Southwestern alumnus finds home at Houston’s First Baptist Church
While serving in ministry from “coast-to-coast,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus, Jeff Bumgardner, a Master of Music with a concentration in music ministry graduate, has come full circle in his ministerial life in serving in Houston, Texas. Bumgardner began his ministerial journey in Fort Worth, Texas, and has followed God every step of the way to end up in Texas again.
Growing up in Grovetown, Georgia, Bumgardner and his family did not attend church while he was a child. It was not until a friend of his invited him and his family to begin attending church that he started to really consider what a life with Christ would be like.
He said he began going to church “around age 11 when a friend invited me. And then when I was 13 years old, I prayed to receive Christ and I was saved then.”
While that moment was special for Bumgardner, it was also very special for his mother who had fallen slightly away from her faith.
“My mom was a believer and she raised me to understand who Jesus was,” Bumgardner recalled. “When I walked the aisle to be saved, she walked down the aisle with me and rededicated her life to Christ and joined that church.”
Bumgardner said his salvation also caused something to stir in his father’s heart as well. “A few years later, my dad started coming to church, and he ultimately got saved as well,” said Bumgardner.
Two years after getting saved, Bumgardner began to feel God calling him to serve in a greater capacity than he previously knew.
“When I was 15 years old, I felt a calling to full-time ministry,” said Bumgardner. “I knew that I wanted to serve the local church, and I knew that I wanted to serve Christ, but all I knew was a small country church and all I knew of full-time ministry was a bi-vocational pastor.”
As he neared the end of high school, Bumgardner began to notice that his love for music was becoming more than just a love, but a skill that stood out.
“I had a passion for music as a small child and so as I got older, that passion just grew and grew,” said Bumgardner. “As I was finishing up high school, He revealed to me that my passion, love, and skill for music would be combined with His calling on my life.”
After graduating high school, Bumgardner attended and graduated from Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Georgia.
While in college, Bumgardner and his roommate wanted to take a road trip, but did not have a reason to visit someone or somewhere. Bumgardner expressed a desire to visit Texas, and used a visit to Southwestern Seminary as a reason to go on his trip.
Bumgardner described that he felt a sense of belonging as soon as he stepped foot on campus.
“I felt like I heard the voice of God telling me, ‘This is what I have next for you,’” said Bumgardner. “It wasn’t audible or anything, but it was that my heart was drawn there.”
He met his wife, Jody, while in college and they “got married right out of college.” Following their wedding in 1998, the Bumgardners moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and began studying at Southwestern Seminary.
“Southwestern is where God blessed us in such a great way,” said Bumgardner. “My wife and I established our ministry in Fort Worth at Southwestern. Everything that we do has the fingerprints of Southwestern all over it.”
Since graduating from Southwestern in 2001, Bumgardner said he has served in churches from “coast-to-coast,” including in Alabama, Tennessee, California, South Carolina, and Texas.
“Everywhere we have gone, we have felt and treated it like it was the last church we would go to,” said Bumgardner. “We wanted to completely commit to every church that we were serving, so knowing that God would call us away, we went as though each church was the last.”
A passion of Bumgardner’s outside of playing and performing music was the composition of the music itself.
“I have always written music, even as a little kid writing short stories and poems,” said Bumgardner. “I would take some of the poetry I wrote and combine it with music, but none of it was ever any good.”
While serving at a church in California, Bumgardner saw a passion of his turn into a potential ministry outside of the local church context. Bumgardner had written several songs and had published songs for some single-song contracts, but had never gotten a larger deal.
A friend of Bumgardner introduced him to a publishing company after hearing some of his music. Bumgardner said his friend recommended getting his songs published for the public to hear.
After meeting and writing music with the publisher, Bumgardner was offered an exclusive production contract with Sunset Gallery Music in 2011. Since then, Bumgardner has written over 1,000 songs, published over 500 of them, and has received eight Dove awards and 18 Dove award nominations.
Bumgardner has also been recognized as “Alumni of the Year” by both his college and Southwestern Seminary. He was recognized as the School of Church Music and Worship’s Alumni of the Year in 2016.
Bumgardner currently serves as the minister of worship at Houston’s First Baptist Church’s “The Loop” campus in downtown Houston, Texas.
“I never thought that God would open the door and call us away from Georgia again, but He did,” said Bumgardner. “And now we’re serving at Houston’s First. So, it kind of came full circle as we we’re all the way back in Texas where everything kind of started for me.”
With the changing of worship styles, Bumgardner actively tries to help his congregation become active participants in worship, not simply part of an audience.
“We really try to engage our congregation to be actively participating in what we’re doing,” said Bumgardner. Though many musically talented members of Houston’s First have never been in a choir-type setting, Bumgardner said he has started a monthly worship collective that introduces younger members of the music ministry to a choir setting and can be sustainable for the future.
Bumgardner has served in many states and in many churches. Even though he is from Georgia, Texas is home for him as he and his wife established their ministry at Southwestern Seminary.
“Southwestern is a part of who I am, not just somewhere I have been,” said Bumgardner.
*Photos courtesy of Houston’s First Baptist Church.