A Q&A with Pastor John Carney, MACU alum and Member of the Ministries Council.
Pastor John Carney is a 1982 graduate of Gulf Coast Bible College (GBC), one of the previous names of Mid-America Christian University, (MACU). He also earned a master’s in leadership from MACU in 2009. He’s married to GBC alumnae Kay (Gustin) Carney who is also a 1982 graduate of GBC. John is the senior pastor of First Church of God in Hutchinson, Kansas, where he has served since 1999, and is serving his second term with the Church of God Ministries Council.
Q: Tell me when you first attended Gulf Coast Bible College (GBC)?
A: I went to Houston in 1978 and graduated in 1982.
Q: What attracted you to GBC at that time?
A: The Lord, that’s for sure! I had grown up in the Church of God and, of course, had heard of Gulf Coast as I was growing up, and when I attended youth camp. In Oklahoma one particular year there was a camp team that came from Gulf Coast. When I felt called to ministry and was ready to go to college, Gulf coast was where I felt I needed to be. My sister had almost completed her degree at Anderson, Ind., but I decided that Gulf Coast would be the best place for me.
Q: You met your wife at GBC, didn’t you?
A: Yes. Kay (Gustin, was her maiden name) had come to Houston in 1977 and I met her while on choir tour. We got engaged in Houston, married in 1980, and we both graduated in 1982.
Q: What were your areas of study?
A: Mine was in pastoral ministry, and hers was in psychology.
Q: Then you later earned a master’s degree from Mid-America Christian University? How did that come about?
A: I had stayed in contact with the university and had served on the alumni council for a period of time while we were here in Kansas. About the time I went off the alumni council, the college launched a Master’s in Leadership program—an area in which I was interested and gifted. So it was very intriguing to me. The fact that the program was offered completely online made it something I could do from Kansas where I pastored. So that was appealing to me as well, and I graduated with that degree in December of 2009.
Q. That was really fast!
A. Yes, it was an intense program, but it was good and I enjoyed it.
Q: Can you tell me how your education—either GBC or Mid-America—has shaped your life over the years?
A: Well, my early GBC education definitely provided me with the foundational aspects for my pastoral ministry—now going on 31 years. I have said on several different occasions that I received my education from Gulf Coast, but I really got my “official training” by being in ministry over the last 31 years. There are things you can try to learn, but until you actually do it, that’s when the real education begins!
Q. How long have you been with the First Church of God in Hutchinson, Kansas?
A: I’m in my 15th year. I came to Hutchinson in 1999.
Q: When you were on the MACU campus with the Church of God Ministries Council, I heard you talking about your church and the inner city partnership you’ve developed with another Hutchinson, Kansas, ministry. Would you tell us a bit about that?
A: We are just now in the transition stage of partnering with an inner-city Hutchinson ministry called Hub Community Center that has focuses on the underserved in society—those who have fallen on hard times and who need a little extra help. Hub has been operating in Hutchinson for about two years, but they recently lost their building and were looking for another facility. Since First Church of God is also located in the downtown area of Hutchinson, it seemed natural for them to consider working out of our facility.
A couple in our church volunteers with Hub and helped bring us together, in a sense. We invited the director of the ministry to come and share with my council president and me, and then we took the idea to the council. They were very receptive to it. The director of Hub took the idea to her board and they were equally receptive—actually, they were very THRILLED about it! Even though our building is old, it is well maintained and a better facility, in general, than where they were operating. We are thrilled with how the Lord has lead through the transitioning period.
The church as a whole has been very receptive to us partnering with this ministry. So it looks like we’re on our way. Soon Hub will be doing their ministry completely out of our church. This development has caused us to plan some remodeling to accommodate the new ministry and really make it even better situation for them and us. The church had owned 15 acres of property in the northeast part of the city, and we sold the property and are using some of those funds to invest in the church property and in the people around us.
Q: What type of services does Hub provide?
A: They offer a variety of services. They have an English as Second Language (ESL) class, a GED class. It’s exciting to see our church members getting involved and using their talents and skills to assist the Hub. Hub also offers computer training, job placement ministry, and provide a clothing ministry that helps prepare people for the interview process.
Q: Are they also holding services?
A: Yes, on Sunday afternoons they offer a special worship service for those they minister to. They’ll have pastors from the community come in and speak at these services and they are hoping to start a Celebrate Recovery ministry, which is something we’ve been wanting, as well. Our church also offers Divorce Care that will be uniquely equipped to serve our new friends in the inner city.
They also have a Saturday evening fellowship—a coffeehouse type thing. Sometimes they have music—just a place to gather and fellowship. They also do a Bible study on Thursday and Friday evenings, and offer a Friday meal.
Q: How much of this vision was shaped while you were on sabbatical?
A: Well, while I was on sabbatical, I was seeking the Lord’s direction regarded what He wanted me/us to do in ministry. I went through a book called, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches by Milfred Minatrea. I invited Milfred to come to Hutchinson, and it just so happened that he had been invited to speak at our state Church of God meeting. So I asked him to come to our church and advise us how we could become more missional.
So when I came off of sabbatical, I spoke very plainly to the congregation about what I felt the Lord was leading me to do and leading us to do as a congregation. We began to be more intentional about reaching out to our community around us. I began to volunteer at an elementary school that’s four blocks away from our facility. As a congregation, we adopted that elementary school and told them that we would like to be a resource for anything that they might need that we have access to. That Thanksgiving, we decided to extend an invitation to all the families in the school to come and receive a free turkey for their holidays. And for the last three years we’ve continued that practice.
So that’s kind of how we began to get more involved in the community around us. At that time we were having a traditional prayer meeting service on Wednesday evenings where I had a handful of retired folks attending. We decided to launch a Wednesday evening children’s ministry called Ignite Kidz. Volunteers began to help equip our classroom area for a children’s outreach on Wednesday nights. We’ve done that for three years. We serve a meal to the kids free of charge, and we’ve had 30 to 50 kids every Wednesday night during the school year. These kids are very faithful to be here on Wednesdays. We, of course, teach them the Bible, and Scripture memorization, as we share the Gospel with them.
Q: Tell me about your work with the Church of God Ministries Council.
A: I’m finishing up my second term (eighth year) with the Ministries Council, the group responsible for overseeing the general director as he oversees the Church of God Ministries International Office. We are the governing and guiding body for the Church of God when the General Assembly is not in session.
It’s been a great experience to be part of this Council; it has enabled me to utilize my leadership skills for the Church at large. My time on the council began as I completed my master’s research project for SHAPE Ministry. SHAPE is an acronym for Sustaining Health and Pastoral Excellence. My knowledge in that area tied together well with the needs of the Ministries Council. The movement has just gone through a recent leadership transition, and it’s taking a little more time and more responsibility, but it’s been a great experience for me.
Q: Tell me about your partner in ministry—your wife Kay.
A: Her role as a pastor’s wife has always been, first and foremost, her family and to take care of the pastor. She went to GBC saying she would never become a pastor’s wife, and that the Lord had different plans for her. But things change. We were married two years before we graduated and believed the Lord was leading us into ministry, and I believe that she feels as called as a pastor’s wife as I feel called as a pastor.
I can’t imagine having taken this journey for the past 30 years with anyone else—or even wanting to. Kay’s a great support, and the preparation that she had at Gulf Coast has helped fulfill her role as the pastor’s wife. She feels that it’s her place is to use her gifts wherever she is needed in the church—whether she’s helping teaching children or adults, serving as a small group leader, or overseeing our Wednesday night dinner program. She’s a tremendous blessing to me and the church.