Go Preach the Word: Recounting God’s Faithfulness

Jonathan Shelor was 13 years old when God saved him and not much older than that when God called him to pastoral ministry. In fact, he was a year too young to be at the youth camp where he gave his life to Christ, but, like many things in Jonathan’s life, God had plans for him that would not be hindered.

Now, years later, encouraged by reminders of God’s faithfulness and equipped to preach the word during his time at Southeastern Seminary, Jonathan is seeing the fruit of Great Commission ministry.

“The very first time that I stood behind a pulpit to preach God’s word,” Jonathan reflected, “I realized very quickly that there is power in the word of God. As I have grown over the years, that understanding and my reliance upon that power has grown and been shaped mightily. The word of God has the power to change people’s lives, and my job as a pastor is to explain the text, bring application from it to the people, and point them to Jesus, doing so with clarity and simplicity without adding to God’s word.”

I realized very quickly that there is power in the word of God.

Each Sunday morning as he steps up to the pulpit to preach God’s word to his congregation, Jonathan looks out over a group of people eager to seek God’s kingdom. This church family in Pinehurst, NC, is more diverse than similar, composed of military families from the nearby base, judges and doctors, children with their young parents, and older couples entering retirement — but one thing unites them all. Each is a soul desperately in need of the transforming word of God.

Be Strong and Courageous

As Jonathan reflected back on his life, the story of Joshua in the Old Testament resonated deeply with him, echoing many similarities to his start in ministry and God’s promises to be near.

“Be strong and courageous,” God told Joshua as he prepared to lead God’s people into the land he had promised them. “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Thirteen-year-old Jonathan found himself in a similar situation as he began to feel God’s call towards ministry. However, new in his faith and terrified of public speaking, he discovered it was easier to run away, and so for the next decade, he did.

“But God was working behind the scenes,” Jonathan recalled, thinking back with amusement on how God redirected his path. “When I was running and trying to do everything else but that, he gave me a job where I had to speak in front of people. And my work sent me to public speaking classes because I was going and presenting all around the country at different trade shows. I had to do it because I had to have a job.”

The moment that finally stopped Jonathan in his tracks came during a youth camp much like the one many years before. This time he was helping serve in the youth ministry, a prospect that felt much less intimidating than speaking in front of a congregation.

During the final evening of the camp, the speaker opened the Bible to the passage in Exodus where God confronts Moses about his own public-speaking fears.

“Moses’ excuse at that time was, ‘I don’t speak well,’” Jonathan narrated. “And it was at that moment that God got my attention — showing me, ‘That’s your excuse.’ And God’s response was, ‘Who made the tongue? You’re just a mouthpiece.’”

Moses’ excuse at that time was, ‘I don’t speak well,’ And it was at that moment that God got my attention — showing me, ‘That’s your excuse.’

This revelation was the inciting moment that started Jonathan’s search for a seminary to equip him to preach God’s word. His search would soon bring him and his family to Wake Forest, North Carolina, to study at Southeastern Seminary.

Stepping Out in Faith

The decision to move to seminary was one of faith. With their first two children in tow, Jonathan and his wife, Katie, sold their house and prepared to move to Wake Forest so he could begin classes. Jonathan did not have a local job lined up yet, and that prospect was both frightening for them and disapproved of by friends and family. Jonathan and Katie, however, trusted and believed that God would provide.

“Before we moved,” Jonathan recalled, “the company I was working for came to me in my office and said, ‘Listen, we support what you’re doing.’ It was the first time we had ever heard someone say they supported us, outside of our pastor and church that had convinced us to go.”

The company proceeded to present him with an offer initiated by the president of the company who, though not a believer, felt motivated to support Jonathan in this next season of life. They offered him a different job with them from which he could work remotely and keep all of his benefits. They also wanted to work around his school schedule.

It was an answer to prayer and a revelation of God’s faithfulness so potent that Jonathan wept right there in his office. When he called his wife to tell her the good news, he had to first tell her nothing was wrong and that his tears meant God had provided once again.

Finding Seminary Community

Looking back on the beginning of his time at Southeastern, Jonathan remembered how unprepared his younger self was for everything he had to learn. After his first class, Church History with Dr. McKinion, he went home to Katie concerned that he was not smart enough for seminary.

“I made a mistake,” he told her. “I don’t understand anything he said, and he’s using these words that I’ve never heard!”

It was an overwhelming moment, but after some prayer and encouragement from his wife, Jonathan determined to continue.

What followed would become one of the most formative and memorable seasons for both him and Katie. While she spent time with other women and their children in the campus housing community, Jonathan applied himself to his studies and continued working remotely from home. In the evenings, he and Katie held study date nights where she would help quiz him on his many Hebrew and Greek flashcards.

“During my MDiv,” Jonathan recalled, “I was so raw. I had been in church my whole life, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I just wanted to soak it all in.”

“When I came to Southeastern, I had never heard of the Great Commission. I’m sure I’d heard Matthew 28 preached. But now it’s shaped who we are as a family,” he explained. “It’s shaped everything about us and our ministry.”

But now it’s shaped who we are as a family. It’s shaped everything about us and our ministry.

A year into his studies, Jonathan received a job as a youth pastor at a church outside of Charlotte, moving him and his family several hours away from Southeastern. However, that fall, Jonathan discovered that several of his classmates also lived in Charlotte. Instead of commuting to campus separately, the group of new-found friends began driving down to campus together every Tuesday for the next two years.

“It was three hours of long car rides each way — long days,” Jonathan said, “but I miss them because it was just good fellowship and friendship and building community.”

“That was one of the best things about Southeastern: the relationships with other people going through the same things you are.”

Beginning the DMin

Upon graduating with his MDiv in 2014, Jonathan continued pursuing pastoral ministry over the next four years as life allowed. He was still interested in pursuing further education, but the time never seemed right. However, towards the end of 2018, God began to set in motion a new season of life for the Shelor family.

Unbeknownst to Jonathan, one of his friends, from the Charlotte-to-Southeastern commuting days, gave his name to Southeastern’s Doctor of Ministry department. It was not long before Jonathan received a call from Southeastern asking if he wanted to be a part of a recently created DMin track focusing on pastoral ministry.

“Again, it was that push that I needed,” Jonathan commented. “I was fearful of it because it’s a lot of reading; I’m a slow reader. And it’s a lot of writing; I’m not a great writer.”

However, God continued to affirm that this was the direction he wanted Jonathan to go.

While in his DMin cohort, Jonathan once again formed close friendships with his fellow classmates while they pursued their doctorates together. The experience also offered unique opportunities to work closely with their professors and glean wisdom from both their ministerial and academic expertise.

During his doctoral studies, Jonathan also served as the pastor at a church in St. Louis, Missouri, and this in and of itself presented many challenges as he sought to balance ministry, life, and school. However, he continued to see God provide.

“When you have seven kids, that’s a lot of children to feed and clothe, and yet they’ve never gone without,” he reflected. “There’s never been a need that was not met, through the church, through a church member, or through somewhere else. God gives you those affirmations of his faithfulness over and over and over again.”

Markers of God’s Faithfulness

Now, graduated with his DMin from Southeastern, Jonathan serves as the lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Pinehurst (FBCP). Earlier this summer during their anniversary Sunday, he had the opportunity to preach from Joshua chapter 4, in which God instructs the people of Israel to set up 12 memorial stones taken from the bottom of the Jordan river when they walked across on dry land.

“The purpose of those 12 stones was to remember the faithfulness of God,” Jonathan explained. “When you look at your life, there are markers you can reflect back on. I remember how God was faithful in every moment.”

When you look at your life, there are markers you can reflect back on. I remember how God was faithful in every moment.

Now, at FBCP, he is able to unite the zeal of his church body with his family’s love of the Great Commission — a love that God formed in him during his time at Southeastern. He is passionate about equipping the members of the church to go out into their community and reach others with the love of Jesus.

“If I am going to equip people for ministry, a large portion of that happens through the preaching of God’s word but also in life-on-life relationships and serving together,” he commented.

“At Southeastern I was introduced to expository preaching, and it changed everything about how I handle God’s word and see the power in it. It always amazes me in talking with people after the service each week how the message spoke to them in various ways. I believe wholeheartedly that this is the power of God’s word working through the hearts of his people.”

From fear to faith in God’s faithfulness, Jonathan has watched him provide time and time again, and it is this remembrance of God’s work, during his time at Southeastern and throughout his journey in ministry, that encourages him to persevere in preaching the word week after week.

Join us in praying for Jonathan and FBCP, that God would guide him as he seeks to equip leaders within the church and as he continues to shepherd his family in new seasons of life.

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