The effect of the training and education received at Southern Evangelical Seminary has greatly impacted our 114-year-old church in Pineville, North Carolina, known as GraceLife Church of Pineville. The core values, biblical training, and apologetic emphasis at SES goes hand-in-hand with our own mission of making disciples who make disciples. One of the positive impacts of this partnership is revealed in the development of our discipleship class model on Sunday mornings (traditionally called the “Sunday School” hour).
We began to be increasingly frustrated with the curriculum available to churches that highlighted fringe denominational methods and lacked the accuracy, theological integrity, and depth that we believed we needed in our church to build a solid biblical foundation and develop disciples. Therefore, in March 2007, we intentionally moved away from a purchased curriculum series to writing our own weekly studies, complete with a student and teacher guide.
At the same time, GraceLife began partnering with SES through relationships with professors such as Dr. Barry Leventhal and Dr. Norman Geisler, and two of our pastors began pursuing higher levels of degrees at SES. Through the years, SES students who attended our church often helped in weekly curriculum writing.
Through these lessons, we emphasized basic apologetic subjects, important theological doctrines, and practical teachings specific to our church. Apologetic lessons included the Problem of Evil, Creation and Evolution, the Minimal Facts Method, Apologetic Methods, Proof of the Resurrection of Christ, Tolerance, and many more.
After eight years of writing over 350 individual lessons (with at least 25% of them apologetic in nature), we felt we had developed leaders equipped to develop their own subjects and teach them without the same ‘hands on’ help of a full teacher guide. Therefore, in 2015, we began to offer Discipleship Classes led by those in our church that are equipped to teach. Our teachers develop and provide a syllabus, class goals, and teach in 6-13 week class sessions. Our active discipleship class teachers currently include five SES graduates or current students. Fellow SES alum Michael Stewart (our Minister of Education) and I work together in developing teachers and topics.
Adults at GraceLife sign up for a class each session based upon subject preference rather than age or other demographic categories. Some sample class titles from past sessions led by SES students and graduates include Resurrection Histories & Mysteries; Bible Study Methods; the Pursuit of God; Old and New Testament Survey; God with Us; Cults, Christians, or Crazies; and various books of the Bible. These teaching-focused and topic-driven classes have provided for growth in the knowledge of Christ as well as important fellowship opportunities that are often missed when classes are demographically organized.
When combined with our other methods of teaching, training, and discipleship, the impact of the education received at SES expands beyond our Sunday morning Discipleship Classes and into our children and youth ministries. Its impact is revealed in our Wednesday evening activities with the creation of the apologetically focused In Question series. Its impact upon special events includes the hosting of our own one-day apologetic conference with guest speakers that included SES professors Dr. Norman Geisler, Dr. Barry Leventhal, and Dr. Richard Howe. Through various international mission trips, our SES graduates from GraceLife Church have taught pastors in India, Haiti, and throughout Europe.
Whether you join GraceLife on a Sunday morning, a Wednesday evening, or a weekend event, or check out our GraceLife Pineville app, the impact of the education and training we have and continue to receive from SES is one that has transformed our teaching and is impacting our congregation and beyond for the cause of Christ.
Rodney Cripps, May 2015 Doctor of Ministry graduate of Southern Evangelical Seminary, serves as the Lead Pastor of GraceLife Church of Pineville in Pineville, NC. His passion is to make disciples who make disciples combined with his personal values of sharing a clear gospel message through expository teaching. GraceLife Church of Pineville has encouraged their members to attend SES and to date has six graduates and seven additional students having attended or attending SES.
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