Bridging the Gaps: A Conversation with Dr. Matthew Kim
Dr. Matthew D. Kim is a professor of Practical Theology and the holder of the Hubert H. and Gladys S. Raborn Chair of Pastoral Leadership at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.
A past president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society, Dr. Kim is on the editorial board of The Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. Additionally, Dr. Kim served as a senior pastor, college minister, and youth pastor in Colorado and Massachusetts for ten years. He is an award-winning author or editor of several books on pastoral ministry and preaching and contributes regularly to Influence Magazine, Preaching Magazine, and Preaching Today.
In a recent conversation with Dr. Kim, we asked him a few questions about his background and work.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
"I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up there until I was 18. I had two younger brothers; my parents were Christian and raised us in the church. And so we are a Christian family. I have been married for 21 years, and we have three children. We have three boys: Ryan (16), Evan (15), and Aiden (11). We moved here just over a year ago from Massachusetts, where I taught at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. It's good to be part of the Truett community."
What was your theological education and journey like? Can you recall any major mentors, events, books, or advice that substantially impacted your calling or education?
"I was trained at Gordon-Conwell. I did the MDiv there. Then, during that time, I met some preaching faculty who encouraged me to study further in the area of preaching, even though others would not have confirmed that gift. I felt the Lord leading me in that direction, so I continued my education after getting married. We moved to Scotland right away after I finished my studies in Massachusetts and pursued further training there, doing a ThM and PhD in preaching.
A mentor would be Dr. Gibson, who teaches in and directs the PhD program. Other mentors would be local pastors who helped me with my calling — specifically, someone like Dr. Rah, who now teaches at Fuller. There have been others who have really invested in my life and for whom I'm very grateful. Those two figures have been the most impactful in terms of training and guiding me. It was the Lord who closed a lot of doors so that the others would open. And I chose ministry and became a pastor, and then eventually teaching."
Can you describe the moment you understood your calling or explain the journey towards your vocational passion?
"Part of it has to do with my own journey of being a shy introvert who didn't want to do ministry in a pastoral sense. Part of it was also preaching every week as a youth pastor while I was in seminary and getting feedback from my girlfriend - who became my wife - that maybe preaching was not the best thing for me. She was right; there were many things I could have done better as a student preacher, but those were some of the things that I had to overcome in terms of sensing and solidifying God's call not just to preach but to pastor.
God was trying to help me understand that he wanted me to serve him. He did want me to be a pastor. He wanted me to preach and do things that stretched me outside of my comfort. And those are all things that I think young people, or even second-career people, are trying to discern, 'Am I really called to this?' can relate to. There are a lot of internal hurdles that we have to overcome to get to that next point of saying 'Yes. I think in spite of my inadequacies, God can still use me.' It might mean something different for each person."
What about Truett made you want to hold a teaching position here?
"So, I thought it was a big move for our family to move to a place we had never lived before. But I had prayed for 46 years that God would send me somewhere warm. So, one aspect of Truett was that it finally answered that prayer, but that wasn't the biggest motivator. Truett, when I learned more about its community, faculty, staff, and student body, attracted me. I wanted to be part of this great seminary. Being embedded within Baylor University and part of an R1 research institute where I could explore my passions for teaching and writing drew me to the program.
Finding a seminary where writing was encouraged was unique, and it was a gift to see faculty members writing. That was important to me. Also, the emphasis on teaching and community was valuable. It's a great place for those who have not checked it out before. I think it'd be good for them to explore and see it in person. With such a small and tight-knit community, it felt like family. I was told even in the interview process that you're family once you join Truett. And so those kinds of words are very affirming helpful, especially for someone coming from the outside."
What are your biggest areas of study? What topics does your work commonly discuss?
"So, one of the things that I worked not to do is pigeonhole myself. I enjoy the whole aspect of intercultural ministry and trying to understand how we, as people of God, live in the world but do not become part of the world. I also enjoy speaking on ministry in terms of racial and ethnic culture, diversity, socioeconomics, and denominational differences. All these things are often seen as a hindrance to the gospel, but actually, they are part of God's plan to have a diverse world and that we are to be unified in that diverse world.
Those are some of my passions regarding how pastoral ministry connects to cultural intelligence or understanding of other people who are different from ourselves. A couple of new research projects for me will be a book called Ministry Mentor, in which I will walk through 30 best practices for pastors, from self-assessment and not burning out and those aspects of self-care to topics like ministry strategies. It will answer questions like, 'How do I do pastoral care well? How do I worship well? How do I lead worship? Not by singing alone, but how do I lead the worship service? How do I care for people at weddings, funerals, business meetings, and everything?' So, there are 30 different topics there that I'll be covering.
Another project I am writing is an introductory textbook for preaching for preachers. And so those two projects with Baker Publishing will be some things that I work on going forward."
What is your favorite work that you have published, and/or what is your favorite work you have collaborated on? Who was it for?
"Starting with collaboration, Dr. Gibson and I have done two books on homiletics. One is called Homiletics and Hermeneutics. In it, we look at four commonly used preaching methods and interact with each and their common proponents, and then, we add our own editorial comments. Another major project that we did was the Big Idea Companion to Preaching and Teaching. Here, we looked at every book of the Bible and how we can use each as preachers and teachers. We discussed how to choose passages and how to create teachings or sermon series from those selections.
One of the publications early on in my career was a book called Seven Lessons for New Pastors, which walked through my journey of being a senior pastor for the first time and some of the joys and challenges of that. And so that has now come out in a second edition. The book that gave me insight into what I would enjoy doing is Preaching with Cultural Intelligence. That book came out in 2017 and was my first major work in the area of preaching. But I think in the future, I'm going to be a utility player and write on more general topics in ministry, leadership, and preaching."
Can you explain a little about your pedagogy for the classroom?
"I think that the best learning happens when there's laughter. And what I mean by that is not just laughing out loud but having a lack of pretense. I don't present myself loftier than I should; I have a sense of humor about myself that encourages others to laugh and enjoy the classroom. It's not competition with each other. Learning is not about competing or saying my ideas are better than yours. Having the humility to say, 'Yeah, I can laugh at myself. I can laugh at the fact that I don't know everything. I don't have to know everything. That person sitting over there is not my competition. God has a plan for all of us.' Having a lighthearted learning environment does not mean we're not serious about learning, but being able to say, 'How can I laugh at this situation? Or How can I laugh at myself? Or What does God find amusing about this situation or topic?' And being able to have that camaraderie and joy in the classroom is something that I really enjoy trying to cultivate."
How do you approach research and publication? What are topics or passions you are interested in doing more work on, or is there an area of study you think more work needs to be done in?
"I mean, there's endless work. My writing has come out of finding gaps in the literature. My philosophy is about filling in where there are gaps in ministry, leadership, communication, or preaching. I also try to find where and what in my experiences can speak into those gaps. Obviously, I can't fill every gap, and I'm not able or have the capacity to do that, but that's been how I've been operating in terms of research. I am trying to figure out where the holes are. Ultimately, our scholarship should focus on how it can simultaneously contribute to the life and mind of the church.
Practically speaking, I just write whenever I feel like it. Let's say I have 30 minutes or an hour; I'll crank out a few sentences. I don't have to have all day to write. You have to adapt when you have kids. You can't have a regimented schedule or life. And that's been very helpful for me in trying to be as productive as possible, even in the small segments. But then I also create days where I write as much as possible throughout the day. So it's not programmed. It's not like a part of my schedule that I have to have this particular day to write. But instead, whenever I find some time. I'll work throughout the week, every day, if I can. Even little pockets here and there."
What are things in Waco that have made the city feel like home? What have you enjoyed about the area or the community?
"Living where I do about 20 minutes from campus in Woodway, I feel disconnected from Waco, but our community has a small lake around it. So I walk a lot around the lake and get to know neighbors, saying hi to people. So that has made it feel more like home. I'm trying to learn more about Waco itself. I'm exploring. I do love our campus and the natural beauty around Baylor."
If you were to summarize the discipline of theological work into a key piece of advice, what would it be?
"It's hard to boil down everything into a summary. But I would say it's something along the lines of: How do we know and love the triune God, and how do we participate with this Trinity? So as not to negate any member of the Trinity or emphasize one over the other, as we tend to do. It is important to have a Trinitarian lens of life and then think through 'how, as a Christian, do I live into the reality that I'm a child of God? How do we participate in this great work that God is doing? What are the things that God has created me uniquely to do that other people are not going to do? Then what are the things that we're supposed to do collaboratively?' And that informs how I think about theology and the practice of this."
Is there anything else you would like the Truett community to know about you?
"I want to say that however I can be a resource for people whether pastorally or academically, I'm happy to do that and to serve the Truett community. I'm thrilled to be here and join in what we're doing together."