I was never smart enough to get a doctorate. At least that is what I thought. When I finished my Masters degree in Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I truly believed I was done. One of my uncles encouraged me never to be educated beyond my intelligence, and finishing a masters degree was education beyond my intelligence.
Once a year I try to get away to learn and grow at a pastor’s conference. In March of 2016, I attended the Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. The years preceding the conference I had attended conferences on leadership, but in 2016, I was looking for a theology reboot. I was excited about listening to Albert Mohler, R.C. Sproul, and many of the other theologians who I knew would challenge me to think.
The moment of the conference for me was when Dr. Mohler spoke. During his lecture my wife, Jenn Faulk, leaned over, threw an elbow into my side, and said, “You should go to Southern and get your doctorate” I rolled my eyes. I had already been educated beyond my intelligence.
We went to dinner that evening at Uno Pizzeria. Jenn was relentless. She would not let me wiggle my way out of this challenge. I knew coming into the conference that I needed something beyond the typical flash and lights pastor’s conference. I just didn’t know what. Truthfully, school has always been a struggle, and I did not believe I was up to the challenge of doctoral work.
Over dinner we began to look at the different Baptist seminaries. Living in Houston at the time, just minutes from Hobby Airport, all of the seminaries were just a short flight away. We looked at Southwestern, my alma mater, Southeastern, New Orleans, and Southern.
I knew without really contemplating which seminary I really wanted to go to: THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have an immense amount of respect for Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the institution and a hero in Southern Baptist history. Under Dr. Mohler, SBTS moved from the most theologically liberal Baptist seminary to the most conservative.
At Uno’s that night, Jenn and I began to look over the different concentrations SBTS offered: preaching, leadership, etc. One concentration jumped off the page at me – church revitalization. As a pastor, I had served in several plateaued and declining churches. I had gone to the flashy conferences where the book writers got up and spoke. I found them empty of real content. What I wanted was a road map for genuinely leading an established church to better health. Church revitalization resounded with me.
It was decided over a deep dish pepperoni pizza, that my next step was to apply and attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a doctoral degree focusing on church revitalization.
As I sit at my desk today having completed my defense and submission for academic publishing, I am thankful for the unexpected challenge the Ligonier’s conference placed in front of me. I am even more thankful for a helpmate who saw the potential I dismissed and challenged me to greater learning. I am a better pastor, and FBC Vidalia is a better church because of a decision made over deep dish pepperoni pizza.