Dale Johnson: And you should know that we are going to go back to our brother, Dr. Heath Lambert, and get his insight. He’s the one who started this whole thing, the Truth in Love podcast, and I’m so delighted that we would have him as a guest on our podcast today to do some reminiscing, to thinking about the beginnings of this podcast, as we celebrate our 400th episode. Many of you know Heath, but let me tell you a little bit about him. Heath is now the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; as many of you know, he served as executive director for ACBC for many years, and we’re so grateful for the work that he and Lauren and their three children are doing as they serve the Lord down in Jacksonville, Florida, actually close to my hometown there. And so, it’s always fun to see what the Lord is using Heath now to do there at First Baptist Jacksonville.
So I’m so grateful for Heath Lambert. This brother has been such a blessing to me. We worked together, even intimately during the transition from you being the executive director to now me being the executive director and the Lord has so graciously placed you in ministry down at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. At some point, I definitely want to talk to you about that ministry, but today we have a wonderful celebration, and we’re celebrating the 400th episode of the Truth in Love podcast and this is something that you started. So, I wanted to bring you on the podcast to just have a chat, to do some reminiscing about how this thing started, and some of the things that you’ve appreciated most. Maybe did you ever dream that this would continue for over eight years now, which is really incredible. So, I want to start here. First of all, welcome. I’m so grateful for your ministry to ACBC, but then now to First Baptist Jacksonville, but I want you to tell a little bit about the story of how in the world a podcast for a biblical counseling ministry was started and the name, Truth in Love. And we’re all of that actually came from.
Heath Lambert: So, first of all, thank you. It’s good to be here. I say in public and in private, to your face and behind your back, how much I appreciate your ministry. You’re doing an excellent job, doing an excellent job leading a biblical counseling organization is kind of tough right now. Not everybody does it, but you are, and I am very, very grateful for the Lord’s grace in your life. So, thank you for all you’re doing, thanks for having me. I’m glad to talk about it.
And you said, did you ever think it would go to eight years or 400 episodes? And the answer is, I thought probably not. So I love doing things that work, and I don’t like doing things just because we did them. So my thing was I wanted to try it, and we did some research before we all tell the story about how we started it, but we do some research before we started it. And if memory serves, I think we found out that the average podcast gets like 115 listens, you know, so you put in, I don’t know, the big Hollywood famous people and some guy in his mom’s basement, average all those out and the average podcast gets 110 listens. And so I thought, you know, if we could get three or five hundred people listening, that would be a great showing, it would hit, I don’t know who those three or five hundred people would be, but that would be a great showing, and we’ll try it. If we can hit that number, we’ll do it. And if we can’t, we’ll unplug it, but it’d be worth a shot. So then I think it was just after a couple of weeks we found out we weren’t just hitting a few hundred. We were in a few thousand. I never, I really didn’t imagine that it’d be a few thousand. I didn’t imagine that that number would grow. But I didn’t imagine that it would last.
Honestly, the reason why it started was because as you know ACBC is a certifying organization, and you’re the executive director of ACBC, you are stewarding a big old certification organization. It’s your job to get as many people certified as you can. Make sure those people who are certified are qualified. Make sure they stay qualified; that’s the job. But what I realized is that certification is not the first thing. It’s not like there’s somebody walking down the street and they’re going, I think I’d like to be certified by ACBC. There has to be some kind of introduction and so what could we do? We’re not handing everybody a book. Not everybody’s going to come to a conference or listen to a sermon, but I think if we could do a topical podcast that would deal with relevant issues from a biblical counseling perspective, that could be a really great entry point into the ministry. And if you could go from podcast to reading some books, from podcast investigating some individuals’ ministry from podcast to a conference or something like that, then maybe we’re going to be moving people down the road towards getting certified. So, we wanted to do it just to introduce people to biblical counseling. It was fun, by the way, nobody ever got certified. If this was an area where you could be exposed to issues that were out there from a biblical counseling perspective, we’d consider that a win as well. And so, the idea was to have it be, you know, on the shorter side we weren’t trying to do an hour podcast, a lecture. One of the things I said back in the day is this isn’t going to be an exhaustive treatment of anything, but we can dip our toe in the water on a lot of things and a handful of minutes on your way to work. You could find out how to think about depression from a biblical perspective, you could find out how to think about AA from a biblical perspective. And if a lot of that could be interviews, so that people, it’s not just ACBC in general, not just me in particular, but people are actually able to meet some of the great thinkers and some of the great counselors in our organization. People don’t realize how large the organization is until you’re like, oh, I didn’t know Mark Shaw, I didn’t know Martha Peace was in ACBC, didn’t know, he or she, I don’t know, David Powlison was a fellow at ACBC back when he was still serving. It was supposed to be an introduction to the ministries of folks, an introduction to biblical counseling in a really consumable, bite-size sort of thing that would hopefully whet people’s appetite for more.
Dale Johnson: Well, I have to confess you, you were much more brief than I’ve trended to be. And so, that is definitely a change, maybe not for the better, the Truth in Love. I’m interested to know because, you know, ACBC has since expanded all of our resources. The Podcast has done so well historically that we started to look at the brand itself under Truth in Love and wanted to expand that to encapsulate all of the resources of ACBC under Truth in Love resources; how did that label or that title get used to define the podcast itself Truth in Love?
Heath Lambert: So, Ephesians 4:15, you grow up into Christ when you speak the truth in love. That passage is just sort of a life verse for me. I don’t mean it in any kind of trite way that when I sign my name, I write Ephesians 4:15 or anything like that. It’s just one of those verses that I wind up thinking about all of the time. I’m in ministry because I want you to grow up in Christ. Growing up in Christ requires some communication. You need to hear something from me, you need to hear some things from other folks and that communication is true words and loving words. And so, it seems like just two biblical guardrails on our communication that lead us to Jesus, just truth in love. We just chopped it down to Truth in Love, and we had assigned a staff person. I didn’t know anything about a podcast, so I decided that person and an intern see if we can use that name. I think there was another name that was close to it or something. I don’t remember. But we did corner the market on Truth in Love, but I think there’s something close, and they were the ones who told me. Hey, you know, if a hundred and twelve people listen to this podcast, then you have two more than the average listener. Somebody went online and found like a podcast kit that we ordered from, and they sent a microphone and all the things. We didn’t want to put a big investment in it because we didn’t know if anyone was going to listen. So, but then they came the person who ordered the podcast kit, wound up being paid to be our sound engineer and edit it and do all that because it was really, it was really sort of a closeted operation. We were just doing whatever we could to make it work. But that’s how we got Truth in Love, and that’s how we got started.
Dale Johnson: That’s so great. Well, you know Heath, a lot of people know you as you stand behind a pulpit, and you preach, or you speak at different events and things like that, and maybe they don’t know you the way some of us know you that when we get together, we feel like we’ve done an ab workout, as having just a wonderful time. And now doing the podcast for a lot of different episodes, a couple of hundred episodes, a lot of bloopers happen and you’re a fun guy to be around. We laugh every time that we’re together. I can imagine over the 170 whatever podcast that you led there were tons of bloopers, maybe favorite moments. I want you to talk a little bit about some of those things that were most memorable, favorite episode, most memorable guest, those kinds of things that stick in your mind.
Heath Lambert: You know, I do have a lot of favorite moments. I’m actually told that there are a tremendous number of bloopers on file somewhere. I’ve never heard those, but I’ve actually been threatened by people who’d say you better watch it because I know where those Truth in Love bloopers are. There are some things that you’ll say in front of a hot mic that you wouldn’t say if you thought it was going to go anywhere, but because you trust the engineer who’s capturing, you know, that’s going to get edited out. So I don’t even remember what all those are. But I’ve been advised by many people that I better tread carefully because they exist. Maybe you’ve got them, I don’t know.
Dale Johnson: We know where some are. Yes, that is true. Yes.
Heath Lambert: But I also have also heard that some people have pictures to go with some of those bloopers and the gag reel on that. So, you know, I have a lot of funny memories actually, I have a few funny memories. This will be a little bit of a teaser and frustrating for people who are listening, but I told you one before you hit the record button that I think I better not share with everybody listening, but honestly, I have great memories of recording the podcast. And we would really maximize it. So when people would come into town to meet with me, we’d always add on a recording of an episode. We always stacked up the Annual Conference when we said, it’s like this big family reunion and so, with all the families in town, we would stack up Truth in Love interviews with folks.
It would be hard to think of a favorite when it would be hard to remember all the times that we laughed or funny things happened or funny noises happened. It’d be hard to remember all those. I will say two things that stand out. So, I interviewed David Powlison on the podcast several, several times. David, of course, is in heaven now, but before that, he was one of my dearest friends I’ve ever had. He was a mentor to me; he was the father of my Ph.D., doctor’s father, as they say. I was in his house, he was in my house, close relationship with David, and really loved him with all my heart. And so, one favorite episode wasn’t necessarily funny, but it was a Christmas traditions episode where I interviewed him. He was talking about how precious Christmas was in the Powlison’s home, you know? It’s the nature. I think we were recording it in October for Christmas, and he was talking about the family, and he had this way, you know, David always turned his fingers this when he was always so thoughtful. And he said, and the candlelight, and he just talked about how sweet it was, and I was like, I want it to be Christmas right now. I was thinking about that episode with David and just those times interviewing him. And we had, I don’t know how many hours of conversations he and I had, but those conversations that were that were trapped on a recording, they mean a lot to me.
Another episode, I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but it was a little bit funny the way it happened. It was the one about coffee. I don’t remember what it was called. I was basically saying, hey, like, you can be addicted to all sorts of things. You can be addicted to substances that are legal, and some of you are addicted to coffee. I remember something had happened. I can’t remember something that happened with the file with the recording, and I was, I believe I was at ACBC training in Sioux City or something like that. There was a snowstorm, and they had to call me. And they had to say, listen, we’ve lost the file that we’ve got to upload something. We’re going to miss the deadline. Can you just do the podcast again into your cell phone right now? And so, I did. I remember standing out to stand in this garbagey hotel in Sioux City, looking out at the snow coming down, and I just did the episode on the phone, and it sounds like grainy. It’s probably one of the worst qualities that we’ve got, but it wound up. I don’t know if it still is at fact that somebody just told me that a lot more people are listening to it now that you’re the host than ever were when I was so, but back in my day, for the smaller numbers that we were dealing with there was a spike on that coffee podcast. I didn’t even need anybody to come to me and tell me because what happened was my phone started blowing up there. Like, hey now, you’re meddling. What are you doing with this coffee thing? Come on now. So all these biblical counselors fall over the world are like, I don’t know how I feel about that podcast episode, and so that got me into a little trouble with the organization on the coffee podcast. So those are two that I remember.
Dale Johnson: Those are great. And there are a lot more if we were to sit and reminisce. It is interesting you mentioned the growth of the podcast, but I would totally say that, you know, as the ministry continues, you know, you always stand on people’s shoulders. You mentioned David, and we certainly stand on his shoulders. He served the organization as a fellow academy member, and as a board member for many years, and we stand on some of the work that you’ve done, Heath. No question about that. And you know, now we are seeing listens average somewhere between eight and ten thousand in a normal podcast, and then we’ll see that spike up. I don’t remember 35 or 40 thousand listens on some of the highest ones, particularly related to the Enneagram. We did a series of four on the Enneagram. Just critiquing that. It was a very hot topic at the time. Some of the things that we’ve done on trauma and trauma-informed right now are certainly well listen to as well.
Talk a little bit about from your perspective seeing, you know, part of this was your brainchild without question, and you’re seeing this mold, and now you’re seeing it, even take off. Talk about how you’ve seen Truth in Love, ACBC resources, both podcast and print stuff expand just from your perspective. You have to take some joy in that Heath, that the Lord you know at a given time used you and to build this vision and then here it’s taking off. Just talk about that for a moment.
Heath Lambert: One of the things that when you believe in the sovereignty of God, you believe that God always has the right leader at the right place at the right time. And what that does is that allows you, on the one hand, to be thankful. I was able l to look back on when I became executive director when I got hired, I was executive director of NANC, and I was able to look back at all these executive directors who have done great work, Randy Patten and Bill Goode. And I mean all these great guys who done great work, and you know, some of them were serving. I mean, I remember I sat down one weekend, and I just read all of the NANC business meeting minutes. And I remember, I think, was 82. I don’t have custody of these minutes anymore, but you can check me. I think was 82. One of the goals for NANC in 1982 was to get a phone, you know? Come on now. That is tough work. I mean, we were not having meetings about whether we were going to have a phone.
Dale Johnson: I’ve heard George Scipione tell that story, and I’ve seen your notes in the minutes on that. Yes, that was true.
Heath Lambert: I mean, listen, that’s hard work. If you’re the executive director you like, maybe we could put a phone on the card table, that would be great. That would really be a banner year for us, and so, it allows you to be thankful for all of the leaders who have gone before you. But then it also gives you some responsibility because if the sovereign God puts every leader at every point right where they need to be, and I’m the leader, then that means the Lord has put me here, and I’ve got a steward this thing. And so, there were a number of things that just by the time I got there, through decades of faithful leadership, it’s like a snowball, you know it’s a lot of work to start packing it at first. And maybe the snow is a little dry. And so, it just takes a lot of work, but then you keep building and building and building, and eventually, you get some momentum, and we were at a place where I was able to think through let’s, let’s actually set some goals. A little bit controversial because like, well, if you’re going to, you’re going to set a goal that we have 2500 members in 2025, then you have to water down the standards. It was like, well, I can’t water down the standards because the standards are set by the board, by the membership, but I think there are some things we could do that would get the word out about who we are, that could raise interest in that. That was one of the big things about the podcast is, let’s let more people know that we’re out here. And so there was, honestly, a give-and-take on the resources. I think some people got introduced to ACBC resources because they listened to the podcast. I think some people listen to the podcast because they got introduced to ACBC resources and other ways. And so, I think there was just a lot of synergy and a lot of ability just to maximize on a lot of the work that It had gone before. I think the resource piece kind of was a sword that cuts both ways.
Dale Johnson: I agree. And I would say publicly, you know, thank you for starting that initiative. We have seen the Lord tremendously bless that initiative beyond what could have been imagined or thought of at that point leading to now print resources that we’re seeing in terms of booklets, books that are being produced articles, and in the Journal of Biblical Soul Care, it’s just expanding. We’re seeing the beauty of people working together for a common goal. You mentioned that initiative of 2,500 members. We just surpassed that this past year and in October 2022. So, we were three years ahead of that, and so, those things were possible, and those are things to rejoice at. We see these markers 400th episode of a podcast that started. Yeah. Now eight years ago, and just unbelievable to see, and it’s fun to celebrate with you, Heath.
Now, I’m going to get in trouble. If I don’t ask you about your ministry at First Baptist everywhere I go. People asked how Heath is doing, I try to give the best update that I can, but the best thing is to hear from you. How is ministry going, Heath at First Baptist? That’ll be the last thing, and we’ll hear from you here.
Heath Lambert: First of all, health-wise, I’m in good shape. It took four brain surgeries to get that to happen, but I’m in good shape. I feel as good as I felt in five years. That actually is one of the things I get asked is like is everything okay at ACBC? Why aren’t you coming? And I’m like, they cracked my brain open, man, like I know, so I am really excited to be at the ACBC conference this fall. This October will be the first time since I walked out the door I spoke at 2020, but it was weird didn’t feel like it counted because it was COVID, and we had to film it all that kind of thing. So it didn’t even get a kick out of speaking. So I’m really excited to be there with you, be a part of the big ACBC family reunion, and give a breakout talk. I’m really excited about that. But it’s just been the first time with my health and ministry commitment. I’ve been able to do it since I first walked out the door.
Ministry at First Baptist, I just have to tell you. It is going very well. I left ACBC to pastor this church because I knew I couldn’t run ACBC and be the pastor of this church. Some people are bi-vocational, just the challenges that First Baptist was facing. Honestly, I didn’t know if the church would make it. I mean, we had, we had 90 million dollars of unfunded liability. We had 12 blocks of old, crumbling, unsafe, condemned facilities. We were losing four people a week. The church had been in decline for over 20 years, and just paying attention to that, fixing that. And in the midst of all the medical challenges, for Pete’s sake, it was the most difficult season of suffering I’ve ever endured in my life. We had to ride the ship. We had to tear down buildings, we had to sell stuff, we had 225 employees that we could not afford, and so we had 125 really precious people that we had to go through a reduction in force because we just couldn’t afford it. And so it was, it was tremendous amounts of change. You know, people get fired for a lot less than those things, and churches go belly-up and face a lot fewer challenges than that, but it had to be done, and the Lord gave a lot of grace. And now we’ve grown our church has grown for the first time in two years. Our church has grown for two years in a row, and that is the first time that’s happened since 1995. Two years of growth, where we have no debt. We got cash in the bank. Folks are growing and being discipled and it is a wonderful day to be at First Baptist. And in fact, as I don’t know how you feel about this, but I would, when things were really hard, and I’d be like, I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe people are saying this. And they never treated me this way when I was at ACBC. Well, I’ve never been treated this way, and Sean Peron would say like, Heath, this is like the melons and the leeks of Egypt, and you just got to quit. Like okay. All right, but having been through those hard seasons, I love our church. Our church is sweet. The Lord has been kind and gracious, and ministry is as sweet as it as it’s been in any time since I can remember.
Dale Johnson: That’s outstanding. I know our people will love to hear that update, and this has been fun, Heath. I appreciate you reminiscing with me, and thank you for starting the Truth in Love podcast. It’s been a wonderful ministry to so many people, not just in the US but around the world. I hear people describe how they tune in every week, and that started with something that the Lord gave you to do, and we can say thank you as we celebrate 400 episodes.
Heath Lambert: Well, I think you’re doing a great job. Listen, I’m just telling you, everybody I know in ACBC talks about what a great job you’re doing. I feel the same way, and I’m very grateful and happy to support you in any way I can.
Dale Johnson: Thanks, man. It’s always good to catch up.
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