Your life plan might be a good one… but even then, sometimes God has something else planned that you haven’t even considered.
From the age of twelve, James knew exactly what path he wanted to take in life.
He grew up in church and naturally developed a love for the gospel and ministry work at that young age. More specifically, he dreamed of becoming a traveling evangelist.
With this goal in mind, James began his freshman year at TBC in 2009. He joined a southern gospel quartet (Higher Calling), served in the local church, and dove right into his theology training.
But then, unexpectedly, his dream changed.
This happened not because he came to a crisis point in his life; not because his original plan was a bad one; not because he made bad choices along the way. It was actually the result of several very good things: developing an understanding of his natural strengths, listening and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and – of all things – Greek class.
This is how James puts it:
“I was called to ministry when I was 12, and really believed I would be an evangelist. About a year and half in to TBC I knew that wasn’t it. I felt the impact that I would make was limited and not what God had designed me to do.”
It was during missions conference that year that James began envisioning something much bigger than his original goals.
“I felt the sense that I really wanted to do something with my life that was bigger than me.”
“That’s the only way I know how to explain it. I wanted it to be something that could only be explained by God – not by me. God started putting all of these different passions in my heart. I started to develop a passion for missions, for lay people, for churches. I developed a passion for ministers who needed theological training but just didn’t have good access to it, and for deepening theological foundations in the church. Some of this was a result of my Greek class (shoutout to Dr. Thompson and Dr. Cash!). I liked Greek, was good at it, and discovered that I liked that sort of work.”
In a way James felt like he was back at square one, not knowing what to do with his life.
The one thing he did know was that in order to accomplish the things God was putting on his heart he would need to continue his education.
And continue it he did! James graduated from TBC in 2012 and went on to earn his Master of Divinity from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently in the dissertation phase of his Ph.D. in New Testament from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He originally planned to earn his Ph.D. at Mid-America, but he says that changed too.
“God started to unsettle me. I was enjoying everything; my job, my church, seminary – seriously everything! But I knew I just wasn’t supposed to stay.”
His transition to Southwestern also provided the opportunity for him to become the college and young adult pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas.
James is a firm believer in working in a local church while studying for ministry. He did that during his undergrad and master’s work and wanted to do the same during his Ph.D.
“I will say this to any students at TBC: if you’re wanting to do masters work in a ministry field, you NEED to do your best to work in a church simultaneously. That way you can take academia but also apply it to where people actually live. A lot of things you study in seminary – if you try to just take that to people in the church and don’t know how to apply what you’re learning, it won’t work.”
James has been at Hillcrest for over five years now and is still loving the role into which God has placed him.
The majority of college students at Hillcrest are at Dallas Baptist University, so he has the unique experience of leading a demographic that share similar experiences to his own.
“I can relate to some of the challenges and pit-falls that they face on a Christian campus so that perspective has been helpful.”
Like many of us, when infamous 2020 started to show its true colors, James saw it as an opportunity to step back and re-group.
For James, the insanity began when he woke up to panicked texts about the travel ban… while he was on a mission trip in Romania with the college ministry.
At the time, he says he was already sensing the need to re-focus both the college and young adult ministry.
“I knew in my mind and heart that our college ministry was stagnated. I don’t know if we were complacent or just not moving forward. We were at the tipping point where if something didn’t change, the health of our ministry would be at risk; we had lost focus. So, I took that time to reassess who were as a ministry.”
James and the leadership team redefined their purpose and goals, asking some difficult questions along the way. This past year they shifted to intentional disciple-making and have already begun to see a change.
“The spiritual health of our ministry has thrived as a result.”
“The numbers are back and forth due to circumstances, but the spiritual health is on track. Equipping them to be disciple-makers is the goal no matter where they go next. The true measure of success is what happens after they leave here, not so much what happens while they’re here.”
His passion for solid biblical thinking and training others inspired James and his friend, Drey Clark, to start a podcast.
Called “Good Theology Thursday”, they host lively conversations on a wide variety of theological concepts.
“We have been going for about 2 years and discuss topics that are not being discussed enough or in the right way in the church. Things such as basic theology topics, culture issues, exegetical issues. A favorite topic has been ‘Questionable Christian Phrases’. Sometimes we do stuff in response to things people ask about, like Bible versions for example. We aren’t looking to become mega-podcasters, but just to equip people in our own circles. To help them read scripture properly and learn how to think through things biblically and have good conversations.”
You can find the Good Theology Thursday podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/good-theological-thursday/id1457356932.
James wrote a blog article on discipleship for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. You can find the blog article here: https://sbtexas.com/creation-and-the-biblical-vision-for-disciple-making/
Learn More about Hillcrest Baptist Church here: https://www.hillcrestbc.com/
James is married to his beautiful wife, Abby, and they have a young son, Owen.
For information on our Pastoral Theology program, visit our academics page here: https://tbc.edu/programs/