One of Craig Parker’s regular prayers is for God to bring people to support Southern Seminary.
“When you are working in development in a faith-based organization, you are always looking for people who will have a passion for your mission,” said Parker, Southern Seminary’s senior vice president for institutional administration. “You pray to meet those special people who love the Lord, love the church, love the Bible, and understand the importance of theological education. When all of those lines cross, then you know you have met someone who is bound to love Southern and our students.”
“It would have been impossible to orchestrate the opportunity I was given to meet John and Karen Piwetz. God used a series of unexpected events to lead them to Southern.”
A God-Orchestrated Friendship
The Piwetzes first interaction with Southern Seminary came several years ago while they lived in Birmingham, Alabama. Their pastor, Buddy Gray, who has served as pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church for more than 30 years, is dedicated to seeing his congregation develop a robust Christian worldview. Gray, who also served as a trustee and chairman of the board at Southern for many years, provided a conference at his church in which several professors from Southern taught on topics like systematic theology and ethics.
“The [professors] came in on different nights to talk about different topics related to living truth [and] how Christianity plays out in real life,” John Piwetz said.
“The most impactful for me of those speakers was Bruce Ware, a Southern professor. I bought the CD set of all the talks and I’ve listened to his talk over and over.”
A few years later, the Piwetzes moved from Birmingham to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for John Piwetz to begin working for tanning giant Sun Tan City as executive vice president and chief financial officer. John Piwetz also serves as a lay-elder for Crossroads Baptist Church, a church plant in Elizabethtown.
“After our church launched out on its own, we came to that time of year when many churches have a revival or [other forms of outreach],” John Piwetz said. “I [suggested that] instead of just a traditional revival [the elders] bring someone in to do some theological training.”
Remembering how significant Ware’s conference session had been at Hunter Street Baptist Church, John emailed and asked him to consider coming to their church for a similar training.
“About an hour [after emailing him] my phone rings, and it was Bruce Ware,” John Piwetz said. “He came and did a whole three -day weekend [event], with five sessions that talked about God’s sovereignty — and it was wonderful.”
The conference challenged the congregation of Crossroads Baptist Church. Ware, who is T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, taught on topics like God’s sovereignty and explained key differences between Arminianism and Calvinism. His teaching came straight from Scripture, and he worked to prove each position from God’s Word. Ware’s commitment to the Bible encouraged members to develop a deeper desire to dive deeper into Scripture. This has allowed the congregation to face the why behind what they believe, according to John Piwetz.
The Piwetzes noticed that Ware not only provided systematic and theological knowledge about challenging topics, but he was also approachable and revealed a heart for the church.
“[Ware is] very personable,” Karen Piwetz said, “which I think struck a lot of the church members, because when you think of a professor, you have this preconceived idea of them just kind of blessing you with their presence. That’s not at all how we felt from anyone connected with Southern. It’s always, ‘We’re here to serve. We want to see your church grow.’”
Following the conference, John Piwetz reached out to Ware when one of his discipleship groups began reading through one of Ware’s books seeking a study guide. Instead, Ware opened up his home for a time of discussion.
John Piwetz said, “I have a group of guys I’m discipling at my church. … We’ve read one or two of [Ware’s] books, and I had asked him if he had a study guide to help, and he said, ‘No, I don’t, but if you guys want to, once you’ve read it, you can come down to my house and we can sit down in my kitchen and talk about it. And you can ask any questions you want.’ So I was really floored by that. And we’ve done that two or three times now, and it’s just great.”
Ware and John Piwetz have become good friends.
“It was through this that I introduced to him the idea of getting more involved with SBTS,” Ware said. “He and his wife, Karen, are very dear people, and they’ve become dear friends to SBTS.”
An Answer to Prayer
Ware connected the Piwetz family to Craig Parker, SBTS senior vice president of Institutional Advancement, to explore the option of supporting the seminary. Parker addressed any concerns about where the money would go. Parker explained that any donations given to Southern directly benefit students and lower their cost of tuition.
The Piwetzes are eager to help train pastors in any way they can and, as a financial expert, John Piwetz believes supporting Southern makes sense.
“[Giving to Southern is] one of the most effective uses of dollars we could give to any Christian ministry,” John Piwetz said, “because it’s multiplied by when a pastor gets out there and plants his church and starts his ministry, he’s not just influencing one person but potentially hundreds as it multiplies.”
The Piwetzes are also intentional about introducing their friends to Southern.
“Rarely do you see John and Karen attending a Southern event alone,” Parker said. “They bring someone with them from their church or one of John’s business associates to every function. They live an hour away from our campus, but they are remarkably involved in the life of the seminary, and they want their friends to know and love Southern the same way they do.
“John and Karen are like Southern Seminary evangelists. It has been a joy to watch their affection for Southern grow. Their friendship has exceeded this advancement officer’s prayer.”
Encouraging their friends to participate in Southern events reveals the Piwetzes love for the seminary. Through Ware’s friendship and dedication to teach men in at Crossroads Baptist Church, the Piwetzes experienced how Southern and SBTS professors commit to training pastors and equipping the church.
“I’m very passionate about Southern,” John Piwetz said. “I think for two main reasons: One, the multiplying effect of leaders training pastors, that they get multiplied as they plant churches and get into ministry.
“Two, that in training of pastors, Southern, more than anywhere else I’m aware of, is so firmly committed to not compromising in a culture that has completely gone down so many liberal paths. So many [other] places that train pastors are compromising the message of the gospel, and I’ve really appreciated that Southern does not compromise on that.”
Annie Corser is a contributing writer for Southern Seminary Magazine.