Parker and his family actually live in Boulder, just outside of Denver, and face the challenges of sharing the gospel in an affluent society that believes it really has no need for Jesus Christ.
Chris Turner: Hello, I’m Chris Turner and welcome in to this edition of Radio B&R. Today we’re at a basically a sidewalk cafe in Boulder, Colorado, and we’re talking with Tennessean and church planter, Parker Manual.
Parker Manual: Hello.
Chris Turner: Parker, thanks for being with us.
Parker Manual: I’m glad to be here.
Chris Turner: So this is awesome. We just finished breakfast at a really cool cafe here on the sidewalk in Boulder and Boulder seems to be a really cosmopolitan area. Just talk a little bit about kind of this city that you’re located in now.
Parker Manual: Well, I personally think that Boulder’s the best city in the world, I think it’s the most beautiful city in a very entrepreneurial town, very tech savvy place. Many people may not know this, but we have a Google headquarters here, Twitter, Net App. I mean we have some of the largest global influence tech companies right here, home-based in Boulder, Colorado. They call it the Silicon Valley of Colorado. It’s very tech savvy, very entrepreneurial driven. And I would, yeah, I would agree, it’s unlike any city though that I’ve really ever seen or been a part of in a sense of we’re a slow moving city. There’s not a lot of fast paced life, which is good for me because I spent five minutes in Manhattan and I’m tired, but not here.
Chris Turner: So you would probably also say that in Boulder people are just craving to hear about Jesus, right?
Parker Manual: Absolutely. Yeah, they come to me all the time and they say, “Tell me who you serve.” No, they don’t. Not at all, actually. When we first moved here, I would say in conversations with people throughout the city, it was three or four months before we met our first person that claimed to be a believer. And even then no interest in church whatsoever. And so it was just interesting because even none of our neighbors and none of the people in our sphere of influence, it’s just no interest in specifically Christianity. Now, I will say this though, a lot of the people that we’ve met were interested in spiritual things and when we’ve brought up Jesus, they were definitely interested, but I think it was just this never been on the forefront of their mind to think, Oh, I’m going to pursue Christianity.
If anything, I would say is the opposite. They feel like of all the religions, Christianity probably has the least draw for them as it relates to things that they care about, like social issues. I had one person tell me after I gave him the gospel, he said, “Well, tell me this.” He said, “This is what I’ve always really kind of been confused about with Christianity.” He’s like, “If I were to believe what you believe,” he said, “What other people or religions would I not be able to associate with anymore?” I was like, “Man, I think you’re really quite confused on what we believe. That’s not how this works at all.” But I think that’s their idea is that when you step over into the Christian land, you have to say goodbye to all the people you know. You got to hate certain denominations or religions and that’s just not how this works at all.
Chris Turner: Yeah, just a total misunderstanding. And those are the even considered it all wrong information. So let’s go back just a little bit. Talk a little bit about how your family got here because you guys were settled in, you had ministry going in middle Tennessee, up in Hendersonville. How’d you get to Boulder from Hendersonville, Tennessee?
Parker Manual: Well, this was about four years ago now. My wife and I began the process of adopting our oldest boys. And in that process, it was kind of a really long process and we adopted our boys and we told our… It was such a long, arduous process. We told our boys and our family, we said, “We’re going to go celebrate really big.” And so it’s our celebration. We said, “We’re going to do a 6,000 mile victory lap, but we’re going to drive from Nashville to San Francisco.” And it was this really big deal. We made these shirts called the best day ever and big celebration for us.
And so we headed from Nashville to San Francisco all the while knowing that it’s a celebration for the boys and along the journey we’re going to pray through all of this sin cities, [inaudible 00:04:49] and pray where God was going to plant our family. And so that was the journey that led us to Denver, Colorado, which is one of the stops. We stopped in St. Louis and Denver, Colorado, Salt Lake City. We went to LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas. We visited a lot of different cities, but the one that really, really struck a chord with us was Boulder and we didn’t know that coming in. We drove originally to Denver and I said, “Well,” I said, “I feel like we’re supposed to go north. I’ve heard that there’s some tough spots up in north I think I want to check out.” And so we ended up driving into Boulder thinking, me thinking, I’m not much of a city person so I’m probably not going to fit in really well in Boulder. But then whenever we drove into Boulder and found out it’s not exactly like the city I’ve ever been to, it’s more like a mountain city, slow living. I liked all the things they liked and it was a really good fit for our family and we couldn’t shake it.
And so we ended up even talking to the person that’s over all the Front Range and we were sharing with him our heart and our vision for Boulder. And it’s kind of funny because he was trying to in a way almost talk us out of it I felt like because in a loving way, because he realized that it’s just a difficult place. And I said, “You probably don’t know this and you don’t really know us that well. But you know, the more you try to talk us out of it, the more we’re going to want to be here. And that’s kind of how we operate.” And sure enough we got back home in Hendersonville, we prayed about it for six months and that’s when we came to the conclusion and everybody affirmed that over our life of we’re going to plant a church in Boulder and that’s going to be our future.
And that’s when our pastor was diagnosed and we walked through a difficult journey over the next couple of years. But then when I approached the new senior pastor at the time, when I approached him about us planning a church, he was overwhelmingly encouraging and affirming of us moving and said that this was a good fit for us and that he wanted to be behind us 100%. And they have been. They’ve been our biggest fans and biggest supporters through the journey it’s been great.
Chris Turner: So what has been maybe a little different than what you might expect and maybe a bigger, something that might’ve been a bigger challenge and maybe something that was a little easier adjustment than you thought it might’ve been?
Parker Manual: I think transitioning into the culture here for us has been easier than we had imagined. I feel like we can relate really well to the people here. And so for me, coming to Boulder was like, it felt like coming home. I think as far as the challenges go, something that we maybe didn’t anticipate is just being as intense as it has been is by far the spiritual warfare that we’ve experienced as a family. We’ve had many moments just as it relates to things that our kids have experienced in relationships that they have. I remember even just the first few weeks of being here, we met several transgender kids and my son was coming home asking questions of I met this boy who says he’s a girl on the playground today, what does that mean?
Chris Turner: How old are your kids?
Parker Manual: Eight, six, four, two and five months. I just remember thinking, wow, I didn’t think we’d be having this conversation this early on and so we just don’t have that conversation, what he believes, what the Bible says. But little did we know we were just scratching the surface the first few weeks.
And then it’s just spiritually wise, the culture here is really dark and we experienced that at a very deep level. And I hesitate even really honestly telling a lot of people a lot of the things that we experience here because we end up just sounding weird and strange. And I know you have a lot of stuff is this weird being on an international mission field. And so I almost feel like those are the only people that I can really relate with in conversation because otherwise I just feel like I’m a crazy person. But I mean everything from they’re being, our vehicle was stolen, which is very odd for where we live, out of our driveway. We’ve had masks placed on a home.
We’ve had prayer teams come that have prayed over our home from the Tennessee, Tennessee Baptist. And they’ve circled our property and we had two different, three different prayer teams come to say, “Hey, I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something happening going on behind your house where that fence line is.” And I was like, “Okay, well, we’ll definitely pray.” And they’re like, “No, you really need to, you need to put a hedge behind your house.” And I said, “Okay, we will. I don’t what it is but…” And so I really didn’t know about but I would go back there and I’d pray a hedge behind our house and I’d pray over our home every night.
And come to find out we had our first baptism service at our house and the person that lives behind me during the baptism service came over. He was just overwhelmed. Like he was just overtaken by something and he calls me out and he ends up cussing me out. I’ve never been cussed out before in my life. Saying he’s going to get me kicked out of the house. I’ll never do another religious thing in this city again. I mean you could just tell there was this possession all over him. And I walked away from that experience just shaking thinking, you know what? This is what they were warning us about. They knew. And that type of, that led deep level of spirituality where you’re just, even these prayer teams independently of each other are telling me there’s something evil in this alley and you need to be aware of it. That has been the story of our life the last two years of people having dreams and visions, casting out demons. We’ve had that happen. People coming and trying to cast spells on people in our church and over our congregation and us having to combat that with God’s word and intense prayer and fasting. It’s been a challenge.
Chris Turner: You think about evil in the world and you look at a place that it’s sophisticated, it’s kind a great wrapping on it. It’s a neat, it’s a clean city and all that, but when you scratch that surface, it’s no different than going to maybe in India where it’s highly spiritual. It’s much more raw and in the evil is much more prevalent because of the whole worshiping of the Indian gods. But evil is evil, it just wraps itself in a different wrapper. And so where there is this absence of life, especially in a place like this where ironically there’s so much abundance of natural light, that lurking below the surface of that Satan owns this place and doesn’t want the name of Christ proclaim, which is the whole reason that you’ve come. And so it’s one of those things. I mean, from a believers perspective, this is as front line as it gets, especially in a place like the United States where we have this tendency to believe that things aren’t as bad here. It’s as bad here as it is everywhere else in the world, it’s just that it’s got a different wrapper.
Parker Manual: Yeah, it’s beautiful. Everybody here is beautiful, everybody’s healthy. The average lifespan is seven years later than other parts of the world. Everybody is wealthy, healthy. Healthy and from all outside appearances happy, but they’re not. We’ve experienced that steep loss of suicide here from friends and deep isolation and loneliness and there is definitely this facade that’s put out that move to Boulder and you’ll be happy when in reality when you meet one on one and get to the heart of people’s stories, there’s a lot of loneliness, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety to keep up and to maintain this status and so it’s tough.
Chris Turner: So when you look at Colorado in general and in certainly where you are, you guys are really kind of the future of what’s coming to Tennessee because we have had such an influx of people moving there for whether it’s Google or Amazon or one of the car manufacturers. So you are seeing, especially with issues, social issues that are taking place with transgender issues, other things, that’s coming our way. So what would you say to pastors in Tennessee, whether they’re church planners or pastors in established church, about maybe some approaches that you’ve taken to try and connect with people that they’re going to need to really possibly change their methodology and the way they connect with their community? Because obviously out here, Four Spiritual Laws doesn’t work. You’re not just going to walk up and share it and it be that that simpler or that simplistic. There is a process and we need to change some of those processes in reaching people and maybe think differently. How would you tell somebody if they were asking you, “Okay, so what do I need to do to reach my community in a changing culture?” What could you offer that person?
Parker Manual: Such a great question and it’s something honestly I think about a lot because… I met with a pastor just yesterday who’s says he thinks he feels a call to the West and he asked the exact same question. He said, “What would you tell me?” He said, “If I were to take a church out here, what should I be aware of?” And I think that’s a great conversation because we need a lot more pastors out here. And you’re right, what is happening here is 100% moving its way into Tennessee.
I would say a few things. I would say one, I would say people want to give more and dive deeper than maybe we give them credit for. And what I mean by that, at least with the generation that I’m seeing now in Boulder, is when given an opportunity and when asked the question, would you mind serving in this area or hey, we’re doing this really intense discipleship program and we’re going to go really deep and oh, hey, we’re going to do this event I really need you to commit to this and put in time and energy resourcing. I think people want to be involved in something that’s very radical these days. And I think sometimes, at least this is just my opinion, we give them a pass. And I think we have this idea that because so much of the culture is changing and especially with the rise of millennials getting older now and the kind of assumptions that we have towards them, we kind of give them a pass to say, well that must mean that we have to put less of a load on them or not have as high as expectation on them.
I feel like they’re craving the exact opposite. I feel like they’re craving to go really, really, really deep and to give a lot of themselves to see the kingdom of God advance. They just need pastors that are willing to cast that vision and do the ask. That’s one shift that I’m seeing in really difficult places is it’s not that we’re having to hold anything back or water anything down, it’s that we’re doing the exact opposite and that that’s what they want. So I would say discipleship and going really, really deep is a longing, craving. People are hungry for that.
But I would also say especially on issues that are the hot button bucket topics right now, for Boulder that is the LGBTQ community and I remember that our mayor this year said that he wanted Boulder to be a staple for the rest of the world to see this is how you do pride month. And he gained inspiration from San Francisco this last year and so they painted rainbow stripes on all the streets. They put rainbow flags in all of the businesses along our main strip in town, over 200 flags and I think it was 95% of the businesses, maybe 98% of the businesses hanging in the windows as this representation that we are a all inclusive, all affirming city towards the LGBTQ. And there could definitely be this mindset where I feel like in the South anyway, some of the conversations that I have this mindset of well, then you got to stand up even harder against that in order to have a voice for it. And I don’t know that it’s necessarily standing up against it as it is just standing for what you believe and loving people through it.
Because I believe that everyone from the media to the businesses to the local organizations that are doing these, handing out the flyers and doing this, they’re looking for people to come at them so that they can put a stamp of a hater or a bigot on you. But what if instead we showed an overwhelming amount of love and respect for the entire human race, regardless of gender or whatever. But then at the exact same time, we never wavered on what we believe in our stance on the truths of God’s word, which has been a really difficult thing to navigate. But I’ll tell you one thing that it’s done that maybe I can… this will help put it… kind of bring it all together is it’s helped us shape our conversation of how we talk about and to the LGBTQ community. And it’s shaped the conversation of how we build systems and structures in our church to help protect us from us targeting one specific people group.
For example, when I stand up there and I preach on a Sunday, I do not preach about the LGBTQ community because they’re in my seats and I’m friends with them. They’re my neighbors. They’re people that I’m for that I’ve been walking alongside but for a long time. So I speak to them, like my friend. And that in that conversation it’s different than saying, “We’re not for this because…” Well, they’re there and so it just changes their conversation to a much more grace-filled. Like, “Hey, I know you may not understand this at all and I’m okay walking this longer journey with you to understand why this is where we stand.”
And then another thing is that how we change our language around it is, and this is a really tough year because this is the one issue that especially in our city gets shifted and folded the most among of [inaudible 00:20:27] evangelical churches. Just this week I had someone send me a video where a pastor just announced that their churches to is taking a shift on this in the area and they’re going to be more welcoming and affirming. And the challenge with that is, is this idea that if we’ve bend on that we’re becoming more unifying as a people when in reality unity and the local church is not built on our relationship to one another as much it is us being more like Christ. And being more like Christ and then leaning into a righteous living, righteous life we become more unified as one body, one baptism, one spirit.
But they shift it in the name of as if we’re going to be unified, then we must show love and respectful to gays. And I just don’t believe that that’s the answer. I believe we love and respect the world regardless of their behavior and that that doesn’t change at all. But I believe that in a local church congregation that love and respect doesn’t always, nobody wins. If love and respect is the answer in the local congregation, nobody wins not the people that we’re trying to love and show them what the scripture has to say about this issue. And the congregation doesn’t win because now we’ve just taken the truth of God’s word and twisted it and morphed it into exegesis. I mean, we took every week basically good portion of the New Testament to make it say what we want and nobody wins in that.
And then the last thing is, and this is just the thing that I feel like has impacted us the most is the issue right now with the LGBTQ on the rise and the pride months and legalizing same sex marriages, in the local church it can be very pointed and targeted as this is the issue. When in reality I think that this is just as much of an issue as people feeling isolated and alone or people being greedy. And one of the things that I think for us a bigger issue than even the LGBTQ is porn. In our congregation, that’s the number one struggle.
And so we target one very specific thing when in reality I believe if we, especially in the South, if we could shift our focus to say it’s not that you can’t serve in leadership because you’re part of the LGBTQ. It’s not that you can’t serve in leadership and really part of our community if you live this lifestyle. The bottom line is we do not elevate people that live in unrepentant and consistent sin in any and all forms. And that has been a great leveler for us here is that we take a really, really, really hard stance on what the Bible says is sin. And if yes, if you agree that this is sin, okay, now are you living in that lifestyle consistently? If we have anybody looking at porn consistently in our church, we’re elevating them in any form or level of leadership.
We have people in our church that are greedy and not generous with their time and resources, we’re not elevating them in any level of leadership. And for us I think that’s honestly a thing that we kind of have to come to an understanding and actually be able to articulate to people is we’re not targeting people and saying we don’t like you because that’s what comes across or we’re not for you, it’s just that we believe that the Bible says certain things are sin. And if you see what I see, then it’s not what I’m saying, it’s what scripture say. And then if we can both say that it’s not okay for people that believe that to live it consistently and be elevated.
Chris Turner: And it takes it back to the objective standard of scripture and none of the subjective perspective of what I think.
Parker Manual: One hundred percent.
Chris Turner: So it’s not me saying it. I mean you, you’ve got to go do something with this and come back and decide do you truly believe this is the word of God? And if it is, it’s an objective standard because it applies to everyone in the world.
Parker Manual: A hundred percent.
Chris Turner: But my opinion doesn’t matter. What does it say?
Parker Manual: That’s really great. Kind of removing ourselves from the equation to say, “Hey,” and this is what we’ve done with a lot of people, both in our church and in the city to say, “Hey,” when they come at us to get a response, we say, “Hey, we’d love to give you a response, but we would love to do that in the one, the context of relationship and in the context of us walking into scripture together. Now if you want to have that conversation, we’re willing to go there, but if you want a sound bite out of me, I don’t think that that’s worth my effort right now because I’d much rather have a conversation of, if you don’t believe the Bible and you don’t believe Jesus and you want to have a conversation of why I believe what I believe, we’re in two different worlds, two different playing fields. I would much rather have a conversation of why not believe in Jesus.”
Chris Turner: Yeah, because then that whole idea of, well some people obviously with an agenda looking for you to affirm what they already believed about evangelicals.
Parker Manual: Exactly.
Chris Turner: And so it’s like, I just need your soundbites so that I can be affirmed what I [crosstalk 00:25:27].
Parker Manual: So I can let people know you hate us.
Chris Turner: So the answer’s just so much more complicated than that. I mean on one level it’s much more simple. But on the other, it’s to get to the simple answer. It’s much more complicated and it’s not a soundbite answer. But you had mentioned earlier just the prayer walk teams that had come, obviously praying for just spiritual strength in the midst of the battle is one way that people can pray. What might be some other way that… Obviously not just for your ministry but for your family, for your kids to as live in this culture as well and raise up. So those are obviously important prayer requests. What might be some other prayer requests that people have?
Parker Manual: Well, I can tell you what we’re praying for right now. We always pray for protection over our kids and over our home, over the church. The spiritual warfare is real and the more people that we can get praying for our kids and our family. Even in our elementary schools, my kids say all the time, “I wish there was at least one person that believed what I believe.” And there’s just not. And that day after day after day, as you can imagine, it’s struggles. And so we pray for protection of our kids a lot. Every morning, every night. We love our kids.
And I was actually talking with my oldest son… They’re all very, just very high tuned to spiritual things. Both of my oldest boys have come to faith and to baptize and feel a call into ministry of some sorts. They were having a discussion in the back of our vehicle the other day where my son said, “Yeah and I’m going to start planting campuses in the city.” And my other son was like, “Yeah, and I’m going to lead all of our summer camps.” And so they’re already kind of in the vein of I think we’re going to be involved in this thing.
And I told my oldest, I said, “You realize that you’re going to be a native here.” All of our kids are going to be natives here. They’re going to be raised in this culture. They’re going to know. They’re going to be raised at all in the school systems. So elementary, middle and high. And they’re going to know this city like no one else knows this city. And they’re going to have it with a vantage point of a biblical worldview. And I said, “Man,” I said, “Think of the force that you’re going to be in this city one day.” And he kind of smiled and he said, “Yeah, when I take over the church.” And I was like, “That’s not how that works.” I was like, “That’s not how that works.”
Chris Turner: You get your own church. Go plant your own.
Parker Manual: It’s not just yours because you’re my son, there’s a process to this. But it was interesting to me that’s kind of where his head was. But, yeah, I’m pray for our kids that they would be huge forces in this city, especially after another decade worth of tilling the soil of what impact that can make as preachers and leaders in the city.
So we pray for my kids and another thing we’re praying for is just in our quiet times I feel like the Holy Spirit’s been telling me and my wife and a lot of our team is that in Boulder we need a revival before we need an awakening. Meaning I feel like there’s a lot of believers in this city that have a very bad understanding of scripture and a sense of some of these social issues that they’re working through and that really needed to come back to the core truths of God’s word. I feel like that’s a part of it. I also feel like you will meet Christians here, and not many, but you’ll meet Christians here who say they love God, but they’re not involved in any local congregation or church whatsoever. And so we’re definitely praying for that as far as those believers that are here that they would commit to a local church and advancing the kingdom of God and be involved in that. And so we’re praying for revival among those that are here. And then, out of the revival, we’re praying for awakening. So we’re actually having a revival weekend coming up. And then that Sunday we’re going to be sharing the gospel in two services at a very popular theater in town and our prayer is that we see 50 salvation.
Chris Turner: What’s the date on that?
Parker Manual: That is August 16th to the 18th, it’s our one year anniversary. We have a prayer to plant six campuses in this city in six different parts of the city where people don’t really leave, very tribal city. And before moving here, we talked about this last night with our team, before moving here, we felt like God had called us to reach the city. I believe that sometimes God calls people to parts of the city to reach maybe this block or this burrow. But we feel very strongly that God’s call on our life is the whole city. And he’s reminded me of that over and over again when I’ve either been on a hike or a prayer walk. He says, “No, it’s the city. It’s the city.”
And honestly I don’t fully know what that looks like, but I believe that maybe it’s in a decade from now or two decades from now, I think we’re going to see a real shift in Boulder. And I feel like it’d be just like God to take the impossible city, a place that is just rooted with, you know, the satanic church was founded here and KKK was founded here. We’ve been doing late term abortion since the early ’70s in Boulder. We have the largest Buddhist university here. It would be just like God to take a city that has that level of heritage and say “No, no, no, I can overcome everything. I can shake that. That’s nothing for me.” And that Boulder would be a place not where people would go to get away from God, but where people would go to find God. And it’s been interesting even over the last couple of months hearing people’s testimonies that show up at Pinewood that either weren’t believers or that they’ve walked away from the church and I’ve heard them say out loud before, “I never thought that I’d moved to Boulder and find God.” And I’m like, “Well, that was our prayer.” That’s exactly our prayer.
Chris Turner: Awesome. Well Parker, it sounds like there is a ton of stuff going on. Sounds like the Lord is definitely moving, he’s obviously stirring the waters, so we’ll definitely be encouraging Tennessee Baptist to pray and we just appreciate you spending some time with us this morning.
Parker Manual: Well, I appreciate you being here.
Speaker 3: Thank you for listening to radio B&R, a podcast production of the Baptist and Reflector, the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes. Can be downloaded at baptistandreflector.org/radiobr. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the cooperative program and gifts received through the golden offering for Tennessee missions. For more information, visit tnbaptist.org.