From “nowhere and everywhere,” with a heart set on missions, Shawn Wright did not expect to stay long-term at Southern Seminary.
Born in France, with a father in the Air Force, Wright grew up constantly moving. At the age of 10, while living in England, Wright professed faith in Jesus Christ. Twoyears later, he was baptized in a small Baptist church in Arkansas. Blessed by a Christian family — his father served as a chaplain’s assistant for 22 years — Wright says, “I grew up around the gospel. … I don’t remember ever not believing that it was true.”
After graduating from high school in New Hampshire, Wright had one dream: to play professional football. He attended Duke University and played for one year on the football team as a place-kicker. Arriving at college, “I was suffering spiritually,” Wright said. He was not a strong believer, largely due to his family’s lack of church involvement and the lack of healthy, conservative churches in New England.
While in college, Wright realized the unattractiveness of sin as he was exposed firsthand to evil. Most important to his spiritual growth, “the Lord brought InterVarsity Christian Fellowship into my life,” Wright said. Through InterVarsity’s ministry, Wright grew spiritually, and his focus shifted from football to faith.
Wright jokes that his major at Duke was InterVarsity and he took classes “because you had to do them to be involved.” Wright served in leadership positions, attended Urbana — InterVarsity’s global missions conference — with fellow students Greg Wills and Mark Dever, worked with international students, and spent a summer overseas working with Muslims. All of these experiences formed in Wright a call to missions.
After graduation, Wright moved back to New England, married, and began the next step toward overseas ministry: attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
During his time at Gordon-Conwell, Wright became deeply involved in a local church for the first time in his life. Previously, he had drifted between churches because of a lack of commitment to a church and denomination. Then, at Gordon-Conwell, Wright realized he must choose a denomination. He was drawn to the Southern Baptist Convention, impressed by its commitment to the authority of Scripture and missions. And so, Wright “became a Southern Baptist in Massachusetts.”
Looking back, Wright is not sure where he learned more: in the classroom with professors like David F. Wells and Gregory K. Beale, or in the local church. One friendship formed through the local church would greatly influence Wright’s life and encourage his desire toward the mission field. His pastor, Zane Pratt, future director of the IMB’s global theological education, “blessed my life tremendously, poured into me, and discipled me,” Wright said.
Graduating from seminary, Wright and his wife were ready for the mission field. Pratt and other friends had moved overseas, and it seemed only a matter of time before Wright and his wife followed. Since the mission board required pastoral experience, Wright served as assistant pastor at a church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During his three years of service, Wright felt a new calling toward theological education.
Southern Baptist churches in New England during the 90s faced an “importation of Southern cultural Christianity,” in addition to liberal moderates escaping the South and heading to the Northeast, Wright said. Due to the lack of theological depth in New England churches, Wright wondered how he could be involved in training and equipping pastors. Wright called Dever, also his wife’s former youth pastor, for advice. Dever recommended Southern Seminary. Wright and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and Wright finished his Ph.D. in 2001 with a renewed desire to go overseas.
With his wife expecting their fourth child, Wright accepted a one-year teaching position at Southern. Wright taught his first class and missed his second; it was August 23, the day his son was born.
Early in his second year of teaching at Southern Seminary, Wright was called to the dean’s office. He had no idea what to expect and was stunned when Daniel L. Akin offered to promote him from his one-year contract to a faculty position.
Deciding to stay at Southern was “the most difficult decision I ever had to make,” Wright recalls. Torn between his love for teaching and desire toward missions, Wright accepted the professorship after several days of prayer and counsel.
Wright’s love for missions has not diminished, yet he is “very happy” with his decision to stay at Southern where he serves as associate professor of church history. During a one-year leave, Wright and his family lived overseas for five months while Wright trained local pastors. He has led mission trips through Southern and through Clifton Baptist Church, where he is an elder.
Wright’s passion is not only to disseminate knowledge but also to press students toward growth. He wishes to encourage seminary students beyond the classroom in personal life, church participation, and — of course — missions.
DID YOU KNOW?
Favorite book: Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Favorite historical period: Puritans
Place-kicker for Duke Blue Devils
Seminary pastor: Zane Pratt
College friends: Gregory A. Wills and Mark Dever