Anderson University College of Christian Studies/Clamp Divinity School
Dr. David Pickens: shepherding the rural flock
Dr. David Pickens humbly describes himself as a simple country preacher of a small country church.
Called out of a secular profession to become a minister, he feels his education from the Anderson University College of Christian Studies and Clamp Divinity School has empowered him to maximize his God-given gifts, whether in the pulpit delivering God’s message or ministering to his church and community.
Tell me about Unity Baptist Church.
We are a small country church. It’s fitting, because I’ve always attended small country churches. I tell people I’m just a simple country preacher. It’s very rural. Not even a downtown area. Good people, salt of the earth. Love each other, love the Lord. We have a couple who started a clothing drive, so about every other month, every six weeks we have a clothing giveaway in the area. I’m the only full-time staff person, so it’s largely a volunteer organization like most country churches are. You’re always mustering an army of volunteers. There’s always the blessings and the challenges of that. Strong children’s program, strong youth program. I’m very grateful for what our volunteers bring to the table.
We always promote from within for youth leadership. So we’ve never gone from outside the flock to hire a youth pastor, and we’ve had excellent youth ministers. Several of them have gone on to full-time Christian ministry. That’s what happened to the last two.
We’re grateful that the Lord is raising up individuals in our congregation, so now we have a young couple who have recently just taken over the youth ministry and they’re doing a phenomenal job. It’s frustrating to lose your staff to bigger churches and bigger budgets, but then it’s encouraging to see how God always has a plan and is always raising up the next person or couple to lead.
My dissertation was titled “Preaching to accentuate the positives in a small rural church,” and the underscore was preaching in the shadow of the modern megachurch. I referenced The Unbusy Pastor, by Eugene Peterson. It’s a brilliant article from Christanity Today back in 1980. In it he references that Jesus celebrates the small things: the widow’s mite, the mustard seed. Our culture celebrates the loud, the multitudinous. In our culture we want to celebrate that and forget that Jesus celebrated small things.
Tell me about how you became a Christian.
I was born and raised in a Christian home. I heard the Gospel at an early age. I saw it lived out and at eight-years old I realized I had never done business with God. Skip Owens was the pastor at Southside Baptist Church where my family attended. On a Sunday evening, I finally went forward during an invitation. I said I wanted to accept Jesus and I want to be baptized. I was so nervous and scared, it took all the courage I could muster just to respond to the invitation. I followed a couple of weeks later in a believer's baptism. Through the years I was always involved and active in church. I went to a Christian college for my undergrad. The Lord has been faithful.
The Lord’s been good, and I say sometimes He’s kept me on a short leash. There were times I wasn’t walking as close to the Lord as I should or could, but He always had me on a short leash.
I’ve got five kids and often will pray over them that God will protect, prevent and preserve them, because I feel like in my own life I’ve seen where God has protected, prevented and preserved me from a lot of things that I otherwise could have been involved in.
God uses our mistakes to make miracles. He takes messes and turns them into masterpieces. He knows the rest of the story, we only know the chapter world.
Tell me about your calling into ministry and your studies at Clamp Divinity School.
My original career goals were not ministry. I was called into ministry about 2000 out of a secular vocation. I had a business degree. I had been working with youth at church. So fast-forward, I received a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Erskine. I never had a preaching class. Never really thought I would be a preacher. I was a youth minister and enjoyed that until the Lord started calling me into preaching.
When I realized that I was a preacher, I took a preaching class through the Anderson University College of Christian Studies and Clamp Divinity School with Dr. (Michael) Duduit.
I’ve been in the Saluda Baptist Association for 23 years. I’ve always served a church in our association either as a youth pastor, associate pastor or senior pastor. Dr. Duduit came and did a class at an Epic Conference. He led a class on preaching and I attended it. He blew me away, rocked my world. It gave me a hunger to study preaching even more. Having sat in that three-hour session with him, it just made me more hungry to study and learn preaching.
So in 2015 I took a master’s level preaching class through Clamp Divinity School. That only further fueled the fire. I met with Dr. Bramlett in January of 2018 to discuss the Clamp Divinity School’s Doctor of Biblical Preaching. I remember sitting with him in January but I just started at Unity (Baptist) and did not want the added pressures of doctoral work in a new setting. I wanted to get settled in, so I delayed my studies until June of 2018 and began the program then. I feel like I will forever reap the benefits of that program.
The friendships I’ve made, the level of study, having gone from a Master of Arts in Theological Studies with really no preaching training to now—I have really thoroughly studied and continue to study preaching. I feel like having been challenged with all of the different styles of preaching—inductive, deductive—I consider myself an expository preacher, so being able to discover the other avenues, the opportunities there are. I’ve done one narrative expository and it was well received. In fact, I really should consider doing more of the narrative expository because of how well it was received from our people.
Tell me about the profession you were in initially.
My original passion was music and guitar. I went to North Greenville as a guitar major and received an associate of fine arts in guitar. I transferred to the University of Tennessee to study music and jazz guitar. Coming from North Greenville I was a pretty good guitar player. When I showed up in Knoxville, I wasn’t a good guitar player. That’s a relative term compared to who’s around.
I stayed there for about a year, went back to North Greenville and got a business administration degree with a minor in computer science. Then I went to work for Merrill-Lynch right out of college. I went from Merrill-Lynch, using my computer degree, for the city of Abbeville. This was 1999, when local governments were concerned about what the Y2K bug was going to do to computers. That was my job: to be ready and waiting for Y2K to wreak havoc or do nothing.
In the interim, I was getting involved in ministry. I was a member at First Baptist Abbeville. I lived in Abbeville County. I had been asked by the pastor there to play guitar, using my guitar skills in a contemporary service we started. Then I was asked to work with youth and Vacation Bible School; the Lord blessed that. Little bit by little bit, the Lord was kind of leading me into the ministry without me realizing it. There was no Damascus Road experience. I was working in the city of Abbeville on computers, and the Y2K event was a non-event, so they hired me specifically for that. As a result of it not being anything, they kept me on about 10 or 11 months without really a justification. After 10 months it was becoming budget time. They were looking at me and my position and trying to find things for me to do. They eventually just eliminated my position.
Just in that summer, having worked with the youth and contemporary worship, I was feeling a calling into the ministry. The city of Abbeville, by eliminating my position, forced my hand. They made me make a decision—am I going into the ministry or not?
I lost my position and had already been talking to my pastor, Reiny Koschel. He had sensed in my life some skill sets that he thought would be good for ministry, so he was encouraging to me. Even to this day we meet about every two or three weeks. God closes one door and opens a window. Sometimes you have to jump.
I was born and raised in the Starr area. We had just broken ground on a house when I lost my job, but we felt called and committed to the area. This is my Jerusalem, and as I mentioned I have always served churches in the Starr-Iva area, what I call “LA” (Lower Anderson).
I’ve been on staff at four churches and they all just have been in “LA.”
AU has poured into you and now you’re giving back. How does that feel?
It feels great. It just feels like you’re doing Kingdom work. It’s an easy decision to give back to AU. They’ve done so much for me and continue to do so much for the Kingdom of God in Anderson County and around the country and the world when you think about young men and women coming in from other countries being exposed to the gospel and in a gospel-centered environment. It truly is foreign missions and home missions right here in Anderson County. The reach is global and the work is local. It is impossible to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in what’s going on in Anderson University.
It is just the highest honor, and I actually never considered the ramifications of being an AU graduate or alumni. I really was just looking to hone the craft of preaching. But again the relationships that have developed and the opportunity to serve—I think it started with the Board of Visitors. My predecessor at Unity had been on the Board of Visitors and I remember getting some mail to him about it. I asked him about it and he extended the invitation to be a part of it. That led to the Alumni Association after I graduated.
So in the effort to join the Alumni Association, I was asked to be on the board, then from there the Christian Ministry Foundation. I’m excited about what God is doing on the campus of Anderson University. Just the excitement, the energy, just a move from God I see on that campus, and it’s just thrilling to be a part of it. Having been called into this area, I believe that Anderson University is just a mighty work of God.
As a local pastor, it is encouraging to see other local pastors out there. Yesterday we saw several local pastors out there in the crowd (at the Football Operations Center groundbreaking ceremony), and that’s just exciting. This cooperation and collaboration between the local association, the Saluda Association and Anderson University, and of course what Dr. Whitaker brings to the table, are just tremendous.