Kirby Holmes lives in the progressive and post-modern city of Austin, Texas. He is currently a Small Groups Pastor at the Kirby_Holmesmain campus of Gateway Church. As a ‘No Perfect People Allowed’ church that is effectively reaching people at the crowds edge Kirby often navigates cultural hot topics in his group’s ministry. He is the central Texas huddle leader for the Small Groups Network. Kirby is currently working on his Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Q1: Austin is a very cool town. You’ve got SXSW, millions of bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and a very progressive culture for Texas. How is ministry different in Austin than in other places?

KH: Some might consider Texas the Bible belt but I can assure you Austin slipped through one of the holes on the belt. It is a progressive, post-modern, and primarily a post-Christian city more like Portland or Boston. We expect people who interact with our church community to be skeptical, cynical, and have real questions about faith and religion. We also expect that most people are not Biblically literate and equate most of the Biblical stories to myth.

 Q2: A lot of churches launch groups with a church-wide campaign. Is a campaign something that has worked for you? Why or why not?

KH: Yes, we have seen success with church-wide campaigns. We typically align our church calendar to have two group campaigns a year, one in September and one in January. We have found people are willing to try a group if the whole church is in on it. It gives people a chance to try community but also explore a topic that meets a need in their life (relationships, work, bad habits, exploring spiritual life, etc.). We usually have a strong communication push for the campaign leading up to a Connection Event that happens in the courtyard of all of our church campuses. During the Connection Event people go and meet group leaders face-to-face and sign up for a group. Group campaigns help connect people from the crowd into groups. It is also a great way to onboard new group leaders with a clear specific path for creating a new group.
AW: One follow up question which does NOT count in the 5.5 questions (what?): what do you require of your group leaders before they can lead?
KH: There are high-bar, low-bar, and open-bar (bottoms up!) approaches to group leader qualifications. Gateway is currently using a high-bar approach. Gateway does not have a membership process. We do, however, have a leadership process we call Commissioning. We see the early church in Acts commissioning those who are being sent into specific roles of ministry in the body. Paul indicates in his letter to Titus and Timothy the character of leaders who should be commissioned by the church. We base our leadership process on these two big ideas. Our Commissioning process has three parts: personal, private and public. The first part is a personal 21-day journal that an emerging leader goes through on their own to reflect on Scriptures and questions related to our churches mission, beliefs, values, and commitments to being part of our Commissioned core. The second part is a private conversation with one of our staff about the their reflections in the journal. The third part, if the staff commissions them, is to have a public ceremony in front of our whole church body on a Sunday morning for every new person being Commissioned. We have these ceremonies three to four times a year.

Q3: My impression is that many of the folks who attend Gateway don’t have much of a church background. How is ministry at Gateway different from what seminary prepared you for? (If my assumption about Gateway is wrong, feel free to blow me out of the water.)

KH: Ministry at Gateway is more like a missionary endeavor. Often time’s seminary trains church leaders to exegete Scriptures to be good teachers, but not how to exegete culture to be good missionaries. We have been intentional to exegete the culture, not just the Scriptures, so we can be effective missionaries to people. Many of our church staff lived on the field in global missions before joining the staff at Gateway. I think this has helped our understanding of some of the current realities in the changing cultural landscape.

Q4: You are a very likable guy and always seem to have a great attitude. What keeps you inspired? Or is this all a ruse?

KH: I am not always inspired, or even liked, but thanks for thinking of me that way Allen.
AW: I may be thinking of a different Kirby then.
[Awkward Pause]
KH: One time, when I was a university student studying architecture, I was working on a project late at night with an impending deadline that week. With tired eyes, I was working on drawings and a clay model when I had an experience with God. God told me he wanted my life to be more about people than projects. My notes about this encounter with God were written in my project notebook and I even presented them to my professor. Over the next few months I accepted God’s invitation to become his servant missionary to people. I have made it my goal to be approachable with people. God’s shaping activity in my life causes me to be likable because it serves the church when we are a community in relationship with one another.

Q5: Tell us about the most recent hard lesson you’ve learned in ministry.

KH: I met with an emerging leader last week and there were areas in his life he wasn’t open to getting the help he needed. It is discouraging when people choose to stay stuck. Sometimes creating a Come-As-You-Are culture where No-Perfect-People-Are-Allowed gives people in our church a sense that there are no commitments needed, or growth required, in following Christ. Sometimes when people want to take steps into leadership and I have to tell them, “Not yet.” People will respond to me, “I thought this was a No-Perfect-People church!” and I remind them that we say Come-As-You-Are but don’t Stay-As-You-Are. While some people respond to the challenge of maturing in their relationship with Jesus, and make progress in their character formation, others aren’t willing to embrace the kind of change Jesus wants to do in their life. Seeing people walk away from the church, and Jesus, because it is challenging and asks for change can be discouraging.
AW: Ok, here it comes, the half question. Ready?
KH: Ready!

Q5.5 How many times have you been to the Salt Lick? And, if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?

Allen, I have been to the Salt Lick plenty of times. I have been for wedding events or just to hang with the guys. Their smoke pit and display racks are like a vision of meat heaven. However, my wife Meredith and I have plans to go to Franklin’s BBQ this week which has been voted the best BBQ in the country. We will line up at 9am in the morning hoping to get into Franklin’s at noon. Even with a 3-hour wait there is no guarantee of getting the best-smoked meat on the planet!
AW: Now, imagine if you served Franklin’s BBQ at Gateway…
KH: Imagine.
AW: Now, I’m hungry.