Together We Go: Stewarding Scholarship to Serve the Church

At Southeastern, we believe the Great Commission is best done together, partnering with local churches to equip students for the sake of Christ’s mission around the world. This vision for Great Commission partnerships is motivated by a deep commitment to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of God’s word, which is why Southeastern’s PhD students are rigorously trained to study and teach the word and to make disciples who obey all that Jesus commands.

The following stories highlight how Southeastern’s PhD alumni are serving the local church and are extending this cooperative Great Commission vision through ministry in their local churches.

Julian Bacon

Church Planter in Brussels

Born in New Zealand to a non-Christian family, Julian Bacon first encountered Christ while studying civil engineering in France. After meeting a few Christians, Julian — a professed atheist — began to attend a local church where he sought to reason against Christianity. Through his exposure to the gospel at that church, Julian became a follower of Jesus Christ, and God filled him with an eagerness to share about what Jesus had done for him.

“Knowing that I was a forgiven sinner turned my life upside down,” recounted Julian. “I was full of inexplicable joy. I wanted everyone I knew to know Jesus. Without knowing it, I had become an evangelist.”

I wanted everyone I knew to know Jesus. Without knowing it, I had become an evangelist.

Julian began to read the Bible as much as he could and to teach others what he was learning. That passion led him to pursue training at a seminary in the Netherlands where his confidence in the reliability of the Scriptures was strengthened. During that time, Julian served in youth ministry at a few churches and even had the occasion to preach. It was also at seminary that Julian met his wife Rachel, who is from North Carolina.

After graduating there with his MDiv in 2015, Julian and Rachel moved to North Carolina and got involved in youth ministry in Charlotte, NC. His local pastor encouraged him to pursue further training at Southeastern, so Julian enrolled in the PhD in biblical theology program in 2017.

Over the next four years, Julian commuted from Charlotte to Wake Forest for his seminars, but he did so eagerly because of the spiritual encouragement he received each time he came to campus.

“I really enjoyed getting to know my fellow students,” recalled Julian. “I was inspired by their combination of academic brilliance and humility. I always looked forward to my seminars, being around warm and godly men and women.”

While studying at Southeastern, Julian was ordained for ministry and began pastoring a church in the Charlotte area. As he prepared for ongoing ministry, Julian found that his biblical and theological training went hand in hand with his local church ministry. What he learned in his seminars deeply shaped his spiritual life and his approach to everyday ministry.

“I came to Southeastern to study biblical theology,” noted Julian. “I have learned that suffering and sinful people need to get caught up in a story that is bigger than their own. People need to stop thinking of God’s plan for their lives, but rather how their lives fit into God’s plan. Biblical theology and the overarching story of the Bible is foundational for pastoral care.”

I have learned that suffering and sinful people need to get caught up in a story that is bigger than their own.

Lessons learned in class and interactions with professors at Southeastern have had a lasting impact on Julian’s ministry — from Scott Kellum’s reminders in class that “Christians are people who love people” to Tracy McKenzie’s support, example of thoughtful scholarship, and personal investment in his understanding of the biblical text. Even some of his seminars have influenced his preaching and reshaped the way he reads the Gospels.

“Dr. Quarles’s Matthew seminar was so impactful to me that I preached through the Gospel of Matthew for a year and a half at my church,” Julian added. “Through the study of the Gospel of Matthew I became more aware of God’s care for the nations — from the Gentile women in Jesus’s genealogy and the feeding of 4000 in Gentile territory to the actual Great Commission.”

When Julian graduated in 2021, Julian and his wife moved to Brussels and are involved in church planting. Carrying with him the training he received at Southeastern, Julian’s heart is to engage the city and gather disciple-making disciples around the truth of Scripture and the worship of God.

“When we arrived, it became obvious that Brussels had a need for more churches,” commented Julian. “Brussels is a very international city but there are not many options for people who desire to be part of a church that is intentional with its worship and discipleship to equip the saints for the work of ministry in all of life.”

“We are at the very beginning of our church planting project,” added Julian. “In February 2023, we presented the project to people interested in possibly joining us, and in March we began corporate worship on Sundays. As we grow, we want to be intentional with our songs and liturgy and with our discipleship strategy so that we really are teaching people everything Jesus commanded and teaching them to do likewise.”

As Julian labors in the transient and secular culture of Brussels, his spiritual formation and biblical-theological education at Southeastern continues to enrich his ministry and his heart to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Abidan Shah

Pastoring in Henderson, North Carolina

Discipled by Christian parents, Abidan Shah remembers learning from his mom the importance of reading the Bible daily and watching his dad devote his life to serve their local church in India (where he pastored for 57 years). Through their example and the investment of a family friend and local missionary, Abidan developed a passion for studying and teaching God’s word.

After high school, Abidan moved to the U.S. in 1991 to study broadcast journalism. Encouraged by his father-in-law Jerry Shedd, Abidan decided to enroll at Southeastern and quickly fell in love with New Testament studies and the transmission history of the biblical text.

“My first semester, I took elementary Greek with Dr. Maurice Robinson,” recounted Abidan. “I enjoyed learning Greek, but I was far more fascinated by learning about variant readings, text types, and transmissional history. I had never heard of any of this! I knew that I had to educate myself. It was an easy decision for me after my master’s to pursue a PhD in New Testament textual criticism.”

For Abidan, his time at Southeastern was particularly formative, not only in his academic development but also in his spiritual growth and ministry preparation. His relationships with professors and camaraderie with fellow students deepened the impact of his training, strengthening his commitment to serve, pastor, and preach in the local church.

“The years spent through my master’s and PhD programs at Southeastern have been invaluable to me,” reflected Abidan. “My professors taught me to dig deeper in the Bible, to live it out in my life, and to preach it with passion. As for my fellow students, as iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpen the countenance of another. Those times of discussing theological conundrums in the bookstore, student center, and library shaped me greatly in my thinking.”

My professors taught me to dig deeper in the Bible, to live it out in my life, and to preach it with passion.

In God’s providence, Abidan was called to pastor Clearview Church in Henderson, NC, where he applies what he learned at Southeastern to everyday ministry in the local church. Having pastored there now for 24 years, Abidan has seen the profound impact Southeastern’s Great Commission training continues to have on his pastoral ministry.

“More than anything, Southeastern’s Great Commission focus has made evangelism and mission the central focus of my ministry,” noted Abidan. “If my biblical education cannot lead people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, then it is not worth it.”

Blessed by his time at Southeastern, Abidan is grateful that most of his staff have also graduated from Southeastern or are in the process of finishing their degrees. This common Great Commission training has enriched their leadership team and encouraged their unity around the church’s ministry of discipleship.

Eager to help their congregation interact with faithful biblical scholarship in a way they can understand and apply, Abidan and his leadership team host an annual apologetics conference as a strategic extension of their discipleship efforts. Partnering with Southeastern professors and other visiting scholars, Clearview’s leadership hope to encourage deep biblical engagement, the kinds of engagement that proved formative during their time at Southeastern.

Partnering with Southeastern in ministry and in their own training, Abidan and his leadership team share Southeastern’s vision of serving the Church and fulfilling the Great Commission. Together, they are using their training to transform a community through intentional evangelism and discipleship rooted in God’s word.

Jesse Welliver:

Pastoring in McDonough, Georgia

Originally from McDonough, GA, Jesse Welliver knew that when God called him to ministry, he was also calling him to prepare. As Jesse considered seminaries for his MDiv, Southeastern was his first choice because of its focus on the Great Commission and its culture of discipleship and spiritual formation.

When he arrived at Southeastern in 2011, Jesse found Southeastern’s Great Commission focus to be uniquely life-giving as a student.

“During my first semester, Dr. Akin preached a sermon in chapel and challenged the students with this statement: ‘The question you should be asking yourself is not, Why should I go? The question you should ask is, Why should I stay?’” recounted Jesse. “I was challenged frequently to remember that the purpose of my education was not merely for my own knowledge. The goal of my education is to fulfill the Great Commission, to make disciples in whatever context I find myself. Receiving seminary education at Southeastern is ultimately a missional endeavor.”

The goal of my education is to fulfill the Great Commission, to make disciples in whatever context I find myself.

Throughout his MDiv, Jesse was deeply formed by his instruction in the classroom and encouraged by the community and hospitality he experienced around campus. When he graduated in 2015, Jesse was eager to continue his studies at Southeastern because of the spiritual encouragement he had already received there. He began his PhD in preaching the following year and watched God deepen his passion for the Great Commission, discipleship, and expositional preaching.

Studying in a modified residency format, Jesse was able to attend seminars for several weeks each year while continuing his ministry at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough. In this way, Southeastern and his local church served as training partners, providing Jesse with biblical, theological, and ministerial education as well as a space to practice what he was learning.

Part of what made Jesse’s PhD experience so formative was the spirit of the community and the camaraderie he experienced with other students in his seminars.

“It is obvious that Southeastern is a place where the love of Christ is deeply rooted,” recalled Jesse. “Pursuing a PhD is not easy but having a group of students that encourage one another in their studies and ministry makes all the difference. I am still great friends with many of the people that travelled that journey together.”

For Jesse, this spirit of humility and deep love for Christ was evident throughout his PhD and is one of the lessons that stands out the most in his relationship with his PhD supervisor Dwayne Milioni.

“I was impressed and encouraged by the humility of the professors, school staff, and students,” added Jesse. “Dr. Milioni modelled excellent scholarship and truly remarkable Christlike hospitality to me and many other PhD students. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from him was that a hallmark of Christian scholarship is humility. Our faith is not divorced from our academic endeavors — it should shape all of our academic engagement.”

Pastoring in his local church while completing his PhD, Jesse has seen firsthand how theological education and ministry preparation go hand in hand.

When he graduated in 2020, Jesse continued ministering at Eagle’s Landing and now serves there as the pastor of LifeGroups and adult discipleship. In that role, Jesse gets to embody and apply the invaluable lessons he learned during his time at Southeastern.

“Every professor and every class I took at Southeastern contributed in some way to my understanding and practice of pastoral ministry,” Jesse noted. “My education at Southeastern helped me develop the heart of a pastor and craft a vision for well-rounded ministry. While seminary education is a significant investment of both time and financial resources, it continues to pay daily dividends as I serve my church. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to study at Southeastern.”

My education at Southeastern helped me develop the heart of a pastor and craft a vision for well-rounded ministry.


These PhD graduates represent hundreds of Southeastern alumni who are stewarding their advanced training to serve the Church and its mission all around the world. To learn more about Southeastern’s PhD and how you can be further equipped for ministry in the local church, visit

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