Joel Richards is from Amarillo, Texas. He plans to graduate from Westminster in 2022, and his long term goal is to go to Hungary and support the church, particularly in the area of disciple-making.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to faith in Christ?
Despite growing up in a Christian family, I had taken every opportunity to rebel against God. Through this rebellion, I ended up living in Liberal, Kansas. It was here that the Lord revealed himself to me through His Word, during a discussion with a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They knocked on my door, and I invited them to come back the next week. Bitter and lost, I decided that I would try and dismantle their belief system in such a way that they would be afraid to continue knocking on doors. However, I didn’t know what they believed (or what I believed). I phoned my dad, asked what I needed to do to convince Jehovah’s Witnesses that they were wrong, and he gave me excellent advice: “Figure out who Jesus is. That’s what matters in the conversation.”
I opened up my Bible and started to study. It’s funny, after spending a week in Scripture trying to understand who Jesus is, perspectives change. Suddenly, I didn’t want to crush my guests, but I sincerely wanted them to know who Jesus was. They came over, we had a discussion, and they mentioned that Jesus was just a man. We agreed that we would discuss this more, and they promised to return the next week.
After another week of study and prayer, they arrived. The question that our conversation revolved around was this: Is Jesus worthy of worship? Can we worship Jesus in the same way we Worship God? That afternoon, we read Philippians 2:1-11 out loud. I had selected that passage on a whim. I was looking for a different passage, but I read that one instead. As I read verses 9-11 out loud, at that moment I grasped who Jesus was. The answer to the question was clear. Jesus is King and every knee shall bow. Jesus is worthy of worship because He is God; for in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells, in bodily form.
The Witnesses left my house shortly after, and the trajectory changed. I moved back to Texas (the promised land), got involved in my church, and went on a mission trip to Hungary where I developed a love for verse-by-verse Bible study. That was the year I felt the call to ministry and met my wife.
What are some books that have had the biggest impact on you, and why?
Holiness by J.C. Ryle has been one of the most impactful books in my Christian walk. It re-framed the way I looked at sin, at the type of life a Christian ought to be living, and understanding that the Christian is in a fight. I also developed a love for the simplicity and weightiness of Ryle’s words.
Dr. Duguid’s commentary on Daniel was also an important book in my life. In Texas, I was a college minister. I used Dr. Duguid’s commentary on Daniel and that was the first time I had been exposed to Christ-centered teaching in the Old Testament.
W.S. Plumer on the Psalms. It’s such an excellent combination of insight and application. When I read anything by Plumer, I’m reminded that simplicity and sincerity go a long way. Plumer increased my love for the Psalms and taught me the importance of uniting sound doctrine with clarity.
How did you decide to come to Westminster, and what did you plan to do with your degree?
My wife’s coworker was related to a recent Westminster graduate. Will Wood was just finishing up his doctorate and is an Amarillo native. He invited me to coffee so that we could talk about seminary, in general. I remember that as I was walking out of our apartment I said to my wife, “I don’t know what we are going to talk about, but we’ll never go to Westminster.”
I came home and said, “I think we need to go to prospective student day.”
Will told me about redemptive-historical hermeneutics, about Westminster’s conviction that God’s Word is the authority, and then he told me a story about David and Goliath. I remember being blown away.
Are you working while you study, or involved in any ministries? Tell us about them.
I work for Westminster as an Alumni Associate. My job is to try and keep alumni as up-to-date as possible regarding the school. I also have ministry opportunities, whether that’s showing an alumnus around campus or praying together on the phone.
What is your primary area of interest in your studies at Westminster? Why?
I’m interested in the Pastoral Theology elements, particularly utilizing counseling classes in preaching. People are hurting and need Jesus. The Pastoral Theology department has already done so much in equipping me as a counselor. I believe that the ability to counsel shouldn’t stop short of the pulpit. Preaching God’s Word provides counseling to the entire congregation.
What are some particular challenges in your ministry or field of work that you are looking to Westminster to help you prepare for?
People. No matter where I am in ministry, I’m going to be dealing with people. That means there will be difficult questions, difficult problems, and painful tragedies. I’m looking to Westminster to prepare me to love people, to be patient with questions, to be discerning with problems, and to be gentle in times of tragedy. Good theology is the foundation for all of these things. I am looking to Westminster to give me a method to finding an answer in difficult times, and to be dependent on God and the principles He’s provided in His Word.
How can the Westminster community pray for you, your family and your ministry in the weeks and months ahead?
Finances are always tight, and my wife is expecting baby number two! Also, Hungary could use prayer! There is a real need for God-fearing leaders to rise up.