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

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.

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

Student Spotlight: I was in prison and you came to me

Alumni Highlight: Adriane Harrington

What brought you to Fayetteville?  

My husband, Clayton, is a retired service member and we’ve lived in Fayetteville for more than 20 years. We’ve been members of Manna for about 12 years.  

What made you decide to take classes at GCD?  

Off and on, I’d hear about the college, but at that time, the college was not accredited. As I raised our four sons, I had taken courses – a class here and there. Once GCD became accredited, I felt the leading of the Lord that this was where He wanted me to be. I enrolled in the Bachelor of Divinity program in the fall of 2012. Five years later, I joyously walked across the stage at Manna EP – tears running down my face! I began working toward my Master of Arts in Christian Leadership degree the following semester and I am loving it!  

Can you give some examples of ways your experience with GCD has prepared you to fulfill your calling?  

My classes at GCD, especially those in Christian Leadership, have provided me with skills to more effectively lead at Manna Church’s EP Site. I’ve been in leadership for more than ten years on the SERVE team there and I consider it an honor to minister alongside my extended family at Manna EP and to be involved in training emerging leaders.  

Recently my master’s curriculum has afforded me the opportunity to serve as a Teaching Assistant in the classroom. Once I have completed this degree, the dream would be to fulfill the calling on my life to instruct at the undergrad level.  

What tips could you offer a new student at GCD?  

A life statement of mine is: “All that I Do is Ministry.” All that we do throughout our lives should be ministry as unto the Lord. With this in mind, we should definitely guard our lives, guard our mouths – I especially have to remind myself of this – and present our whole being as a living sacrifice unto the Lord, daily.  

What have you enjoyed most about your experience with GCD?  

I consider it a great honor to be a student here at Grace College of Divinity. I love being in the classroom. As I interact with ‘young minds,’ it keeps my ‘older mind’ sharp – at least I would like to think so!  

What would you say to a person who is thinking about attending GCD?  

Do it! It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re never too young; you’re never too old! I’m so thankful that the Lord has allowed me to be a student throughout my lifetime. He encourages me to always remain a lifelong learner, to constantly enrich my life on the foundation of His Word, and to continue to serve His body with all the skills that He has entrusted to me.  

Adam Yow Devotional


I am the currently a first year intern in theExperience College internship. I’m quite a simple homie. I love Jesus. I really think the biggest fight for number one in my life is Jesus and food. I am proud to confess I also love girlie drinks and I don’t care who knows about it. That’s all.

What does God REALLY want?

     Have you ever wondered what God wants the most? Have you ever just taken time out of your day to think, “Hmmm, what is the number one thing God wants from my life?” I think people, despite being a Jesus-follower or not, have asked themselves a question similar to the one I am portraying today. If you are a human being, you have a purpose, and, ultimately, that is what your life is searching for.

     Speaking from my own Jesus-following perspective, my view on what God really wants has gotten skewed through time and experience. When the question of what God really wants is brought to my attention, my natural instinct is to think of some form of work – like reading my Bible more, praying for my family, or sharing the gospel with non-Jesus followers; but I think I lead myself away from what the truth really is. Though doing things like doing ministry is good, and we should be incorporating these disciplines in our relationship with Jesus. God has been teaching me that those are not His priority for my life.

     As I have been reading through the Old Testament, specifically the Samuel’s, King’s, and Chronicle’s, God has been radically shifting my mind when I think about the main purpose of my life. Reflecting on the lives of those kings and prophets who ended well, I come to find the a common theme in all of their lives. Though they did amazing things for God, they all gave up their lives to God. Their primary focus was to constantly place their lives on the altar.

     Fast forward to Jesus, one day Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Essentially what is happening is someone is saying, “Yo Jesus, what does God really want? What is the most important thing to Him?” The golden question, right? And his response totally blows me away. Jesus simply says, “Just love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Yeah, that’s what my Pops wants the most from humanity.

     WHAT? This changes everything! Jesus Himself tells us that God is looking for people who will enter into relationship with Him, not just another religious way of living. At times we make our relationship all about “what do I need to do” with all these works in mind, but Jesus suggests  that we should consider “what do I need to give up.” You see, I have come to discover that God is not looking for those who will just do all the right things, but He is looking for those who will give Him their heart. And it is from a heart that is truly surrendered that real life change can be produced personally and publicly.

     So I encourage you, if you are in a relationship with Jesus and seek to grow closer to him, don’t start off with thinking about what you should do to fix the issue, but go to Jesus with your whole heart – the good, the broken, and the ugly – and give it up! And that is where I believe you will experience the most satisfying peace and freedom. Brothers and sisters, the best days are still ahead of us. Give up your hearts, so you do not miss out on them.

How To: Student Ministry

How To: Student Ministry

brushesflickr photo by futurilla

How To: Student Ministry

Talk Less, Live More..”

“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation” – Plato

First things first, can we admit student ministry can feel like trying to run a the sahara…while fasting.

Students might be the most exhausting demographic to work with but also the most rewarding. I worked in student ministry for several years and now I’ve been removed from it for several more. A couple of things I learned are this:

Reflection 1: Students are exhausting
Reflection 2: Leaders are Messy

As imperfect as both parties are, there is hope.

Here’s the two sided coin of student ministry.
1) Good side: Students will mimic their leaders 2) Bad Side: Students will mimic their leaders.

Ever hear the phrase: “Leadership is being.” As in, it flows out of who you are?

Well spend enough time leading and the people who look up to you will begin to reflect your being – who you are. That means they’ll reflect your insecurities, your behavior, the things you applaud, the things you shun and much more.



The best way I learned to navigate through this terrain of exhaustion and messiness are as follows:

Talk Less, Live More

Talk Less

If I could go back and change how I led as a campus minister, I would’ve shut my mouth more often than not. I would’ve invested more time into hearing my students share their thoughts. I would’ve eased back and let the natural flow of friendship and life take course and treated those groups like relationships instead of classrooms. Making a particular effort to talk long whenever I was giving encouragement or support and trying to keep my words few otherwise. As few as I would keep them in a casual friendship.

Live More

I would’ve led more by how I lived rather than trying to give lectures on principles from the bible. My boss always says “If you teach a seminar on measles but you have the chicken pox, the people are going to catch the chicken pox.” Because people are malleable and when you lead, who you are as a person becomes contagious. I would rather mold leaders who learn to influence by how they live rather than leaders who try to speak more than they act – I think the body has enough people giving their opinions on life issues, it’s time for more of us to begin spending our efforts on influencing by how we live.

Often as leaders when we speak on matters of life in Christ we tend to speak aspirationally and very seldom acknowledge the very slow process of life that it takes us to reach those aspirations. Do the students you lead a favor and lighten the burden of expectation you unknowingly place on them, you can do this by living aspirationally which means actions and a lifestyle that reflects a desire and progress towards sanctification as well as constant acknowledgement of your shortcomings, imperfections, missteps and laborious effort towards those aspirations.

At the end of the day, we can’t change that our flaws are going to permeate into how we lead. But we can make a particular effort to lead out of who by striving for high goals in action but acknowleding to ourself and those we lead that we always come up short but never cease striving.

Trust me when I say one of the best encouragements you could give to a student is to let them know that the leader they look up to is a imperfect person just like them. 

“Elijah was a man, just like us..but he prayed fervently” – James 5:17

Talk less and live more..lead more.




Bible College partners with Manna Church’s student ministry


Bible College partners with Manna Church’s student ministry

Grace College of Divinity collaborates with Manna Church for the Experience internship program. The Experience program uses the academics of Grace College of Divinity with the practical training through an internship with Manna Church.

The Experience Program through Grace College of Divinity offers a Certificate of Christian Leadership and an Associate of Christian Leadership. The Experience program takes place on GCD’s Fayetteville, NC campus and Manna Church’s Cliffdale site. The program is broken into specific tracks to be able to better prepare students for their area of interest to better reflect their calling.

In addition to weekly practical ministry through student ministry the Experience program also takes a cross cultural missions trip. Past mission trips have been to Guatemala and Honduras.

Pictures from 2012 Missions trip to Guatemala

Student ministry trip

Student Ministry Grace College of Divinity and Manna Church

Student Ministry Grace College of Divinity