Called to Pastoral Ministry

June 20, 2012

Rev. Dr. Hunter Powell is a Westminster graduate (M.Div. ’07) and currently associate pastor of Guilford Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., teaming up with fellow Westminster graduate, Mike McKinley (M.Div. ’04).  Guilford Baptist is a church plant of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. “Before I went to Westminster, I was on staff at Capitol Hill for a year. When I had finished my Ph.D., Guilford had grown to the size where they needed another pastor.  Through the timing of it, it turned out to be a perfect place for [my wife and I], since we lived in Northern Virginia, we both had worked at Capitol Hill, and we knew Mike.” Hunter has several roles within the church, including some work with 9Marks Ministries: “I do some preaching, I do a lot of counseling, and I help out with 9Marks Ministries on the issues of church government.”

After graduating from Westminster, Hunter went on to Cambridge to do a Ph.D. in church government.  While at Cambridge, he felt the call to go back into pastoral ministry: “I was really enjoying what I was doing, but I felt like the academic route was not what I wanted to do long-term.  I enjoyed the ministry, it enabled me to encourage people to grow in Christ [and be] able to share the gospel with people…I felt that the Lord could use me more fruitfully in full-time ministry.” He is quick to note however, that his Ph.D. has been invaluable to his time in pastoral ministry, especially in the area of church government. “There is a healthy way to use the academic side of [my study] to serve the church, and that’s going to help [the congregation] think more clearly about polity.”

Pastoral ministry has been a blessing to Hunter in many ways, but most of all because it allows him to see lives change for the sake of Christ. “What excites me is being able to get into people’s lives and let them see how [through] the struggles that they are having, the temptations they battle on a day-to-day basis, [they] can find comfort and resolution through the cross. Being able to shepherd people to the point of repentance and embracing Jesus Christ as their only hope is something that I not only enjoy doing, but enjoy doing because as I watch it happen, I’m humbly reminded that it is Christ at work, not me…it’s so obvious that my ability to convince people is not based on anything I can do, it’s really God and using his Word.”

Hunter’s time at Westminster has been helpful to him now because of the examples provided by some of the faculty here. “When I was there, I really benefitted from men like Richard Gaffin, Vern Poythress, Carl Trueman, and Lane Tipton—people who had a good grasp of biblical theology, but also a healthy balance with systematics.” He has been blessed to see “those men continue to teach truths from our Reformed heritage without being afraid to think innovatively about them.”

Westminster was also influential in his time at Cambridge. “To continue to think about the church and the importance of the church that Christ died for and the importance of honoring God by thinking carefully about church government, that’s certainly something I have grown in tremendously since I left Westminster, but I think Westminster gave me the tools to be able to think about those things clearly.”

Seminary and doctoral studies have been helpful to Hunter, but he recognizes that it is most important for a student to be involved in church ministry to gain important experience. “Before I went to Westminster, a pastor who I trusted very much told me, ‘50% of everything you’ll need to know in the ministry you’ll learn by working at a church.  Westminster is meant to bolster that and encourage that.’  So, I think that your seminary experience is only valuable insofar as you recognize it as being connected to the local church.”

While at seminary, Hunter worked as a pastoral intern for Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia.  Having that experience helped him remain grounded as he wrestled with many theological issues at seminary. “When someone prepares for a sermon for the end of the week, he may spend 40 hours researching and writing, but the congregation only hears 30 minutes of it.  I think Westminster is very much like that—there is only so much of it that a person experiences when he’s meeting with [a pastor] one-to-one; and all those divisive debates, all those topics that we got hot and heavy over at Westminster, they’re there in the background. …There’s a reason we’re studying these things, and there’s a reason we’re debating them, and that’s ultimately to change lives and point people to Jesus.”

He goes on to provide advice to those seeking to serve the Lord through the ministry: “when you leave seminary, knowledge is very dangerous and you can wield it like a blunt instrument—it could be dangerous to a person in your church… The pastors I tended to be the most impressed with were indeed smart, and had studied a great deal, but were also keenly aware of their own failures and their own struggles and their own sin and their own daily need for a savior.”

Please continue to pray for Hunter Powell and his ministry to the people of Washington, D.C., as he seeks to proclaim the whole counsel of God throughout a changing world. If you’d like to donate to Westminster’s scholarship fund to help students as they prepare for ministry, please click here.