Mays Chapel pastor Greg Lamb achieves his Ph.D. dream, 7 years in the making

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BEAR CREEK — The first Sunday Greg Lamb preached at Mays Chapel Baptist Church, he asked the seven people in the congregation apart from his family a strange and difficult question: “Would the community even care if this church were to close its doors?”

Lamb, now the pastor at Mays Chapel, was preaching that Sunday as part of the church’s final search process for a new pastor. After Lamb asked the question, one man stood up in the middle of his sermon and with tears in his eyes, said, “No, they wouldn’t.”

“You could see tumbleweeds going down the aisle — I felt very lonely in that first week,” he said. “But when I went home that night, I told my wife, ‘You know, there’s something different about these people here. I think they really want to change.’

“Then they asked me to come back the next week, and then the next week — I came back and I felt, God’s up to something.”

On Nov. 6, 2016, the Mays Chapel congregation unanimously called Lamb as their pastor. Up from the seven in attendance his first Sunday, 60 people were present during the vote.

Andy Siegner, the deacon who brought Lamb to Mays Chapel, said Lamb’s sermon that first Sunday confirmed in members’ minds that he should be the church’s next pastor.

“It was just like magnetism with the whole church,” Siegner said. “I mean, everybody just knew that he was the right person for the job.”

Five years later, Lamb believes Mays Chapel is “a lot healthier church now than it was then,” and that’s after weathering a pandemic and national political turmoil on top of myriad personal responsibilities. On Dec. 10, Lamb graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with his Ph.D. in biblical studies — concluding a 7-year journey started in 2014, but put temporarily on pause when he became Mays Chapel’s pastor.

As a high school dropout and the first person in his family to graduate from college, having a doctorate is still sometimes difficult for Lamb to grasp.

“I didn’t think that I would ever graduate high school, much less college. So all of this, I have to pinch myself, right,” he said. “This is like a dream, I never would have imagined in a million years that I would learn Greek, or Hebrew, or German, or Latin and all the different things that I was required to learn through this.”

‘I don’t know where he gets the time’

Lamb’s father was a preacher, and Lamb was a “boy preacher” when he was 16 and 17 years old. Even then, he felt God urging him to be a pastor — someone who not only gave sermons on Sundays sometimes, but who also shepherds people, and walks with them through life’s problems.

“From the time I was 17 years old until I was 34 years old, I ran around from that calling,” he said. “So my bachelor’s degree is not in divinity, it’s not in religious studies. It’s in advertising, which is what I’ve done for a living to pay for my schooling and everything, so I didn’t go to seminary until I was 34 years old.”

If completing a Ph.D. while pastoring a church wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, Lamb did more.

As a bivocational pastor, he technically works part time at Mays Chapel, in addition to working at Lamb Designs, a marketing company he founded in Sanford in 2000, and where he still manages a few hours a week. He’s been published in more than 50 peer-reviewed books, journal articles and book reviews, and gives lectures, nationally and internationally, 10 to 12 times a year. (This summer, he’ll travel to Austria for the International Society of Biblical Literature — the “crème de la crème of biblical studies.”)

And of course, up until earlier this month, Lamb also made time to complete his research and doctorate studies, in addition to keeping up with various volunteer commitments and spending time with his wife, Tamara, and five children.

“We hired him as a part-time minister, bivocational, but we’ve never had a pastor that spends as much time with our church and gets in as involved,” Siegner said. “I don’t know where he gets the time.”

“This has just been really a whirlwind kind of season in my life right now,” Lamb added. “I thought that when I would defend that everything would just kind of go into slow motion and be easier, but it seems like it’s gotten busier and more fast-paced.”

The church opened its doors just in October for the first time since the pandemic started, though it began drive-in church services by the end of March 2020.

As was the case for many faith leaders, navigating the pandemic was not without its challenges. But Lamb sees it as “the very best thing” for the Mays Chapel congregation.

“As awful as that sounds — I mean, I’ve lost a lot of friends, a lot of my friends died from this thing, I had it and felt like I was dying from it — but it brought our church together,” he said, adding that he took the pandemic very seriously from the beginning, deciding early on (and against the preference of many in his congregation) to preach outside.

“That was the best decision I’ve ever made in my ministry, because what that did was it showed for a year and a half, I preached outside when it was cold, I was cold, and it was hot,” he said. “And the people saw me suffering out there, and it did something spiritually in their hearts, in terms of just knowing that I loved them.”

The church is much “more energized with the community” since Lamb’s arrival, Siegner said, fundraising to support local organizations and to do things like giving gifts to children in the community.

Mays Chapel has also since partnered with Taylor’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church and Union Grove A.M. E. Zion Church — two nearby predominantly African American churches — to help restore the local community center, and assist with their food drives.

Tom Cribb, a pastor and professor at Anderson University, befriended Lamb during their time in Southeastern’s Ph.D. program together. Cribb said he isn’t surprised by all Lamb is doing at Mays Chapel.

“We became good friends; Greg’s a real passionate guy about what he’s doing. He’s just a genuine Christian guy that cares about people,” he said. ”And anybody who wants help, Greg will try to help them. He’s just a great guy. And I don’t know anyone else like him, I don’t think.”

For Lamb — or rather Dr. Lamb — his accolades are more of an opportunity than a personal accomplishment. The opportunity to serve others, and to preach and research in a more meaningful way.

“I’m able to, with the skills God’s given me, to be the best I can be for King Jesus — that’s what being a pastor theologian means to me,” he said. “And I think that applies to whatever, whether you’re a medical doctor, whether you’re a janitor. I think that we can all show the excellence of Christ when we do the best we can with what God’s given us.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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