“I love this place. I love teaching theology and apologetics. It’s energizing when people see the impact of theology on their lives. And, when we bring in great theologians from different seminaries, I soak up their teaching and see the impact on my life.”
For the April 2016 issue of MinistryTech, I featured Michael Patton of Credo Courses.
In this article series, we’ve defined a Christian entrepreneur as: a person, driven to glorify God in all he does, and ruled by the Word of God, who starts a new venture and is willing to risk a loss in order to achieve the success of the venture. Each month I’ve been introducing you to specific Christian startups and entrepreneurs, some of which may be helpful to your church, ministry, business, or family, but my main intent is to encourage and inspire you to be entrepreneurial in your ministry and career.
This month I’d like to introduce you to Michael Patton, a pastor turned entrepreneur. God has used Michael to introduce a number of innovative new ventures including The Theology Program, Reclaiming the Mind Ministry, and Credo House, but today I’m going to focus on Credo Courses, a business whose mission is to “make accessible the top scholars in the world, teaching on the greatest subjects in the world.”
Called to the Ministry
In the mid-1990s, God called Michael to ministry. He finished a BA in Biblical Studies then earned a ThM in New Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary. While finishing his doctorate he began serving as a singles Pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in the Dallas area. He enjoyed the opportunity to engage in the lives of young church members and to help them connect theology with their everyday lives.
About a year into his ministry at Stonebriar, like any good entrepreneur, Michael identified a need. There was a real hunger for the kind of deep theology that is taught at seminary, but most people in the church weren’t in a position to pursue a seminary degree. Michael started teaching what would become The Theology Program – a set of 60 lessons across seven courses on theology and apologetics, rich in Biblical truth, but designed for lay people. The content resonated with the members of Stonebriar and over the next several years hundreds went through the course.
Originally taught live, Michael saw the opportunity to leverage modern technology to expand the impact of the content, first recording the courses on VHS, then moving to DVD, and finally, in partnership with Bible.org, taking it online. “Our vision is to make theology accessible not just to today’s audience, but for 50 years from now and beyond. Those that came before us used the technology of their day, which largely was in the form of printed books that we still enjoy today.”
By making The Theology Program available online, Michael began a new form of ministry that has since touched tens of millions around the world.
Called to His Hometown
His time in Dallas was rich with blessings, but starting in 2004, a series of medical issues in his family led to the clear realization that Michael had to return to his hometown of Oklahoma City. During this time, Michael continued to be tuned into the needs of his “market” and graduates from The Theology Program were hungry for more. Michael envisioned building a dream team of the best teachers from seminaries across the country all teaching on their strongest topic.
With the blessing of the Stonebriar leadership and congregation, Michael began laying the foundation for this vision. He created Reclaiming the Mind Ministries as a non-profit platform for distributing The Theology Program, moved back to Oklahoma, and began a blog (Parchment & Pen) and podcast (Theology Unplugged). While Michael considered pursuing a pastor role in a local church and continuing the work within a specific church body, he had already seen the impact that could be had by being evangelically neutral and serving all evangelical churches without any preconceptions that would come from affiliation with a specific church or denomination. Over the years, more than 2,000 churches have used The Theology Program in some form.
Within a few years, the ministry had leased some space for filming and recording new content. They wanted to have live audiences, so they became a coffee house to attract alert minds passionate for theology. They began hosting “Coffee and Theology” each Tuesday evening at 6:30pm and brought in guest speakers for “Coffee with Scholars” special events. As part of Reclaiming the Mind, Credo House operated as a non-profit with a mix of coffee sales, memberships, and donations funding operations. Michael says “I love this place. I love teaching theology and apologetics. It’s energizing when people see the impact of theology on their lives. And, when we bring in great theologians from different seminaries, I soak up their teaching and see the impact on my life.”
Called to Business
While the warm and cozy environment of learning from God’s Word together over a steaming mug of coffee is a rich opportunity, it has limited reach. In 2012, Michael started bringing his original vision to reality. He created Credo Courses as a for-profit business and began working with leading Biblical scholars to create new content for streaming over the Internet. In 2014, Michael hired Ted Paul as executive director and the pace of new content creation picked up. To date, eight courses have been filmed with three of them currently in post-production.
With the global reach of the Internet, hundreds of students from around the world are connecting to Credo Courses and some churches are pursuing licensing the entire catalog for all of their members to use. In our interview, Michael and Ted laughed about how quickly video technology has progressed and how it shows from the original The Theology Program content from 15 years ago. Ted shares “technology has come so far that, these days, it’s relatively easy to capture video really well. You have to create a high quality product or you’ll just get lost in the noise.”
I asked Michael and Ted about what is different in being a Christian entrepreneur. Ted emphasized that we can’t be fooled into complacency. “We still need to build a solid business. God won’t automatically bless your business just because you slap a fish symbol on it.”
Michael talked more about the challenges of fitting into the business world without tarnishing your impact for the Gospel. “To be successful in financing the business or closing sales, you often have to promote yourself, drop names of the people you’re working with, and even show some level of favoritism towards those that can help you the most. Keeping James 1 and 2 in mind can help keep us grounded in these times.” At the end of the day, Michael emphasizes that the difference between a Christian entrepreneur and a non-Christian is what drives and motivates them. “It’s not about me and my agenda, it’s about the glory of God.” Amen.