Graduation Spotlight: Uniting Theology and Ministry in an NYC Community during COVID-19

“How she sits alone, the city once crowded with people! She who was great among the nations has become like a widow.” (Lamentations 1:1)

Lately, pastor and recent Ph.D. graduate Stephen Stallard is reminded of New York City when he reads this verse. Stallard, who graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) this spring, has ministered with his family in Crown Heights, Brooklyn for seven years. Thinking missionally amid complexity has helped him minister in a disease-ravaged city, where more than 20,000 have died from the virus. Stallard find himself pastoring during unique days at Mosaic Baptist Church in a community filled with diversity and a history of racial tension.

In 2013, he and his wife Sonya moved with their children to the city with an eye toward the nations. As they have served their community through the good and bad, they’re experiencing that the community is becoming part of them.

“It’s not simply that we are riding in on a horse trying to save the nations,” said Stallard, who received his Ph.D. in applied theology with a concentration in North American missiology. “The nations have left their indelible imprint upon our souls.”

Success in urban church planting didn’t look like what he imagined. Instead, Stallard believes faithfulness in serving and sending is what makes a thriving church in New York City. One of his greatest encouragements at Mosaic is seeing the multicultural team God has assembled and sent out to lead more churches in Chinatown, Queens and south Brooklyn. This redefined concept of success informed his dissertation for his Ph.D. at SEBTS, “The Development of Multicultural Teams in the Book of Acts: A Model with Application to Urban North America.”

“Stephen is one of the most authentic and sharp ministry leaders you could meet,” said Mike Dodson, Stallard’s major professor and assistant professor of church planting and evangelism.

Dodson, who also serves as Southeastern’s associate director of North American missions of the Center for Great Commission Studies and multiplication pipeline specialist for the North American Mission Board, added, “[Stephen] serves in a complex ministry environment, and he did a great job writing effectively on a complex dissertation topic that will assist other leaders in urban ministry contexts. It has been a joy working with him over the last several years in the Ph.D. process.”

Stallard is thankful for how the Ph.D. program at SEBTS has shaped his ministry in New York City.

“The Ph.D. program, at a foundational level, really helped me to bring a missiological skill set to a very complex community.”

Not only has his time in the Ph.D. program informed his ministry, but it has also helped him train multicultural leaders within his church to think missiologically as they lead more churches in the city.

“I think [these leaders] will be far better equipped to reach their communities with the hope of the gospel and to unmask the idols that saturate every community.”

During COVID-19, Mosaic members are seeking to saturate the city with the gospel through Boxes of Hope to serve the physically and financially vulnerable in the community. These boxes include high-quality groceries and various resources such as Scripture, apologetics books and more. The Lord is opening doors for Mosaic to serve other faith communities in their neighborhood as word spreads about Boxes of Hope. Recently, the church was able to deliver boxes to a nearby mosque with food, a letter and the Gospel of John.

As more people receive a Box of Hope, a phone call and a word of prayer, the Lord is drawing people into this faith community at Mosaic. Some have told Stallard that they plan to visit Mosaic when the church reopens its doors. Stallard believes celebrating a risen King through serving others brings the utmost joy in these uncertain days. It’s what keeps him and his congregation going as they serve their community as the hands and feet of Jesus. 

“It’s a really weird, confusing time, but it’s an exciting time to be alive, serving the Lord and bearing witness to the fact that Jesus is [risen].” 

To learn more about the Ph.D. in applied theology, visit

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