to people, I wanted to be with people that felt called to people—that was very clear and evident at Anderson. I liked that while it was a Christian education, it was also liberal arts and I could have a diverse education in that way.
What are some favorite college memories?
I was in the intramural department and then eventually I became an RA (Resident Assistant) as well. My personality is to get to know a lot of people and it allowed me to do that. A lot of the greatest memories I have is from being on different intramural fields interacting with people. I think there were about 2,600 people on campus then. It felt like half of the people that were on campus I was getting to interact with in some way, shape or form in building relationships. In a lot of ways, whether I was helping lead in it or I was participating in on campus sports or whatever it may be, those are some of the fondest memories.
What were some highlights of your studies?
The thing I tell people about Anderson that I appreciated so much is the practical aspect of it. I have a lot of friends in ministry, a lot of people that I’ve gotten to do ministry alongside of or meet in ministry. We’re taught often about the “open the book, read the book, answer the book” type of education that they had, and that just wasn’t the case for me, especially when I think of Kris Barnett. When I think of Dr. Barnett, he showed me a lot, probably in ways he didn’t know. By having his office door open, I could go to him and ask him questions… and he would always be willing to answer them.
Other guys were Drs. Neal, Chuck Fuller, Tim McKnight, Crisler and Dr. Duduit—so many men who serve in the church as well. I know Dr. McKnight has now launched a church plant. They are not just about the classroom but they’re about the practical application of an education.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead in a lot of ways at a very young age and I attest at least the beginnings of that to having an education that wasn’t just about knowledge but about applying that knowledge into the real world, not only in leadership within the church but also a deeper understanding of biblical literacy.
Let’s talk about your ministry when you graduated from Anderson.
When I graduated from college, I had been working for the North American Mission Board through their SEND program. I built a team of Anderson University students. I spent about four months, and they spent about two months in Brooklyn, New York, working with church planters. My objective was to lead them to best serve that community and partner alongside them. Church planting is big on my heart.
Before I had done that, I had gotten connected to Cross Church and began interviewing with them to be an associate kids pastor. I had a few different places I was talking with. Cross Church is in Northwest Arkansas, a state that I couldn’t have told you where it was on the map… I tell people, when you grow up on the east coast they don’t teach you anything outside the original colonies when it comes to American History (laughs). I was engaged to my now wife Jordan right after college; we’ve known each other since we were 12.
I could tell you where I was in Brooklyn when I knew the Lord told me that we were supposed to go to Arkansas. I got done in New York on August 7. On August 14 I was in Northwest Arkansas. August 16, 2015 was my first Sunday at Cross Church-Fayetteville, and I was the associate kids pastor. I was still 21, about to turn 22. I didn’t know that Cross Church was a multicampus megachurch. Fayetteville was kind of the baby at that time. It would have been almost five years old at that time as the third campus and we’ve been three campuses since.
About nine months later I was given the opportunity to become the kids pastor. I got to see a lot of God’s hand of favor on what we were doing and the families of our church got to see the church begin to explode.
I was in kids ministry for a little over five years, but two and a half years ago at 27 I was given the opportunity to become the campus pastor at our Fayetteville campus which means that I now oversee everything associated with this campus. I can go deeper into what we’re getting to see God do here and what that’s supposed to look like, but that’s what my ministry journey has been.
August was eight years I’ve been at Cross Church-Fayetteville. I never really expected it to be that way, but I’ve also learned a whole lot about longevity in one place and what that means and how you can love on and influence people when you’re at one place for a long amount of time.
How many people are attending?
This semester we’re averaging around 3,800 on a Sunday. It’s pretty amazing.
If you were to give an elevator speech about Cross Church, what would you say?
From a grand sense, we are part of the Southern Baptist Convention. Cross Church, more than anything—we are about the Word of God.
I’m grateful to be serving under a pastor in Nick Floyd, who is never going to deviate from that, never going to shy away from what the Bible says. We’re going to do worship really well. We’re going to have great outreach and discipleship, and those things are things we can be known for, but we want to be known for being about the Bible and nothing else. Often when people are talking about different studies and different things like this, I’ll say “You’ve got the best book in the world in front of you; use it.”
Our mission is to reach Northwest Arkansas, America and the world for Jesus, so we’re going to do everything and anything we can do, being led by the Holy Spirit to do that. In our church, we operate from August to August. We are on week eight of our church year, and at our campus we’ve seen 90 people baptized in those eight weeks, probably 140 people saved. I get to lead a staff of 30-plus people. I tell them often that we work as hard and give our best because God deserves our best, but we do that to get out of the way so the Holy Spirit can do what He wants to do.
Of all the ministries Cross Church does, are there any that are particularly close to your heart?
Right now, as a church, we’re in something we call the decade of LOVE. The letters “L-O-V-E” all stand for something.
The first is “L” for “Legacy.” That’s our heart to reach the next generation.
“O” stands for “Obedience” to Christ’s Commission, which is to go out and reach the world. We plant churches and mobilize people to share the gospel and their faith.
The “V” is for “Vulnerable.” We lean in heavily on the ministry of feeding the community. We feed more people every year than any other organization in Arkansas. We don’t charge for anything we do. We feed and clothe. We have a ministry to the homeless community called Hope for the City that we have locally in Fayetteville. We do jail ministry. We have a ministry to widows and widowers, we have a battered women’s shelter we started. We have a foster care organization. A plethora of things.
The “E” is “Encouraging pastors and missionaries.” We created something called the partner family where there are churches we see all across Arkansas and America that may not have the resources we have, so what we’ve done is made everything we have available to anybody who wants it as long as they’re part of a like faith and like belief. Anything we teach, do make—you can have it. We put on a conference every year, our Called to Lead Conference, which is a free leadership conference. We had almost 500 people at it this year where we bring our pastors we partner with and bring their wives and say “Come on, let us invest into you and to any church leader in the area.” It’s also something we do in our partnerships with our church plants that we’re planting both locally and internationally that we get to invest in them as well. I would say that under that vein they way we reach the next generation, the way that we plant churches, the way we serve our community through a myriad of ways. Then the way that we encourage pastors and missionaries—I’m really grateful to be part of a church that prioritizes those things.
Called to Lead is always available in person and online. It’s a one-day conference we put on, and it’s offered to anybody and everybody.
Describe Northwest Arkansas as a ministry field.
Northwest Arkansas—that’s Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville—are kind of this one grouping and they have their own kind of identity.
Fayetteville is known because of the University of Arkansas. Everything about this town is about the Razorbacks. There are 32,000 people on campus—that’s a lot of people.
Then you go to Springdale, which is five minutes away. Then there’s the Tyson headquarters, the largest poultry company in the world. Then in Rogers there’s J.B. Hunt, the largest transportation company in America.
Then you go a few minutes north and there’s Walmart.
What that gives us is a diverse grouping of individuals. We have people that are living in poverty and then we have some people that are listed on the top 100 wealthiest people in the world. We have those people represented in our church even.
Specifically to the context of Fayetteville, we are in a college town, so we gear a lot of the things we do to reach college students, so our college ministry is something we invest heavily into. Last night they had just under a thousand college students at their worship service, but we also have a large population here, around 94,000 in the city of Fayetteville. We reach a lot of our families and a lot of our schools.
We’re in a unique corner of Arkansas that honestly looks a lot like Dallas, Texas. It’s not as big, not maybe as saturated with wealth.
So I’m really passionate about that.
Fayetteville, Arkansas is a unique area, but the Lord obviously is moving here. We pray for revival often and we just want to be a part of it. If God will let it start here, we want to be a part of it. We see 90 baptisms in eight weeks and hundred and something people give their life to the Lord. Every single one of those people has a story that’s unique. I’ve seen people go from death to life and have their lives transformed. We have a lot of people here searching for something and thankfully we’ve got the something that everyone we know is searching for.
A lot of people want to come here. Our growth rates are really strong.
At the end of the day what gives you a feeling of accomplishment?
I get to be a part of a special move of God here in Northwest Arkansas.
I’ve been able to be a part of some cool things and amazing stories of God changing people’s lives. At the end of the day, the thing I have to concentrate on in my life is my own personal walk with the Lord, my own sanctification. I can see great things happening everywhere yet miss my own walk with Him. When I get to the end of the day and my head hits the pillow and I’m exhausted because I’ve poured out everything I have for the Kingdom and advancement of the Kingdom—I’m good. Not only do I sleep better and wake up better, because I get up at 5:30 in the morning, but I just know that I’ve done everything in my power to look more like Jesus in my personal walk with Him, my time with Him in the morning and I’m very passionate that it has to begin in the morning. But also throughout the day as He draws me to Himself. That I led my wife and loved her well. And that I invested in and loved my children. I have two children that we adopted six years ago. I did everything I could to love them and show them Jesus in my life. And if I can do all of those things and I still have time to invest in someone in our church, or someone in our community or share the gospel, then that was a good day.
That’s what makes me feel a sense of accomplishment, that I am walking in the journey that God has placed before me first in my relationship with Him, then my relationship with my wife and my children, and then to what He’s called me to do in the local church. If I can do that, I think I’m walking in what God’s calling me to do and that’s how I feel a sense of accomplishment.
What advice would you give to someone who senses God’s calling into ministry?
A call to ministry does not mean that you are going to be perfect in any way. It’s kind of like the conversation that you have when you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus. It’s not a call or a belief that you’re going to be perfect, it’s a belief that you’re going to serve a Heavenly Father that loves you in spite of that.
I think what happens often, especially with men and women who feel called to ministry who are achievers, is that you can put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect that it kills you. I believe a lot of burnout happens because of that.
I speak that out of someone who is an achiever by nature and somebody who wants to accomplish things. I have to often remind myself that I’m just the vessel God is working through and that He uses imperfect people and He uses whatever it may be for His Kingdom and for His Glory and His honor and that’s what I’m here to do.
When I know that it’s all up to God, it relieves a lot of pressure off of me. The next thing I would say is to take it slow.
I just turned 30 years old a couple of months ago, which gives you mixed feelings and emotions. It’s okay to take your time in discerning your call to ministry. You also should listen to people you trust and listen to what they say. I also believe that one of the reasons that we may see so many men fall out of ministry after a few years is because they may not have been given a clear understanding of what that call to ministry looks like in the first place. And then when you get into it you realize “Oh boy, this is more than leading a Bible study.”
We have a residency program here called the School of Ministry. I was meeting with a guy who went through a one-year residency and he was getting towards the end. He said, “Nick, I don’t have a job lined up in a church, but I know I’m called to ministry.” I said to him “I want you to understand something. Just because God doesn’t have you in a ministry position right now does not mean that you’re not called to ministry, it just means that you’re called to minister in a certain way right now.” I said, “If you don’t understand or like that, you have a misunderstanding of how Paul went about his life and how Paul went about his calling into ministry.”
If there’s a 17 year old kid like me that’s going to Anderson University and they’re wrestling with that call, it’s okay to wrestle with that call.
A lot of the things in our Christian call and our faith, let alone when you’re a pastor—there’s a lot of wrestling that goes on, a lot of growing that goes on; it’s okay to struggle with that, but it’s also okay to realize that you feel called to ministry that does not mean full-time vocational.
Sometimes that means you’re called to be the ultimate minister because you are the greatest accountant… God has called you to that and to be a minister within that.
But there are people like me who are called to the local church or they’re called to education with ministry. It’s just okay to take your time and to continue to seek God first in that and then to listen to godly advice around you and ask for honest godly advice—not from the people who would tell you what you want to hear, but people who would tell you what you need to hear as you continue in that journey and that walk.
And it will be okay, and if you’ll talk to God and you’ll sit in silence and solitude and listen to Him, He’ll tell you. He’ll lead you where you’re supposed to go.