“The Pastor You’ve Always Wanted … Without the Church”

“The Pastor You’ve Always Wanted … Without the Church”

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Published:
September 28, 2021

Kumar Dixit is pioneering a new concept in pastoral ministry: The Concierge Minister. He wants to reach people on the margins of institutional religion and minister to them directly as their pastor on-call.

Question: You have started something called The Concierge Minister. You are asking people to hire you as their personal pastor—not affiliated with any church. What are you promising? What do you offer? Why would someone want to hire you?

Answer: After serving as an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister for over 25 years, I have launched an experiment to reach people on the margins of the church. These people have likely never been inside a church building. They don't know anything about Christianity, except for what Hollywood has portrayed.  

There are millions of people who believe in spirituality, just not Christianity. My goal is to help them to navigate through that journey.  

I am offering personalized spiritual coaching. Secular people are familiar with hiring a business coach or a health trainer. In the same way, I am providing a path for people to deepen their understanding of God.

You have a burden for people on the margins—especially LGBT folks. Why? What have you done to help this demographic spiritually?

When I was a campus chaplain [at what is now Washington Adventist University], I started the first "support group" for gay and lesbian students on an Adventist college campus in 1995. Since then, I have been actively ministering to this community of believers. Through my involvement, I now serve as the chaplain of Kinship International. My number one goal is to help people recognize that God has not given up on them and that he loves them, period.  

So many people in the LGBT community have experienced pain from their loved ones and church families. I am now receiving more inquiries from parents whose child has come out. These parents do not want to make the same mistake of ostracizing their child; instead, they want guidance to demonstrate God’s unconditional love.  

Can you tell us about some of the experiences you have had as Concierge Minister so far?

I have had so many incredible, life-changing experiences through this ministry. Most of the people who have reached out to me have done so through my website. I am not sure how they found me. But, they will generally share that they feel lost. They are emotionally exhausted and need help with spiritual direction.  

Most of the people I work with are secular—not biblically literate. They do not know the story of redemption. They have not heard of Adam, Eve, Noah, Moses, and so on. That is why teaching from the book of Revelation, for example, has zero relevance to these individuals. 

One of the people I have been working with came to me through a grief group I facilitate. Her personal story is heartbreaking. She looks to tarot cards and mediums to help her navigate difficult decisions. After meeting with her for the last two years, she now appreciates the concept of a loving God. I recently gave her a Bible, in which I had marked over a hundred promises with a highlighter.

What gave you the idea of creating The Concierge Minister?

This idea came from a conversation with a friend who decided to leave their medical practice. 

“I am tired of the insurance companies telling me how many minutes I can spend with my patients,” this person complained to me. This friend now only sees 150 patients and charges each client $10,000. In exchange, the patients have complete access to their clinician. This type of medicine has become ever more popular over the last decade.  

Several years ago, I conducted an informal audit of all of the people I had baptized. I was broken-hearted when I concluded that over 60% of those individuals were no longer involved in a church. We had successfully evangelized them, but were poor at discipleship. 

I am not sure that the Christian church is capable of reaching unchurched, secular people. Our traditions are too deep, and our services are built to meet the needs of mature Christians who have a generational connection. 

My goal is to cut through the cultural baggage and work closely with clients who want to improve their spiritual health. I do not miss two-hour church meetings about what color the carpet should be (true story). I'd rather spend my time helping someone discover their identity in Jesus!

How will you be earning a living as concierge minister? People will only give donations, right?

That is correct. I do not charge for services like the medical service model. Concierge Minister is a non-profit organization that accepts donations. The money goes directly into the ministry, such as sound and video equipment, internet tools, advertising online, and so on. I am not receiving a remuneration this year. In addition, the non-profit is governed by a board of trustees.  

Isn't visiting a church, with the atmosphere of worship, the music, and a group of people all participating in something together, important? You can't replicate this all by yourself. 

I am not competing with the church. Here is a secret: I still attend my Adventist congregation and am heavily involved as a lay leader (Pathfinders, Middle School, Sabbath School). The local church provides an incredible contribution to Christianity at large. However, the people I am working with will likely never enter a church building as their first entry point.  

The most significant contribution that church provides is corporate worship. However, we have failed at discipleship. Jesus said, “Go make disciples.” I would argue that may be the church's weakest attribute.  

From the time you served as a chaplain at Washington Adventist University, you have been connecting with people personally. But since then, you have served in a lot of administrative roles, running organizations and managing groups of people. As Concierge Minister, will you miss some of the “big picture” parts of your previous jobs, as you connect with the minutiae of people's lives? Or do you intend to eventually manage a whole group of “concierge ministers”?

I have an unusual story because I remember that God had called me to be a minister from a very early age. I have always known. That calling has taken many different shapes, from college chaplain to administrative pastor to conference ministerial director.

Most of my past jobs have had a focus on evangelism. I have pastored some of the fastest-growing churches in the North American Division. I have been proud that my churches always had more baptisms than any other church in the conference. I got caught up with the “church is a country club” mentality instead of focusing on the core values of discipleship.  

I have gone on to become a board-certified chaplain and board-certified pastoral counselor. As I have spent the past few years ministering to patients and their families, I have discovered that the vast majority of people do not know God or the God story. I thought dying people would be worried about their salvation. They are not. They are concerned about relationships with their children, their spouse, and making sure their loved ones will be fine after they pass. By meeting the needs of these dying individuals, I had to change my agenda. I had to demonstrate the love of Jesus through their felt need.  

I want to focus my time and energy on helping people know Jesus.  

You have been working as palliative medicine administrator for Montgomery Hospice. Will you keep this job and continue in the role, while also being a concierge minister?

My role as a palliative medicine administrator is gratifying. I get to help dying people and their families navigate the uncharted territory of death. I often tell my patients that I do not know how long they have to live, but I can help them ensure their lives are well lived. 

I think of my job in palliative care as my “day job” and Concierge Minister as my “eternal job.” For now, I plan to be a tentmaker, like Paul.  

Can you tell us about how some of your previous jobs have prepared you to be a concierge minister?

When I was 19 years old, I served as a student missionary in Papua New Guinea with Adventist Frontier Missions. I lived among the Iwam people in a small village of approximately 125 people. I lived without electricity and running water, over 200 kilometers from the closest town. I helped build my own house and dug my own toilet. The only electronic equipment left behind was a ham radio that ran on solar power. I was only to use the radio in case there was an emergency and I needed to contact the missionaries who lived down the river.  

I was assigned to share the gospel with these river people, who had been cannibals only one generation prior. How do you share Jesus with people who do not know any elements of the salvation story? How do you use metaphors commonly used in our context like lamb, king, and city when there are no comparable vocabulary words in their language?

God gave me the gift of tongues, and I learned the language fluently within two months. I spent my time listening to their stories and looking for ways to demonstrate the love of God. My job was to live among the people and share Jesus through my encounters.

This is precisely what Concierge Minister is doing. I am contextualizing the gospel to a group of people who do not share the same language, culture, or customs. 

How do you think this work as a concierge minister will be different, and how will it be similar to the work of a church pastor, which you have done before?

When I was working on my doctorate, I had a guest lecturer say, “You are pastors. That means you are a small business owner. Your job is about self-preservation—to keep your business open.” His cynical comments resonated with me because he was correct. As a former ministerial director who coached and mentored pastors, I observed firsthand that many pastors perform administrative tasks, not gospel work. 

My work as Concierge Minister is to spend most of my time helping people understand their worth before God.  

You are also running grief groups, and you have a podcast. Can you tell us a little about those?

As a trained bereavement counselor, I have discovered that people are lost, broken, and often barely functioning after the death of a loved one. They need great support. I run virtual grief groups for six sessions. Most of the people in my groups do not have Christian history but are very accepting that I am a Christian minister.  

The other way I am reaching out to a wider audience is through two podcasts. The first one is called Church for Atheists. My co-host, Michael, is a former Seventh-day Adventist Christian. He used to be a member of my church board! He jokingly said that “Kumar was such a terrible minister that he turned me away from God.” The podcast follows the church service format but is secular. It allows the atheist to share his beliefs about contemporary issues with great respect. The show's purpose is not to change one another's mind, but really to demonstrate mutual respect and admiration. 

The second podcast is called the Concierge Minister Podcast. It is about helping the listener grow in their faith through the different faith disciplines.  

Why did you want to keep your concierge minister work unaffiliated with a church organization? 

I don't think I intentionally went out to create an unaffiliated organization. It just happened. I look at this as a grand experiment. Can we find different avenues outside of the local church to share the love of Jesus with secular people? 

Do you think the Adventist Church has failed its people on the margins? What do you think the Adventist Church can do better?

I think the Adventist Church has become institutionalized. Institutions revel in self-preservation rather than experimentation. There are so many children of God who do not know the loving grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, many of our churches are not equipped to reach them. 

With that being said, I believe the Adventist Church has an incredible story to tell. There are so many good things about our denomination. 

What do you hope your legacy will be?

I am a pastor at heart. I love people, and I want to see them live their best life (based on John 10:10). My legacy is to help people see themselves as God sees them: perfect. 

Kumar Dixit is palliative medicine administrator for the Montgomery Hospice in Rockville, Maryland. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Washington Adventist University, where he has taught dozens of courses since 2004. Dixit has pastored at the New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Laurel, Maryland and the Oakridge Adventist Church in Vancouver, Canada. He served as ministerial director of the British Columbia Conference in Canada. Other positions have included director of spiritual care for WGTS 91.9, the community radio station in Takoma Park, Maryland, and director of development at The Washington Home. 

Dixit earned his doctorate in Leadership Excellence from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. He is a board-certified pastoral counselor and board-certified clinical chaplain through The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy. He has authored dozens of magazine and journal articles, and published a book called Branded Faith: Contextualizing the Gospel in a Post-Christian World. Dixit lives in Maryland with his family.

 


Alita Byrd is the interviews editor for Spectrum.

Photo courtesy of Kumar Dixit.

 

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