Wayne Schmidt: General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church in North America

By: Dezaray Barr

Wayne Schmidt

General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church in North America, Wayne Schmidt, graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in 1979 with a degree in Christian Ministries. When Schmidt began college, he was a business major at another university. When he sensed his call to ministry as a college freshman, his pastor brought him to IWU and helped him enroll.

During his time at IWU, Schmidt established lifelong friendships with other students, especially Dennis Jackson, whom he now works with through The Wesleyan Church’s Executive Cabinet. “I was encouraged and mentored, as well as taught by professors. I had valuable ministry experience at Westview Wesleyan Church with Pastor Carles Fletcher,” Schmidt said. He said that his time at IWU gave him ministry tools that he continues to use, even 40 years later.

His time at IWU was not always easy. “I was intentionally given a difficult campus job to ‘help develop my character.’ I was taught to self-feed on God’s Word. I was able to more fully understand how God had wired me to serve Him,” Schmidt explained.

Wayne Schmidt and his wife at his surprise 60th birthday party at The Wesleyan Church Headquarters

A fun fact about Schmidt include that he was given the nickname Dr. Sox, because his sock selection is more “expressive” than most.

Schmidt explained, “I am blessed not only to be an alum of IWU, but it was a joy to return to IWU as an employee of IWU for over six years, giving leadership to Wesley Seminary.”






Written by Dezaray Barr, PR Specialist for the Alumni Office. Dezaray is a senior 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.

Pastor of the Week: Josh Hilty

By: Dezaray Barr

Josh Hilty and his wife

Josh Hilty graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in 2006 with a degree in Christian Ministries. He graduated from Wesley Seminary in 2013 with a master’s degree. Hilty is now the Executive and Discipleship Pastor of Brenneman Memorial Missionary Church in Goshen, Indiana.

Hilty shared, “In my time at IWU, I decided that I wanted to be a pastor in The Wesleyan Church. That was partly due to the influence of professors like Dr. Chris Bounds, Dr. Ken Schenck, Dr. Dave Smith, Dr. Steve Lennox, Dr. Bud Bence, Dr. Jim Lo and Dr. Keith Drury. It was also partly due to meeting my wife, Jamie, whose father is a Wesleyan minister. We met in the chorale, where Dr. Todd Guy taught me the value of discipline, hard work and attention-to-detail.” Hilty also looks back on his time at Wesley Seminary with fondness, appreciating the relationships he built with his peers.

During high school, Hilty felt a call to ministry, and God used the people of his local church to confirm that call. “I’ve been certain about it ever since,” he said.

Before serving at Brenneman Memorial Missionary Church, Hilty served at North Branch Wesleyan Church for nine years. “After sensing that my season of ministry was over, I resigned last July. My family and I spent the next five months unemployed, moving back and forth from my family to my wife’s, all over Indiana and into Virginia. We packed up the minivan 14 times to go to the next place,” Hilty said. “The testing of our faith in God over those months was more than what I had expected. God taught me that obedience does not mean ease. He was faithful, providing enough money for us to live, getting us through our youngest daughter’s broken leg our first day in Virginia (with out-of-state insurance), and reminding us with every closed door that one would open.”

The Hilty family

Brenneman Memorial Missionary Church, where Hilty has been serving since the beginning of 2018, is multi-generational. “The uniqueness in this for me is that God led me back to my hometown and outside of The Wesleyan Church – two things I never expected,” Hilty explained. “Our church is unique in that we are being intentional about ministering to those with special needs, from updating our building, to hiring a special needs ministry coordinator. I feel like God is calling us to reach a demographic that is often ignored.”

During the major transitions in his life, Hilty has looked to the story of Abraham, both in Genesis and in Hebrews chapter 6. “God brings me back to His trustworthiness over and over through the life of Abraham,” he said.

Hilty would encourage current IWU students: “Soak up the experience and wisdom from your professors, enjoy the time you have on campus and don’t neglect carving out space to hear from God.”



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.

Pastor of the Week: Tony Bye

By: Dezaray Barr

Tony Bye

Tony Bye is the Lead Pastor at Brookhaven Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry. He graduated from Wesley Seminary in 2013 with his M. Div.

During his time at IWU, Bye was influenced by many professors. “Dr. Bud Bence and Dr. David Smith, the David Smith that passed away several years ago, were two professors that influenced my life extensively,” he shared. “Dr. Bence made church history come alive in a way that made it seem relevant to today. Dr. Smith opened my eyes to see new theological thoughts that I had never even imagined.”

Bye loved spending time in the Student Center and Wildcat. He’d like to note, “Mike Brown made an awesome bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich!”

There have been many times in which Bye felt a moment of recognition that he was to be a pastor, “but seeing God take my life experiences, both good and bad, and use them to bring hope into the lives of others has been a huge confirmation of my calling,” he said.

Brookhaven Wesleyan Church is a wonderful church right down the road from IWU that has a long history. Bye said, “It’s also a church that is working very hard to be intentional about reaching people in our community and around the world that do not yet know Jesus Christ.”

Bye’s life verse is Philippians 3:8, which reads, “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”

Some fun facts about Bye include that he loves the outdoors, and he finds himself becoming energized when in nature. Bye encourages IWU students to never stop learning. “Since the world is always changing, it is essential that we continually learn and adapt as people,” he said.



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.

Comedian & Illusionist Larry Wirtz

By: Dezaray Barr

Larry Wirtz

Larry Wirtz graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in 2012 with a master’s degree in Ministry and Leadership. He graduated from Wesley Seminary in 2015, and he’s currently entering the dissertation phase of his Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership at IWU.

After graduating high school, Wirtz took a few classes from Purdue University, but he began performing full-time magic and comedy. “As scripture reminds us ‘the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, the ears of the wise seek it out’ (Proverbs 18:15 – NIV),” Wirtz shared. “Lifelong learning is more than a good idea, as for me, it has been a way of life. In my early twenties, I had the privilege of attending the historic Chavez College of Magic. Upon graduation, I was extended an invitation into their advanced ‘post-graduate’ course of study.”

Throughout his studies at Chavez, Wirtz still maintained a full performing calendar, but there was always a desire in him to finish a traditional college degree. “While leaning on the excuse of not having the time, I prayed to God that if it is in His plan, I would obey,” Wirtz said. “That being said, a quarter of a century later, God (in His remarkable way) removed all obstacles and objections and created the opportunity for me to pursue a higher education. As for location – I was already familiar with Indiana Wesleyan University as I had performed and spoke multiple times at Phillippe Performing Arts Center for various conferences that hosted their event on IWU’s campus. The culture and spiritual belief structure of IWU became familiar, encouraging and inviting. I am not saying going back to school as a non-traditional adult learner was void of challenges or hard work, but He has created the opportunity for me to receive additional training for His purpose.”

As a non-traditional adult student at IWU, Wirtz experience began completely online. “Building cohort relationship via the internet was a new experience. The Master’s program began on campus where personal introductions between cohort members, professors and support staff were made. This made the whole experience more personable. The Ph.D. program involves on campus experience along with on-line sessions. This has been the most personable experience as relationship have been built between cohort members as well as IWU staff as they have become a secondary family and support network,” he explained.

Wirtz’s live performance

Now (and since the 1980’s), Wirtz works full-time as an inspiration speaker, comedian and illusionist. He explained, “I have a multi-faceted, non-traditional career that allows me to live an unplugged life. I work as an educational specialist who has presented curriculum based convocations in over 10,000 elementary, middle and high schools across the United States and Canada. As each experience reflects a various season in my life, God has taken my secular performing magic and comedy as well as my speaking experience and works continuously to transform it for His purpose. In this chapter of my life, I have found a home working with churches and faith-based organizations. Whether it is speaking, preaching or entertaining to consulting (coaching) from a Christian perspective on leadership issues and church growth, it is humbling that God is using me to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a needy world.”

Wirtz during his live performance

If Wirtz could share some wisdom with current IWU students, he’d tell them to stay in the boat. “The idea of taking a break may seem inviting, but creates greater challenges along the way towards the completion of your degree. Regardless of external events or academic difficulties, do your best to push through to the best of your ability, ask for help and keep Christ at the center of your studies while working towards completion of your degree,” he said. “Second, if given the option of receiving your diploma via mail or walking across the stage at graduation, I encourage you to walk. It is the culminating experience of finality of your hard work. Also, walking serves as a positive experience to those that served as your support system in your academic adventure. Your accomplishment is as meaningful to them as it is to you.”

Wirtz and his wife, Linda, have three children. Andrew is 27 and graduated from Purdue University. He is newly married and living in Alabama. Lawrence is in the tenth grade, and David is in eighth grade.



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.

Pastor of the Week: Braden & Jenn Petersen

By: Noelle Beans

Braden and Jenn Petersen, lead pastors of Resurrection Life NYC, are both currently pursuing master’s degrees at Wesley Seminary here at Indiana Wesleyan. Braden is pursuing his Master of Practical Theology, and Jenn is pursuing her Master of Divinity. They express that Wesley Seminary has been great for both their personal growth and the ministry in which they find themselves in now. The Petersens feel that the professors have taken a personal interest in them as pastors and as people and have been willing to invest themselves into their students. They have also met fellow seminarians who have become life-long friends.

Before Wesley Seminary, the Petersens’ ministry journey began in worship ministry in Dallas, TX with Braden having a bachelor’s degree of Music in Jazz Studies and Jenn, a bachelor’s degree of Music in Voice, both from the University of Northern Iowa. But while on vacation in New York City in the summer of 2014, shortly after Braden’s completion of his master’s degree of Business Administration from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, they felt called to pastoral ministry.

Three years ago, after 17 years of ministry in the Dallas, TX, area, the Petersens sensed God calling them into this completely new chapter in their lives. The Petersens call it “a series of providential events” that led them to plant a church in NYC which began with an innocent question, “Why are there no Wesleyan churches in Manhattan?” This question blossomed into a passion and emerging vision to plant churches that plant churches in the most influential and one of the most secular cities in the United States. In August 2015 Braden, Jenn and their children, Aidan (15) and Emma (13) moved to NYC to begin the process of planting Resurrection Life NYC in center-city Manhattan.

After nearly two years of living in the city and building their launch team, the Petersens launched Resurrection Life NYC on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on April 9, 2017. ResLifeNYC transformed into a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic congregation with 14 countries represented in the congregation. The Petersens say, “There is a groundswell of church planting happening in the city right now, and Resurrection Life NYC is participating in a move of the Holy Spirit to see churches planting in all five boroughs of the city, which we believe will influence a multiplication movement across the country and around the world.” They also state that living in the city is difficult and uncomfortable. They brought Resurrection Life NYC into existence to connect city dwellers with the resurrection power of Jesus to transform lives, families, neighborhoods, and cities amidst the busyness of the city.

The Petersens both shared a quote and a verse that shed light on their experience and mission. In his essay, Here is New York, E.B. White says, “By comparison with other less hectic days, the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience—if they did they would live elsewhere.” The Petersens wholeheartedly agree with this. Their biggest obstacle to living in NYC has been raising funds to do ministry because the growth is slow. Like White expresses, New Yorkers do not choose to live in NYC because they crave comfort and convenience, but they chose the chaotic life for other reasons, just as the Petersens have chosen NYC as their mission field regardless of the constant pressures on their ministry and family because they trust in God’s faithfulness.

Secondly, their verse for living in New York City comes from Jeremiah 29:7, written for God’s people who find themselves in exile. It reads, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” They hold fast to this verse because they truly believe that they are called to bring hope and peace into NYC. The Petersens said, “…as God blesses a movement of church planting in the city–that as NYC prospers–so will the Church in our country and around the world.”

The Petersens would like to share with current IWU students five things. 1) Consider helping a church plant wherever you end up living after graduation “If that happens to be New York City, please look us up!” they added! 2) Give yourself grace because it truly takes time to discover God’s personal vision for your life. 3) Live a life of surrender, generosity and mission. 4) Get out of debt quickly and 5) Learn to ask good questions. Be a life-long student wherever you go!

To connect with the Petersens please visit reslifenyc.com.



Written by Noelle Beans, a writer for the Alumni Center. Noelle is a freshman Nursing and Honors Humanities double major at Indiana Wesleyan University in the John Wesley Honors College.

Pastor of the Week: Matt Stewart

By: Dezaray Barr

Matt Stewart

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.”

Rev. Matt Stewart and his family

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.

Pastor of the Week: Zackry Langford

By: Dezaray Barr

Zackry Langford and his family

Zackry Langford is the Pastor of Surrendered Life Church in Marshall, Michigan. He graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) with a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies in 2010 and from Wesley Seminary with an M. Div. in 2017. “Being a student at IWU solidified my call into the ministry and helped establish a foundation that I have been able to build on ever since. I transferred to IWU in 2007 after attending two other colleges from ‘03-’06, and IWU helped me to grow in my faith as well as help me to discern my next steps into ministry,” Langford said.

As a Pastor, there are moments when Langford feels a peace that surpasses understanding about his call to ministry. “There have been many moments in which I feel like I am on the right path,” Langford said. “To be frank, though, there are many moments in which I wonder if I am on the right track… The big moments are when I get to baptize someone or when I get to be a part of helping someone profess a belief in Jesus for the first time. Those are the moments where I know that I get to be a part of something incredible and that brings meaning to my choice to follow God into this vocation.”

Langford has been challenged, as he completed Seminary and Ordination while working in ministry and raising a young family. “I finally completed both Seminary and became an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church this past summer, which has been a decade long journey. During that time, I got married (in 2007), had three kids and moved a few times. We still battle with the demands of ministry, raising a family and with a wife who runs a successful business.”

Surrendered Life Church

Surrendered Life Church is an incredibly faithful and loving congregation. “What has been both an excitement and a surprise is how willing they have been in taking risks to become the congregation that God wants us to be,” Langford explained about his congregation. “In the three and a half years since we have taken over the congregation, we have had two major fundraising campaigns, changed the name from Marshall Wesleyan Church to Surrendered Life Church and have seen new believers profess a belief in Christ and become baptized.”

If Langford could encourage IWU students, he’d remind them to “Learn how to have a ‘holy discontent’ about the world. I am not sure who coined the term ‘holy discontent,’ but I think it is probably the best way I can describe what it means to have peace and purpose in this life. You have to learn how to be content with whatever your situation is, but also have to have the ability to see what can or needs to be different.”



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.

Pastor of the Week: Phil Tague

By: Emily Neideck

Phill Tague is the lead pastor at The Ransom Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He and his wife, Stephani, planted the church in 2009, and the church has flourished since.

Tague attended Wesley Seminary’s online program for his Master in Ministry. His group was one of the first cohorts to go through the online program, and although his time on campus was limited, he stated, “The program allowed me to not just feel like I received my degree, but that I actually graduated from Indiana Wesleyan.”

The Ransom Church began in a movie theater with only a few people. Tague said, “Since then, we have watched this church grow into only something that only God can get the credit for.” The church now has around 2000 people, two campuses and ministries in nursing homes, as well as a local jail.

Tague stated, “The words we most hear people saying as they enter our church are ‘authentic, relevant, real.’” The Ransom Church focuses application of The Gospel to everyday life, whether in sermon, small group or service. “We are trying to show them how Jesus is part of everyday life. It isn’t in a bulletin on a random Sunday. It is a lifestyle.”

Tague’s call to ministry came the summer before college when he was attending a youth camp. He said, “I did not want to study ministry. I went into the program kicking and screaming. I was playing all the stereotypes in my head.” He spent the majority of his freshman year studying ministry while talking himself out of his faith. All he had seen from Christianity was hypocrisy.

One day, the Holy Spirit softened Tague’s heart. He realized that his answer for hypocrisy shouldn’t be hypocrisy. Tague corrected his fault and began to pursue Christ with his whole heart and mind. “I haven’t looked back since,” said Tague.

Wesley Seminary played a large role in Tague’s journey. He said, “My time laid a foundation for me and gave me the desire to not just be the best pastor, but to also be the best leader that I could be.” Seminary blurred the lines between leadership and ministry for him. Tague stated, “If there is a season when you’re not putting out fires, then you’re not moving. As long as you are chasing what God has for you, you’re going to face difficulties, but you’ll grow, too.”

Tague will speak in Chapel at Indiana Wesleyan on October 4th.

Check out his interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSWQqIuvhJQ.


Written by Emily Neideck, writer for the Alumni Center and a junior Writing major at IWU. She is active on the cross country and track teams. She is passionate about using her writing skills to share the good news of Christ with others and writes often on her personal blog at www.emilylehner.wordpress.com.

Homecoming 2017: Phill Tague

By: Emily Neideck

Phill Tague, photo courtesy of Facebook via The Wesleyan Church
Phill Tague

Each Fall, Indiana Wesleyan University awards one outstanding individual with the Distinguished Wesley Seminary Alumni Award. This award is granted to an alumnus or alumna of the Seminary who has exhibited excellence in serving his or her profession, community, church, or alma mater in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

This year, Phill Tague of The Ransom Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is the recipient of this award. Tague and his wife, Stephani, planted The Ransom Church in 2009, and since then, the church has grown abundantly.

Tague was called to ministry at church camp after his senior year of high school. He said, “I spent much of my freshman year of college studying ministry, while also talking myself out of my faith.” He believed that many Christians he had met were hypocritical, and eventually, Tague fell completely away from his faith.

However, one day, Tague felt the Holy Spirit nudge him, saying, “So, your answer for hypocrisy is hypocrisy?” Tague realized his fault and began to pursue Christ with his whole heart and mind.

Tague received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Wesleyan University and went on to pursue his Master in Ministry at Wesley Seminary. He stated, “I was especially interested in Indiana Wesleyan’s graduate program because the degree was called, ‘Christian Ministries and Leadership.’”

Phil Tague on a missions trip
Phil Tague on a missions trip

Tague attended Wesley Seminary through the online program, but believes the online experience did not hinder his IWU experience in any way. He was the first of many online graduate cohorts, which allowed him to grow in relationship and wisdom.

Tague, his wife and another couple started The Ransom Church. Originally, the group met in a local movie theater. Now, with two campuses, 2,000 people, ministries in 6 nursing homes and a ministry at the local jail, Tague said, “The Ransom Church has truly grown into a thing that only God can get the credit for. It has been an incredible journey of church planting and growth.”

The Ransom Church focuses on authenticity and making the Gospel applicable to people’s everyday lives.  Tague stated, “Church isn’t something you attend. It is something that you become.”

Wesley Seminary provided Tague with a hunger to sharpen himself and keep growing. He said, “I used to think of ministry in one category and leadership in another. What I started realizing is that there are tensions in ministry between being a shepherd, a leader, a pastor, etc. These are tensions that need to be managed. Wesley seminary helped me blur those lines in a good way.” Tague learned that being a good leader means leading others to understand growth and chasing what God has in store for them.

Tague said, “This award is super humbling. The list of people I can think of who deserve this award more than I do is long, and it is humbling to think that because of something God doing through you, you might get recognition.”

Check out his interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSWQqIuvhJQ.


Written by Emily Neideck, writer for the Alumni Center and a junior Writing major at IWU. She is active on the cross country and track teams. She is passionate about using her writing skills to share the good news of Christ with others and writes often on her personal blog at www.emilylehner.wordpress.com.

Pastor of the Week – Rev. Joe Jackson

– By Rev. Rick Carder

A Savanna is a grassy plain in a tropical or subtropical region, with few frees. 

Family photoThis statement was the vision seemingly given to Jennifer sometime before they were even considering Church Planting.  “I had a crazy dream that we had a third daughter and her name was Savanna,” Jennifer announced to her husband, Pastor Joe Jackson on a Saturday morning. This was not just a coincidence. They discovered that God was at work on them years before Joe left his successful sales job with Hershey Company.


A local publication, Resident Magazine.

January edition 2016, provides the backdrop for this feature and announcement about this week’s Pastor of the Week.

The next day at the new church when Jennifer was taking their two very young daughters to the children’s program, a young girl walked right up to her, looked her in the eye, and said “Hi, my name is Savanna.

Later in a restaurant again the confirmation came as the waitress introduced herself as Savanna. A bit later they were surprised to see a license plate with the letters “SAVANNA” on it.

But that day when he walked into the new job the first sentence out of a guest speaker’s mouth that day was this: ‘Today, I’d like to tell you about Savanna.’ Less than one hour on the job and Joe knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be.

What began in 2005 with a gentle nudge, Jackson began to prepare for ministry. The direction of their call to ministry was seeded by a deep desire to discover and journey in faith to a place of ministry that was confirmed the day they received the invitation to join in a new church plant in Florida.  Furthering his studies, he enrolled with Wesley Seminary. Graduating from Ball State in preparation for his successful role with Hershey in Sales and Management, Jackson found himself back at school preparing for a journey of faith that would lead his family a thousand miles from home.

“We didn’t know anyone when we first moved to Wesley Chapel (Florida),” confessed Jackson. It was a journey that God had been preparing he and his family for that now includes a growing congregation in a new building, newly remodeled as a place of worship. The congregation is running at about forty, but the impact of their partnerships in ministry includes serving over 250 families with clothing and providing Bible Studies and weekly worship ministry events.

image2The ministry has developed to help training and prepare others for ministry. In an article published by Tampa Bay news. (“Path for Savanna Church founder led from Indiana to east Pasco” September 9, 2015):

Savanna Church is a modern Christian church launching in Wesley Chapel. Our mission is to start a community of believers in Wesley Chapel that will lay the foundation for a new church that will offer hope to the hopeless and bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We believe that starting new churches is the most effective way to reach people for Jesus. We want to reproduce believers through the multiplication of disciples through apprenticeships in all areas of ministry, in an effort to multiply churches down the road.

Having to build the church from literally nothing meant sacrifices both physically and financially. The culmination of their vision has now effectively raised nearly $25,000 to remodel the building where they meet weekly.

savanna-church“We are blessed to have such a great location,” said Jackson. “God has given us a place of worship in a location that provides great parking space on the weekend that meets our needs,” he added.

His focus in not unique, but he is intentional about two key values; “Preach from the Bible and tell others about Jesus,” With enthusiasm, he tells me how God has called him and confirmed over-and-over that his ministry is off to a great start. Even his children have captured the spirit of this ministry.  His oldest daughter, who was 7 years old at the time, loved to tell people about the ministry. From Resident Magazine:

…Jennifer was having an unrelated conversation with their oldest daughter Julie…asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Julia responded swiftly that she wanted to be ‘a missionary in Florida.’

Reported in Wesleyan Life on-line article:

Through years of trial and error and experiences, Rev. Jackson has continued to see God’s hand in every circumstance as Savanna Church grows in order to serve the surrounding area. He is meeting community members and the church’s name is becoming known throughout Wesley Chapel. Another couple has also joined the church to serve alongside the Jacksons. Life change continues to occur as ministry opportunities grow.

The ministry is located in Wesley Chapel and you can visit them virtually find more information about the worship and ministries at www.savannachurch.com.


Read more about the interview here:

savanna-jacksonHow did being a student at IWU influence your future?

It helped shape my philosophy of ministry, gave me confidence in God’s calling, and prepared me practically for the challenges that I would face in planting Savanna Church in Wesley Chapel, FL four years later.

Do you have any favorite professors, classes or stories that reinforce your opinion?

Dr. Bob Whitesel was such a huge encouragement to me and still is.  In addition, Chris Bounds was incredible at helping shape my theology, and I thank him immensely for it.

Can you illustrate a time when you knew you had chosen the right path in becoming a pastor?

Yes, the moment my wife and I knew where we were called and began the lengthy process to answer that call.

What has been one of the biggest difficulties you have overcome for your congregation, yourself, your family, etc.?

Definitely starting a church from scratch a thousand miles from home, and from relationships, and from support has been extremely challenging.  In addition, my wife has blossomed into our worship leader (and is doing OUTSTANDING) and only four years ago taught herself to play guitar.  She is the greatest gift from God in my ministry.  She truly is my partner in this mission, and God is stretching her into what He has planned for her too.  God is good all the time.  All the time God is good.

Tell us about your church and congregation.

IWU Grads, Daniel & Tori Vegueria

We have finally purchased our first building and are growing into this great place.  We are made up of families that originate from all over the country.  Most of our people are transplants from somewhere else up north, but are young and working.  Our youth pastor Danny Vegueria and his wife Tori have started our new youth group called Elevate Student Ministries and we are expanding and growing our children’s ministry too.

What makes your job, church, etc. unique?

A parachute drop church plant a thousand miles from our families that has been able to secure our first building is very unique.

Any stories or illustrations on this point?

The very week I arrived here, living in a camper temporarily, I met leaders from a new developer (at a Chamber of Commerce event) that later allowed us to begin services in the clubhouse of that residential development for our first year.  That location was right by the place God had told us to come to “the savanna”.  That was confirmation that God was leading us.

Any words of wisdom for current IWU students?

Don’t be afraid to follow God into the deep weeds.  He has you in the palm of His hand and you can trust Him.


Written by Rev. Rick Carder, Director of Alumni and Church Engagement, Indiana Wesleyan University.