Like many small-town and rural churches, First Baptist Church of Galesburg faces challenges with a declining population as manufacturing jobs have left the area. Yet this is where Eric Vogel has been called to begin his pastoral ministry. Eric has served as Pastor of Discipleship at First Baptist for two years. He’s been attending the church for nine years, however, since he came to Galesburg, Illinois, to study at Knox College. “It was one of the few churches that were within walking distance from campus!” he says.

Eric is also currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Northern Seminary. “While my home church had given me a solid base,” he says, “I knew I was lacking significant biblical and theological understanding that would help me to be an effective pastor.” He was encouraged by others to go on to seminary. “I had heard a lot of good things from some other pastors who had either attended Northern or were familiar with it,” says Eric. “When I saw the Partners in Ministry grant, I knew that I would have an option to attend seminary financially.”

Part of his experience at Northern that Eric appreciates is the live interaction with professors and other students. In other online learning programs he has done, interaction between class members was minimal. The communication in Northern classes, however, “makes the learning feel like an actual classroom.”

One of the things Eric has learned at Northern that has influenced his ministry is how to help train others to do the work of ministry. He describes how the church can accomplish far more as a body than when the pastor tries to do everything. “This has been crucial in the area of evangelism,” he adds. “We are all called to reach others for Jesus, but evangelism can be very intimidating, even for pastors. Teaching that it can be a part of our daily lives and empowered by the Holy Spirit to cover our weaknesses has made a great shift in how we reach people here in Galesburg.”

Even with dynamics of decline in his town, Eric says, “there are still plenty of people here who need to hear the message of the gospel!” A unique ministry opportunity he’s seen has been a number of French-speaking Congolese people moving into the area. One Congolese family in particular has been heavily involved in First Baptist, where Eric says they have been a great blessing to the church.

Looking ahead, Eric plans to serve in his current role until God calls him elsewhere. While he admits struggling with a desire to have everything figured out, he often returns to Proverbs 16:9 as reminder to trust God with the future: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (NLT).

He does know that attending Northern has helped to foster a love of learning that he wants to keep feeding. “No matter if we are first-time Christians or have been serving the Lord for our entire lives, we can always grow closer to Christ,” he says.

A key factor in Eric’s coming to Northern has been the Partners in Ministry scholarship. “Honestly, without the scholarship, I would be unable to attend seminary,” he says. “My home church had graciously already agreed to help pay for a portion of seminary, but that still left a significant chunk that would have been difficult to cover.” The scholarship greatly lifted the financial burden.

Eric concludes, “I am greatly appreciative of the opportunity to attend Northern and how they are working to equip me to do the work of Christ.” With this training, he will continue to help equip others to do the same work—for the good of Galesburg, and wherever God calls him.



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