I did it! On December 11, 2021, I graduated with my master’s degree in Theological Studies from Gateway Seminary. It has taken a lot of time and effort, and it’s been the reason this blog has been on hiatus. I had the honor of briefly sharing the story of my journey to obtain my degree in the graduation ceremony. I have had many people ask me about it, but, unfortunately, it was not recorded. So, to re-launch this blog today, I will share the manuscript of my graduation testimony. Enjoy!
Good morning! My name is Brian Simms, and it is my privilege to share with you about my time as a Gateway Seminary Student. I first enrolled at Gateway over ten years ago, when it was still Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I was two years into my first Senior Pastorate in the only church I have ever called home. Side Note: I have the honor of pastoring the same church I surrendered my life to Jesus in over 27 years ago. In my first two years as a pastor, the church went through a lot of changes as we merged with another church and pursued a move to a new location in our city. As the tension of the situation came to a head, I struggled with finding direction and setting a clear course for the church moving forward. I enrolled in seminary because I felt like I had to if I was going to lead the church into the future. I came to Gateway with the hope that I would learn something that would cure what ailed me in my ministry. For the record, that’s not a good reason to come to seminary.
Over the next 8 years, I plodded along. I took breaks. Some for reasons outside of my control, and some for the preservation of my own sanity. And by the end of the Fall semester in 2019, I was ready to call it quits. I was going to quit seminary and look to God to call me to another ministry path. After all, if I couldn’t finish seminary, could I effectively pastor the local church? That was the question I asked Dr. Iorg nearly two years ago. His thoughtful response changed me. It changed my perception of seminary education, and it changed the trajectory of my academic and ministry futures. He said, “Seminary is here to help you, not hinder you. If it’s not helping you, then don’t do it. No piece of paper is going to make you a better pastor.” I prayed. I sought other wise council and developed a new plan with a new attitude to move forward.
Attending seminary because “I wanted to” made it a much better experience for me than attending because I felt like I had to. The last two years have been very challenging, yet very enjoyable. It was no problem for me to take Dr. Rathel’s Theology class on a Monday night during the Fall instead of staying home to watch football. I wasn’t just learning fancy academic terminology and how to combat ancient heresies. I was learning to articulate my theology and allow it to shape my approach to ministry. Dr. Kennedy helped me to refine my approach to preaching God’s Word, and that had an immediate impact on my ministry. Dr. Pate showed me that mission and evangelism are a way of life, not a program. And reaching the nations with the Gospel can be done by walking down the street or traveling around the globe. Dr. Wilson told me something in my very first class, I have never forgotten. He said, “In pastoral ministry, you have to be fearless. You were looking for a job when you found this one.” I think about that often. I cannot forget about the many classmates I have had over the years. As I said before, I come from a very limited ministry context. I have learned so much from those who walked this same path with me. I appreciate so much those who have come from different backgrounds and experiences, different traditions and cultures, places foreign to me like China and North Carolina. It has been great to study alongside so many spiritual influencers whom God is using to impact the world.
Gateway has given me a greater understanding of our awesome God, a greater appreciation for his plan to increase his Kingdom that begins and ends with Jesus, and a greater sense of my own purpose in that plan. I am better equipped and encouraged to live out that purpose today than I was when I began this journey. It’s been quite the adventure, but I’m very thankful to God for putting such wonderful people in my life to go through it with me. I would like to say, “Thank you!” to Dr. Iorg and the faculty and staff of Gateway Seminary. Also, to my church family and staff who have been so supportive of my educational endeavors from the first day. To my wife and children, who have sacrificed as much as I have over this time. Thank you for being my anchor and putting up with me through all of this. And last, but not least, I am thankful to God. For, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To God be the glory!
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my journey through life in the ministry with you in the coming year!
The Stray Shepherd