Clamp Divinity School of the College of Christian Studies

For Houston pastor, Clamp Divinity School is a ‘treasure’

Dr. Chris Hartwell comes from a family of pastors. He’s seen his urban, predominantly African American church grow in size to more than 3,000 parishioners. Hartwell treasures his education from the Clamp Divinity School of Anderson University’s College of Christian Studies as an experience that has expanded his horizons.

I understand that you just graduated. Congratulations!

I did. I’m still on cloud nine. Even from the day that I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, I’ve just been on cloud nine. It’s just been a great time.

How did you find out about Anderson University?

I was at a conference and Dr. (Michael) Duduit and I were partnering together as preaching coaches for budding young scholars. Then we bumped into one another a couple more times around the country at other conferences and when I was looking for either another seminary or divinity school to finish my doctorate in ministry, I reached out to him. I got accepted and went through the entire program.

How do you feel your program has been helping your ministry?

It’s been a rigorous program. Let no one make you think that doing your doctoral studies at Clamp Divinity on the campus of Anderson University is a cakewalk. They’re not. So much so that my preaching lens has been expanded beyond my homogeneous community that I preach to regularly every week.

Here’s what Clamp Divinity has done for me. I went from a limited myopic view in my preaching to more of a macroscopic global view.

John Wesley said “the world is my parish.”

So more than that and Dr. Duduit and I talked about this at the end of my defense, that I have been challenged to write my way clear in preaching and teaching by being a student at Clamp Divinity.

Now when I preach, even if I don’t use it, I’m writing a full manuscript versus doing extemporaneous preaching and also being an exhibitionist. In fact, I compare the discovery of Clamp Divinity from the parable in Matt: 13:44. Jesus gives a litany of  parables, but the one that stuck out to me was “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

So all that I’m saying is, I’ve sold and cashed in all of my historical matriculation in Texas for the joy of a hidden treasure known as Anderson University in South Carolina. It’s been a stretching experience and I’ve been able to meet some lifelong friends and definitely some colleagues.

I had the privilege, pre-COVID, when Dr. Duduit asked me to be one of the speakers at the national conference on preaching in Houston.  It was the first time they had a D.Min. student as the guest preacher to the general session. I was honored, humbled and scared to death! I was so glad when it was over with (laughs) but I had a great time. I was encouraged by so many scholars there and I met some new friends when I was there.

Sort of gets you out of your comfort zone but it’s worthwhile, right?

Right. And you know, when you stand before other scholars, when you stand to preach before people and you read their books, like Brian Chapel and Scott Gibson, you want to make sure you get it right.

Tell me about your ministry.

I was born at an independent Missionary Baptist Church where my father was the pastor. He was the founding pastor. He planted the church, and that also makes me a third generation pastor with an eclectic denominational background. It’s Baptist, it’s Pentecostal and it’s Methodist. I got saved in my father's church in Sunday School. That’s why I’m so passionate about Christian education. I got saved at 16. I started preaching at 18 and started pastoring at 23. One of my father’s friends was pastoring a church. He had a health challenge and he died. After he died, they asked me to come over and preach a couple of times. Then they asked me to submit a resumé and then I preached a couple of times after that and the church voted. So I inherited a traditional Missionary Baptist independent church with 50 members and we experienced exponential growth. We came to a crossroads—no pun intended—and I planted Crossroads Community Church in September 2001. Today the church is headed into its 21st year, so I am thankful to God for His hand of grace and mercy. When you think about that term “grace,” grace is all of the experiences you have behind you, but faith is all of the experiences you’re going to have before you.

Tell me about what ministry looks like for Crossroads Community Church today.

It’s 95 percent African American. We have five generations in our church. It’s a lively, exciting fellowship. I look forward to preaching there every week. I do a lot of itinerant preaching and revivals and conferences. The times I have to be away I just really miss preaching in our pulpit because the folks are so excited about the Word; they’re hungry for the Word. After over 20 years they still treat me like they did when I first walked in. That’s exciting. We’ve had a good ride.

How much has Crossroads Community Church grown?

When we started, the church I inherited, we grew from 50 to over 3,000. With Crossroads Community Church, the pandemic has leveled the playing field. George Barna and Thomas Raynor have said a lot of folks who used to be in attendance are not coming back. Not because of fear of COVID-19 but they’re just not returning because of the comfort or convenience of watching from a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone.

But you’re still doing in person worship, correct?

Oh yes. For a long time we were pre-recording. A lot of folks thought it was a live service, but we were actually pre-recording. And then we had a couple of parking lot services. Then when we decided to gather together again, that’s when the number of positive COVID cases just skyrocketed in Texas, and so we had to shut down again.

And we discovered that it’s easier to shut down than it is to start up again, because every time you shut down, you’re killing the momentum, you’re killing the morale. Now we’re focusing our energy towards this virtual discipleship, virtual stewardship, virtual worship… For us right now, church online will  never go away. It’s just like you’re pastoring two churches. You’re pastoring folks online and then you’re pastoring the folks who gather.

At the end of the day, what gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?

To be honest with you, it used to be the responses I would get from the congregation while preaching. It used to be the encouraging words that I would get from several members after the worship service was over. But now, the peace I get is from knowing that I preached a timely and timeless word. And with or without an audience, when I preach the text, I try to get it right.

What does the day to day of tending to your congregation look like in your ministry?

During the pandemic, over a two year period we had about 65 funerals. To be honest with you, I’ve been overexposed to death. What has helped greatly for me as our staff and team of pastors who oversee congregational life, our deacons and deaconesses who helped us tremendously because there’s no way I could accommodate or meet all needs of folks who are experiencing death, experiencing loss, or experiencing celebrations like graduations, weddings and births. It takes a team of people in order for that to work.

What advice would you give to someone else in ministry seeking further studies?

I would say, in the words of one of my historical mentors, a calling to preach is a calling to preparation. We can no longer use the excuse there’s nowhere for me to go, and I speak from the African American perspective. God has opened the doors of opportunity for us as African American preachers to have access to the academy. Giving access to the academy, you get access to leadership, church history, church fathers, doctrine, eschatology, preaching the text historically, exegetically and then having the appropriate illustrations and applications.

The academy is where you want to go. What it does is it keeps you from believing your own press, because when you begin to believe your own press, you’re on your way down. You can’t fall in love with your own words, because the words that we speak are not our words, they’re God’s words. You can’t speak for God if you haven’t sat down and heard from God.

I think that when you have the access and exposure to the academy you now have the ability, capacity and capability to have a deeper church versus a broader church, because in many case what’s happening is with this kind of preaching that’s going on now, it’s creating a church that’s a mile wide and an inch deep, because we think the success is in mega or multi-mega. We focus more on the crowd and the real estate, but the pandemic changed all of that.

The pandemic changed all of that for us, and now there’s a big shift from just evangelism alone… now we’re intermarrying evangelism with discipleship. Discipleship is a long and arduous process, yet it is healthy.

chris hartwell
Dr. Chris Hartwell
Graduated from Anderson University: 2022
Degree: Doctor of Ministry
Title: Pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Houston, Texas and graduate of Clamp Divinity School