Part of Corey Pelton’s work is to come alongside the pastors who are already leading churches in rural areas, whether they are Presbyterian, Baptist, or another denomination. “I don’t want to just gather PCA people,” he says. “I want to reach numerous denominations, locals, and people outside of the church. I’m identifying local leaders within the communities but also without. I’ve been able to present at the PCA’s General Assembly, talk with presbyteries, and speak at seminaries about the work of small town rural ministry.”
Corey has gotten to know one pastor in particular who is already in ministry, Will Davis of Jerusalem Baptist Church in Mineral Bluff, GA. “Will is the 6th generation of his family to live in this area. Because of his roots, he’s reaching people who I might not be able to reach in 100 years,” explains Corey. “I would love to have a cohort of guys like him who can meet regularly to support each other, study theology, and grow in ministry.”
Many of these pastors are bivocational, Will included. He came to Jesus at 14-years-old, married his wife at 19-years-old, and runs a trash collection service during the week. “The Lord put a big impression on my heart to join the ministry,” Will says, “but I didn’t really feel like that was me. I was shy and didn’t see myself as a pastor, but during one sermon in particular, I had the feeling that it was meant for me, and I stood up and announced my call to preach. The very next week, I preached at Junaluski Baptist Church up in Andrews, NC. After that, I started preaching every Wednesday night at my home church and guest preaching on Sundays to fill in for other pastors.”
Will has been pastoring Jerusalem Baptist Church for two years now. As he’s studied preaching and theology, he’s seen himself grow. “I went from kind of a shallow approach to scripture to really digging into it. I got into expository preaching, looking at what the Bible says, and I started reading a lot of Reformed guys. I started out studying eschatology, and it seemed like all of the Baptist guys went one way, so I looked at different perspectives and found Reformed teachers. I kind of came into the doctrine of grace backwards by studying eschatology.”
As Reformed theologians and preachers have strengthened Will’s faith and understanding, so too Will leads his congregation. “Seeing the Reformed teachers open the Word up to me, that’s what I try to do for my congregation,” he says. “I want to open the Word up and go deeper. My eyes have been opened up more to the grace of God, and I want to share that with my church.”
Will met Corey at a pastor’s lunch. “I met Corey through a guy my parents knew who was putting together a pastor’s lunch with Baptist, Methodist, Charismatic preachers, just a whole bunch of guys. Corey and I really hit it off. I asked him, ‘Are you a Presbyterian like R.C. Sproul or like the PCUSA church here in town?’ After everybody else left, me and him were still talking.”
Will is currently taking classes online through LAMP Theological Seminary, a seminary designed for ministers like him who are bivocational, have families, and haven’t had college or seminary training before. “About six months before I met Corey,” Will recalls, “I was looking for seminaries but didn’t find what worked with my schedule.” He began teaching himself and studying intently. “I read through commentaries and books, listened to sermons, and watched videos.” Corey helped him start at LAMP.
While Will preaches from a Reformed perspective, it’s not specifically labeled as such, but it’s also not an unfamiliar theology for his congregation. “The Baptists in my area are different from most mainstream Baptists. Mainstream Baptists are mostly dispensationalists, but many around here are amillennial. That’s why I started looking into it and studying eschatology. Around here, we’re mostly old school Southern Baptists who don’t believe that you can be saved unless you’re convicted of your sin and God is dealing with your heart. John 6:44 is quoted by nearly every preacher here.”
While Will would love to see more people come to Christ and numbers grow in his church, he is focused on spiritual depth for those already in his church. “Right now, I’m really praying for the congregation to grow spiritually. I’d love to grow numerically too, but mostly spiritually. Most of them have a shallow knowledge of Scripture, although they’d say they have a high outlook of Scripture. I love what Corey’s doing. It’s helped me a lot. I can call him and ask questions, and we meet once a week to talk about pastoral questions and what I’m learning.”
Corey recently spent seven hours with Will in his truck on his trash route, during which Will talked about Covenant theology, all he was learning, and how his approach to teaching and leading was growing.
Corey says, “Many rural pastors without seminary training preach a lot of ‘come to Jesus,’ but the pastoral care is lacking. I would love to talk with them about how to strengthen their teaching and pastoral care. The goal is to help leaders who are already here think differently about their ministry than they’ve thought before. I think word will get out as Will’s preaching keeps growing fuller and richer. As he goes through seminary, people will notice.”
Meet Will in the video below, (filmed to raise support for Will’s seminary education).