Marilyn Jeffcoat: Example of a Yielded Life
Ask Marilyn Jeffcoat (RTS '92) why she came to RTS/Orlando in 1990, and she'll tell you she had no idea then what God was doing in her life.
"People asked me why I was at seminary; and I told them I had no clue," Marilyn recalls, smiling. "The students around me were training to be pastors, and I had no idea why I was going after the Master of Divinity degree. I didn't know why we had sold everything and come to RTS/Orlando, but my husband, Jon, and I believed we were being faithful to God's calling."
Today, it's clear they certainly were. As the first woman to graduate from RTS/Orlando, Marilyn has moved from a successful music ministry to a rich, full-orbed life which includes teaching Bible, doing exegetical research, and co-writing books. Extremely talented, she is an amazing example of what God can do with someone who is willing to follow His call in her life no matter how difficult.
A SCRUTINIZED LIFE
It seems that Marilyn and Jon have always scrutinized their lives to determine if they were in the center of God's will - even when leaving a good situation might seem pointless. Reminiscent of the first disciples who left all to follow Jesus, the Jeffcoats have consistently sought to make their temporal circumstances a servant to God's will in their lives. They have been willing to pay attention to a God-given restlessness at different seasons of life and to explore how He wanted to use it.
In fact, the journey to RTS really began in 1985, when Marilyn and Jon became restless in their hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina. Although very happy in her position as Director of Music and Youth at Duncan Memorial Methodist Church, Marilyn sensed the need for seminary education. Jon, too, felt that they had missed out on possible God-given ministry opportunities, even though he was doing well as a vice-president of a Georgetown bank.
"I felt like I was not an effective Bible teacher," Marilyn remembers. "I sensed I did not know the Bible well, and I didn't really like studying the Bible and having personal Bible studies. I was very honest with God about this, confessing to Him that I felt like such a hypocrite. I asked Him to help me hunger and thirst for His Word. I started praying every day."
Jon began praying also, and the couple visited several seminaries. In 1990, they prayed that if God was serious about their going to seminary, they would immediately walk away from their comfortable life in Georgetown. Although Jon was set for life with his bank, they put their house on the market. At that time, the Georgetown housing market was very depressed. Some homes had been on the market for a year or more. Yet, the Jeffcoats listed their house on a Thursday afternoon, and it sold on Friday!
Although now totally certain that God was in their move to seminary, Marilyn and Jon still had no idea where He wanted them to go. Their plan was to lease a house on nearby Pawley's Island to store their furniture until they made a decision and left for seminary. Then Hurricane Hugo came, wiping out their potential house on the beach and any storage space. But again God intervened. Their home was spared, so the people who bought it could move in. Providentially; they managed to get the last available storage space for their belongings through a family friend and had to move in with Marilyn's parents for a year before leaving for seminary.
In the spring of 1990, Marilyn attended a Ligonier Conference in Orlando and met Luder and Mary Lou Whitlock. Mary Lou invited her to visit RTS while she was there.
"I sat in on one of Dr. Richard Pratt's classes and things changed from that moment on," reminisces Marilyn. "I felt God's presence there in a way I had not experienced it anywhere else we had gone. I knew the Holy Spirit had touched me with Dr. Pratt's compassionate, effective communication of His Word."
At the same time, she was drawn to First Baptist Church in Orlando. Very excited, she went back home and told Jon. While some husbands would have balked at such a move, Jon was very open to it, exhibiting the kind of marital unity concerning ministry that has characterized their union through the years. Subsequently, they visited Orlando, and Jon became just as excited. She came for summer Greek in 1990 and he came in the fall, after resigning his job in Georgetown. They leased an expensive little efficiency apartment near the seminary; thinking that surely Jon would get a quick response from the three to four hundred resumes he sent out. But he didn't get a nibble.
For six months God tested Jon's faith as he remained without a job. Undaunted, however, he noticed how his wife was growing spiritually so he used the time to enroll in the Master of Divinity program himself! But as the sixth month rolled around, finances were quickly depleted. At the eleventh hour God provided when an insurance company near the seminary hired Jon as their operations manager God blessed the job and Jon's position grew as he advanced in the company - a clear answer to prayer.
God allowed Jon to be "salt and light" in his position. The company had experienced many problems in management and with the moral fiber of its employees. Through Jon's influence the complexion of the company changed. Eventually, it was sold and the new company offered Jon a lucrative position in Salt Lake City; Jon turned it down, saying he did not feel that God was calling them away from Orlando. Another company called and wanted to hire him, but he would have to move to Atlanta or Dallas. Again Jon said no. On the Tuesday before his job was to end, the second company called back, offering to open an office for him in Orlando from where he could run the eastern and central company operations. The office is right around the comer from the seminary!
WHERE SHALL WE SERVE?
Serving in the church comes naturally to Marilyn, since she grew up helping her father lead the music in his congregation - something she believes helped shape her thinking about music. Born to strong Christian parents in Georgetown, South Carolina, a small coastal town of about 10,000 between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, Marilyn joined the Baptist church and made a profession of faith at age eight, and by age fifteen felt a clear call to full-time Christian ministry in music. Already proficient in guitar (she began taking in grade seven and by ninth grade her teacher took her on as a partner), Marilyn and her friends formed a Christian folk singing group which played in schools, churches, and coffee houses. Mixing Christian and secular music, the group was a dynamic witnessing tool, and many of Marilyn's friends came to Christ.
It was at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, where God began to shape her music ministry. As she worked on a degree in church music and voice, guitar became less and less important and she came to enjoy voice and conducting more.
After her sophomore year in college, she spent the summer as an interim Minister of Music and Youth in Lexington, South Carolina and realized she loved it. That fall she began working part-time as Minister of Music for the 800-member Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia, where she worked until she graduated. In 1975, she married her high school sweetheart, Jon, who the church hired as part-time Minister of Youth, even though he did not feel a call to full-time Christian service.
This pattern of undergirding Marilyn's ministry' and putting God before his career has allowed the Lord to do mighty works through them.
"I have a godly and unique husband," reveals Marilyn. "From college on, God has led me in certain ways and at the same time has made Jon restless. He has put his career second to whatever God was directing as far as our ministry in a church was concerned. My ministry has always been our ministry. When God calls us to a church, Jon confidently goes without a job. God has honored his mature faith, and it seems that immediately people offer him an incredible job! While he doesn't work in any salaried capacity in the church, he is always there supporting my ministry in such a way that I could not have possibly done the things I have done without him."
After graduation in 1976, Jon and Marilyn moved to the small town of Camden, South Carolina, to work at Lyttleton Street Methodist Church, a congregation of some 1300 members. They thought about going to seminary; but decided against it - they were eager to get into the ministry of a church! Lyttleton Street afforded Marilyn the opportunity to work with all ages in the music ministry as Director of Music. Almost immediately she saw how she could help them. While they had an adult and youth choir; they did not understand the concept of a graded choir program, which Marilyn knew well from her Baptist background. She established such a program from preschoolers through adults, plus handbell choirs for all ages, even senior adults. She started guitar classes and an orchestra. Lyttleton Street had everything musically that one could possibly want in a small town church.
True to the harmonious commitment to ministry in their marriage, Jon arrived in Camden without a job. But soon he was employed as the business manager for a real estate company and hired to work at the church with the youth part-time.
It hardly seemed possible, but after two years, something was missing. "We loved the people and loved what God was doing through His ministry in us," says Marilyn. "But at times we felt we were doing music for music's sake. We became very restless."
Yielding to God's leading, in 1978 the couple had the opportunity to move back to their hometown of Georgetown, when Marilyn took a position as Director of Music and Youth at 1,100-member Duncan Memorial Methodist Church. While excited about what God could do there, at first Marilyn was in shock. Having come from a strong choir program in Camden, Marilyn saw she would have to start from scratch at Duncan when only five or ten people showed up in the adult choir Although the numbers were small, Marilyn remembers these charter choir members as being precious people who were so ready for God to do something in their church. Their willingness to work made all the difference, and Marilyn fell in love with them.
During her twelve-year stay at Duncan, Marilyn grew a vibrant 250-member choir program that God used to touch many lives. Everyone who could sing participated in this very special ministry. Through an exciting youth ministry; they had the privilege of watching some preschoolers mature, graduate, and get married. But it was her involvement with the senior adult ministry which Marilyn thinks brought her the greatest joy.
"They were so hungry for love and genuine affection," Marilyn explains. "We truly cared for one another in the group, something which they longed to experience. We began having monthly meetings, which they handled completely, and began taking a few trips a year. The group grew to nearly eighty-five members and the relationships became extremely strong.
As Marilyn traveled with these seniors whom she respected greatly she was amazed to realize that many did not have the full assurance of their salvation. She was happy to talk with them and show them how they could be assured in their times of anxiety. About sixty-five of the group were widows who felt alone; Marilyn's desire was to comfort them and assure them of God's loving presence in their lives.
"Even after living in Orlando for seven years, we laugh because my Christmas card list is so long, since I want to keep up with all those senior adults," says Marilyn with a smile. "Those relationships are permanent, and I miss them tremendously."
AN UNEXPECTED HARVEST
Seeking an outlet for ministry comes natural to Marilyn, even when she was busy being a full-time student. Soon after enrolling at RTS, Marilyn began working at 11,000-member First Baptist Orlando as Assistant to the Children's Choir Associate. At the same time, she was also hired by Orangewood Christian School to be their elementary music teacher, and they adjusted their children's music classes around her seminary schedule.
She wonders now how she kept such a frenetic schedule. "I'd go to seminary, run do a few classes of music at Orangewood, then run back to the seminary. After that I'd run home, get my son James from school, help him start his homework, work on my seminary papers, then go back to the church. I was busier than when I was working full time."
The time was also humbling for her. At Duncan she had had a private secretary and was in charge of many activities. At First Baptist she worked part-time, doing things for other people - sometimes menial tasks. But she embraced the time, wanting to learn everything she could about the church and be faithful to God's calling in her life.
God blessed that commitment and in time she was given more responsibility. Soon she was hired as Assistant to the Children's Pastor and assumed responsibilities editing curriculum and coordinating volunteers for the children's ministry and placed in charge of the Wednesday and Sunday nights children's programs.
When Marilyn graduated from RTS in May 1992, First Baptist approached her about chairing the Bible and music departments in their Christian school. The school, now in its tenth year with 850 students, was then adding the eleventh grade of its high school. She accepted the position and divided her time between music and Bible.
Her passion, however, was to teach Bible. The next year, she moved out of music and chaired the Bible Department. This year seventh and eighth graders have enjoyed an Old Testament and a New Testament course with Marilyn, as she adores teaching middle schoolers. Her department has now hired two young men equipped with their Master of Divinity degrees to teach and is preparing to hire more next year.
In recent years, Marilyn has experienced the joy of an unexpected harvest of talents as God has led her into new fields to explore. In June 1994, her pastor, Jim Henry, became President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and, characteristically she wondered if he had a researcher. Upon asking him, she found that he had been praying for one. She accepted the position and what began as exegetical work for sermons expanded to doing every aspect of sermon preparation for him, averaging seventeen to twenty hours of research on top of her full-time teaching.
"When he traveled with my research, he had everything he needed to prepare a sermon before him," explains Marilyn. "If he was preaching through a particular book, my responsibility was to help keep him on track to get through that book in a certain number of weeks. If his sermons were topical, I researched a fresh topic and a biblical character weekly."
As Henry progressed through a biblical character topical series with Marilyn's research, the idea of a book on the subject took shape for both of them. Again feeling the nudge of the Holy Spirit, Marilyn stepped in and offered to help him write it. After months of hard work, they came up with Keeping Life in Perspective (Broadman and Holman Press), which after six weeks was in its second printing.
"I finished my work on the book one night about midnight," recalls Marilyn. "Flat on my face before God, I thanked Him for allowing me to get the manuscript in the mail on time. I asked Him, 'What's next?"'
That question was answered the next morning when Dr. Allen Mawhinney, RTS/Orlando Professor of New Testament and Academic Dean, called and asked if she would like to collaborate on a book, which is still in the talking stage. Meanwhile, she has edited Your Marriage: Messy or Marvelous by evangelist Larry McFadden and has worked with Jim Henry on another volume, Celebrate the Table, due out soon.
"This has not been something I planned, but something God brought into my life through my trying to help Jim Henry with his Baptist Convention responsibilities," Marilyn explains. "These days, I take Thursdays off from my teaching responsibilities to write and do research." The beauty of it all is that God has blessed her Bible classes immeasurably because the wealth of material unearthed by her study and research simply overflow into her classes, making her students the ultimate winners.
"I still don't know what's next!" laughs Marilyn. "There is no 'Marilyn Jeffcoat Ministry;' and I don't want to be a pastor. I love writing and teaching, but I also miss the senior adult ministry tremendously."
"I am amazed that God would use me in the way He has. My encouragement to others is simply to be faithful to whatever God has called you to do. He will always provide an avenue for ministry. It may not be what you expect, but because it is from God, it will be exceedingly beyond what you expect. If this is all the benefit I will derive from going to RTS, it has been worth it. But I know that God has much more in store for me and my family"
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 2