Reenvisioning Seminary Training: What We Love About Rockbridge Seminary

Amy and I were a young married couple during my last semester of traditional seminary. During this season my professor Dr. Sam Simmons, cofounder of Rockbridge Seminary, invited me into a conversation about a new kind of educational approach to training ministers in churches. He spoke of a seminary experience that would not require pastors, ministers or church leaders to leave their ministry assignments and uproot their lives. The curriculum would be theologically solid but also carry equal weight in training the practical aspects of ministry, something seminaries are not typically known for offering. The focus would be on developing servant leaders who last in ministry by encouraging them to cultivate habits that encourage them to grow spiritually and emotionally. Intentionally focusing on the soul care needed for the difficult work and demands of ministry life.

My heart and my mind were captivated! I was hooked and ready to do seminary over again! In 2004 the dream became a reality as cofounders, Dr. Daryl Eldridge, Dr. Sam Simmons and Dr. Gary Waller, pioneers at the time in distance seminary education, launched Rockbridge’s first class. Sixteen years later we continue to fulfill our mission of developing men and women as servant leaders for Christian ministry. There are many aspects of Rockbridge that set it apart in the educational terrain, but Amy and I want to share seven distinctives that we love about our seminary.


Our foundation is unapologetically the Word of God. In a culture attempting to systematically deconstruct historical Christianity, moral absolutes, and Biblical authority and relevance, Rockbridge is committed to promotion of Biblical literacy and protection of these precious truths.  We have always made it a priority to develop ministry leaders who can think biblically, theologically, and strategically.


Our students are at the center of our mission. Students are not just an enrollment number. Our administration, staff, and faculty are intentional about building personal relationships with students inside and outside the classroom. Our mission is to equip and develop servant leaders prepared for their ministry and calling.  We believe a major part of this process happens through ongoing relationships and mentoring. Support and an engagement are a hallmark of student life at Rockbridge.


Our Model: Anytime, anyplace, anywhere learning. We love the freedom and flexibility our program offers. I remember well the tiring drive back and forth through LA traffic to attend seminary classes multiple times a week. The amount of time away from my family, the money and energy divested just to get to class was a major sacrifice. Rockbridge’s accessibility to anyone with a desire to acquire a seminary education, while continuing to serve God in their respective ministry and places of service has always been of a part of the dream. No longer limited by the constraints of attending a class at a specific time, or a residential requirement that could expect students to uproot their lives and disrupt their work and ministry – if you have an internet connection, you can be a student.


Our professors are practitioners. Faculty and staff understand the complexities and challenges of ministry because they are ministers. Rockbridge’s high value that our professors be serving in ministry is a distinctive that brings real world ministry into the classroom environment. Weekly class discussions are full of meaningful and practical real-time application for ministry and work contexts.


Our tuition is one of the lowest in the country. Rockbridge’s commitment to being affordable provides the opportunity for many to obtain a seminary education. Our “pay-as-go” model allows for students to pay for each class individually. Most of our students graduate without educational debt.


Our student community is diverse and from around the world. The opportunity to be in class with men and women, missionaries and pastors, bivocational ministry leaders, business professionals, and teachers from around the globe provides a unique opportunity to develop a first-hand global perspective of what God is doing in our world.


Our curriculum is thoughtfully designed for the online environment and today’s ministry context. Rockbridge’s accredited degree programs emphasize local church ministry, theological practice, strategic application, and biblical competencies in ministry. Our goal is to prepare you for a lifetime of serving in the Kingdom. Over 97% of our students love their Rockbridge experience and 100% would recommend us to anyone considering pursuing seminary education.

We know attending seminary is a major life decision. Helping and supporting our student’s choice to pursue God’s call and purpose in ministry is our passion. These seven distinctives are just some of the many reasons we love Rockbridge, our students, faculty and staff.

Be sure to watch Heath Tucker’s testimony about his experience at Rockbridge.


Dr. Ingrid Buch-Wagler – A Life of Worship

Dr. Ingrid Buch-Wagler, one of our long-time faculty members passed away August 31, 2020.  Dr. Buch-Wagler left an indelible print on our students and seminary.  She will be greatly missed. Ingrid Buch-Wagler held a Ph.D. in Conflict Management from Trinity Theological Seminary and taught at Rockbridge Seminary since 2009. Her classes included Developing the Focused Life, the Theology and Practice of Worship, and Practicing the Focused Life.  Her teaching and research interests included Conflict Management, Worship, and Mentoring/Discipleship.

She described herself as, “the daughter of Pastor Mark; sister of Dr. Wes; wife of Dr. Johnny; mother to John Jamin Wagler, a musician and sound engineer; worship leader of a fine church body; mentor to some awesome young women; prof to great students;  and watched over by a coterie of amazing friends.”  Ingrid enjoyed daily prayer walks, working out, singing in her head, and enjoyed her little home office which is filled with all the books and things she loved. She was of Danish-English heritage, a Canadian citizen, and happily lived in the U.S. as an alien.  Listen to the remarks from her students:

“I also enjoyed reading stories written by Professor Buch-Wagler.”

“I really enjoyed the classmates and Dr. Ingrid’s interactions throughout the course. Lots of great perspectives.”

“I enjoyed the student/Professor interactions the most. Very insightful on reality.”

“Dr. Buch-Wagler was fantastic!”

 “I loved having Dr. Buch-Wagler as the professor. She was personal, friendly and very interactive with each of the students. She gave insight and much value to the learning process.”

“Online conversations and interactions with Dr. Buch-Wagler were my favorite aspects of this course.”

“Dr. Buch-Wagler was encouraging while holding us very accountable. Great balance.”

“The course was led through an outstanding desire to worship by Dr. Ingrid Buch-Wagler. I can’t wait to meet her, truly an encouraging course leader!”

“Dr. Ingrid Buch-Wagler was a great professor for the course. She is smart, has great insight on worship, responds quickly to any questions, and is very encouraging. I would love to have another class with her. She is a great asset for Rockbridge Seminary.”

“Dr. Ingrid was encouraging and supportive throughout the class. I felt she was available and engaging. LOVED this class.”

“The professor was one of the most enjoyable aspects of this course. She is a wonderful educator.”

“Dr. Ingrid– she’s amazing!”

I loved to hear Dr. Ingrid Buch-Wagler pray in our faculty meetings.  She lived a life of worship.  In honor of her life and service, we are reposting a blog she wrote for us.  Please pray for her family.

The Truth Online Learning by Dr. Ingrid Buch-Wagler

I am an online professor. When I first started teaching online it was 2005 and I thought quite frankly, “This will never work.” Now over a decade later, so much has changed, including my opinion.  Online theological studies allow a student to be both in the field and in the academy at the same time, with both informing the other. Rockbridge students must already be in ministry. The seminary is only looking for students who have already received a call, have had that call endorsed, and are serving in a church or para-church community. The great value of a Rockbridge theological education is two fold: it is very hands-on practical and it involves a local mentor. The adult learners I serve in Rockbridge worship courses are not wanting an ivory tower education. They are wanting real applications to the real situations in which they engage. In the courses I teach, students want to feel that I have the academic side covered, but that I know the ropes because I too am in ministry. And I do. I was born into it. My dad, brother, and husband have all been pastors. I began serving when my dad would take me along on his pastoral visitation and I would belt out hymns. I was 11 years old when I was ready to accompany congregational singing on Sunday morning. But I am clear in the worship courses I teach, that worship is not first about music. It is about a posture of the heart.

I think the greatest value of online learning is the collaborative nature of the community built in each course. Students engage with men and women from different ages, stages, ecclesiastical streams, ethnicities, backgrounds, and geographical locales. They serve in small rural churches, mega churches in suburbia, and missions in the inner city. They are all there to learn from the course content and each other.

These learners already know who they are and what they are about. They are not trying to find themselves. They know how to manage one more area of their life as they go back to online “school.” They are motivated and confident. That I as a professor get to speak into their lives and facilitate their goals is such an honor.


Character and Leadership

The most important factor to consider when choosing a leader is not their beliefs or ideas, but their character.  Experience, vision, ideas, and strategies are all important, but character trumps all.  A leader can gain experience.  Vision, ideas, and strategies change, but character tells who a leader really is and what they will do.

Jeremiah warned the nation of Israel about following leaders of weak character, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23).  Jeremiah knew that leaders who have consistently demonstrated deep character flaws are unlikely to change for the better, and when we follow them we can fall into their distorted ways of thinking and acting.

Character matters.  Effective, transformational leadership begins with the heart.  The heart question Jesus asks is, “Are you a servant leader or a self-serving leader?”

When faced with choosing a leader, here are some questions to ask about their character:

  • Do they tell the truth? Are they honest and trustworthy?
  • Do they do what they say they will do?
  • Are they open and transparent about their life?
  • Do they admit failure and accept responsibility when thing go wrong, or do they blame others?
  • Are they kind? Are they decent? Do they show respect to everyone?
  • How do they treat others, including critics of their ideas?
  • Are they violent with their words?  Are they retaliatory?
  • Do they talk about “we” and “us,” or is their language “me,” “my,” and “I?”
  • Do they use “us” against “them” language?
  • Who is in their inner circle of influence?  Birds of a feather flock together.
  • What do their former colleagues say about their leadership?
  • Do they listen and follow wise counsel?
  • Do they have a rich inner life, a deep connection with God that guides their decisions?

Persons with poor character lead, but where will they lead you?  Self-serving leaders serve themselves.  Servant leaders serve others.  Leadership and organizations break down when there is no trust, and trust can only come from knowing that our leaders operate from a deep heart of service.

Our culture is attracted by charismatic personalities, who may or may not have a rich inner life.  We are impressed by the appearance of success.  What we should carefully examine in our leaders is their character.

Daryl Eldridge is President Emeritus of Rockbridge Seminary and teaches the course, Lead Like Jesus.

Our Mission

You can support the mission of Rockbridge to develop servant leaders for Christian ministry through this this online link or by mailing checks to Rockbridge Seminary, 3111 E. Battlefield, Springfield, MO 65804.  Thank you for your support!


Foundation for the Future

Many years ago, when my wife Amy and I visited New York City for the first time, I was in awe of the size of the skyscrapers. New York City boasts over 6,000 tall buildings and over 250 Skyscrapers. I was impressed and somewhat mesmerized by these giants and so curious to know what it took to engineer and construct one of these marvels.

Early on in our trip, as we ventured through the city, we passed a construction site building a large office complex. One of the architects happened to be standing outside the construction zone looking at plans. I could not resist the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity

As we talked, he explained the intricacy of such a massive project and emphasized repeatedly that nothing of this size and scale could be constructed without a carefully planned and skillfully built foundation. “It’s the most important part of the process and it takes the most time,” he said. “Somewhere between 6 to 24 months depending on the size of the building. But with the right foundation we can build just about anything we want.”

The conversation instantly reminded me of what Jesus taught us about the importance of building on the right foundation. He said,

“Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock…” Matthew 7:24-25

 Jesus is the Rock we are meant to build every aspect of our life upon. Today we find ourselves in a new cultural landscape of shifting sands- very little feels certain or solid. However, Christ and His word remains true, steadfast and unchanging. He is our unshakable foundation when the winds of culture blow, rains of uncertainty fall and the floods of fear rage.

Today as I reflect on my first week of being a part of the Rockbridge team as President, I am so impressed with the incredible foundation that has already been laid by those I deeply respect.  Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The co-founders of Rockbridge Seminary, Dr. Daryl Eldridge, Dr. Sam Simmons, and Dr. Gary Waller are giants of the faith for the hard, risk-taking, sacrificial work of laying the foundation of our school. Their passion for the gospel, commitment to practical, biblically sound, and accessible theological education and a deep love for pastors and ministers has ensured that we have stayed true to our name: Rockbridge, a seminary built on the true rock Jesus Christ   The foundation they have laid and the global seminary that has resulted  allows each of us to stand on their shoulders to see further, soar higher and serve greater our King and his mission in the world.

Amy and I are humbled and honored to join the Rockbridge team and continue the mission to develop men and women for Christian ministry and servant leadership around the world.  We will continue to build upon the foundation that has been laid to develop and equip:

Servant leaders who know God and know His Word. (2 Tim. 2:15 & Acts 2:42)

Servant leaders who love God and love others. (Mark 12:30-31)

Servant leaders who serve God and minister to others. (James 1:22)

Servant leaders who employ practices that nourish their inner lives. (Prov. 4:23 & Eph. 3:17-19)

More than ever, the world needs godly, loving, courageous, compassionate leaders to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Men and women deeply rooted in God’s word, who listen to the Holy Spirit and follow the Lord wherever He may lead. The opportunities have never been greater for fearless ambassadors to lovingly and boldly proclaim the hope of the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

The faculty, staff, and I are honored to be a part of your journey. We consider it a deep privilege to support you and encourage you wherever you find yourself serving in our Savior’s Kingdom. In the days ahead I look forward to talking to every student, hearing your story and continuing the journey together.

Looking forward to the future!

Tommy Hilliker

Pastor Tom Bartlett (MDIV, 2008) Shares his Experience at Rockbridge


Course Highlight – M6405 Building an Effective Ministry Team

This course is a study of the leadership skills required to build effective ministry teams. The course examines the characteristics of high performance teams, clear common goals, diversity of roles in teams, effective team processes, how to build the team, the role of communication in team building, and pitfalls to avoid in team development.

It’s not too late to enroll for the fall terms.  Term 2020-T5 begins September 1.  For more information contact admissions@rockbridge.edu.

Skills in Ministry

What does it take to be an effective minister of the gospel? That was the question that launched Rockbridge Seminary. When we began this new approach to seminary education, we worked with hundreds of pastors to identified 35 competencies for effective ministry. Those competencies were organized by purpose: fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism, and worship. Out of our study, we developed an instrument to help Christian leaders assess their ministry skills. To date, over 3000 leaders have taken the survey. The scale is a 4-point scale and is scored as follows: Beginning-1, Developing-2, Strong-3, Well-Developed-4. The top five skills identified by full-time pastors are:

Top Five Ministry Skills Identified by Pastors

MS #

Ministry Skill

Average Score


F-4 Works effectively with others.



E-6 Respects persons of different cultural, social, and religious backgrounds.



F-2 Sensitive to the needs and feelings of others.



F-5 Listens and responds in ways that let people know they have been heard.



F-1 Builds and maintains healthy relationships with others.  3.25



These findings bear out that effective ministers have effective relationships with others. In ministry as in life, relationship skills trump all other skills. Coming in number 7 in ranking was “Demonstrates godly humility and sacrificial love for those in the church.” Our churches are better when we have leaders who are servants.

Other interesting findings are what pastors scored themselves low in. Here are the bottom five ministry skills identified by full-time pastors.

Bottom Five Ministry Skills Identified by Pastors

MS #                                     Ministry Skill

Average Score


E-3 Leads the church in planning and conducting cross-cultural missions.



E-2 Leads the church in an effective program of evangelism.



F-6 Develops small groups and leads them to birth new groups.



F-7 Leads the church in developing a process for connecting new members into the life and purposes of the church.



D-4 Leads the church in planning, conducting, and evaluating a comprehensive program of discipleship and Christian maturity.





We believe there is a correlation between these scores and the failing discipleship in our churches. An informal poll conducted by the author at a pastor’s conference discovered that 95% of pastors were not part of a small group experience, either as a leader or participant. Recently a pastor told me that the pandemic revealed the Church’s deficient in discipleship. He said, “We’ve placed too much emphasis, time, and resources on a one-hour weekend event, rather than discipling our members who can disciple others.” The ministry skills assessment affirms that diagnosis.

Students at Rockbridge also complete the assessment in their first and last course. In addition to their self-inventory, a 360-degree assessment is collected from their mentors, peers, and people they serve. As would be expected, students enter Rockbridge with lower scores than the scores of full-time pastors. Upon graduation, Rockbridge students in the 2016 cohort scored higher in 34 of the 35 competencies than when they began their studies. What was more surprising is that upon completing their studies at Rockbridge, students scored higher than the full-time pastors in 32 of the 35 competencies. If you would like to see a chart of these findings, please go to this link.

If you would like to take the assessment click on this link.

Graduation 2020 Ceremony

You may watch the Rockbridge Seminary 2020 Commencement program by clicking on this link.



The Meaning of Commencement

Commencement comes from a Latin word that means inception or beginning. The name refers to the ceremony of initiation for new scholars into the fellowship of university teachers in medieval Europe. The event marked their entrance into full-fledged academic lives. In other words, those who had been taught were expected now to teach others what they had learned. The same expectation exists today at our school. Rockbridge Seminary disciples leaders who disciple the world.

For graduates of Rockbridge, ministry life doesn’t begin after graduation. These graduates are already proven leaders who have served Christ and his Church for years. The average age of our graduates is 46, but people in their 70s have completed a degree at Rockbridge. Most of our students do not come to Rockbridge to put another piece of paper on their wall, or with hope of finding a more lucrative ministry position. They come because they are questers, seekers of truth, explorers of the sacred.

Many years ago, I was told that the pouch formed in the tail of the doctoral hood was used like a collection plate. Students would pay tribute to their professors by dropping money in the pouch. That makes for a great story, but it never happened to me. Students have enriched my life in so many other ways. Over the years, I have received notes expressing thanks for something I said or did. Most of the time I am sure I didn’t make the brilliant statement ascribed to me, but I am glad that I was part of that student’s life. That is reward enough.

Students continue to inspire me with their resilience and persistence in completing their studies. You will hear some of their stories in this year’s commencement address. Students humble me by their commitment to Christ. They astound me by their creativity in ministering to the needs of others. Their questions have kept me learning. I have gained far more than I have given.

The July 2020 Rockbridge commencement is the last one I will preside over. Interestingly, because of coronavirus, this graduation’s commencement address was recorded in my home office: a fitting end to my journey of online seminary education. Over the past 36 years I have participated in approximately 50 commencement ceremonies. I have witnessed thousands of students walking across the stage, fulfilling their goal of becoming more effective ministry leaders. My mind is filled with memories of families celebrating the accomplishments of their graduates, congratulatory words expressed and family members saying, “I am proud of you.” Hugs and kisses. Pats on the back. Moms, dads, spouses, and other family members bursting with pride. Photos taken to record this important slice of history. Children looking uncomfortable in their celebratory clothes but sensing that this event is a big deal. Smiles and tears of joy. It is a poignant reminder of why we do what we do.

I will miss being physically together this year to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates. I am looking forward to the day when all of us will celebrate what God accomplished in our lives. To Him be the glory. Until then, I will remember the rich encounters I’ve had with fellow learners and smile with joy.

Commencement Premier, July 13, 8:00 p.m. Central

We invite you to join us for our digital graduation commencement which premiers on July 13, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. Central (Chicago).  To view the event beginning July 13, go to the following link.  Please bookmark the link so that you can quickly and easily return to it.  Share the link with family and friends.  After the ceremony, you will be able to download the video and share it with others. A commencement booklet is now available on the above link.



I live in Galveston, Texas, where Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of slaves, originated.  It was on June 19th, 1865, that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed on our island with the news that the war had ended and slaves were now free.  This news was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and months after the South surrendered.  General Granger read this proclamation:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.

This week, thanks to recommendations from friends, I read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo, and Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingstone Smith.  I also read the history of a large, famous seminary in the South that was founded by slave owners.  The biblical scholars and pastors who founded the seminary defended slavery in their teaching and writing, fought for the South in the civil war, promoted segregation, and opposed civil rights.   As I ponder the ideas I’ve read, here are a few of my personal reflections and feelings this week:

I don’t know what I don’t know. I was aware of some of the issues facing people of color, but I am still ignorant on the systemic nature of racism. I haven’t thought deeply about how I am part of a system that created the mess we’re in.  I am a beneficiary of the system.  I don’t write this as an excuse, but as an acknowledgement of how much I need to learn.  Like with many things in life, the only way for me to know what I don’t know is to invite truth tellers into my life.  To allow truth tellers into my life requires trust.  Trust requires relationships.  Others will not share their thoughts and feelings with me if they don’t trust me or I don’t trust them.  Trust takes time and presence.  It requires humility.  It also requires me to listen and not become defensive when others speak truth.  I’m not very good at hearing what I don’t want to hear about myself or about my tribe.  I’m learning.

The problem is so big, what can I do? I found myself looking at the racism  in our country and feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted.  I can’t change the past.  I don’t have much runway left.  What can I do?  Moving forward, I will be intentional about how I invest my time, my money, and my relationships in efforts to abolish the inequities and injustices created by the dualistic supremacist ideology in our society.  So, if you have ideas on where to begin, drop me a note.

What questions are we not asking? Some of my readings this week included the writings of pastors and theologians who taught that White supremacy was God-ordained.  This was not a new revelation to me.  I knew the history, even of the denomination I served.  I congratulated myself that I had put that wrong theology and those who perpetuated these evils in my rear-view mirror.

My readings this week reminded me of the important role that theological education plays in our culture.  What we teach matters.  Seminary professors in the South taught that Blacks were inferior, to be treated as a commodity like cattle; they were less than human.  This view was not limited to the 1800s.  As a young man, I heard pastors teach that White supremacy was the result of the curse of Ham upon his son Canaan.  This story was used to justify the subjugation of the Canaanite people by the Israelites.  Several thousand years later, this same story was used to justify the subjugation of Blacks by Whites—all in the name of God’s will.  This theology was incongruent with my experience on an integrated college basketball team, where players were not judged by their skin color, but by their character and contributions to our team.  It was also incompatible with my view of a loving God.

The Bible has been wrongly used to oppress others and keep the status quo.  If we want to see a systemic change in our country the Church must critically ask, “How has our theology shaped and undergirded domination and supremacy?  How did the good news of Jesus become only for the chosen, the select few, the favored?  How are the Church’s teachings continuing to contribute to the sins of dominance and racism?

From its inception, Rockbridge has been committed to providing a diverse learning community, not just of skin color, gender, and denominations, but also of thought and practice.  We have persons of color on our board and faculty.  We can do better.  To that continued end, we are asking hard questions about the role we can play in seeing racial equality become a reality in our churches and society.  How do we help students think theologically about the issues of our day?  In the coming months, we will examine how we can revise our curriculum and add persons of color in leadership roles.  We call on our students and alumni to help us shape the future.

Let’s commemorate Juneteenth by working for racial equality.  As 1 Corinthians 12 teaches, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Until all of us are free, none of us are free.  We are in this together.

Rockbridge Commencement – July 13

We invite you to join us for our virtual graduation commencement which premiers on July 13, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. Central (Chicago).  To view the event beginning July 13, go to the following link.  Please bookmark the link so that you can quickly and easily return to it.  Share the link with family and friends.  After the ceremony, you will be able to download the video and share it with others. A commencement booklet will also be available before the commencement begins.

Passing the Baton

Dear Members of the Rockbridge Seminary Community,

Over a year ago, I announced my plans to retire as president at the end of 2020. The board of trustees and I have been working on a succession plan to select the next president. It has been an awesome privilege and honor to serve as one of the founders of Rockbridge Seminary. As I close out eighteen years, I am grateful for the opportunity the board of trustees gave me to be part of creating a new way of developing leaders for Christian ministry.

On behalf of the board of trustees and presidential search committee, I am pleased to announce that Rev. Tommy Hilliker has accepted the role of president of Rockbridge Seminary. He will assume his duties as president on August 1, 2020. Over the coming months, I will assist with the transition and spearhead our reaccreditation efforts.

Following an extensive national search, our board unanimously selected Rev. Hilliker from a diverse and qualified group of candidates. Hilliker comes to Rockbridge from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, where he served as the advancement campaign manager. Hilliker helped to oversee the strategy, development, and implementation of a $25 million capital and endowment giving campaign. Additionally, Hilliker taught classes on collegiate success and spiritual formation as an adjunct professor.

Rev. Hilliker has always had a heart for the ministry of pastors in the local church. He began his career in admissions and career counseling at Southern Seminary, helping students explore ministry career pathways. Hilliker moved from there to a role as creative marketing director for the pastoral resource website, Pastors.com. He then served for fourteen years at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, first as the pastor of membership, and then as the global pastor of ministries. He also served as a Saddleback elder. He has a commitment to the Purpose Driven Church principles upon which Rockbridge was founded.

As Saddleback’s global pastor of ministries, Hilliker was responsible for leading strategic initiatives for the main and multisite campuses. He oversaw the mobilization of volunteers and development of ministries, local missions, pastoral care, the PEACE Center (Community Resource Center), and the church-wide discipleship process known as CLASS. During his time of leadership in Saddleback’s membership care, growth, retention, and assimilation efforts, church membership grew by over 11,000 in four years.

Having served as a leader in pastoral care, Rev. Hilliker is passionate about the well-being of ministers. He wants Rockbridge to be known as a seminary that cares about every aspect of the ministry leader’s life and provides true soul care for students and their families. Hilliker is committed to continuing the development and practice of spiritual disciplines in every course, so that graduates will know God intimately. When asked about his new role at Rockbridge, Hilliker said:

“I see the critical importance of continuing to advance how we prepare pastors and ministry leaders. I want us to continue to cultivate an environment of innovation in digital learning. Rockbridge must stay current with best practices and excellence in academics, and always look for better ways to equip men and women for Christian ministry. We want to be widely known as a seminary where everyone will receive high-quality biblical training that is affordable, accessible, and practical. Today more than ever, our world needs deeply formed disciples, partnering with God, to advance His Kingdom.”

Rev. Hilliker has a Master of Divinity from Gateway Seminary and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Marriage, and Family from Liberty University. He was ordained to the ministry at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida.

The board of trustees and I enthusiastically welcome Tommy Hilliker, his wife, Amy, and their children Kaylie, Cassidy, and Caleb to Rockbridge Seminary. We strongly believe that Hilliker’s character, decisive leadership, and collaborative spirit will position our seminary for excellence and growth in the years ahead.

I eagerly anticipate hearing stories in the years ahead of how God is using Rock’rs to transform the lives of people around the world.

The Power of Ministry Coaches

One group of servant leaders who invest in the lives of our students are local mentors.  Rockbridge students are required to enlist local ministry coaches for every course.  Our students serve in a wide variety of settings, including small rural churches, ministry organizations, large urban churches, and in other countries and language groups.  The coaches help students apply their learning to the local ministry context.  Over 250 mentors have volunteered their time and resources to assist our students.  We could not accomplish our mission without their invaluable help.

We believe that regardless of where you are in your journey, all of us need cheerleaders and coaches.  Our mentor process is effective, in part, because students personally enlist their ministry coaches rather than Rockbridge assigning them mentors.  It is important for students to be able to relate personally to their coaches.  Students choose mentors who are effective in the ministry skills they need to develop.  Students may use multiple mentors throughout their program.

We’re fortunate to have the best of the best investing in our students.  We ask students to meet weekly with their mentors.  These mentors are busy, and yet they give sacrificially to serve our students.  Because of the bond students form with their mentors, it is no surprise that students tell us their experiences with mentors are an important influence on their educational experience at Rockbridge.

Seventy-three percent of students identify their mentor experience as important or very important to their growth as a leader.  Students tell us that their relationship with their mentors helps them in many ways, with these three benefits listed at the top: (1) gaining a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses; (2) improving their pastoral skills, and (3) achieving greater self-understanding.

While the mentors provide encouragement and guidance to the students, they report that they also gain from the experience, as seen in this sampling of comments from mentors about their students:

“[This student] has tremendous self-awareness of who she is, her gifts, her weaknesses, her skills and abilities–-probably more than anyone I have met at her age!  She is passionate about making a difference.”

“[This student] prepared and delivered his first public sermon.  He also was able to get critical feedback from peers.  Go God!

“[This mentoring experience] enlightened me regarding the historical and biblical perspectives of worship.  It also provided me with information regarding the diversity of worship in different congregations.  I enjoyed the experience and am blessed to be able to serve as a mentor.”

Students begin their journey at Rockbridge by taking a Ministry Skills Assessment inventory (MSA).  This tool appraises their skills in worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.  At the end of their program, students, mentors, and coworkers of students evaluate the students in those same skills.  The average student begins the Rockbridge journey with a composite score on the skills assessment of 2.58 on a 4.0 scale.  At the end of the program, the average student’s self-scores increase to 2.96.  However, on the mentors’ evaluations of the 2019 cohort, students’ ministry skills scores averaged 3.58 on a 4.0 scale.  This means students went from the beginning and developing stages in their skills to being strong and well-developed ministers.

Mentors not only impact the lives of their mentees, but through the mentees’ disciples impact the lives of thousands.  That is the power of ministry coaches.

It’s Friday, but . . .

This Sunday will be the most unusual Easter we have experienced in our lifetime. We will not dress up in our spring outfits or gather with others at a church building.  We will not be together with family to enjoy an Easter egg hunt with the kids or eat a lavish meal.  We will not sing songs of the resurrection in the physical presence of others.  Restaurants, parks, and beaches will be closed.  Many of the elderly and singles will find themselves isolated and alone.  Easter as we have known it will be different this year.

As churches worldwide broadcast Easter services, ten thousand of our fellow humans will die from COVID-19.  One hundred thousand new cases of coronavirus will manifest across the globe.  Several million more people will lose their jobs and wonder how they are going to pay the bills.

Anxiety and fear are rampant.  Medical systems are stretched to the max.  Medical personnel are exhausted from long days and limited breaks.  Health care workers fear for their own lives and the safety of family members.  Medical supplies and equipment are in short supply.  Doctors and nurses grieve that despite their best efforts only 20% of their patients on respirators will live.

Some pastors are prophesying that this is the end of times; the apocalypse is here. This is God’s punishment for our sin.  The world is full of darkness.

This must have been how the disciples felt on the first Good Friday.  From their perspective, there was nothing good about that day.  Their teacher and friend hung on a cross.  They watched the Messiah writhe in pain as he suffered a torturous death.  Those first followers feared for their lives.  Some gave in to despair and others went into hiding.

Some years ago, Tony Campolo preached a sermon entitled “It’s Friday but Sunday’s Comin’!”  I encourage you to watch it.  Campolo reminded us that when everything feels dark and hopeless, resurrection is on its way.  Friday is a good metaphor for what we are experiencing right now.  This, however, is not the end of our story.

Years from now, we will look back on this unique Easter weekend and share stories of resurrection.  We will discuss breakthroughs in medicine.  We will marvel at the innovations in business, churches, and government.  We will recall fond memories of how the virus brought families and friends closer together.  We will rejoice for the lives that were changed because of newfound faith.  While there is sadness now, our sorrow will turn into joy.  This is the message of Easter.

Yes, it’s Friday . . . but Sunday’s comin’!