You’ll find Todd Lowery, Nathan Parker, and Jared Bryant all ministering in Athens, Georgia. All three men pastor PCA churches in the heart of Bulldog country. Georgia natives, these three pastors were some of the first MDiv students to emerge from Reformed Theological Seminary’s Atlanta campus in 2009 and 2010. Although their paths diverged to Louisiana, England, and elsewhere after seminary, they now find themselves back in Georgia, knit together by local ministry and their years together at RTS Atlanta.
How did you hear about RTS Atlanta?
Todd Lowery (TL): I was involved in a PCA church for two decades prior to seminary, but not in a pastoral role. But I felt called to ministry and I was familiar with a lot of pastors in the Atlanta area and was able to get a job there at a church while I was going to RTS Atlanta because it was close by. I was a little older than your typical student. But Nathan, Jared, and I became friends. That’s the cool part of this story for us—we all graduated around the same time (Jared was a year behind), then we all ended up in Athens after 10–15 years.
Nathan Parker (NP): I had in my mind that I was going to go to a different seminary, a Reformed seminary out of state. I came home and thought, “I don’t want to go there at all.” There was nothing horrible about it, but I was not feeling it at all. Then I considered RTS Atlanta. It seemed to make sense. My life [was] already here, [I was] already working at a church. Why not do both at the same time?
Jared Bryant (JB): Looking at the campuses and which was a best fit for my needs at the time, I saw the value of RTS in general and how it enabled me to pursue a good education while at the same time getting ongoing ministry experience.
What factors led you to select RTS Atlanta for your theological education and training?
TL: I was a dad. I had three kids and a wife, and I was a little older than your typical student. I didn’t want to move them to Philadelphia or California. It was a radical move on my family’s part to start over—to leave my job and begin seminary at 37 years old. It was easy because of how the campus is set up to be able to have a job and take seminary classes with some really good professors.
NP: I looked around at the first seminary I visited, and I saw me everywhere: an early to middle 20s white male, fresh out of college. RTS Atlanta wasn’t homogeneous. I loved that almost all my classmates were currently in ministry or already had a lot of years of ministry experience under their belts.
JB: It was super helpful to have the weekend offerings, weeknights—the flexibility. It was a smaller campus. The staff and faculty are invested and flexible. Atlanta is a very diverse large city, a significant urban context, and I think that flavors Atlanta’s campus.
How is this campus positioned to prepare pastors, church leaders, missionaries, and campus ministers?
TL: I thought it was very helpful to be able to commute to the campus, instead of just everyone moving across the country to go to seminary. Nathan was from the Atlanta area, Jared was coming in from Athens, I came from Macon, and there were a lot of guys like that. You think of a typical seminary where everybody’s living around each other and developing camaraderie and fellowship in a typical setting, but we actually did that while we ministered together at Smyrna Presbyterian while we were in seminary. It was a big church, and we were coming in and out, spending time together not only in classes but while we were ministering together.
NP: The maturity of the students seemed different than some of the other seminaries. The median age [at other seminaries] was 23–24, while median age at RTS Atlanta was late 20s, if not early 30s. There is an intangible benefit to having lived a little more life. Students would contribute to discussions with their own stories about challenges and experiences in their own ministries. You’re not going to get that from fresh college graduates.
JB: RTS Atlanta is in the heart of a city, and that flavors everything. There has to be a sensitivity to that. I think of Bill Davis’s classes, especially the engagement between church and culture. You see that playing out. There’s a give and take between what the professors are teaching and the student body. The professors are aware that students are operating under a variety of contexts. That was valuable.
How do you think what you learned at RTS impacts your current ministry?
TL: We have three interns, and right now two of them are taking a class at the Atlanta campus. You can have a life in the church—working in the church, in practical ministry—and then go to class, read your books, and immerse yourself in church ministry while you’re in seminary. It’s not just head knowledge for four years. We’re asking those guys to come back and use that knowledge in the church. It works.
NP: The nuggets of wisdom you can glean from others inform your ministry. Sometimes it’s something you’re very conscious of and you kind of tuck it away. And other times that influence is subconscious. Being around others who have that boots-on-the-ground ministry experience—I think I can trust that wisdom. A lot of these lessons we learn are painful and hard-earned, and those things have impacted me significantly.
JB: The church is diverse. It’s not just 25-year-old guys who want to talk theology. At RTS Atlanta, I didn’t feel I was in a theological bubble with people who looked just like me and were asking the same questions and were in the same ministry contexts.
What class or professor influenced you most?
TL: We had Derek Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson—some bigger names who were great—but teachers who you don’t necessarily know about, like [Jonathan] Stuckert and [Bill] Barcley, are good guys who care about their students and care about what they teach. Those are the guys that stood out to me.
“I didn’t feel like I was in a theological bubble with people who looked just like me and were asking the same questions.”
Jared BryantNP: That’s not a fair question. Kenneth Stewart really mentored me, and he is still a good friend. I’ll always remember Jonathan Stuckert telling the class that he was praying for us every day. Bruce Lowe can teach just about anything, but what I remember most is he and his wife Rachel inviting me and some classmates for dinner, and we sat in their living room and talked until 2 o’clock in the morning.
JB: Bill Davis taught me so much about the church’s relationship to the world. He was able to provide a framework for understanding how we got to where we are and the people we’re trying to serve. And then Bruce Lowe’s pastoral heart and his love for Jesus—he takes time, sharing his own journey and his pastoral heart. They [all] brought important pieces to my ministry.
How do you think God is using this campus to build the kingdom?
TL: They’re providing an opportunity for people at different stages of life and preparing individuals in the church to minister well. Whether it’s the man or woman who just finished being an RUF intern, the 30-year-old dad, or the guy that works at Chick-Fil-A who wants to see what the Lord might be calling him to.
NP: They’re just being faithful and showing the nature of Christ’s kingdom—the truth of the gospel spreading subtly and slowly through men and women as they’re change agents in the world.
JB: It has been neat to see the developments in the campus and faculty. The Center for the Study of the Bible and Ethnicity was a huge addition that flavors all of RTS. I can see very plainly its influence here in Athens—three senior pastors who have been heavily shaped by RTS Atlanta and are now ministering and leading and shepherding here.
Mary Davis is a Canadian transplant to the South. Wife and mother by day, she moonlights as a freelance writer and editor.