Last Friday I officially graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY with a Doctor of Education (EdD) diploma. Pursuing this degree over the past three years while continuing to pastor a vibrant church and remain fully engaged with my wife and son at home has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Because so many people contributed to this journey in different ways, I’m committing this blog post (the first in months, sorry for the gap) to recognizing and thanking the many people who have blessed me. So, with no further ado, and not necessarily listed in exact order of priority, here are my notes of thanks to all of you.
First and foremost, I am thankful to my Lord for the opportunity and ability to pursue theological education at one of the finest institutions on the planet. Jesus once stated that the greatest command is, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). My hope is that this training has allowed me to be faithful in loving the Lord more fully, including with my mind.
Second, to my beautiful and encouraging wife, Kim, thank you for standing beside me through this entire journey. When I first mentioned that I wanted to look into doctoral programs a few years ago, I expected a bemused laugh and a dismissiv
e comment. Instead, you asked questions and encouraged me to explore options further. When I struggled with doubting whether I was up to the task at various points along the way, you never wavered in assuring me that I could and would finish well (or else!!). In short, you see potential in me and believe in me long before I ever do. For that, and a million other reasons, I thank you and I love you.
To my son, Ethan, I am thankful for your patience and your inexhaustible joy in all you do. Ethan was only two years old when we began this journey, and he (along with Kim) sacrificed many evenings and weekends with daddy holed up in his office studying, weeks at a time being gone for classes and research, and a Dad who, even when I was around, was too often not fully
present as I was preoccupied with school or ministry or some other distraction. Still, watching my son grow in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man, has been an unmatched joy to me. At the end of the graduation ceremony Friday, Dr. Mohler asked children of graduates to stand and be recognized, and Ethan stood beaming with pride. He has every right to be proud. Yes, I am biased, but I rejoice to see him growing as a boy who loves the Lord, loves people, and loves learning of all the world God has created.
To my parents – Dave and Nancy Gunter – thank you for loving me and creating a home that allowed me to grow and launch out into this world. I have never for a moment in my life doubted your love for one another or your love for me, and that has provided the stability for me to pursue God’s calling with confidence through my life. You never asked for perfection, but you refused to accept less than my best in any endeavor. For myself – and I’ll add this for the rest of the Gunter siblings – we will be forever grateful for the home you gave us, and we hope that our lives, our families, and our work are a testament to your faithful labor.
To my church family at Lansing First Southern – thank you for your grace, generosity, and encouragement to me all along this path. So many of you have gone out of your way to spur me on toward this goal from the first day I mentioned my interest in pursuing doctoral studies. Your grace and generosity in allowing me the time and space to spend weeks away studying and a full sabbatical to do research on another continent have humbled me. Thank you for supporting and encouraging me. And thank you for loving my family so well. We are incredibly blessed to serve this congregation, and I pray that I will be a more faithful shepherd to all of you as a result of this work.
To the EdD faculty at Southern Seminary – Drs. Shane Parker, Michael Wilder, Timothy
Paul Jones, John David Trentham, and Anthony Foster – thank you for the multitude of hours you have invested in me and my peers in Cohort 2014. This EdD program has been as challenging, engaging, encouraging, frustrating, exhilarating, enriching, and ultimately satisfying as I could have hoped. I trust that I am a better scholar, pastor, and man than I was when I began. Each of you have contributed significantly to the refining work God has wrought in me through this program. I hope that my contributions have justified my inclusion in this program and will continue to be a credit to SBTS in the future.
To my friends in the 2014 EdD Cohort, you all have blessed me immeasurably. Thank you for walking this path together with me! You all have enriched my life in a thousand ways. You have challenged me, amused me, encouraged me, enlightened me, and counseled me, and I thank God for each one of you. May God bless you richly in the coming years as you serve him faithfully!
To those who made my research venture a success through your counsel and cooperation, a huge thank you! Dr. Tim Boyd of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists has been an invaluable mentor thoughout this journey. To Dr. Steve McCord, Dr. Randy Arnett, Jack Yates, and Dr. Jimmie Bledsoe of the IMB, thank you for the time, counsel, and encouragement you gave so generously. I hope this research will benefit the ongoing work of the IMB in Kenya and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. To Caleb Davison and Benson Mutisya of Leadership International, Inc., thank you for inviting me into your work and ministry. Benson, I will not soon forget our extended conversations in gridlocked Nairobi traffic, and I thank God for our friendship. To George Mixon of SERGE, thank you for sharing your ministry and insights with me. I rejoice in the work God is doing through you to bless the pastors and churches in Kenya.
Finally, to the dozens and dozens of friends and family who at various points have encouraged me along this journey, thank you for loving me well. When I sent out a request for assistance to fund my research trip to Kenya, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was blown away when so many of you eagerly chipped in with help and encouraging words (some of you I hadn’t seen in years). Thank you all for your grace and support. I am truly humbled.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”