Pastor of the Week: Matt Stewart
By: Dezaray Barr
Rev. Matthew C. Stewart is the Senior Pastor of Sweetser Wesleyan Church in Sweetser, Indiana. He graduated from Houghton College in 1992 with a major in Psychology, a concentration in history and a minor in Old Testament. In the spring of 2018, Steward will be graduating from Wesley Seminary with a Master’s of Divinity and certification in Church Revitalization.
“Since my college experiences were nearly three decades apart at two different institutions, the influences were very unique,” Stewart shared. “At Houghton, I was made aware of God’s mission field in a broader sense than my rural New York upbringing provided. The one unique venue that taught me a great deal was Sunday school with Dr. Bud Bence in the Houghton dining room. The class was engaging and challenged me to think of the world in different ways than I had before. Two other people that influenced me during the Houghton days also have connections at IWU. I spent a great deal of time learning about grace and truth by watching Coach Steve Brooks when I was part of the men’s basketball team at Houghton. Coach Brooks was great one-on-one with all his players and possessed an encouraging spirit. Finally, I was also impacted by Drs. Charles and Darlene Bressler when I spent my senior year living in their basement off-campus. They offered wisdom and humor on days they were needed.”
Stewart said that his experiences at Wesley Seminary have been fantastic. “I learned from professor and fellow students alike on a regular basis. ‘The Doctors’ as I would fondly call them—Lenny Luchetti, Bob Whitesel, Brannon Hancock, Ken Schenck, Kwasi Kena, Sofiya Fosua, and Colleen Derr—helped to increase my ministry capacity greatly in their classrooms over the past 4 years,” he said.
At just eight years old, Stewart received his call to ministry at a meeting in his home church. That day, he preached his first sermon on the way home in the car to his younger siblings, one of whom shares that moment as her day of salvation. “However, I ran from my call, like Jonah, for many years because I was painfully shy, hated weddings and funerals, and I wanted to have friends,” Stewart admitted. “I finally responded to the call after working a couple of years with an inner city youth group in Springfield, Massachusetts while witnessing the impact that a couple could have on the lives of many street kids. God providentially opened the door for our first church placement in Henrietta, NY. The way in which He did so assured me that ministry was where we belonged.”
Every church is unique in its congregation. In terms of ministry, Sweetser Wesleyan is unique in possessing one of the most highly reputable preschool programs in the area. “The church continually receives rave reviews from teachers at Oak Hill that our students are the most prepared as they enter kindergarten,” Rev. Stewart said. “The word has spread among parents as the enrollment continues to grow to the point where a waiting list may become a reality.”
Sweetser Wesleyan also hosts a unique Bible quizzing ministry for teenagers. Bible quizzing enables teenagers to memorize God’s word, hiding it in their hearts and learning the truths of Scripture to the best of their abilities. Sweetser Wesleyan currently has three teams of Bible quizzers that compete and travel around the country.
Stewart calls his wife, Jennifer, the gatherer. “She has the God-given gift of having many people who are searching for a relationship with Jesus Christ dropped in her lap,” Stewart shared of his wife. “Without her as part of the team a major element of our work would be missing.” In his spare time, he goes by Pastor Mike and works with jersey dairy cows, selling milk, butter and ice cream.
Written by Dezaray Barr, PR Specialist for the Alumni Office. Dezaray is a junior Strategic Communication, Journalism and Honors Humanities triple major at Indiana Wesleyan University in the John Wesley Honors College. Visit Dez’s website at www.dezaraybarr.weebly.com.