What Happens in Greenville…

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This post is not for all readers, just for those who have attended Christian universities in Greenville, South Carolina. Of which there are two. And kind of three. And there are seminaries there. All of which helps make my point.

Soapbox 1

Greenville, South Carolina, where I spent 18 years, is a good place to be for conservative Christians—but not if they’re supposed to leave. I’m no extremist, I don’t think they should all make the reverse hajj I made last year. I’m glad I stayed there as long as I did, and I believe I did what was right. I also have family there who are staying, and who appear to me to be following the Lord’s plan for their lives. There are many Christian institutions there which need workers, from churches to those universities and seminaries to mission boards and adoption agencies.

But without blaming any individuals—only God knows—I can’t help but think more of my fellow Christian college graduates should leave that beautiful little gem of a city and scatter out to the churches around the country (or the world?) which would so highly value their gifts and training.

A friend recently wrote to me:

When I was asked to teach adult Sunday school at [large Baptist Church in Greenville in the BJU orbit], that was a real tipping point for me. I remember looking out each Sunday and thinking there’s at least two dozen men here in this little class who could do just as good of a job (and probably better) as I could hope to do.

It made me think of those four lepers feasting in the abandoned Aramean camp and squirreling loads of stuff away for themselves while the whole impoverished and dying city languished in their fear of a defeated foe and their ignorance concerning what God had done for them.

Their words are like a burr that gnawed on me as we made plans to leave:

We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.

While we weren’t looking or even thinking that it would take [so long] to find employment again, the Lord has really used this in our lives. God has brought us to a much more open-handed posture before him, and we’ve marveled how certain evangelistic friendships seem to have been crafted right out of the shared experiences of unemployment and the struggles that accompany that experience.

I have a great deal of respect for this guy. He left Greenville for a needy place with a family and no job prospects to speak of (just his good training to help him). He finally got a job after many months, and both before and after getting work he has given himself to help the pastor of a small- to medium-size church. Some of his friends should probably be there with him.

Soapbox 2

All the same, if you’re a freshman at a Christian college in Greenville and you somehow stumbled across this blog post, stay where you are. And don’t go help a small church in the area (I’m sorry, but it’s my soapbox and I get to say what I wanna). Go get the best preaching you can find in the church with the most faith, hope, and love. Don’t leave Greenville until you’ve squeezed out of it all the wisdom and experience and teaching and training you can get. You’re there to give, yes, and you should do so, but you’re mainly there to get. God gave Moses 80 years of “training” before putting him into ministry. You can handle four or five more before leaving Mecca. Get as much schooling as you can. I don’t regret a moment I spent in the classroom.

The needs of the world feel so great, and they are great. They may tug you away before your training is complete. Just do a little math: every year of additional training you get should be multiplied by the number of years it will be used.

And then go wring yourself out a little bit for those who haven’t enjoyed your privileges. Our church would probably take you.

What Happens in Greenville, Make it Leave Greenville.™

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Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

15 thoughts on “What Happens in Greenville…”

  1. I struggled for years about staying in Greenville and about staying at BJU. Several years ago, after ministering for 35 years there, I was laid off from BJU and the some of the old struggle has come back. I call it a struggle but really it’s a questioning as to what the Lord has in mind. Where do I minister next? Do I stay in Greenville? What is your plan Lord? I can’t say the struggle is over, but I am ministering at NGU now, the other Christian university in the area. How long I stay is up to the Lord. I am willing to go elsewhere, wherever, whenever He chooses.

  2. Well, to offer my 2c, I agree with the first part, but I think the vast majority of ministry is done in small churches. I’d advise the young men to get out of Greenville every chance they get. Do *actual* ministry, not social service good works around town, but get involved in small churches they can afford to get to and learn how to minister to people on a regular basis. My best training was in the small churches. It was more comfortable in the Greenville churches, and sometimes you can actually be involved in hands on ministry as a student among them, but it is rare, especially now that bus ministries are a thing of the past.

  3. Anybody looking for a place to plant a church? Please consider the Bowie/Crofton area of Maryland, There’s a great need here in this multi-cultural, multi-racial area.

  4. We were there 12-13 years after graduation, but not on purpose. Whenever my husband sent resumes out, the companies in Greenville were the only ones to respond. Just about the time we started thinking, OK, maybe God wants us here to provide continuity in our church since so many were getting training and leaving…then He moved us to GA. 🙂 We were back in SC (not Greenville) for a while and are now in TN. My husband is from out West, and, yes, many times we’ve wished grads would spread further out. There’s a lot to love about Greenville even aside from the universities and often I’ve wished we could retire there. I so agree about soaking up the best preaching you can while there.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree! I remember hearing that one of the Dr. Bobs had recommended we do two years of service after graduation, so I came to Mexico. And there’s plenty of need here. I think most small-church pastors in Mexico also have to work a couple jobs to support a family, so they need any help they can get with writing materials (tracts, discipleship classes, SS material, plays, etc.), visiting church families, teaching/playing music, and evangelism.

  6. As Dave mentions, this is helpful for people with permanent Greenville residences too. The most important part for me I could word this way:

    What happens in the bubble needs to leave the bubble.

    As I understand you, this is important whether your bubble is a seminary, a Christian university, or your family.

  7. I do appreciate that you want to inspire Christians to service, and there are most likely more than a few Christian college graduates in Greenville who would serve well elsewhere. The issue may not only be that there a too many well trained Christians living in Greenville, but perhaps there are too many well trained Christians living in Greenville not reaching far enough into the community they are presently a part of. I agree, a Sunday School class made up of highly educated Bible school graduates may be an indicator it’s time to look elsewhere to minister – but we need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently look over the needy areas of the Upstate at the same time. There are ministries in our community right who could use additional help in reaching neighborhoods and serving the body of the Christ. Additionally, the need for more Gospel laborers here will only continue to increase as our population grows (http://greenvilleforward.com/indicators/greenvilles-population-continues-grow/).

    You may also want to reconsider the the way you express your second soapbox. It appears as though you are implying the good preaching cannot come from small churches in the Greenville area. You encourage college freshmen not to get involved in a small church and then say “Go get the best preaching you can find…” which seems to say to me you can’t find good preaching at a small church. As a member of a small church in Greenville, where college students can hear good preaching and have an opportunity to serve, I find that to be a bit troublesome.

    Some caution should also be used when using phrases like “…you are mainly there to get” in the context of attending a church. I am all for Christians getting trained in the Word, but this post seems to be essentially promoting a consumerism mentality of church among young people. Is a primary goal of the local church to use its resources on a large chunk of temporary attenders who are “mainly there to get” but do not have a focus on contributing to the mission of the church?

  8. There is a huge need for highly trained Christian workers and pastors in the Northeast. We have no good schools here, and the graduates from all the good schools seem to prefer the culture or the climate of the Bible Belt. Consequently, our churches have shallow, devotional preaching rather than sound exposition. Bible college and seminary graduates need to see the Northeast as a true mission field and be willing to sacrifice what’s comfortable to reach this area.

  9. Many people on Facebook have said the same thing: “Come where we are! We need you!”

    For a long time, I was able to do more for Christ’s kingdom (I think) by staying in Greenville and working together with multiple great institutions that are there. For some work—like the really great Christian textbook publisher I worked for in Greenville, BJU Press—you need a concentration of gifted Christian individuals that you’re just not going to get in Poughkeepsie. So again, I’m not telling everyone to leave.

  10. Thanks for the post, Mark. You’ve echoed thoughts I had back when we were both grads living in Reveal Hall. I took my first trip to Utah in 2000. I was greatly impressed by the spiritual need. Two years later while working on my M.Div. at BJ the Lord began to confirm this is where He wanted me. The seminary training I was privileged to get has proved invaluable in ministering in this dark part of the country. So this is my plug to invite people to take a survey/missions trip to see the needs here. We are a small church in the county with the highest percentage of Mormons anywhere in the U.S. We’ve been praying since we’ve been here for a tent-making individual/couple to come and labor alongside us long term. Maybe we should all pray that God will do a diaspora in Greenville (see Acts 8) as small churches like ours be delighted to land some trained laborers…

  11. It’s wonderful to hear from you, Chris. I pray someone will join you. I have another friend in desperate need of a couple to help—and he may be getting one or two.

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