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Texan nurturing God-given desires in studies at Southern Seminary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Chris Spradley was looking for life in all the wrong places.

Booze and beer weren’t cutting it. Neither were the revolving-door relationships. Nor the pursuit of success.

At long last, sick and tired of being sick and tired and left empty by the pursuit of beer, babes and bucks, Spradley sought fulfillment in a seemingly unlikely place: church.

It was the summer of 1996 and Spradley was a student at Stephen F. Austin State University in his hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas. There, he hosted radio sports shows on KSAU FM-90.1 and 860 AM and often covered the Houston Rockets and Astros.

Though he rubbed elbows with the likes of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwan and even Gov. George W. Bush, true fulfillment was strangely absent from his life.

A teller at his bank invited him to a local church service for college students. Spradley went, but went only after a long night of imbibing in the bars. But like everything else, his first church experience left him hollow.

“I was feeling terrible from the night before, but I had made a decision that I would go to church, so I got up, showered and went,” said Spradley, who is now a master of divinity student and president of the Student Government Association at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“I hated it. The greeter at the door was the only person who even spoke to me that day. I didn’t like the sermon, the singing, anything. It was supposed to be college day and I even called the girl who was in charge to complain. The funny thing is, I wanted more. I tried to be angry that no one talked to me. I look back now and realize that was a cry for help.”

The girl called, apologized profusely and urged Spradley to return. After some thought, he did — this time without getting inebriated the evening before — and was greeted warmly. His cry for help was soon to be answered.

The following Sunday, a man named Dan Peppard sang in the church and shared his testimony. Peppard’s life had been radically transformed after 11 years as an alcoholic. The man’s words resonated with Spradley, who was in attendance for a third Sunday.

“It really made me think about my life,” he said. “I went home and pulled out a Bible that a family member had given me and was kind of flipping through the pages, thinking about my life. I looked down and saw 1 Peter 4:3. I literally lost my breath after reading it.”

A few days after his encounter with the searing words of the apostle Peter, Spradley knelt beside his bed, poured out his heart as a repentant sinner and trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.

Truly, in the manner of St. Augustine, Spradley’s restless heart had found rest in Jesus Christ.

“We’re all searching for something,” he said. “Every human being wants something and it is a God-given desire for love, for purpose, for peace.

“I had those same desires. Like someone who is spiritually dead, my attempts were to fill that void or to find those things fulfilled in the things of this world. True fulfillment is only found in Jesus Christ.”

One year after becoming a Christian, Spradley sensed a call to the ministry. He began to preach and teach and in January 1998 he established God’s Army Ministries.

Nearly three years later, Spradley is in the midst of his second year as a student in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Seminary.

But the fact that he is at the seminary is itself a compelling story.

In 1998, Spradley was nearing college graduation. Though options for a theological education existed close to home for him, Spradley questioned whether God’s will included seminary. But as he sought divine guidance, Spradley had an overwhelming sense that God was driving him toward Kentucky.

“I just sensed that God wanted me in Kentucky,” he said. “I didn’t really think God wanted me to go to seminary. And why Kentucky? I wasn’t sure. I had never heard of Southern Seminary. In fact, I had never heard of this seminary until three weeks before I moved here.

“But God made things clear to me very quickly and in an incredible way. God brought people into my life who were either from Kentucky or had some connection with Kentucky. I didn’t know why or exactly where, just Kentucky and ministry.”

As his time at Stephen F. Austin drew to a close, he was managing a sports store in Nacogdoches. His love for sports and background in it led to a friend recommending that he apply for work with Louisville Slugger. The bat manufacturer’s presence in Louisville also made clear the Kentucky town to which he would move.

When Spradley told his pastor about his impending move to Kentucky and possible employment with Louisville Slugger, Southern Seminary entered the equation. When Spradley found out the seminary allowed guests to stay on campus for a couple of nights, he figured it would make for nice lodging while interviewing for a job.

What he did not know was that staying on campus meant he was a prospective student. Still unaware, Spradley hopped a flight to Louisville.

“I got off the plane and heard my name over the loudspeaker and went to the desk,” he said. “They told me that I had a message from the seminary to take a cab to the school and they would give me a voucher for it. When I got to the school, I met with someone who gave me a meal ticket and showed me to my room.

“I thought this was great. I still didn’t know that meant I was a prospective student. The next day, I began to meet with professors and to walk around campus. That Tuesday Stephen Olford was preaching at the seminary. I heard he was preaching and thought he was awesome. I wound up staying for the preview conference over the next weekend. I was like a dry sponge that had been dropped into a bucket full of water.”

Spradley was offered the job with Louisville Slugger, but soon decided that God’s obvious direction was to attend the seminary. He turned down the job, got employment in the seminary recreation center, financial aid and everything else he needed to become a student. He flew back home and within two weeks was living in Louisville. A little over two months later, in January 1999, he began his first classes as a seminary student.

Said the 29-year-old Spradley, “I remember very clearly walking out the doors of Honeycutt Center by the cafeteria on the red bricks and walking around the corner with an overwhelming feeling that this was where I was supposed to be. There was no doubt in my mind.”

In the time since, Spradley has seen God’s providential hand continue to move in his life. God’s Army [Ministries] is still going strong. He leads the one-man ministry as an evangelist, often preaching revivals and offering his services for youth functions, retreats, conferences and seminars on evangelism.

When his grandfather died, Spradley said his faith and affections for the seminary community grew exponentially when a group of fellow students gave him the money to fly home for the funeral. Spradley was elected SGA president last spring for the 2000-2001 academic year.

“I love it here, and I love everything I am learning,” he said. “I am learning so much, and I am soaking it in. This is a great place to be right now. It’s great to apply the things I am learning to an area of my life or an area of the ministry. When we take things we learn in class and apply them to our lives so that they’re not just facts and figures that remain in our heads, but they are actually applicable to our lives as Christians and ministers, it changes things dramatically.

“It is incredible to think about what God has done in my life and how he continually shapes me. I am thankful to have the opportunity to be SGA president to have the chance to serve the seminary community which has done so much for me.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: CHRIS SPRADLEY.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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