I originally began my undergrad work a small Bible college in upstate New York. However, I had a crisis of faith in my second year and dropped out. It took three years, but God brought me back to his Church through small groups ministry. During my undergrad at Belhaven University, I found joy in the fact that I could see God working in me as I learned from the faculty at Belhaven. After graduating, I felt called to pursue ministry, but I had no idea what that ministry would look like. While I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do in my ministry, I knew God would bring me through and that RTS was going to be the place where he did that.
I had gone to RTS thinking that I would focus on philosophy. I was enrolled in the general track and had planned to pour all my electives into Philosophy types of classes. However, Dr. Miles van Pelt teaches Hebrew in a way that makes you want to learn it. After two weeks in summer Hebrew, though I did not know how to parse a verb yet, I knew that I wanted to study Hebrew. I changed my focus to biblical languages/exegesis and never looked back. The way RTS Jackson promotes the languages gave me even greater excitement to study the Bible. Translations are good, but we have the words that God inspired, the original words! How can we do anything but read God’s words?
Because I was focusing so much on the languages, I had the honor to work for Dr. Miles van Pelt and Dr. Guy Waters. In terms of the practical benefits of seminary, nothing can compare to the relationships that students form with the professors. The faculty at RTS is amazing. Each professor has impacted me greatly. Dr. Bruce Baugus taught me what it meant to have a pastor’s heart even when we are discussing theology. Dr. Charlie Wingard taught me how to preach in a way that flows out of a care for the people. Dr. Ben Gladd taught me how to be excited and help others become excited about studying God’s word. Dr. Michael McKelvey taught me to appreciate the opinions of others. He also taught me a great deal about humility and compassion. Dr. Miles van Pelt gave me my passion for languages. It is because of him that I found my calling. I was working as his TA for summer Greek when I met a pastor from Quebec, Matt Caron. My wife and I had committed to opening our home to all the international students that summer. Matt shared with me the great need for pastors, teachers, and leaders in Quebec. By the end of the summer, I knew God had given me a passion for languages, not so that I could sit in a room and read old books (a personal joy), but so that I could serve God’s church. Even Hebrew and Greek are gifts for the church.
No one had a greater impact on me than Dr. Guy Waters. The privilege of working for Dr. Waters and seeing how he lived as a humble Christian man shaped my seminary experience. Dr. Waters challenged me in several ways. First, I remember several occasions when I would go to him with a question and he would say, “That is a good question. Go read this article and tell me what you think.” Dr. Waters challenged his students to think and grow for themselves. It was never a way to get rid of a student; he meant it when he said he wanted you to come back after and talk with him. He really wanted us to share what we were thinking with him. Second, Dr. Waters challenged us to think deeply about the Bible. I remember one time I disagreed with him over who the man was in Romans 7. Dr. Waters and I sat in his office for 30 mins and he let me defend my position. He then explained his own position in a way that not only convinced me, but was winsome and humble. Finally, Dr. Waters, and all the faculty at RTS, cared about me personally. I remember one weekend when I was out of town and we lost power at our home. Dr. Waters and his wife invited my wife and children over to their home so they could have dinner.
Sometimes people say that seminary only fills heads. They believe that you cannot really learn how to be a pastor, how to love people, in seminary. While there is a great deal that we need to learn from being in the church and living our lives with people, it is not true that seminary only filled my head. I learned the most important lessons by talking with the faculty who demonstrated true pastoral love for me. Seminary is not just about the books, it is about the people who are teaching you those books. Before seminary, I loved God’s word and God’s people, but it was a vague love. I would not be able to participate in the ministry I am now doing if RTS had not taught me what it meant to love God’s word and his people and how a pastor does that.