McKellar seeks to influence next generation of pastors as he was influenced
As a sophomore in high school growing up in the East Texas town of Mount Pleasant, Matthew McKellar, professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told his pastor he thought God was calling him to preach.
“He said, ‘If you can do anything else, and be happy, you need to do it. If you can’t shake this, come back and see me in six months,’” recalled McKellar who also occupies the George W. Truett Chair of Ministry. “I thought, ‘That’s pretty cold.’”
Six months later McKellar “was back in his office” as he could not get away from the call to preach, he remembered. Following high school graduation, McKellar moved to Waco and enrolled at Baylor University where he double majored in religion and speech communications.
Before he left for Waco, McKellar said his mother told him to go to Baylor and “meet a good girl from First Baptist Dallas and marry her” to which he laughed. However, his senior year of college McKellar said he called his mother to tell her he met Jennifer Jeffress, who grew up at the downtown Dallas church and whose brother, Robert, has pastored the historic Southern Baptist church since 2007. The McKellars have been married since August 1982.
McKellar began his studies at Southwestern the Monday following his Friday graduation from Baylor. Though friends studying at the Fort Worth seminary were part of the draw to Seminary Hill, he also chose Southwestern because he believed the seminary was “the most conservative of the Southern Baptist seminaries.”
In 1985, McKellar graduated with a Master of Divinity degree and earned a Doctor of Philosophy in 1991. While he was a student, McKellar said he was influenced by the late Scott Tatum, professor of preaching for whom McKellar was a grader for six years, the late Jack MacGorman, professor of New Testament, the late Curtis Vaughan, professor of New Testament, and F.B. Huey, professor of Old Testament emeritus.
McKellar explained while he was a seminary student he was pastoring a small country church where “big-time attendance was 20 or 30” people and Tatum came to preach a revival. The late preaching professor “modeled so many good things” for the future professor of preaching.
However, McKellar’s time and experience serving local churches began when he was a college student at Baylor when his sophomore and junior years he led in the dual roles of music and youth minister at First Baptist Church of Valley Mills, Texas, just outside of Waco. His senior year of college he began pastoring Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Texas. He pastored the Central Texas church for six years.
In 1987 the Lord called McKellar back to his East Texas roots as he began the senior pastor role at what is now known as Sylvania Church. The church was planted as a mission church of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler.
McKellar remembered at the time he thought, “Oh, this is great. It’s a mission church – a new church started under Green Acres. I’ll go get some experience. I’m just 70 miles from home – from Mount Pleasant, so that’s great. I’ll be here a couple of years.”
McKellar spent 22 years pastoring the church on the southeast side of Tyler before the Lord moved his family to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex so he could join the faculty of Southwestern. The church McKellar pastored was the East Texas extension for Southwestern as the classes met in the church’s facilities.
When McKellar joined the Southwestern Seminary faculty in 2009, he brought with him the lessons learned in the pastorate as well as the models of teaching he learned as a student.
Tatum, MacGorman, Vaughan, and Huey “wanted to challenge the student,” McKellar said. “They were committed to academic integrity – ‘We aren’t going to just give a guy a degree’” making certain the student learned Hebrew, Greek, and other areas of study, he noted. He explained the professors approached teaching with the perspective of “you are going to go out and deal with the souls of men and women. We want them to be prepared.”
“There was a sense of academic accountability, integrity that they wanted to uphold,” McKellar explained. He added, “They had expectations, not because they thought they were anybody, but the Lord deserves our best – there ought to be excellence.”
In addition to a commitment to excellence, McKellar seeks to bring compassion to the classroom, much like Tatum displayed to him as a student. He said this was extended to him as Tatum preached the revival service, spoke to him following classes, or encouraged him.
“I want to model the excellence that was modeled for me and then I want to also try to model the investment in the lives of the students,” McKellar said of how he teaches and interacts with students. “There’s a certain amount of academic material I need to teach, but then, I think, attendant to that is encouraging these guys” as he tells his students, “Hey, you can do this, or I believe in you, or I see how God’s gifted you in this area.”
McKellar recalled this past summer that as he was teaching a preaching course he had the opportunity to affirm the gift of preaching he saw in one of his students. He said he “felt like I was channeling Dr. Tatum at the end of the week” when he talked to the student and asked, “Hey, you ever thought about doing a Ph.D.?”
McKellar desires to “just be an encourager” whether a student is having a “tough day” or a student “excels in the classroom.” He said he wants “to seize those opportunities to have a similar impact” on his students the way his professors did on him.
He explained it is a “rush” to “wake up on Sunday and I get on my phone or I look at social media” and see that there are “all these guys out here who are preaching” that he has “a chance to encourage and love.”
One of those individuals is Daniel Dickard, a two-time Southwestern Seminary graduate who was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference in 2023. McKellar was the doctoral supervisor for Dickard, who is the pastor at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and graduated with his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2017.
However, Dickard first met McKellar when he was a first-year graduate student taking his expository preaching and advanced expository preaching classes. Dickard said, “Not only was he my professor in the classroom, he was my friend and mentor outside the classroom.”
McKellar “was very intentional of taking students to local restaurants, and talking preaching with them, getting to know them not only from a personal standpoint but building the foundation of preaching,” Dickard recalled. “When it became time to declare for a Ph.D., I knew that I wanted Matthew McKellar as my doctoral supervisor.”
Dickard added that “during my time in the doctoral program, he spent as much time with me outside of the classroom as he did with me in the classroom.” He said he and McKellar “would have great conversations about what it means not just to preach well, but to pastor well and he taught me the importance of in the preaching ministry, you cannot preach well unless you are first a pastor.”
Through McKellar’s example, Dickard observed in “his relationship with students, he loved his students and that was an extension into the classroom” as “he set an example of what it means not just to love preaching, but to love the people to whom you preach.”
McKellar said he “believes the Lord” is at Southwestern Seminary and “until Jesus comes if I can have the opportunity to have the influence that people had on me in this place, that just blows my mind.”