Halfway Through A Residency Program

My name is Joel Opificius and I have the privilege to serve as a Pastoral Resident at West Cannon Baptist Church. I am currently a Master of Divinity student in the current cohort at Faith Bible Seminary, preparing for full time pastoral ministry as I receive experience in shepherding, leading, and teaching in the local church. I am thankful for the education I have received thus far at Faith Bible Seminary as well for the opportunities I have had to apply that education in the context of the local church while being mentored by the pastoral staff at West Cannon. About a month ago, I finished my fourth semester (out of eight) of seminary. This means I am now halfway done, both with my M.Div and with my Pastoral Residency Program at West Cannon Baptist Church. The Pastoral Residency model has been helped me to receive pastoral training that is both academic and practical.

One of the blessings of serving at West Cannon is seeing and learning from the pastoral staff. I find that a significant part of my training on the church side is observing the pastoral staff daily. Every week, for example, I ask Zach (our Lead Teaching Pastor) to send me his exegetical notes for his sermon that Sunday. I have been able to observe how he moves in the exegetical process from text to sermon. We also often end up spending a few minutes each week to talk about pertinent issues in the passage and how to best deal with them from the pulpit.

I also have the privilege of meeting weekly with Kelly Fath, our Pastor of Adult Ministries and Missions, to discuss specific issues of pastoral ministry. He has helped me this past year to develop an ecclesiology that is firmly rooted in Scriptures, but at the same time, deeply practical. He has also structured my time at West Cannon so that each semester I have a different ministry emphasis, so that by the time I graduate with my M.Div, I will have experience with teaching, preaching, children, youth, music, missions, counseling, and pastoral care—so that I might be prepared for a Lead Pastor position even if that is not the role I end up serving in.

So far, some of my experience has included the following:

  • Teaching Sunday school, mid-week studies, and Sunday evening electives
  • Preaching
  • Leading worship on Sunday morning
  • Writing curriculum
  • Reviewing books and curriculum
  • Children’s ministry
  • Teaching various ages groups (from middle schoolers to the elderly)
  • Strategic ministry planning
  • Weekly involvement in staff meetings
  • Developing a Bible reading plan for our church family
  • Hospital visits
  • Custodial tasks

My ministry observation has included:

  • Observing Pastor Zach Horn (lead teaching pastor) prepare to preach
  • Sitting in on elder and deacon meetings
  • Observing funeral service preparations
  • Discussing issues in counseling and how to work through them

I have also been able to sit in on the elder meetings. I have found these times to be formative in my understanding of church leadership. This has helped me to see how a plurality of elders can work, pray, and think together in order to lead and protect the local church. These meetings have helped me to think pastorally through church issues.

I have found that the Pastoral Residency program has provided a natural venue to apply what I am learning in seminary. My training at Faith Bible Seminary has enabled me to not only know the biblical languages, but also how to use them faithfully and correctly as I prepare to teach. It has grounded me in the doctrines of the sufficiency and the necessity of Scripture. I know that my job as a pastor is to simply be a faithful herald of God’s Word, knowing that ultimately it is not my words that change the hearts of men, but God’s powerful and sufficient Word.

I have also found the training that I am receiving in biblical counseling to be helpful in everything I do in the church. Although I have not yet begun to take on my own formal counseling cases, I continually find that the biblical counseling training that I have received has shaped the way that I teach, the way that I write, the way that I interact with those around me, and of course the way I deal with my own sin.

As an example, this past summer I worked with our Youth Pastor on writing a curriculum through the book of Hebrews for our high-schoolers. I found that my training in biblical counseling has equipped me to craft discussion questions that probe the desires of the heart and the fallen condition of man, and that consider God’s solution in the text; rather than just including discussion questions for the sake of including discussion questions.

I am continually thankful for the ministry preparation that I am receiving through the Pastoral Residency model. As I was initially considering which seminary and church to get involved with, I understood this model to be God’s providential hand in my life. The lessons that I have learned and the feedback that I have received from my professors and my pastors have served to shape me and to enable me to be a workman who might have no need to be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15).

Joel Opificius
Pastoral Resident
West Cannon Baptist Church
(originally drafted in January 2024)

If you have questions about facilitating a pastoral residency at your church, please contact Kelly Fath, Bridge Fellowship’s Director of Leadership Development, at kelly@bridgefellowship.org