Lives of Ministry

April 13, 2014

David and Kelly O'Leary

David and Kelly O’Leary will be graduating this May with an M.Div. and M.A.C., respectively. Growing up as the son of pastor and Westminster alumnus, David always felt a pull toward pastoral ministry. But it was while he was attending college in Pittsburgh as a physics major that he felt this call confirmed. David says, “At college, I was involved in a ministry to men at a minimal security detention center near our school. We’d hang out with them and get to know them. We’d also do Bible studies together, and I realized I had a love for studying the Word with them. The great thing about ministering here was that they had a context for understanding the weighty things I was talking about, things like death and the effects of sin. When I’d share that there could be real salvation from these things found in Christ, they’d say, ‘No, you’re kidding, really!?’ This was a really formative experience for me, and I realized I had a real heart for ministry, and I wanted to grow in being able to teach and disciple people.”

After completing college, David was accepted to study at Westminster, but life started to interfere with their plans. David explained, “After college, we ended up sticking around Pittsburgh to work and save up money. Then we ended up getting married and we felt we wanted to keep working to have our finances in order.” Kelly continued, “So we put it off one year, then we put it off another year, then we wanted to go another year, but then we found out that I was pregnant and it wasn’t going to get any easier for us to go! We ended up realizing that this baby wasn’t going anywhere, so we decided that we were going to pursue seminary and we were going to stick with the plan.”

Seeing the ministry of David’s father influenced the O’Learys to attend Westminster. David explained, “My dad graduated from Westminster in the 80s and loved it here. I think because he went here, there are ways I was shaped by him that probably predisposed me to appreciate things here. Watching my mom and dad in ministry over the years, I saw them finding a real power and ability to speak to people in different situations which came from carefully studying the Bible and knowing the Lord. They modelled that a lot. My dad also imparted to me preaching Christ from anywhere in the word, and how it all points to Him.” David was also deeply interested in reading Reformed theology. He said, “I also had exposure to people like Kline and Van Til and Vos at home, so I was into some of those things before I came.” Kelly added, “David was reading Vos for fun before we got here! And sometimes he would even try to read Meredith Kline out loud to me!”

Another bonus for the O’Learys in coming to Westminster was the spouse scholarship, which enabled Kelly to pursue her Masters of Arts in Counseling. Kelly explains, “While I was working as a high school teacher, I ended up taking some secular counseling courses because I noticed that my students were coming to me with problem situations and I wouldn’t know what to say to them. So I was excited to have the opportunity to study biblical counseling, although nervous about starting the program while adjusting to life as a new mom with a five-month old! Thankfully, we’ve been able to juggle being parents and students for the last three years and we’ve been able to make it work.” David added, “It’s been difficult, but it’s also pushed us to be very conscious and intentional about how we spend our time and also to be less selfish with our time. It’s going to be a skill that’s helpful in future ministry!”

In reflecting on the past three years at Westminster, David and Kelly have been blessed by what they’ve been able to learn. David shares, “I think I’ve come to understand just how good Westminster’s program is as I’ve studied here, in ways that I probably didn’t understand before we came. For some people out there, there’s this disjuncture between practical pastoral ministry on one hand and rigorous academic study on the other hand. But Westminster doesn’t try to put them in opposition. When I think of the classes I’ve taken, I see an emphasis on pastoral sensitivity that comes from a rigorous study of the Bible. You don’t become pastorally sensitive to people’s needs just by saying, ‘Let’s just talk about practical things.' It’s more like ‘Study Christ!.' I’ve really appreciated this perspective.”

David is also a recipient of the Huff Science Scholarship, which is awarded to students with a science-related undergraduate degree with an interest in thinking about science and apologetics in ministry. “Before coming to Westminster, I was a sales engineer at a company that made infrared optics. This industry puts a high premium on precision. In that context it’s tempting to imagine that precise measurement equals full understanding. I’ve found that some people look at science as if it was the source of all understanding and knowledge. But in Proverbs 3, it says the heavens were established by wisdom - it’s this idea that wisdom and understanding aren’t found in heaven or earth, because those things themselves have been made by God’s wisdom. Without being rooted in the Word and knowing the Lord, science is completely empty. But if you know the Lord as your source of wisdom, you can just open your eyes and you can see wonderful things around that the Lord has made. This is something I’m excited to keep thinking about.”

For Kelly, growing in her theology has also been a highlight of studying at Westminster. “I don’t come from a Reformed background, so one of the things I’ve appreciated the most has been Westminster’s redemptive-historical understanding of the Bible. Seeing the Lord’s work through time and how it focuses on Christ has been monumental in terms of how I understand Scripture now, and how it connects with our everyday lives. Our hope is real and founded in Christ and what he has done and how he’s been faithful through all these thousands of years. It’s not just an empty hope that depends on ourselves, as ‘If we can just get our minds thinking the right way, we’ll be ok!’ I knew I was going to love the counseling classes, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how helpful the theology classes have been too.”

With the conclusion of their studies on the horizon, David and Kelly are looking forward to investing their lives and training into pastoral ministry. They plan to return to the Pittsburgh area where David will be serving as a pastoral intern at Gospel Fellowship Presbyterian Church, PCA. David shared, “It's a church where we were members before coming to Westminster. There are a lot of people in the church and in the area that we love, and we're excited about serving there.” Kelly hopes to be able to use her counseling degree as a member of the church and as a teacher and a mother. She explains, “I see my using my counseling degree more informally with people in the church David will pastor. I also hope to someday return to teaching. It’d be an opportunity where I’d have normal interactions with people who don’t know the Lord, and that would provide opportunities and windows into people’s lives, as they open up to you. And then also with our children – that’s another huge ministry we’ve been given to guide and teach them.”

Please join with us in praying for David and Kelly as they prepare to head into pastoral ministry.