Students engage with local pastors at West Tennessee Pastors Conference meeting

George Guthrie addresses the West Tennessee Pastors Conference during the panel discussion.

Multiple generations of current and future pastors were represented in the Carl Grant Events Center Tuesday morning for the monthly meeting of the West Tennessee Pastors Conference.

Not only did the meeting of area pastors feature a panel discussion from the Union University School of Theology and Missions, but a group of students from Ray Van Neste’s pastoral ministry class observed the proceedings, filling the room with those aspiring to minister to churches along with those active in leading area congregations.

Justin Wainscott, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson and current president of the conference, opened the meeting with the election of officers for the upcoming year. Lee Tankersley, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson, was elected president, while Grant Gaines, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, also in Jackson, was elected vice president.

Wainscott then introduced the panel for the day, made up of Union faculty members, who fielded questions pertaining to the vocational challenges facing pastors and Union’s role in aiding those same pastors.

Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions, laid out the broader vision of the school and said that it is “parachurch, in the sense of coming alongside the Church, training future and current ministers to love the Church and to love lost people,” Finn said. “We want to hear from you what we ought to do and even what we ought not be doing.”

George Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible & Senior Fellow at the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies, spoke briefly on fragmentation in the church.

“It is not a given that students will be exposed to the whole of scripture,” Guthrie said. “We need students who have been strategically trained to engage with scripture.”

Paul Jackson, professor of biblical studies, exhorted the audience to encourage serious Bible study that involves wrestling with the text in its original Greek and Hebrew forms.

“If you commit yourself to this type of study, you will never, ever dry up,” Jackson said.

Ernest Easley, professor of evangelism, laid out the school’s vision for the R.G. Lee Center at the university, saying he hopes to equip pastors, staff members and leadership in churches in the area of ministry.

“We want students walking out of here not just as scholars but as soul-winners,” Easley said.

Todd Brady, assistant professor of ministry and vice president for university ministries, shared book recommendations with pastors.

“In the same way that the way to true peace is to pursue God, the way to get good at preaching is primarily to focus on God and to read the scriptures,” Brady said.

Van Neste, professor of biblical studies and director of the Ryan Center, closed the panel by elaborating on the research library for students, professors and the broader community that provides tools for biblical engagement.

Van Neste also said he is putting together a 500th anniversary commemoration of the Reformation from May 9 to 11 of 2017 at Union. Van Neste said the conference, incorporating scholars from all different disciplines, is important to the life of the local Church.

“When we look back carefully, we are prepared to look forward clearly,” Van Neste said.