When Mat Alexander was in seminary, he took a class called “The Ministry of Leadership” with Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. The final for the course was a single question: Imagine you’re in a deacons’ meeting at a Baptist church. The church has been in decline and you’re asked to lead the church out of its decline. What would you say?

Six months later, Alexander was in that very deacons’ meeting in real life. His seminary preparation was immediately invaluable. He has seen first-hand how painful ministry can be, but Alexander says he often feels God’s presence to a unique degree during the lowest of moments.

“I wanted to serve the local church and pour out my life for God’s people. Once that dawned on me, I couldn’t do anything else.”

“There are all sorts of expectations that churches have for their pastor, but at the end of the day, what I learned at Southern Seminary is that the truth must undergird everything I do,” he said. “There are hard days and good days — highs and lows — but I recognized that what I needed most was the undergirding of that truth.”

Alexander’s path toward ministry, however, was not an easy road. When he enrolled at the University of Mobile in Mobile, Alabama, Alexander was sure he wanted to be in ministry. But one night, as his former youth pastor was driving him home from his church internship, Mat Alexander became convinced he wasn’t actually a Christian.

A sophomore in college at the time, Alexander had been reading two books: Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. As he processed these classic works of Christian faith and discipleship, Alexander felt the Holy Spirit telling his conscience that something was missing. He knew a lot about the Lord, but he didn’t truly know the Lord.

“I loved theology and the objective message of the Bible, but any time it got subjective — knowing God and walking with him — I began to have this sinking feeling that I did not know God personally,” he said.

Alexander began explaining this to his mentor, who encouraged him to be honest and to search his heart for how the Spirit was moving him. He then told Alexander he should sleep on it and see how he felt the next morning. “You can go to bed,” Alexander told him, “but I’m not leaving this car until I come to know the Lord!”

After that moment, Alexander sensed a renewal of his call to ministry — but grounded in deep confidence that he belonged to the Lord and was ready to serve him. From there, he served in the college ministry at Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile.

When he enrolled at Southern Seminary as a master of divinity student, Alexander became convinced the Lord was specifically calling him to serve the local church, which he now calls the “heartbeat” of his life.

“Once the gospel clicked and once the primacy of the local church clicked, pastoring the Lord’s church became the heartbeat of my life,” Alexander said. “I wanted to serve the local church and pour out my life for God’s people. Once that dawned on me, I couldn’t do anything else.”

It is a commitment to the truth of God’s Word that Alexander has sought to define his whole pastorate. As the pastor of a revitalization project in the American Deep South after graduating from Southern, Alexander says it was a commitment to rock-solid theology that best prepared him for the challenges he faces. He says his church has doubled down on preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and that God has proven himself to be faithful.

“Southern Seminary is tethered to the truth of the Bible. At every level of the school, I encountered a commitment to and passion for the truth of God’s Word,” he said. “Southern helped me develop rock solid theology, a passion for the local church, and a love for God’s people.”