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It’s All About Discipleship: An Interview with Kenton Birtell

I recently sat down with Pastor Kenton Birtell in Holdrege, NE, to talk about life, ministry, COVID-19 and reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus. Kenton and his wife Linda and their team recently completed PLI’s D2MC learning community. You’ll be encouraged, comforted and blessed by his humble spirit and gifted wisdom.

Kenton, how are you doing during COVID-19?

It’s a wonderful opportunity to refocus and recalibrate for me! It has been one large kairos moment. I see God focusing our attention on making disciples who are equipped to make more disciples like never before. 

How has COVID-19 impacted the congregation?

Mount Calvary is a great congregation. They amaze me. While in person worship attendance is half of what it was, offerings have been really good. While our programs have stopped with COVID-19, our discipleship huddles have continued. Our mission focus is strong. We have organized an essentials drive to care for people in need, a community prayer walk at our local park, and monetary gifts continue to come in to help those in need. 

It’s all about discipleship. Discipling people to lead and to be out in our community. It’s great. I am excited that we are taking the next steps for a group to begin their discipleship journey through 1000 Young Leaders.

Tell me about the Disicipleship to Missional Community (D2MC) training.

Oh my. It was so powerful for the two of us. For our whole team. Linda and I have served together for 25 years. But now, we’re more on the same page. We are both totally committed to being disciples and discipling others for the rest of our lives. 

I see the people who have been trained to live as disciples now making disciples. Slowly, multiplication is happening and lives are being changed. We are preparing to go from three huddles to 5 or 6 huddles in the fall. 

Personally, I am learning to work out of a state of rest. I have not done a very good job of this, but slowly God is working to experience Sabbath rest. I am working on being fully present in the moment and live with my heart open to how God is at working through my everyday life. I’m reading The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero.

Tell me some stories! So many people here need to know Jesus.

I met a guy several years ago who needed help through our care ministries. His childhood was marked by horrendous abuse at the hands of his parents. I sat with him and listened as he shared his story of how he had undergone open heart surgery, and then came home to recover. Needing some groceries, he went out to the store, but on the way back to his trailer he slipped and fell on the ice. His chest incision broke open. He cried out for help. No one answered. He finally drug himself to his car. Drove himself to the hospital in the next town over.

Shocked by all of this I said: “Do you know Jesus?” He told me he thought Jesus had more important things to do than to be concerned with someone like him. I shared the message of Jesus with him and he went on his way. A few weeks ago, I visited with this man again at our local park. He knows he is dying and is alone. I shared the Gospel in a piece of a paper with him and he left holding onto the cross of His Savior, Jesus! 

“Jesus has more important things to do than care about me!”

Meth addiction is a big problem in this area!

I go to the jail regularly to teach a Bible study. (People in our church pray, encourage me and welcome people who get out of jail to worship.) One woman would sit in the back with her arms crossed. I’d call on her and she’d tell me she didn’t believe any of this stuff but was trying to keep an open mind. Her dad had killed her step mom and she struggles with an addiction to meth.

One week I taught about relationships and marriage and how husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. As I am teaching, this girl with a tough demeanor starts to cry! (This is not out of the ordinary working with people in jail.) The time was up and they had to go back to their cells. The next week this young lady and her cellmate return. As they enter her cellmate asks: “Are you going to talk about what you talked about last week?” I said, “Yes.” Then she said, “Because she cried for 5 ½ hours.” Then the girl who has had such a horrible life says, “I’ve always wanted to be loved like that!” She is now out of jail and has attended worship and reads a chapter in her Bible every day. She is a changed person. The Gospel changes lives.

“She’s a changed person. The Gospel changes lives”

For quite some time we prayed for one of the main drug dealers in this area. Recently, I visited with her as she waited to take a drug test. She has kidney disease and is on dialysis. She told me she can’t get another kidney because of her past. “They don’t think my life is worth it.” I invited her to come to our New Beginnings Class, for I want her to know the value God placed on her life. I told her God said her life was so valuable, He gave His Son to die on the cross for her. He says her life matters. 

So many people need to know Jesus here. We had over 20 adult baptisms last year. Our congregation is great. They don’t see tattoos, piercing, or someone’s record, they see people for whom Christ died. They pray. They write extra checks. They show up to prepare meals for Wednesday nights. They help them with daily needs. They truly seek to be the hands and arms of Jesus. 

So, how did you and Linda and your team get into PLI?

Rich Boring! He talked to me about PLI. “I think this will really be good for you and Linda and accelerate what God is doing at Mount Calvary.” We’d been invited and encouraged to do PLI before, but we didn’t. I told him I’d pray about it and talk to Linda. I’m not sure I prayed but I told Linda. I was sure she would say we were way too busy to add one more thing to our lives. Instead she said, “Well, we always said when the kids were out of the house we would consider it.” I thank God for how He has used D2MC to transform our lives and ministry.

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