Published on November 16, 2020 by Morgan Black
At the end of September, McElwain Baptist Church in east Birmingham celebrated its 125th anniversary. But despite its long history, the church lacked the young members it needed to sustain the community.
To continue having a gospel presence in this neighborhood, a leadership team from McElwain met with the leadership of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills about the possibility of a church adoption. On Nov. 1, McElwain officially was renamed Hope Community Church, and Jacob Simmons ’06 (M.Div./M.B.A. ’09), formerly Shades Mountain’s minister to single adults and pastoral care, became its new senior pastor.
“This has been an answer of prayer for us,” said Simmons in a video to Shades Mountain members. “For a long time, I’ve felt God’s call to pastor a church as the lead pastor.”
Simmons’ vision for Hope Community Church is to be a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church that faithfully serves the east Birmingham community. “We want to build on the 125-year history of proclaiming the good news of Jesus and find new ways to love and serve this community,” he said.
Since graduating from Samford, Simmons has been in full-time ministry. But most people are surprised to know he has an educational background in business, he said.
“I had a great mentor, a minister at my home church, who helped guide me through a call to ministry at a young age. He had an undergraduate business degree and he advised me to consider doing the same,” Simmons said. “My father is an entrepreneur and business owner, so business was not completely foreign. I was advised, if I knew I would be going to seminary to get theological education, to diversify my education and do business as well.”
Simmons heeded this advice and enrolled in Samford’s Brock School of Business as an undergraduate management major. After receiving his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2006, Simmons was accepted and enrolled in Samford’s Beeson Divinity School.
“I can attest that theological education is very different from a business education,” he said. “I had a rude awakening in my first semester of seminary at Beeson, but after a few months I got the hang of it. Reading Greek and Hebrew is very different than reading financial statements. Well, I guess both have a lot of tiny, squiggly lines.”
At the end of his first year in seminary, Simmons was advised to consider the Master of Divinity and Master of Business Administration (M.Div./M.B.A.) joint degree. “Beeson was going to teach me the Bible. The business school was going to help me refine my other problem-solving languages,” he said. Simmons completed the joint degree in 2009.
To Simmons, church is not a business, but he encourages others who feel called to ministry to diversify their education if at all possible. “We don’t deal in profits and margins because, theologically, there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. Our currency is love and our bottom line is Christ,” he said. “But the church has been placed in the real world in a real time at a real place, and we have been asked to steward the resources God has given us with wisdom and grace.”
He continued, “We are expected to do this with excellence, as we do any task, as if working for the Lord. We are expected to stand out above secularly expectations, above reproach, in order to maintain a faithful gospel witness. Any business education or experience that a minister can gain God will use for his glory and for the good of his church.”
In addition to the preparation Beeson provided him, Simmons said his business education also prepared him in a number of helpful ways. “Chiefly, my eyes don’t go cross when I see a financial statement! I have a good understanding of the financial flow of the church, the generally accepted accounting principles and how to instill trust in the church body that their tithe dollars, given as an act of worship, are being used for God’s kingdom.”
“I am incredibly proud of my joint degree,” he said. “I am certain God led me to that program on Samford’s campus, and I am confident that he will use it here at Hope Community Church.”
Simmons’ wife Suzanne (Goddard) is a Samford communication studies (’08) and divinity (’11) alumna. They have two children.
To learn more about the M.Div./M.B.A. joint degree, see below:
Hope Community Church is located at 4445 Montevallo Road, Birmingham, AL 35213.
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.