Advancing the Kingdom: GCD Student Plants Church in Central Missouri

Staci Tomlinson is a First-Year Graduate student in the Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program at GCD, but much of her time is otherwise allocated to family, working at a local radio station, and entering the next stage of planting a church with her husband, Learon. Last February, after moving from Fayetteville, North Carolina, Staci and Learon began hosting viewings of recorded services from Manna Church in their living room in Waynesville. We asked Staci what God has been doing through them since that initial meeting in her living room:

Oh my gosh… there is… it is crazy. So we started meeting at the beginning of February 2019, and slowly it [spread by] word of mouth. We never officially launched. We didn’t do everything the [church planting] model told us to. Everything was word of mouth. We have gotten some crazy looks from people when we told them we met for church in our home. [Then] …people who were coming started bringing people in. Back in August, one girl got saved, and then we ended up having four baptisms in one week.

Now, nearly one year later, Manna Church Ft. Leonard Wood will be holding official Sunday services for the first time in a local gym. The church has grown from three or four people sitting in the Tomlinson’s living room to 25-30 adults and their families. Now that they’re moving into a facility (at least for services), they plan to expand their existing community outreaches and small groups, serving Waynesville and Ft. Leonard Wood both spiritually and practically. When asked what advice she would give to someone who thinks God might be calling them to plant a church, Staci got excited:

Do it. Don’t hesitate. Have that conversation, take the next step. We became members of our church in September/October, but then left to plant a church in April. See what it looks like.

It’s hard, it’s weird. [But] Don’t let you own fears get in the way, because if God’s calling you, He will equip you. Follow your heart, listen. When you’re in the Word, you’ll know when God is speaking to you. Devotion is going to lead you. God can use anything to let you know, but when you’re in the Word, you’ll know when it’s God.

Manna Church is a close-partner and supporter of Grace College of Divinity, one among several local churches across the United States that is sending its emerging leaders to us for further training. If your church is interested in partnering with GCD, please contact us at

Spring 2020 Course Highlights: Communicating to Oral Cultures and Introduction to Counseling

Spring 2020 Course Highlights: Communicating to Oral Cultures and Introduction to Counseling

It’s that time of year again: A Fall semester has closed, Christmas parties are in full-swing, and our students are experiencing winter weather— at least, our online students above a certain latitude. Over the next six weeks, students will enjoy some much needed time off. For those about to graduate in May, graduation applications will open amid much jubilation.

But this year, just like every year, a few of our faculty are busy planning for what could almost be considered a GCD Christmas Break tradition at this point: January Intensives. This January, some of our students have elected to come back a week early for the chance at an on-campus course with some outstanding faculty. From January 13th-17th, we will be holding two intensive courses each night from 6pm-10pm, with one more meeting on the morning of January 18th. This year, we will be offering HUM 130- Communicating to Oral Cultures, and CNS 130- Introduction to Counseling.

These courses, in addition to the on-campus component at the Fayetteville Campus, will have assignments spread-out in the traditional 16-week semester, offering the best of both on-campus and online course methodologies.

HUM 130: Communicating to Oral Cultures- Taught by Dr. Steven Crowther, with assistance from two experienced missionaries from Frontline Missions, students learn how to share their faith in cultures that communicate primarily through storytelling and oral traditions. The skills learned in this course have aided students in practical ministry in Latin American and East Asia, working with indigenous populations and the local church. This course is only offered in this Intensive format.

CNS 130: Introduction to Counseling– Taught by GCD alumna Pat Parkinson and Christian Counseling Program Director Chris Floro, Intro to Counseling is a required course across many programs. This course offers an introduction to Christian Counseling rooted in client-focused, strengths-based models with emphasis on counselor-client interactions, while also applying counseling techniques for public, private, and church-based settings.

While the intensive portions of these courses take place on the Fayetteville Campus, they are open to all GCD students, even those who primarily take courses online or on other campuses. Online students or those from other campuses who are interested in taking one of these courses should contact the GCD office at 910-221-2224.

Worship in Truth and Spirit: Alumni Devotional – Andrew Sutton

My name is Andrew Sutton, I am on staff at Manna Church as the Events Director for Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg. In December of 2018 I graduated from GCD with a BA in Christian Leadership.

This opportunity to share is such I gift. I hope it blesses you and draws you closer to the Father. The topic I am writing on is worship and how God has been teaching me to worship Him in all I do and through all I do. 

The things which have led me to this place of worship is multifaceted. It is a combination of many things: personal devotions, fellowship, mentorship, personal study, interpersonal relationships, spirit development, pain, joy, sadness, success, failures, brokenness and wholeness, experiencing grace from others, betrayal and forgiveness. God working in and through all aspects of life to lead me into greater depths of knowing Him and worshiping Him.

Below I have listed some things I have done that have helped me develop more of a heart of worship for God. Here are four points that came to mind: 

1. Know God

Regarding knowing God more and seeing Him more clearly there are things we can action to do that. That is studying the Scriptures and looking to see who God, studying His character. Mediate on these Scriptures and seek the Holy Spirit to bring deeper revelation to us that we may know God more fully. 2 Peter 3:18, Proverbs 8:17

2. Be Still

Practicing stillness has helped me know God’s voice more clearly. It has helped to develop my spirit. Start with 5 minutes of not speaking, reading or allowing your thoughts, feelings, or desire to lead you down a wayward path in your mind. If I am having a hard time getting my soul to be still I will shift my focus to Jesus and the Cross. Psalm 62:5, Psalm 37:7

3. A lifestyle of repentance and confession

Living a lifestyle of repentance, and giving thanks to God as He reveals sin to us, so that we no longer walk in that which so easily entangles us,  preventing us from running the race He has for us. Acknowledge known sin, seek forgiveness and turn away from it. Isaiah 30:15, Revelation 2:5, Matthew 5:24-24

4. Practicing gratitude

Being intentional about looking at and for the good things God has given and is giving in my life. I take time to think about the things I have been given a positive light. Psalm 136

Begin the process of having your eyes open to see how God is moving in all things and thank Him for it. Knowing God, stillness, repentance, and gratitude can begin to change our hearts as we take them to heart and can be a catalyst for leading us into worship. Worship puts God in His rightful place in our lives which then allows us to operate more fully in the place He has given us. It changes us and then changes the world we live in.

May God bless you all as you seek to worship in truth and spirit.

Andrew Sutton

Not My Plans: Student Spotlight – Sade’ Wilson

Not My Plans: Student Spotlight – Sade’ Wilson

by Frank Brazell

Sade’ Wilson, the child of Army parents, didn’t grow up in any one city, but she did grow up in one place— the Church. She started to take her relationship with God seriously at the age of 15, and after a conversation with a woman while at church, life began to change:

“I just started to have these God moments, day in and day out… I discovered God was real and I could have a vibrant relationship with him.”

Everything Sade’ had built during that honeymoon stage with God was put the test during her college years at a large state university. She was able to use that challenge to go deeper in her relationship with God, receiving life and strength at a time when so many buckle under challenges to faith. After college, Sade’ knew that she was called to serve the Lord in whatever it was that He called her to do. At the time, it looked like a career in the Air Force was where God had called her. Sade’ has a profound gifting for journalism, and with a family tradition of military service, joining the Air Force and working in Public Affairs seemed like the next logical step. That step was interrupted.

“I always thought, and I still think that [my calling] will be in the marketplace or out in the world. I never expected to be back in Fayetteville, working in ministry. All that was completely God.”

Despite having all the pieces in place to launch a successful career with the Air Force, God redirected Sade’ to theExperience College Internship, a one-to-two year internship in association with Grace College of Divinity. Even though she already had a Bachelor’s Degree from a prestigious university, Sade’ felt God calling her to more training for ministry.

After one year of being equipped to lead through GCD and theExperience College Internship, Sade’ planned to resume her journey with the Air Force. Again, God had other plans.

While preparing to pursue her dream of being a Public Affairs Officer, Sade’ received offers to work in her local church, but knew that God was calling her to the Air Force. She signed up for the ASVAB. On test day, she walked into the testing site only to have the testing network shut down. She went back a second time, but her name was mysteriously absent from the roll call, and she again was unable to take the test. Several weeks later, rescheduled for a third attempt, but once again, her name wasn’t on the roll call. A call to her recruiter proved that her name had been submitted and she had been scheduled to take the test at that time, but she still was missing from the roll. Her recruiter had no idea why she wasn’t on the list, but she did.

God was calling Sade’ to something other than her planned career as a Public Affairs Officer— to lead people in the local church.

“I love the Church, but I didn’t envision myself working full-time, vocationally, in a church.”

After the third attempt to take the ASVAB, Sade’ was offered one final position in her local church. To her, God’s plan for her was clear, and she accepted a position as the Marketing Coordinator for a large local church. Now, there is no uncertainty, Sade’ is exactly where God called her doing exactly what He called her to do.

“God isn’t interested in what I can bring to the table. He is interested in who I am becoming.”

God already had a plan for Sade’. He gave her a set of gifts and a calling to lead people, but it was going to be on His terms, not hers. After everything, Sade’ is still a student with Grace College of Divinity, taking classes as a Non-Degree Seeking student in areas where she thinks she could use additional training as a leader, a Marketing Coordinator, and a daughter of God.

In His Image… Student Thoughts on Christian Spiritual Formation

In His Image… Student Thoughts on Christian Spiritual Formation

Graduate student Lacey Chavira shares her thoughts on Christian Spiritual Formation. Lacey is currently working on her Master of Arts in Christian Leadership degree and has been with GCD since Spring 2019.


In order to understand spiritual formation’s connection to character we must first look at the concept of the imago Dei in which God’s design for mankind was made in his likeness, in his image. This is initially discussed in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them.”

Even though the image of God’s likeness in us was corrupted as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve, through the blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross it was fully restored.  When Jesus came to earth, he was God in human form, the ultimate example of character, in God’s image and likeness. He is who we aspire to be like through the process of spiritual formation.

Our hope, goal, and desire is that through the power of the Holy Spirit are being transformed into his likeness, becoming one of ultimate character through his example. Paul discusses this transformation process in Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” He also discusses this transformation in Galatians 4:19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”

As we can see, character is a direct result of spiritual formation, always being cultivated and nourished as we press in and seek God. We are daily having to crucify our false self, filled with fleshly things, in order to be refilled with God’s love and empowered through the Holy Spirit to become more and more like God, our true self, all that is holy.

One for the Books: Dream Run 2019

One for the Books: Dream Run 2019

by Frank Brazell

Last Saturday dawned as a perfect Fall morning for the participants of the Fourth Annual GCD Dream Run: Cool but not cold, with a light breeze. Coming on the heels of last year’s event, which had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Florence, the conditions made for a great turnout. This event broke every measurable record for success; more participants, more partners and affiliates, and more sponsors. Perhaps most importantly, this year will break another record: More dreams fulfilled.

This event, a collaboration between Grace College of Divinity and the Fayetteville Dream Center, exists to raise funds and community awareness, not just heart rates. More information about both of these non-profit organizations, and how the GCD Dream Run makes a difference, can be found in our post from last week.

A special thanks to everyone who participated in this event. Whether you were a participant, a sponsor, or a Downtown Partner, your contribution added to a bigger dream, and will continue to have an impact long after race day.


Dream On: Grace College of Divinity and Fayetteville Dream Center Partner for Fourth Annual Dream Run

Equipped to Lead: Alumni Spotlight- Mackenzie Gear

Equipped to Lead: Alumni Spotlight – Mackenzie Gear

by Frank Brazell

Recently, we sat down with alumna Mackenzie Gear (Christian Leadership, ’18) to discuss her experiences as a student, and how it has prepared her to be the Director of Student Ministries for one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the United States.

Mackenzie Gear (’18) and husband Brady

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Mackenzie first felt God calling her to full time vocational ministry as a teenager, specifically the call to work with students. Mackenzie first found out about Grace College of Divinity from her fiancé, now husband, Brady. The military brought Brady to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he began attending a local church affiliated with GCD; he told Mackenzie about Grace College of Divinity soon afterward. When they were married and settled in their new city, Mackenzie began taking classes at GCD, earning her Associate of Arts in Christian Leadership in 2018.

“I really enjoyed the fact that I could get my whole degree online… You can get your whole degree either all in class or all online.”

Mackenzie started by taking on-campus classes but had to switch to all-online courses when she was hired for a staff position at her local church. Getting hired was a direct result of being a student at GCD. A faculty member, who also happened to be an Associate Pastor at Mackenzie’s local church, noticed her work ethic and commitment to God’s call on her life, and connected her to an administrative position where she could still fulfill God’s calling for her: working with middle and high-school students.

Since then, Mackenzie has completed her Associate’s degree, worked with students while serving in an administrative capacity, and has recently been promoted to Director of Student Ministries. We asked her what that role entailed, and how her time as a student at GCD prepared her to step into that role.

“Now I get the opportunity to work with leaders at other sites [church campuses] in helping them and guiding them into leading them and growing their students at their sites, get to work with RUSH [Campus Ministries] in the local schools, and all things students at my local church.”

While still working weekly with students at her local church campus, Mackenzie now has the opportunity to mentor six adult leaders at that campus and five other site directors at various locations across the Fayetteville, North Carolina region. She works in conjunction with local pastoral staff to create a space for students that is a part of the local church.

“One of the biggest things I learned in class was through the Servant Leadership class with [Professor] Stefanie Ertel. In order to lead like Jesus you need to serve like Jesus. That’s something that I’ve been able to apply from my time at GCD to the role I’m in now.”

While a student, Mackenzie enjoyed not having to learn things on her own, but being surrounded by a group of like-minded people who want to grow and develop in their relationship with God.

“To be a pastor doesn’t mean that you need the title Pastor. You can do pastoral work in your everyday life, and I think that all of us are called to be somewhat pastoral in our interactions with people.”

Looking forward, Mackenzie is confident that God’s call on her life when she was 15 has brought her to where she is today. Now, she has the opportunity not only to lead students but to lead leaders, multiplying herself not for her own sake, but to advance the Kingdom of God faster and more effectively. While she may not know what the future holds, she never could have imagined where God would bring her and how He would bring her here.

We also asked Mackenzie what advice she would give to people who think God might be calling them to be a student at GCD. The calling that started when she was a teenager wasn’t put in place overnight, and her journey still isn’t finished; but the journey has been incredible, and God has been faithful through the whole process.

“It’s a big decision committing to school. If you’re on the edge of it, and feel like God is pushing you, it doesn’t hurt to try. Your efforts aren’t going to go to waste, and you’re going to learn something. The Lord can open up a lot of things, but we have to be willing to take the step forward. As long as you’re pursuing Him and seeking Him, He’s not going to lead you down a path that isn’t the right one for you.”