“I’m a preacher,” the young man said. “They call me a pastor, but I don’t know how to be a pastor; I don’t even know how to preach.”
The young, uneducated pastor continued, “I was wondering if you could tell me where I could go to get some training so I would know how to preach and how to be a pastor.” Then he continued, “My problem is this: I don’t have any money and I have to support my family. Is there any school that would accept me, and how would I provide for my family?”
What this young, struggling preacher did not know was that Guffin was already wrestling with the concept of starting a school to train ministers, and this thought was reinforced by the president of Walker College, Dr. Carl Jesse, who said to young Guffin, “The woods are full of Baptist preachers who need some training.”
Gilbert L. Guffin was born in 1905 in Marietta, Georgia, where he was raised on a farm. He graduated from Mercer University and was ordained to the ministry by the Shady Grove Baptist Church in Marietta. Later, he earned his Bachelor of Divinity, his Master of Theology and his Doctor of Theology degrees at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After pastoring in New Jersey for several years, he was called to First Baptist Church, Jasper, in 1942.
That year, First Baptist Church gave its whole-hearted approval to a school for Baptist ministers and laymen, which was begun by Guffin. This school eventually led to the establishment of Howard College Extension Division of Christian Training in 1947 (Winfred Sandlin, A Century of Caring and Sharing, First Baptist Church, Jasper, AL).
In the early years, the Howard Extension offered courses in English, Old and New Testaments, homiletics, church administration, Baptist history, doctrine and evangelism. There were no entrance requirements other than a desire to learn.
So successful was Howard’s extension program that it was widely copied by colleges such as Carson-Newman, Gardner-Webb, Mercer University and others (Wayne Flynt, Alabama Baptists, Southern Baptists in the heart of Dixie.)
What was the secret to this ministry’s success? It was:
This provided many pastors an education that would have been unavailable to them any other way.
One of my favorite passages in the Scripture is 2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV).
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Here the Apostle Paul is encouraging the young pastor, Timothy, with these words. He tells him that as a workman of the ministry of the Gospel, he must know how to handle the “word of truth,” that is, the scriptures. An earnest minister desires to be a good servant of God and correctly handles God’s word in the right way. This wonderful school assisted pastors and laypeople in that ministry.
Over the years, Howard College became Samford University and while the Howard extension continues on in some parts of the state, it had ceased to operate in Walker County. That is until Dr. Westmorland, the current president of Samford, cast the vision for a renewed interest in reviving this ministry. Under the capable leadership of his assistant, Dr. Kevin Blackwell, this ministry begins again in Jasper.
This ministry is open for both the laity and the pastors. Below is some information to help you learn even more about this valuable opportunity.
Samford’s Ministry Training Institute (Formerly Samford Extension) is coming this fall to Walker County. You can earn a certificate in Biblical studies or Pastoral Ministry and deepen your knowledge of God’s word and better equip yourself for ministry. The courses are only $50 and will be held at Jasper’s First Baptist Church. Courses offered this fall will be Intro to Old Testament and Intro to New Testament. Classes will meet on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and will begin Aug. 26. You can register on-line at www.samford.edu/go/mti or call (205) 726-4055. This is a great chance to receive solid theological training.
Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth is the senior pastor at Jasper’s First Baptist Church. More information on the church can be found at www.jaspersfbc.org