Throughout the fall semester, Southwestern Seminary students gave Wedgwood Baptist Church a gift of lasting value—the gift of their ministry skills—bringing a new focus to Wedgwood’s Sunday night services.

“A lot of churches are declining in attendance during the Sunday night service, and many are simply doing away with these services altogether,” says Brandon Kiesling, assistant professor of evangelism. Earlier this year, he contacted Wedgwood senior pastor Dale Braswell about the possibility of partnering with Southwestern to conduct Sunday night services at Wedgwood.  

“Wedgwood wanted to continue the Sunday night service but also wanted to give it a specific purpose that tied in with the overall mission of the church,” Kiesling says. “I wanted to see if we could give opportunities to Southwestern students.” 

Wedgwood church leaders welcomed the idea. “We renamed our Sunday evening services ‘Equip’ to reflect this dual purpose of the Sunday night gatherings,” Braswell says.

“For many churches, Sunday night services have gone the way of flip phones and CDs,” Braswell continues. “At Wedgwood, we too were facing the question of whether or not we should continue this particular aspect of our ministry. When the idea was presented to have Southwestern students lead in the worship and preaching, our leadership sensed this would allow us to meet two key desires: one, the continued equipping and discipleship of our church members; and two, the equipping and training of future pastors and worship leaders.”

“Equip” was launched in September 2017. To generate interest, several Southwestern professors were incorporated into the first service—specifically, preaching professor Barry McCarty and dean of the School of Church Music Leo Day. (The rest of the semester, Kiesling alternated professors and students for the preachers.) 

“They were looking for a leader, and we were looking for a place to lead,” Day says of the partnership. Wedgwood is known as an energetic congregation that sings, incorporating a variety of styles of Christian music, from classic hymns to contemporary Christian songs. Day’s Platform Management class was incorporated into Sunday night worship, with each student required to lead some aspect of worship during the semester.   

The goal of the partnership was to leave students well-versed in the basics of worship leadership, whether they are making announcements, singing solos or performing other roles. Day continues, “To teach stage presence, public speaking, how you greet people, what you wear, what you do with your hands. Many of our students had never addressed people from a platform.”

Above all, Day says, students are led “to present life on the platform. Who are you when you stand up? Are you smiling? Are you alive? Are you letting people know you are in the moment? The Bible tells us we should rejoice.”

Kiesling also created a preaching critique committee of Wedgwood members who evaluate student performance. After a student preaches at Wedgwood, Kiesling schedules a meeting with him to review the committee’s critique.

“This partnership has exceeded our expectations. The most obvious result is that our Sunday evening attendance has more than doubled since beginning the partnership,” Braswell says. “The increased attendance also means that more of our people are hearing God’s Word and are encouraged to grow in their faith as well.”  

“I can remember from personal experience the value I placed on opportunities to preach when I was in seminary,” Braswell says. “Wedgwood desires to help train and disciple not only our members but the next generation of church leaders as well. This partnership with Southwestern has provided us with another great opportunity to do just that.”

The spring semester program will launch on Feb. 11, 2018. Vice President for Student Services Kyle Walker will preach, with Day leading the worship. Preaching assignments for the semester will be allocated to Southwestern students enrolled in the Advanced Expository Preaching course, which has a preaching requirement.

“This partnership has been a blessing for both our church members and those students who have participated in the endeavor,” Braswell says. “It helps our congregation know that God is truly raising up many more men and women to advance the Gospel.”