The call to ministry is oftentimes an invitation to follow God to distant and far-off locations. Even for those who do not choose to be missionaries, God’s call can lead them to places where they have not been. The paths for many are interweaving with others, allowing them to meet and serve alongside new and old friends alike.
With seminary students coming to Grace from all over the world and being sent out to locations around the world, imagine our surprise when we found out that two recent Master’s of Divinity graduates wound up in the same small town of Ashland, Ohio. Josh Wilson is the newly appointed lead pastor at Ashland Grace Church. (You may recognize the names two previous lead pastors; Dan Allen, who served on Grace College’s board of trustees, and Dr. John Teevan, our interim college president.) Joel Zook is at Southview Grace Brethren Church, where he has been the lead pastor for about six months.
Wilson and Zook were both a part of our blended program, receiving both their bachelor’s degree and an M. Div. in just five years at Grace Theological Seminary! The blended program allows each student to choose from seven undergraduate majors and fifteen graduate programs, providing more than 100 different combinations to choose from!
Wilson was our first blended program graduate, receiving his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and his M.Div. in Pastoral Studies in 2018. Zook received his M.Div. in Pastoral Studies in 2019. They were also recipients of several awards, Wilson receiving the Biblical Studies Award and the Kenneth E. Bickle Award for expository preaching. The following year Zook received the Faculty Award as well as the Homer A. Kent Award in New Testament.
Get to know these pastors in Ashland, Ohio, and learn more about how their time at Grace left its mark.
How did you first hear about Grace and decide to attend here?
Wilson: I grew up in Winona Lake, so I’ve known about Grace College for most of my life. In my junior year of high school I felt called to pursue ministry and Grace was an obvious choice!
Zook: I learned about Grace through the leaders at my church growing up. I grew up at Grace Church in Wooster, Ohio, so a lot of my pastors and mentors had attended Grace College and/or Seminary. But the biggest draw for me was the 5-year blended program. It was hard to pass up that opportunity!
Did you have a favorite class or professor while in the blended program at Grace?
Wilson: Is it fair to say that my favorite class was always the one I was in? Dr. Rata and Dr. LaGioia were definite highlights, but also Dr. Harmon and Dr. Hill had a great impact. I even enjoyed the business classes I took from Dr. Stichter and loved how he connected his lessons in accounting with the greater work of God in our lives.
Zook: My favorite class was New Testament Theology with Dr. Harmon. That class gave me categories for understanding Scripture that made its redemptive storyline come alive.
What were some of your favorite experiences at Grace?
Wilson: The relationships with both professors and peers were instrumental in my growth. I was given several opportunities in various ministries: leading Adult Bible Fellowship in college groups, teaching children, leading a middle school boys small group, and even interning at my local church, Winona Lake Grece Brethren. The teaching opportunities were numerous as well, as I provided pulpit supply in area churches, joined the preaching team at WLGBC, and taught at Grace Village once a month. One special opportunity was co-preaching a sermon with Dr. Rata.
Zook: I loved being involved in Dr. Harmon’s mentor group throughout seminary. Every week a group of students would meet at his house for Bible study and prayer, and afterward, we’d hang out, eat homemade dessert made by his wife, watch sports, and play ping pong. I cherish his investment in our lives and the friendships formed in that group.
Who was a mentor to you at Grace?
Wilson: The classroom and community provided so many mentoring opportunities. Dr. Tiberius Rata continues to be a source of support in local ministry. Dr. Rock LaGioia was very instrumental in helping formulate my theology. Pastor Kip Cone at WLGBC helped me understand the importance of connecting the church people with the community around them.
Zook:: John Sloat, Director of the School of Ministry Blended Program, was a mentor while I was on campus. When he was an RD, he hired me as an RA during undergrad, but even after that, we continued to meet regularly to read Greek together and talk about all things life and ministry. He was there for me to help me process a lot of big decisions in my life.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since being in ministry?
Wilson: God is sovereign. His word is sufficient. Those two things have carried me through all that has happened in my ministry. Every pastor should be anchored in these truths, knowing that God is in control, leading and guiding his church and that nothing is outside of God’s control.
Zook: Trust is extremely valuable, and it takes time to earn. Almost immediately after I was voted in as Lead Pastor, our congregation was hit hard by sickness and death. As we walked through that, I realized just how much people need a shepherd that they know loves them and cares for them. So building that kind of trust has become one of my main goals early in my ministry.
Pastors always have book recommendations. What are yours?
Wilson: Brothers, We are Not Professionals by John Piper
Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
Zook: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. No book more beautifully captures the heart of Christ for his people. It was like a cool drink of water for my soul. And it has short chapters, which is always a huge plus for me!
What do you believe are the biggest threats facing the church in our society today?
Wilson: Biblical literacy is becoming a bigger issue with every passing year. It is notable that studies show Christians still affirm the Bible is authoritative, but start asking questions about what it actually teaches and it becomes evident that we do not really know what it says or how it all points to Christ. This is a problem because right living flows out of right believing. Where biblical literacy is absent, pragmatism prevails. But we need to trust God’s timing and His results, keeping in mind that whatever produces the most immediate results is not necessarily the right direction.
Zook: One of the biggest challenges we need to understand and be prepared to address is our culture’s obsession with expressive individualism, which is the belief that individuals have the basic right to define the terms of their own existence, which comes primarily from looking within oneself. The two greatest commandments in our culture are not “Love God and love people,” but rather “Be true to yourself and affirm who everyone else claims to be.” Western assumptions about freedom and happiness have made self-discovery and personal autonomy the chief arbiters of morality and truth, causing people to be at best skeptical and at times hostile towards anything that threatens to stifle self-defined freedom. Expressive individualism creates a host of challenges for churches and pastors: a personalized/relativized understanding of truth, a deep mistrust in institutions, a selfish and pragmatic view of church involvement (What’s in it for me? How does this make me happy/fulfilled?)
What are your goals for local church ministry?
Wilson: Ultimately I want to stand before God with no regrets. To that end, I want to ensure that Christians have a mature understanding of what the Bible teaches. I want to boldly and faithfully teach the word and love the people I have been called to shepherd.
Zook: As a pastor, I have two life-long goals in ministry. First, be a faithful husband and father who models godliness. Second, be a faithful shepherd leader who loves and feeds the flock God has entrusted to me. My prayer is that as I pursue both of these goals, our local church body would become a community that compellingly reflects the character of Christ and reaches the lost with the hope of Christ.
Are you interested in learning more about the blended program degree options at Grace Theological Seminary? From wherever you are to wherever you’re going, you can be equipped to succeed at Grace.