Westminster Sharpened Amarillo
January 01, 2012
Regional Alumni Representative and Westminster alumnus, Rev. Kyle Oliphint (MDiv, '99) shares his story.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17, ESV
In 1979, when I was 17 years old, God used my parents’ divorce to bring me to faith. Through the experience of the divorce, and a sudden move, God surrounded me with Christian men: my brother Scott (Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint), David Brack, Steve Cairns and John Hilbelink. In His providence, this confluence of events broke my hard, rebellious heart and softened it toward Him. My father was my hero. When he left my mother, he left me, too. My role, as best as I could tell, was to help my mom and finish high school. God showed me how helpless I was and broke me.
In December 1979, He drew me to Himself and set me on a path unlike anything I would have ever imagined. Without much contact with my dad and having recently moved back to Amarillo where I was friendless and a junior in a new high school, I gravitated towards my older brother Scott, David Brack and Steve Cairns, all Young life Leaders at the time.
All three insisted that as a new Christian I needed a church. So I naturally began attending Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Amarillo, TX , along with my brother, David and Steve. The congregation was shepherded by John Hilbelink, a Westminster alumnus (M.Div. 1969). John took me under his wing in a variety of ways, not the least of which was to meet consistently with me to explain the glories of the gospel and to show how God and His grace makes its way into every nook and cranny of my life. Between Young Life and my new church, there was a full-court press going on spiritually in my life.
I know now that Scott, David and Steve were all immersing themselves in the doctrines of grace in their work and study as Young Life staff. Under the preaching of John Hilbelink, these doctrines were front and center.
Because of God’s grace, I had the opportunity to drink deeply from God’s word through my church involvement, in high school, in my friendships, and most significantly in my relationship with my brother. Scott saw the trouble in my parents’ marriage early on and rang alarm bells, all of which went unheeded. He became the ‘go-to’ guy in my early Christian faith. I respected him, his discipline and what I saw as an unrelenting pursuit of truth. I trusted him and was close to him.
When Steve and Scott decided to move to Philadelphia to attend Westminster Theological Seminary, I was both crushed and scared. They were two of my closest disciplers and I had grown quite dependent upon them. It wasn’t uncommon for me to drive to my brother’s house and pepper him with questions about my new and growing relationship with Jesus and my ongoing struggles with sin. I remember once when Dr. Sinclair Ferguson was invited to speak in Amarillo. When I heard Dr. Ferguson speak to us about our adoption as sons of God I was blown away. For weeks I would pester Scott with questions about the implications of our adoption and Dr. Ferguson’s talk. He was always gracious (and probably frustrated) and would patiently answer my question or suggest a portion of Scripture or a book that I should read.
So, off they went on their theological adventure and I was left back in Amarillo. God didn’t pull all of my human disciplers away from me though. David Brack brought me onto the Student Staff with Young Life and discipled me, quietly, subtly and consistently. Also, John Hilbelink met with me every week, encouraging me in my growth by emphasizing God’s means of grace in His church and His accessibility through the ministry of His Spirit. It was God’s men and His church that He used in my early Christian growth in countless and amazing ways. Of course, I would still call Scott with questions. After all, he was at seminary now, which meant he knew everything!
A few years later, Steve and Scott returned to Amarillo after graduating from Westminster. Incredibly, Steve, Scott, David and I all shared an office after their return. I got to eavesdrop on some of the most encouraging, challenging and confusing conversations of my young Christian life. But what I was most grateful to God for was how I got to see these men practically live out their lives and minister to people in light of all this doctrine they talked about.
I remember difficult conversations about God’s hard providence in the life of a family and how hope was given to them in the context of their suffering. By this time, Scott had become pastor of Grace OPC. In the congregation was a family with a very young child who was extremely ill. As is always the case, it is difficult to make sense of God’s providence in the life of a suffering child. Scott pastored these parents, prayed with them and continued to remind them of God’s love for them and their child. In my own life, I remember well being confronted about my own sin by both David and Scott, in a firm, compassionate and profoundly Christ-centered way. Hearing these guys talk about rich doctrinal truths and then watching them live out these truths on a practical level was an invaluable gift from God. Unbeknownst to me at the time, God used this time as preparation to set me on course for attending seminary myself.
Full-time ministry for me came in 1991 in Jacksonville, Florida. Quickly, I found myself in way over my head in trying to minister to people. In one sense, this was a good place to be as it made me more dependent upon God. But in another sense, I came face-to-face with my own ineptness in helping people practically apply the truths of Scripture to their everyday lives. I wasn’t able to do what I saw David and Steve and Scott do so well back in Amarillo. Being newly married, I was painfully aware of my personal struggle to apply the truth of the Bible to my own life. I was convinced that I must follow in the footsteps of Scott and Steve and get to Westminster as fast as I could. WTS had clearly been used by God to hone their ability to live out the Word, and I prayed it would do the same for me.
God afforded me the opportunity to attend Westminster in 1995, for which I will forever be thankful. God gave me a front row seat to see the practicality of rich theology in the lives and ministry of my brother and friends and pastors, and then He deeply planted and abundantly grew in me the desire to do the same. By giving me a Westminster education, He provided me with the correct tools to apply the Word to all of life. I strongly encourage all those considering ministry work to study at Westminster.
It is remarkable to me that God has called me to ministry. But in rare moments of spiritual clarity, I can see how He used my parent’s divorce, our move back to Amarillo, and His surrounding me with godly men, to prepare me for ministry. A common thread that is woven through all of God’s providence in my life is the influence of Westminster Theological Seminary.
Today, God has given me 17 years with my beautiful and patient wife, 3 covenant daughters (10, 12 and 14 years old), all of whom have professed faith by His grace, and the invaluable privilege of planting and pastoring a church in northern Fort Worth, Texas (www.gracecommunity-pca.org). We are beginning our 8th year of gospel ministry together and I am profoundly grateful every day for the people of our church. If God would see fit to use me, our Assistant Pastor and our Ruling Elders, in the lives of our people in the same way He used Scott, David, Steve and John in my life, I would be truly humbled.