We are marking Pastor Kenny and Kathy Stokes’s 10 years of ministry at Bethlehem.
Kenny and Kathy met at Bethel College and were married in December 1979. He graduated with a double major in Psychology and Biblical Studies in 1981. During his seminary days at Bethel, Kenny was part of Bethlehem.
Those of us who were here in those days remember him as an unusually wise and sensitive lover of people. People would turn to Kenny readily for a trusted, caring, listening ear. His internship focused on pastoral care, pastoral counseling, pre-marital counseling, and marriage and family ministries. He graduated from Bethel Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree in 1988.
In August of that year, the Lord called Kenny to Oak Hill Baptist Church in Humboldt, Iowa, where he spent 10 years preaching and pastoring in the local church. I continue to meet people from this church who tell me how much they love Kenny. He made a good name for Jesus.
Then came a crucial meeting at Kentucky Fried Chicken on Chicago Avenue between Kenny and me. We had so many needs at Bethlehem, and Kenny had so many gifts. Would he be willing to return and serve here? What I had not known till then was that the inner-city of Minneapolis was Kenny’s old stomping grounds. This is where he grew up. We were so eager to have a lover of the city and a knower of the city in the role of Pastor for Urban and Social Ministries. In 1998 Kenny said yes and joined the pastoral staff here.
As a tribute to Kenny’s huge esteem among the people and staff, all of us looked to Kenny to lead the risky, new vision of growth (“Growing Without Growing” it was called at first) through church planting and campus multiplication. So, in March 2003, Kenny was appointed the Pastor for Church Planting and Strategic Mobilization.
As the church has grown and pastoral structures have changed, Kenny’s role continues to be refined in accord with his (seemingly inexhaustible) gifts and Bethlehem’s needs. So when the Elders created the roles of four Lead Pastors (Vision, Life Training, Spreading, and Operations), Kenny was asked to be the Lead Pastor for Spreading. He holds this position now which includes overseeing Church Planting, Campus Multiplication, Treasuring Christ Together (TCT), and outreach on all campuses.
What a gift Kenny and Kathy and their family have been to this church! Kenny is rock-solid theologically. He loves the great biblical truths of the Elder Affirmation of Faith. He is courageous and uncompromising in his stand for them. He is also a worshiper and peacemaker. Theology serves doxology and compassion.
He is humble and approachable. I have never heard anyone say they were put off by Kenny Stokes. He draws people and makes them feel accepted. He is athletic without the swagger. He hits a very long ball (wiffle-, soft-, or baseball). He swims and coaches baseball and soccer.
He is the father of three sons (Michael, Elliot, and Andrew) and one daughter (Kathryn). I and others look to Kenny as a model father in his firm, wise, tender, heart-touching, mind-challenging, whole-souled engagement with his children.
He and Kathy are approaching their 29th wedding anniversary. They set an example to us all of happy, faithful, steadfast, complementary covenant-keeping. Kenny is unwaveringly supportive and respectful and commendatory toward his wife whether she is present or away.
I love Kenny’s partnership on the staff. He is relentlessly encouraging. He has a servant heart. He models the relational culture we have been talking about: counting others better than himself and looking not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. He is willing to do the hard thing and make the difficult call. He is loyal and supportive.
And if Chuck or Dan or Rick or Marc or Ron ever couldn’t lead corporate worship when they were supposed to, I would not hesitate to let Kenny take that role as well. He plays the guitar and sings. In the early days, I always looked forward to the Wednesday nights when Kenny would lead us in song with his guitar.
So you can see what a gift he is to us. I personally count his friendship precious beyond reckoning. Thank you, Lord, for putting it in Kenny’s heart to come to Bethlehem. And thank you for giving him joy and zeal for this work year after year. Give him now all he needs for the next chapter of his life and ministry. May these next years be the most happy, radically obedient, fruitful years of his life.
I love you, Kenny.