Pastors who walk into existing churches are quickly burdened by needed changes to improve the church. Where the challenge is for most of us is when and how those changes need to be brought. If you are wondering how to choose those battles wisely, first receive this most excellent counsel I received as I entered my first senior pastor position at a church clearly needing change and revitalization, “Preach the Word, sacrificially love those people, and do not change anything for a while.”
Now, having shared this invaluable counsel that should be applied first, here are 3 questions to ask yourself as you move to bring the change that is needed and how to do so with discernment and wisdom:
- Is it biblical or merely a preference?
Whatever you wish to change, make sure you have a strong biblical argument to do so. If you desire to change the structure of your church to a plurality of elders/pastors or raise the commitment of all church members to gather regularly on Sundays together (Hebrews 10:25), those are appropriate biblical changes that should be pursued. If you want to change which translation of the Bible to preach, the style of music, or remove the giant picture of a white, American Jesus in your lobby, those do not possess as clear a biblical argument. Whether it is biblical or a preference matters in how you bring change, and in many cases, whether you should change it at all.
2. Is it the right time?
Just because a biblical argument can be made for the change does not mean it is the right time to make the change. So many young pastors walk into an existing church, make quick, needed changes because “it’s in the Bible” and think nothing of shepherding a congregation through those changes.
Then they wonder why eighteen months into their pastorate, half the church remains, and there is a general lack of trust and suspicion towards the pastor. That’s because the new pastor was too busy figuring out what “had to change” instead of first loving and shepherding that congregation so they would later be receptive of the change.
3. Is it worth the possible consequences?
Determine if the change can be taught as biblical, consider if the timing is right, then a pastor must weigh whether the consequences deem it wise and worth the risk. For example, I would not split the church over a plurality of elders/pastors or purging an inflated membership role in the first few years at a church. Those are changes that can come later with good teaching and patience. However, I would risk being fired over confronting a deacon found in open adultery or an attack on the deity of Christ, whether the church was ready for it or not. Choosing the right battles wisely involves whether you are willing to face the potential consequences of your decision as well as stand before God with a clear conscience.
This is a general template to follow as you determine the changes you desire to make and how they should be chosen and done. Whatever you do, choose battles wisely as if you will be at that church ten years or more. That will give you a different perspective and will help you be patient.
Oh, and one more thing. Listen to your wife. My wife kept me from getting fired a few times by her wise cautions about a few different things I was about to change. Your wife is your helpmate and will be a particular help to keep you from doing something you might regret. Listen to her.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published on churchleaders.com.
The post 3 questions pastors should ask before they fight for change in their church appeared first on Southern Equip.
I did not grow up going to church every week. My parents did not have family worship every evening, or ever that I recall. No adult that I was around on a regular basis read their Bible conspicuously, but even as a kid I knew that my grandmother (“Mamaw” to us) did.
One of my early memories is riding with my mother to pick up Mamaw’s Bible from a bindery where it had gotten a new cover. I didn’t know what bindery was, but I figured out that its cover had gotten worn out because of lots of use, and that knowledge must’ve settled down deep inside me, for it imparted a respect for reading the Bible that I couldn’t explain at the time.
When I was 16, I started going to church and, at a Centrifuge camp in Tennessee, responded to an invitation and shortly thereafter began a humble and halting habit of reading the Bible. That was 1993. I could try and pretend I read every day without failure, but that would only be pretending. Yet after a quarter-century of semi-disciplined reading, I’ve come to value the benefit of long-term Bible reading and want to meditate on it here to encourage other start-stop readers.
Why re-read it over and over?
What’s the point of reading and re-reading the Bible over the span of one’s lifetime? Why is there particular value in investing so much time, which really is the most precious thing we have, on reading and not on some more outward-focused activity?
For one thing, the daily experience of merely living as a sojourner in this world has a calcifying effect on our minds. “Calcification” may not be a word we use often, but vascular surgeons and plumbers use it regularly. Calcification refers to constriction that occurs over time. After 30-40 years, a quarter-inch pipe or your arteries are likely to have a reduced capacity due to the accumulation of “stuff” on the inside.
It’s the same with our minds and hearts.
Simply by living in our world, we accumulate a lot of stuff. Consider your average week: how many disparaging conversations do you overhear? How many sarcastic remarks? How many tempting scenes do you encounter on television, movies, web searches, etc.? How many self-focused thoughts do you fight, some that you win and some you lose? Arguments, frustration, hurt feelings, kids that won’t stay in bed, road rage, arguments with your spouse, arguments with your customers, not to mention the banal things that snatch at our attention.
What effect do these situations have on you? How do they cause you to struggle with gratitude? How do they affect your contentment? How do they shape your devotion? What do they do to your worship? Your heart? Here’s where developing a long-term habit of Bible reading is so vital. Being regularly exposed to the word of God reminds us of what God declares to be true and interprets our experience in the world.
What surrounds us subtly shapes us in ways we may not always appreciate or detect. Slowly, we drift. Regular Bible reading serves as an anchor to ultimate reality. It also serves as a purgative to a world-saturated mind. Regular Bible readers have continual reminders of God’s meticulous works of providence, Jesus’ present lordship, and the Spirit’s real leadership.
Read it all
Spend time in the Old Testament historical narratives and you realize the long-term and extensive consequences of flirting with worldly power structures. Return often to the wisdom literature for regular reminders that this world and all of its beautiful things are really temporary. Develop a habit of reading the Psalms to enrich and expand your vision and vocabulary of prayer. Go to the prophets often to see the consequences of ignoring, or oppressing, the widow, the stranger, or the poor.
Come often to the Gospels to behold Jesus clearly and be transformed into his image. Visit the epistles to remember how to live well in our homes, in our churches, in our conversations, to stir our faith, to direct our hope. Read the Apocalypse to anticipate the marriage supper of the Lamb.
What might happen if we regularly allowed the pure water of the Word to saturate and purge our minds?
We are always changing, but the Word does not
What are the reasons many Christians develop a life-long pattern of Bible reading? One reason is so obvious that we may look right past it — we are not the same people we were last time we read the Bible and thus our encounter with the never-changing Word is vital. At minimum, you have simply gained more “mileage” in your walk. Things you were unprepared to catch or know at an earlier point in life will now stand out.
Teenagers may not appreciate the celebration of the blessings of old age that seems so very distant, but when you encounter such passages in your 40s, they command more attention. If you are reading the Bible as a single 20-something, passages celebrating marriage will be no less true but perhaps more opaque than reading them after your first year of marriage or your 21st year of marriage. As you grow in experience in your job, and receive promotions and more responsibility, you must continually be reminded that your fundamental call is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. You must be reminded that the path of servanthood really is the true path for leaders.
These examples are merely representative. I don’t want to suggest that the Bible is shaped by our own reading, but only that as we return to Scripture after years and decades, we are probably better prepared to see what has been there all along.
Our knowledge of Scripture is ever-changing as well. Let me speak candidly as one entrusted with the instruction of the word of God to others similarly entrusted — to Bible college and seminary students, teachers, professors, and pastors of all kinds. Because our calling puts us in regular proximity to the Bible, we must be especially cautious not to rest on our training and past experiences and avoid fresh encounters with the word itself. These past readings have formed us to be who we are today, but we “press on toward the upward goal” (Phil. 3:14).
We must practice the habit of reading the Bible long-term to ensure that we are always submitting ourselves to the searching and penetrating Word of God. He desires to use our disciplined, long-term reading for the beauty of his bride and the good of our neighbor. Prayerfully, our theology still being deepened and our hearts molded after God’s glory with each successive pass.
Read, don’t skim, and write notes
Of course one of the main hurdles to long-term Bible reading is actually reading and not merely using a few keywords to jog our memories and skimming the text. One strategy that has helped me in this regard is to read aloud, often sub-vocally, with a pencil or an extra-fine point pen in hand. I don’t follow a set form of marking my Bible, although inductive Bible study teachers have developed helpful approaches. Rather, I make marginal notes, identify key ideas, or select passages for memorization that stand out today.
By preserving these notes now, I begin to read at a deeper level of attention, moving between reading and meditation, and this approach helps me listen to what the Spirit is saying through this passage to my circumstances today. Invariably, however, I’ll forget today’s insight. But the next time I peruse my marked Bible, reading this text again, I have a way to trigger my recollections.
I remember a particularly diligent student asking how he could come to know the main point of every chapter in the Bible. I remember answering him something like this, “well, you could memorize all 1,189 chapters in the Bible or you could read it for the next 20 years and that would work well too.” Five years after giving that answer, I haven’t changed my mind. The student’s question was genuine. I am sure he wanted to foster a deepening knowledge of the Bible. What I wanted him to see, what I want you to see, and what I need to remember is that God has chosen to sanctify us over time. Long-term Bible reading is part of that sanctification.
My Mamaw’s rebound Bible now belongs to me. It sits unread in a China cabinet in my basement. This thick black Scofield King James Reference Bible shows all the marks of a lifetime of Bible reading. Words are underlined, paragraphs marked, undoubtedly reminders that she wanted to impress upon her GAs.
I don’t know what these notes and underlinings mean, but she did, and a lifetime of Bible reading shaped her deeply. Although rebound, its aging pages testify to the memory of a life spent reading the word of God.
Occasionally, when I am reading one of my older Bibles, I wonder if one day my own grandchildren will flip through its pages, amused at my notes and scribbles. If they do, I hope they will be able to think back on a granddad that modeled the faith, hope, and love these pages bear witness. I hope the same for you.
- Introduction & background
- Challenges in the Church in regard to same-sex attraction
- How to have a flourishing singles ministry
- Singleness for the glory of God
- “Erosion of friendship” in Christian fellowship
- Advice to pastors to be faithful in ministering to Christians with same-sex attraction
- Preaching philosophy & preparation
- Lighting Round!
The post Episode 7: Singleness, same-sex attraction, and preaching with Sam Allberry appeared first on Southern Equip.
I’m an insignificant pastor in a small church in a forgettable town. Many of my friends have gone on to plant or pastor successful churches with exponential growth, vibrant community, and lush gospel fruit. That hasn’t been my experience. My guess is, there are a lot of you out there in the same boat with me.
Let me tell you a bit about my first few years of ministry. I was called by a struggling congregation—what is now commonly called a church revitalization effort. I entered eyes wide open, knowing it would be a long slow work. And boy, did I work.
In addition to shepherding responsibilities to our church, I did regular ministry at the local schools. Every other week, I preached the gospel to a hundred students in FCA gatherings. I taught a Bible elective class and did one-on-one discipleship with unbelieving college students through the book of John. We hosted the college soccer team for cookouts.
In the community, I tried to meet people at the local gym. Every Sunday I encourage our members to go and advance the gospel in our community. My wife and I hosted a small group in our home hoping that it would provide an environment for true discipleship. We threw block parties in various neighborhoods trying to build new relationships for the gospel.
But still no fruit. I don’t mean God didn’t anything; there were little evidences of his grace and mercy especially among our little enclave of members. At the time, those little changes were overshadowed in my mind by one glaring absence: no new believers repenting of their sins and turning to Jesus. Hadn’t God promised, “My word shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11)? I’d been clinging to that promise for three years with no visible results.
I used to look down on Elijah. Do you remember the story where just after he’s been on Mt. Carmel and seen fire fall from heaven, he runs off into the wilderness because Jezebel threatens to kill him? Sulking alone in a cave in the wilderness, “The Word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away.’” (1 Kings 19:9-10)
I used to think, “How could a prophet of God be so depressed? What is wrong with him?” However, the despair in Elijah’s heart is no longer foreign to me. In those early years it settled into my soul. It was that sense of helplessness when you have tried to do everything that God instructed, yet nothing has changed. Fire came from heaven! Surely this will turn the people back to the Lord! Elijah thought. When he woke up the next morning, he realized everything remained exactly the same.
What are we supposed to do when we have tried to obey God, and we have clung tightly to his promises, but the lack of fruit drives us to near despair? We have lived the words of Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). We are not ashamed, but where is the power? We proclaim the gospel, but where is the salvation?
I remember turning to my wife one Sunday afternoon and saying, “This may sound selfish, but I need to see a baptism. I mean me. Ineed to see someone get baptized for my own faith, so that I can know that God is going to save people in this town—that the gospel is actually powerful to save here in our community.” After three years of positivity and blind optimism, I finally sunk to a place I had never been before. I had never felt so hungry to see someone come to Jesus.
My prayers changed. They weren’t polite asking with a gentle “If it’s your will, Lord” anymore. They were begging, pleading, insisting that my soul was going to be completely crushed if God didn’t save somebody soon. I felt like I was starving in a wilderness, completely helpless and utterly powerless to do anything. I had exhausted my patience and everything I could think of to influence people with the message of the gospel.
I longed to see God glorified in our community. I hungered for opportunities to rejoice in the power of the gospel. I wanted to see the Holy Spirit give new life. I was desperate to see King Jesus march forward and rescue his sheep from slavery to sin. And in this moment where all hope seemed nearly lost, and my soul felt like it was about to faint from hunger, God spoke these words:
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)
I realized this: hunger in the Christian life is a blessing from the Lord. God intentionally lets us grow hungry so that we realize how desperately we need him. If he does not speak the word, we will perish. If he does not prosper the gospel, it will fail. It’s this same sense of wild-eyed desperation that we hear in the voice of Peter in response to Jesus’s question: “Do you want to go away as well?” And he said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Looking back, I thank God for his sweet mercy in patiently teaching me — a well-intentioned yet sorely inexperienced pastor — how to hunger and thirst for him above all else. I have realized with Peter that what I desperately need is not a booming church or a successful ministry. What I need is Jesus.
This is how God operates. He lets his people hunger so that he may satisfy their longing: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Do I have a promise that this year God will allow me to see 100 people come to Jesus? No. Do I have a guarantee that my church will grow into a thriving, gospel-fruit-producing body of believers? Not really. But I do have a promise that God will satisfy my desperate hunger. He brings us to a place of deep longing to prove that he is the only one who can satisfy.
Hope has a way of grounding the soul. I have begun to realize that no amount of effort on my part will ever succeed without the Spirit. I have pled and begged God in ways I never have before. Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own known me…” (John 10:14). He will save his sheep. I might not be the one to see it. I might never see anyone come to Jesus again, or I might see tens of thousands come to Jesus. But what I truly need is for God himself to satisfy the hunger of my soul by the power, love, and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ the Shepherd of my soul.
One thing is certain: I continue in steadfast hope for the future of our church. The sense of feeble helplessness and dependence on the Lord that pervades our people even today is how the Israelites felt before the Exodus. It is how the disciples felt before Pentecost. It is how Hezekiah felt before God defeated 185,000 Assyrians.
It is how despairing Elijah felt before God swooped him up in a chariot of fire.
There is no better place for a church to be than completely, helplessly, desperately, and hungrily dependent on God to act, because that is the place where he is guaranteed to get all of the glory.
- Call to and early years of ministry
- Personal philosophy of preaching
- Sermon preparation
- The role of prayer in preaching
- The impact of wives on their husbands’ preaching
- Preaching “bad” sermons
- The role of spiritual gifts in preaching
- Lighting Round!
The post Episode 6: Preaching, theology, and writing with Thomas Schreiner appeared first on Southern Equip.
In evangelical debates over women in ministry, two biblical texts have always stood as an obvious obstacle to the egalitarian view:
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12)
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34)
At first blush, these two texts seem to settle the matter in favor of the complementarian position. After all, this is the sense adopted in the vast majority of English translations. How could they all be wrong? Clearly, Paul does not intend for women to be teaching or preaching within the church, right?
Egalitarians have marshaled a variety of exegetical arguments against this prima facie reading. They argue that, despite appearances, Paul doesn’t really mean to shut down women from exercising their teaching or preaching gifts in the gathered assembly. Egalitarians point out that Paul clearly understood women to be gifted teachers (e.g., Acts 18:26; Titus 2:3).
Moreover, the very same book that enjoins female silence also allows for women to prophesy to the entire church (1 Corinthians 11:5). These female prophets — along with their Old Testament counterparts like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah — demonstrate that whatever Paul means in 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34, he can’t mean to impose a universal ban on women teaching men. He must mean something else.
Egalitarians conflate prophecy and teaching
One of the major problems with the egalitarian argument at this point is that it conflates the gifts of prophecy and teaching. For example, Gordon Fee writes:
It seems altogether likely that Paul intends “praying and prophesying” to be not exclusive of other forms of ministry but representative of ministry in general. And since “prophets” precedes “teachers” in the ranking in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and prophesying is grouped with teaching, revelation and knowledge in 1 Corinthians 14:6, one may legitimately assume that women and men together shared in all these expressions of Spirit gifting, including teaching, in the gathered assembly.
Fee’s logic here is clear. Because Paul allows women to prophesy to the gathered assembly and because prophecy is a greater gift than teaching, then certainly he would allow women to teach as well.
This account of things, however, misses the fact that Paul treats prophecy and teaching as two different gifts and that he regulates them differently in his churches. Paul never issues a blanket prohibition on female prophecy to men in any of his letters, but he does on female teaching. Why is that?
There is a key difference between prophecy and teaching
The gift of prophecy consists in spontaneous utterance inspired by the Spirit. Prophecy consists of divine revelation. The gift of teaching, however, is different. Teaching does not consist in new revelation but in instruction based on revelation that has already been given, Tom Schreiner argues.
This difference between teaching and prophecy is crucial because the gift of teaching is not merely passing along information from one person to another. The gift of teaching in Paul’s writings has a certain content and mode. The content of the gift of teaching is the authoritative apostolic deposit, which is now inscribed for us in the New Testament (Col. 2:7; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2), according to Douglas Moo. This teaching is done in the imperative mood. It contains explanation, but it also includes commands and prohibitions. For that reason, it is always authoritative because it instructs people what they are to believe and to do.
Command and teach these things. (1 Timothy 4:11)
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2)
It’s very clear that when Paul has the gift of teaching in mind, he is thinking of instruction given with imperatives and commands. As Douglas Moo further concludes, “teaching always has this restrictive sense of authoritative doctrinal instruction.”
That is why Paul issues the prohibition that he does in 1 Timothy 2:12. Women must not teach men. Why? Because of the order of creation (1 Tim. 2:13). The role of leader in the first marriage was Adam’s. His leadership was established in part on the basis that God created him first (a principle of primogeniture). The order of creation establishes male headship in marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23), and a woman teaching and exercising authority overturns this order. After all, how can a wife submit to her husband if she is telling him what to do when she preaches? Avoiding this potential conflict is the reason why Paul bases the gender norms for teaching upon the gender norms for marriage.
Why does Paul tell women to “remain silent”?
This also explains why Paul commands women to be silent in 1 Corinthians 14:34-36. Paul is not commanding absolute silence, or else he would be contradicting his allowance of female prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:5. No, Paul is specifically commanding female silence during the judgment of prophecies, D.A. Carson argues. What happens if a husband prophesies, and his wife is a prophet as well? Is the husband supposed to be subject to his wife during the judgment of prophecies? Are husbands and wives supposed to suspend male headship during corporate worship? Paul’s answer to that question is a clear no.
Paul does not want anything to happen during corporate worship or in any other setting that would upset the headship principle that he so carefully exhorted his readers to obey in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. For that reason, Paul enjoins women to refrain from the judgment of prophecies. He’s not commanding an absolute silence on the part of women. Indeed, he expects them to be praying and prophesying. He does, however, command them to be silent whenever prophecies are being judged. And the women are to do so out of deference to male headship.
Notice that the explanation in verse 34 indicates that headship is indeed the issue: “The women . . . should be in submission . . . ” The Greek word translated as “submission” is the same one from verse 32. A woman cannot be subject to her husband while simultaneously expecting him to submit to her judgments about his prophecy. To avoid this conflict, Paul says that while women may prophesy, they may not participate in the judgment of prophecies. In this case, the judgment of prophecies is tantamount to teaching, which Paul absolutely prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12.
What is the bottom line here? Female prophecy in the Old and New Testaments is no argument in favor of female teaching or preaching. The gifts of prophecy and teaching are distinct in Paul’s writings, and Paul regulates them differently. While Paul allows women to prophesy in the presence of men, he does not allow them to teach men (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34-36). This feature of the New Testament’s teaching about gifts and ministry is lost whenever the gifts of prophecy and teaching are conflated. This is a confusion that careful readers of Scripture should avoid.
The post The big mistake egalitarians make when they interpret Paul appeared first on Southern Equip.
- Courtship and the first few years of marriage
- Tanya’s salvation & baptism
- Teaching at Seminary Wives Institute (SWI)
- Being a pastor’s wife
- Joys and trials of a Christ-centered marriage
- A lifetime of evangelism to Tanya’s father
- Lighting Round!
The post Episode 5: Marriage, family, and ministry with Tanya York appeared first on Southern Equip.
Choosing the Seminary Track was one of the easiest decisions of my life. I originally was discouraged because I felt called to go to seminary but had no earthly idea what to do for my undergrad. Along with that, I did not want to be in school for seven years. When I heard about the seminary track during a visit, I knew God was answering my prayers and providing a way to equip me thoroughly for ministry.How are your classes preparing you to minister the gospel in an always-changing world?
Every class I have taken had Christ as the center focus. Whether it’s New Testament Survey II with Dr. Schreiner at the Seminary or Hebrew or Ancient Near Eastern History with Dr. Howell, they are teaching us that in our ministries Christ is the goal. They provide foundational teaching that firmly establishes their students’ faith on the only constant reality, namely the immutable, triune God we serve.What professors have you developed unique relationships with during your time here?
Two professors in particular have poured into me outside of the classroom. Dr. Howell has allowed me to spend quite a few of his office hours to ask for wisdom, to speak of my doubts, to confess sin, and to talk about everything but Hebrew studies. This has been a huge encouragement and a blessing. The other, Professor Kleiser, taught my philosophy class first semester. I was amazed by his love for God and his selfless service to his family. God has used him as a brother in Christ to point me towards the truth, and even going out of his way to bring me Joella’s Hot Chicken while I was at work one Saturday. These men I look up to are more than professors, they are friends and brothers in Christ.In your experience, what has been the biggest advantage of the Seminary Track?
The biggest advantage of the seminary track is being able to experience both faculties from Boyce and from Southern. I have come to understand that I will not be able to perfectly remember every paradigm, Hebrew box, or theological Latin title, but I will remember the godly men who have given their whole lives to pouring out all they have learned. Both schools are dense with the highest caliber of scholars, and both desire nothing more than to see Christians grow. I’ve enjoyed talking with the professors inside and outside of class.
The post Seminary Track: Equipping the next generation of pastors appeared first on Southern Equip.
If you ask any Boyce student about Dave DeKlavon, they won’t talk about him like he’s just a professor. Of course, he certainly is one — he has a Ph.D. in New Testament and served as the school’s associate dean for academic administration since Boyce became a four-year college in 1998. His academic credentials are without question, having earned his Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Philosophy degrees from Southern Seminary, and as associate dean helping to build the fundamental degree programs at Boyce College from the ground up.
Despite all that, invariably your average Boyce student will talk about him like he’s a father. And in many ways, he is. He is well known for his consistent (and rather dry) humor throughout class, he talks to a different student during each class break, and he opens his home 11 times a year to host each Boyce hall for an evening. It is all an intentional effort to build strong relationships with the students, whether they have a class with him or not.
“We are the unofficial mom and dad over the dorms,” he says about himself and his wife, Jan. “We come to athletic events as much as we can, try to be a part of all of the student life things that we can, and get to know some of the students one-on-one. We help with the student leadership events, so if there are any student leaders we don’t know, we get to know them and try to cultivate a relationship. We just try to do as much as we can.”
DeKlavon’s own life experiences played a major role in making him the kind of professor and administrator he is. Born in Pittsburg, DeKlavon’s parents moved to Florida when he was nine years old. He lived in the Fort Lauderdale area until he started attending Southern Seminary in 1989. During that time, two major events shaped the trajectory of his life.
First, his father died unexpectedly when DeKlavon was 19. As a freshman in college, there was a very real possibility at the time that DeKlavon, who was one of six children, would have to drop out of school. But with help from family and church friends, DeKlavon was able to finish his studies. But the loss of his father deeply changed him.
“It was just a defining moment,” he says now. “To lose your dad at 19, you understand suffering and loss in a whole new way. You understand having to trust God to supply what you need because dad’s not there to help with your tuition. So many valuable life lessons came out of that trial.”
The other significant event was his call to ministry. DeKlavon became a Christian at age nine thanks to a fourth-grade Sunday School class but began to “fall away,” as he puts it, when he entered his teenage years. He didn’t like going to church and tried to “get kicked out of youth group,” he said. But there were two youth group volunteers, a husband and wife, who didn’t give up on DeKlavon. Through their regular teaching of Scripture and caring attitudes, DeKlavon started taking his faith seriously.
As a senior in high school, DeKlavon taught at a youth event during which two people made professions of faith. When he got home that night, he began to feel a strong sense that the Lord was calling him to ministry. After college, DeKlavon and his wife, Jan, moved from Fort Lauderdale to Louisville, Kentucky, so he could attend Southern Seminary. He completed his M.Div. in 1992 and his Ph.D. in 1998.‘Is there some way I can have an impact?’
Right before he finished his doctoral program, DeKlavon was hired in 1997 as associate dean for academic administration, a role he continues today. Back then, Boyce College was known as Boyce Bible School, and even though it had been around since 1974, it only started offering associate of arts degrees in 1994 and carried a minimum permitted student age of 25 so it wouldn’t compete with four-year degree programs. A year after DeKlavon’s hiring, the school transitioned to Boyce College, an accredited four-year school with bachelor’s-level degree programs.
Since then, the enrollment has increased exponentially. In its first year as an accredited institution, Boyce had only 100 students on campus. By 1999, they had 230. “We were the fastest-growing college in America,” DeKlavon said with a smile. Today, more than 800 students are enrolled in bachelor’s- level degree programs and more than 1,000 students are on campus. That growth was incremental, gradual, and at the beginning, a little “hectic,” he said.
“Back then, we didn’t look at this as eventually becoming over 1,000 students 20 years later. The main question was, ‘How do we get through this semester?'” he told Southern Seminary Magazine last September.
But for DeKlavon, each student is not just a number on a spreadsheet. After each new conversation with a student, DeKlavon takes notes about the student and what the two of them talked about. He then emails the student to let them know he enjoyed their conversation. Throughout their career at Boyce, DeKlavon and his wife pray over each student individually from his notes about them. In many ways, DeKlavon personifies the diligent organization of an academic dean mixed with the genuine care of a father. And it happened that way for a reason.
If there are any student leaders we don’t know, we get to know them and try to cultivate a relationship. We just try to do as much as we can.
DeKlavon vividly remembers one specific emotion he had as a teenager visiting a friend’s church for a period of time. One day, he and his sister arrived to his Sunday school class a little early. His sister sat on one side of the room with the girls, and DeKlavon was the first boy to sit on the other side of the room. One by one, the other boys in the class took their seats, each filing into rows in front of and behind his. Not a single boy sat in his row.
“Here I am, the first one there, and yet nobody sat on the same row that I did,” he says now, looking back. “I felt so isolated. I thought, ‘This is just horrible.’ It stuck with me.”
When he started going to college, DeKlavon went out of his way to sit with students who were by themselves, a practice he continues as a college professor.
“These are kids that are students that are in my class, but outside of class, is there some other way I can have an impact on them?” he says, listing the couple from his youth group and good professors he had as a student as inspiration. “They had a huge impact on me. When I became a professor, I realized this is my chance to do that for others.”
The roots of Boyce College date back to 1974, when Southern Seminary launched the Boyce Bible School as a non-degree granting undergraduate program in ministerial training for pastors (primarily professional adults) without college prerequisites such as high school. The school’s first dean was David Q. Byrd, Jr., a prominent Southern Baptist preacher and seminary alumnus with a heart for missions and ministerial training. “Bible is our middle name, and we major on Bible,” said Byrd in describing the mission of the school. Byrd and his successor, Bob Johnson, grew the school into an increasingly prominent presence on the seminary campus. Throughout its history that spanned three decades, the school had graduated hundreds of students.
President R. Albert Mohler Jr. had an ambitious goal to transform the school into a fouryear degree-granting college, in accordance with the original vision of seminary founder James Petigru Boyce. Referencing Boyce’s influential 1856 address “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” Mohler intended for the school to provide first-class instruction to those students entering theological education for the first time, fulfilling Boyce’s desire that the seminary always ensure accessibility to meet the ministerial and missional needs of Southern Baptist churches.
On October 14, 1997, the seminary trustees approved Mohler’s plan to relaunch Boyce Bible School into a fully accredited, four-year Bible college, the first such institution among the six Southern Baptist seminaries. Proclaiming the seminary’s theological direction firmly “anchored” upon “the great central doctrines of the Christian faith,” Mohler championed this decision as proof of the seminary’s growing “forward momentum” in actualizing its vision for Christian higher education. With student enrollment having increased by 20 percent for three consecutive semesters and the securement of unprecedented monetary gifts in the 1996-97 fiscal year, Mohler sensed the perfect opportunity to expand the scope of the seminary’s undergraduate institution.
President R. Albert Mohler Jr. had an ambitious goal to transform the school into a four-year degreegranting college, in accordance with the original vision of the seminary founder.
Renamed as the James P. Boyce College of the Bible, the undergraduate school reopened on August 1, 1998; the name was officially simplified to Boyce College the following year. In recommending his vision for the college at the seminary’s semiannual board meeting, Mohler reiterated his commitment to Boyce’s vision:
“The Boyce College of the Bible is designed to offer a traditional Bible college education of the highest quality to the thousands of Southern Baptists who do not yet hold a college degree, but have been called by God to the ministry of the Gospel. … This is a distinctively Baptist vision for theological education, for it recognizes that our churches and ministers require differing levels of study and education. … Our goal should be to provide programs of the finest quality and highest faithfulness to all those called of God to serve our churches.”
The curriculum at Boyce College consisted of specialized training in theological, biblical, and ministerial studies. Theodore Cabal joined the seminary community as the rechristened college’s first dean, leading other full-time faculty members that included David Adams, Chad Owen Brand, David DeKlavon, Hal Ostrander, Mark Howell, and Charles Draper in the first academic year. Cabal expressed his desire for Boyce students to receive a “first-rate instruction in theological disciplines” and to “understand and respond biblically to a variety of worldviews challenging the church today.”
Regarding the vision for Boyce College, Danny Akin, then senior vice president for academic administration, stated he and Mohler “envisioned a school that would immerse students in the Bible, theology, and worldview issues. We also wanted a school that would challenge them to be Great Commission ministers with a heart and passion for the billions of lost persons around the world.”
Student enrollment growth was exponential, from an inaugural class of less than 100 students to over 200 students (B.A. and B.S. degree programs) two years later; Boyce College recorded 680 bachelor’s degree students enrolled by the 2003-04 academic year, its sixth year of operation.
Student enrollment growth was exponential, from an inaugural class of less than 100 students to over 200 students two years later; Boyce College recorded 680 bachelor’s degree students enrolled by the ’03-’04 academic year.
In 2001, health concerns caused Cabal to resign his position, but he continued to labor in the classroom as a seminary professor. Jerry Johnson became his successor in the role of Boyce College dean in 2002. Having previously served as an SBTS trustee from 1989 to 1998, Johnson played a critical role as a seminary trustee in steering the trajectory of the institution into a theologically conservative direction and the eventual election of Mohler to the presidency. Johnson had previously joined the Boyce College faculty as an instructor of Christian ethics in 2001, prior to the completion of his doctoral dissertation.
Johnson was succeeded in the deanship by Jimmy Scroggins in 2004, who led the college until 2008, when he was called away to a thriving pastorate in Palm Beach County, Florida.
After its initial six years of rapid enrollment growth, Boyce College fell into an eight-year slump of gradual numerical decline. However, the Seminary continued to recruit excellent scholarship and invest in the college.
New Testament scholar Denny Burk led the school as dean from 2008 until 2011, and the young scholar brought added exposure as a commentator on public affairs. Burk’s theological commitments were rooted in the historic Christian faith, as he articulated in his vision for Boyce College: “We are centered on the Word of God, so that we are training people who are doing all different kinds of work in the Kingdom of God who themselves are centered on the Word of God. From the way we think to the way that we do ministry, that is going to be the determining factor of everything we do because the Word is inerrant and infallible and the only rule for faith and life.”
Notable faculty additions to Boyce College under Burk’s oversight were influential young evangelical leaders such as Owen Strachan and Heath Lambert.
Following Burk was Dan Dewitt, who from 2011 until 2016 continued to advance the reputation of Boyce College as a desirable destination for Christian students preparing for increasingly diverse fields of ministry. Dewitt had already developed expertise working for the seminary in both institutional relations and the communications office, and he applied those skills to Boyce College with fruitful results.
In 2014, DeWitt led Boyce College in a complete rebrand of the college’s visual identity to communicate the sense of reliability and tradition at the foundation of the institution’s heritage.
For the past three academic years, Boyce College has seen enrollment totals greater than 1,100 students, and its Preview Days have hosted more than 1,000 prospective students with their families.
The trajectory of Boyce College’s enrollment reversed in the 2012-13 academic year, exceeded all recruiting and enrollment goals, and secured its largest incoming class of new students in the college’s history for the fall of 2014. To accommodate the influx of record enrollment, the seminary invested in a seven-month comprehensive renovation of the historic Mullins Hall complex, which was completed in time to welcome students for the 2014-15 academic year.
A substantial innovation to the pedagogical process came with the advent of the Seminary Track which allows students to earn both a Boyce College Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary in as few as five years.
On the importance of the innovation of this new program, DeWitt said in an interview to Southern Seminary Magazine:
“Historically, Southern Baptists have placed the primary focus for ministry education at the graduate level … The result in Southern Baptist life, has been that most seminary-bound college students don’t give much consideration to undergraduate ministry studies. We wanted to address this in a way that rewards students who graduate from Boyce College and better streamlines their overall academic career … Of course, this means that a student could receive a master of divinity degree when they’re only 22 years old. What then? … I’ve encouraged students to consider following their graduation with the International Mission Board’s journeyman program, a church internship or an apprenticeship with a pastor. And for some students who desire further education, I encourage them to buckle in and enter a doctorate program.”
The first students to complete the Seminary Track program graduated with the class of 2016.
Further advancements in streamlining the educational process for students was the advent of the dual enrollment program, which allowed high school students the opportunity to earn up to 21 Boyce College credit hours, offering significant financial savings and minimizing the duplication of courses. Under Dewitt’s tenure, Boyce College also secured the services of highly credentialed young scholars, such as Oxford University graduate Jonathan Arnold.
Matthew Hall became the dean of Boyce College in 2016, and he has established a culture that emphasizes excellence in Christian scholarship. Notable accomplishments under Hall’s administration have been the launch of the honors program in August,2016 and the publication of the Augustine Collegiate Review in June 2017 (the seminary’s first officially-sanctioned, student-edited research journal since 2008), both under the faculty supervision of Jonathan Arnold. Remarking upon the launch of the journal, Hall stated, “It’s one thing to think clearly. It’s another thing entirely to develop the skill to transfer thought to a coherent paragraph. … [the Augustine Collegiate Review provides] students with an opportunity to be directly engaged with some of the most pressing questions and issues of our day.”
In his editorial to the journal’s inaugural issue, Arnold wrote:
“The academic publishing process can be difficult and even disheartening as authors submit the product of their hard work only to have editors and expert reviewers zero in on the minutest details. … Sometimes the critique proved positive and led either to publication or at least to more constructive work on the article. At other times, the critique left a surprising wound in the mind of the author. But in all of those cases, the students began to understand the invaluable (and seemingly unending) process of researching, writing, editing, and receiving critique on academic work.”
For the past three academic years, Boyce College has seen enrollment totals greater than 1,100 students, and its Preview Days have hosted thousands of prospective students with their families. The college has also launched several new academic programs, including the politics, philosophy, and economics major and the classical education minor. Now at completion of its 20th academic year, Boyce College continues to be a leader in theological education and ministerial training.
In James Petigru Boyce’s 1856 address, he famously said, “The day will yet come, perhaps has already come, when the churches will rise in their strength and demand that our theological institutions make educational provisions for the mass of their ministry.” In the course of the last 20 years, those demands have been answered.
Adam Winters is the archivist for the James P. Boyce Centennial Library at Southern Seminary. He earned a Ph.D. a American church history from the seminary in 2016.
I’ve been teaching at Boyce College since 2008.What’s your favorite course to teach? Why?
I can hardly believe that I get to do what I do and that I get to do it at Boyce College. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. To make a living at teaching the Bible is a tremendous privilege and stewardship. To be at Boyce College is also a unique privilege. We teach from a confessional framework, which gives great freedom and accountability as we pass on the faith to these students.
My calling and passion is to teach the scripture. So I love every single class that allows me to do that. Having said that, I really do enjoy teaching hermeneutics, which is the study of how to interpret scripture. We are not born good readers. We have to learn, and hermeneutics helps students to see what they often don’t otherwise see when they are reading. The goal of reading is not to impose our own ideas and agendas onto the text. The goal of reading is to uncover what the author is trying to communicate. Until readers grasp that basic point, they are not going to be able to understand what they are reading as they should. And of course, they won’t be able to understand the Bible— which is the one book we all need to hear from. Until we listen to what the biblical authors are communicating, we will not be able to realize the Bible’s authority in our own lives.Is there a concept or theme across the courses you teach that you want students to take away?
I love it when students in hermeneutics begin thinking about concepts and ideas that they have never considered before. They begin to examine their assumptions about what meaning is and what the goal of interpretation is. They become better readers and subsequently better students of God’s Word. Similarly, it is a thrill to see students get excited about the Old Testament. That usually happens when they begin to see the big picture and how each of the books is actually a part of a much larger canonical story. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens.You spend a fair amount of time blogging and commenting on public affairs. How does that fit with your work as a professor?
Writing on my blog and other online outlets is a great way to show how God’s revelation impacts the nitty gritty details of our lives. Blog writing is informal writing, but it is nevertheless a really good exercise for writers. Writers write. And a blog can become a daily way to hone your skills. Also, blogs often become first drafts of work that eventually gets published in books or journals. I have always been grateful for the way blogging has helped me with writing — to say things succinctly and clearly so that ordinary readers can understand.Other than the Bible, what’s the book you reread most?
I read The Valley of Vision daily. It is a prayerbook that I constantly use in my devotional life. Books like this one are helpful when you feel like you don’t have the words to pray. They direct your thoughts and your devotion down well-worn, godly paths of prayer. If you draw on this wisdom long enough, these kinds of prayers will become your own.