Tomorrow, I will drive down to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’ve driven this curvey route nearly 100 times over the past 7 years. But, this time will be a bit different. Tomorrow morning I will be taking my last school exam…ever. {Insert euphoric feeling here.}

Unlike all of the other exams, tests, and quizzes that I have ever taken, tomorrow’s evaluation will be verbal. It’s called an Oral Defense. I’ve been asked several times what that means…honestly, I have no idea whatsoever. {Insert fear and trembling here.} To me, it sounds like a new toothpaste that my hygenist might recommend. (“Mr. Scarlett, I see you have some plaque build-up; let me recommend new Oral Defense. It’s minty fresh and will protect those pearly whites.”)

I know that many of you have been praying for me diligently. I can’t thank you enough. If I may, however,  impose on you again, I would appreciate your prayers tomorrow. The defense is scheduled for 11:00am. I will be indebted to those who pray.

Some people, in our church, have worried that getting my doctorate will mean that I have plans to look for another church. That’s absolute rubbish. My whole goal, in this degree, has been to make me a better preacher and pastor for your sakes. Hopefully, it has brought me further along the path of excellence.

For those interested, here is The Acknowledgements section from my DMin project. As you will see, I did not do this alone.



Every Doctor of Ministry student has been asked that well-intentioned, but awkward question, “So, what is your dissertation about?”  For the first few months that I was enrolled in this program, I took this oft-heard query as a challenge to educate the “unwashed masses.” I tried, several times, to tediously explain to my captive listener the academic distinctions between a Ph.D. dissertation and a D.Min. project.  Having reviewed the evidence, I would give my closing argument, like a fiery lawyer, and forcefully conclude, “So, you see, I’m not actually doing a dissertation. It’s a project.”

After about three or four such attempts, I soon realized that, despite my passion and Aristotelian logic, most people, frankly, did not care.  They were simply making conversation.  Those who did care, however, (namely my mom) were simply asking, “So, what is your really really big school paper about?” Eventually, I whittled down my explanation into the sound bite that satisfied most people’s curiosity, “My project is about mentoring the future preachers in my church.  I hope to make them more pulpit-ready.”   That made sense to them.  Looking back, I prefer that answer too.

If this project has taught me anything it has reminded me of how I myself have been mentored as a preacher. Not only have I been guided in this course of study, but in the years leading up to it as well.

First of all, I am grateful to a former pastor from my teenage years, Mike Miller. Though I have not spoken with Mike for over a decade and realize that he may never read it, this project was, in many ways, a reflection of what he informally did for me when I first sensed the call. Mike’s interest in me, as an Alabama “preacher boy,” gave me some much-needed confidence and competence. Though awful in form and content, Mike listened to my first sermons with enthusiasm. He looked beyond the sermons and saw the preacher. I needed that. He also gave me my first step-by-step guide to sermon-making.  It may simply be a tattered packet of a dozen photocopied pages, but it is still a prized possession among my preaching library. Thank you.

Second, I am grateful to the most formidable preaching influence in my life, my own dad. Your love for the Word and for the preaching of the Word inspire me still.

I am grateful to my Forest Baptist Church family.  I am particularly indebted to our church leadership, who did not bat an eye at my request to go back to school but supported me wholeheartedly in this venture. To the rest of the congregation, your prayers, constant encouragement, and patience have made these three years go by quickly.

To the fifteen church members who were the guinea pigs for this project, I hope it has been valuable to you. Of all our church members, a special word of appreciation is in order for my Field Mentor, Dr. Gaylen Leverett. I have had the unique privilege of being your student, your fellow church member, and now your pastor. None of these, however, rival the privilege of simply being your friend and brother in the Lord.

I am grateful to the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  It does indeed take a seminary to raise preacher. Thank you for loving King Jesus, His Word, church, and mission. May my preaching always be arranged around these same priorities. I am especially grateful for the ever-present support and enthusiasm of my Faculty Chair, Dr. Gregory Lawson. He has been an encourager, sounding-board, and friend. Thank you.  My thanks to Drs. Ned Mathews and Craig Freeman as well.

I am immeasurably grateful to my family. The tickle fights and football games that my boys have given up for daddy’s school time, these past few years, can never be replaced.  These may have been small potatoes to me, but I know that they were big sacrifices to you guys. Thank you, also, for faithfully praying that “Daddy will get all his school work done so he can play with us.” God has finally answered your prayers. Let the Star Wars begin!

To my wonderful wife, Rebecca. My parents were worried that if we got married while I was still in college, that it would take me a long time to finish school. I guess they were right. Here we are ten years, three kids and four degrees later and I’m just now finishing school. Oh well. I’m grateful that I did not have to do it alone. You are the wife of wives.

Finally, I am grateful to all those innocent people who, whether for conversation sake or out of genuine interest, asked about my “dissertation.” If my really really big school paper has made even a very very small difference for the kingdom of God, then it has all been worth it.