Scattered from the Panhandle to South Florida in rural communities and complex urban centers, graduates of The Baptist College of Florida are committed to “Changing the World through the Unchanging Word,” while serving Florida Baptist churches as pastors, church planters, ministry leaders and Christian educators.
Each year nearly 100 students graduate from BCF’s hallowed halls in Graceville, and as many as 75 percent of these will serve within the Sunshine State.
“The quality of education at BCF is reflected by their alumni,” said Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention. “Many BCF graduates serve our Florida Baptist churches with great distinction.
“A commitment to spiritual and academic excellence” and “a strong emphasis on conservative theological training” prepare students for ministry in the local church, Green noted.
BCF alumni have impacted the Florida Baptist State Convention (FBSC) by serving on governing boards of its institutions and agencies, playing significant roles both statewide and in their local churches.
These include senior pastors Craig Connor of First Baptist Church of Panama City, who preached the annual FBSC sermon in 2006; Michael Orr of First Baptist Chipley, immediate past president of the Florida Baptist Pastor’s Conference, who presented the Convention Sermon in 2013; and Shelly Chandler of First Baptist Church of Bonifay, who currently serves as chairman of the Florida Baptist Witness Board of Directors. All of these Panhandle pastors lead Florida Baptist churches that are state leaders in baptisms and Cooperative Program giving.
“I cannot imagine how my ministry would have been without the investment of the BCF in my life,” said Panama City Pastor Connor. “I was more than prepared for seminary because of the in-depth study of God’s Word while I was at Graceville. The professors not only gave me a great theological education, but also knowledge of how to practically apply that while leading a church.
Having accepted Christ as Savior at age 21, Connor said he knew very little about Florida Baptists when he arrived on campus. “By the time I left I had an awareness of the debt I owed to Florida Baptists. It has been a great joy of mine to be associated with the Florida Baptist Convention for the past 18 years–a Convention whose heart beats with the call to missions and evangelism.”
“The greatest thing I learned was the priority of integrity in ministry,” he added. “I learned that from the Godly professors who cared deeply for their students and practiced what they taught.”
“My education at BCF was invaluable, said Chipley pastor Orr. “It was a place where I was able to dig my well to draw from for ministry.
“Having so many people trained at BCF in our state increases the feeling of family among Florida Baptists,” he added.
BCF graduates also minister in thriving, metropolitan centers filled with multi-ethnic diversity. Joel Breidenbaugh, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Sweetwater in Longwood, said, “BCF gave me a great foundation for ministry. The school helped me build a comprehensive Christian worldview and helped me understand the biblical-theological undergirding of ministry.”
The Greater Orlando pastor served as the FBSC first vice president in 2011 and 2012, as a member of the State Board of Missions, and this year is president of the Pastor’s Conference—the second BCF alum to lead the group for two consecutive years.
He credits his BCF education, coupled with post-graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. for equipping him for his current ministry. “BCF was foundational and trained me for ministry in smaller churches. SBTS built upon that and trained me for ministry in larger churches. I would have never been ready for a medium-sized church without the preparation first laid by BCF and experience in smaller churches.”
Brooks Braswell has pastored rural First Baptist Church in moss-draped Umatilla for the past nine years, leading it from a small, sleepy congregation of several hundred to now more than 1,500 in worship with 100 annual baptisms. His time at BCF allowed him “to truly study the Bible from front to back, constantly learning more about God’s Word on a deeper level,” he said.
The pastor believes Florida Baptists are more unified than ever, attributing that in part to the network of BCF “brothers and sisters in Christ who serve all around the state.”
“God did not ask us to rewrite His gospel He’s asked us to recite it with how we live. One thing I learned was that the Word still changes lives today.”
First Baptist Leesburg Staff
Three staff members of First Baptist Church of Leesburg, a leader in ministry evangelism among Florida Baptist congregations, are BCF alums—youth pastor Chris Wegmann, worship pastor Stephen Wolgamott, and Josh Gussler who directs the church’s Samaritan Inn ministry.
“I believe strongly in BCF graduates,” said senior pastor Cliff Lea. “They are a huge part of what we do here.”
Wegmann said his experience at BCF “helped equip me to better communicate and love people in my ministry and the church as a whole.”
Wolgamott added, “The leadership and faculty that taught, trained and invested in me gave me the confidence that I would be able to lead in a variety of situations. I would not be doing what I am today had it not been for BCF.”
“Because of the opportunities and connections made at BCF,” Gussler said, “and to actively practice in the degree field I was training, I felt prepared to step out into full-time ministry. This exceptional Christian-based education allowed me to build a network of friends and colleagues that impact my life and ministry today.”
BCF President Thomas Kinchen said, “When students come to BCF, I count it as a sacred trust provided by our Lord. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to equip these students with the finest in academic training as well as the ‘hands-on’ experience of ministry.
“We are blessed to be located in a state where God is calling out an army of His people who are sold out to the mission of “Changing the World through the Unchanging Word.’”
By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, June 9, 2016