MANSFIELD, Texas — From meeting each other in the classroom at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007, to serving in a church 20 minutes from the campus, Spencer (’07, ’13) and Shelley (’08) Plumlee have been following God’s will to make the biggest Kingdom impact possible. Through discipleship and remembering where they came from, they help show Christ’s love in the Mansfield, Texas, community and beyond.
Today, they serve together at First Baptist Church of Mansfield, the congregation in which Shelley grew up, while Spencer was reared in Memphis, Tennessee.
“First Baptist Mansfield is my home church,” says Shelley. “This is where I grew up and my mom actually works here in the office. I did all the children’s church and youth group stuff growing up until college where I attended a small church plant.”
Spencer attended Christian Brothers University in his hometown. As he was in the middle of earning a degree in finance, he felt a different calling on his life.
“I sort of was officially feeling called to pastor halfway through college,” says Spencer. “I got some advice that led me to finish the degree, then go to seminary and follow my calling. When I did research, Southwestern seemed to be the best place for good theology, but also for good practical advice.”
Spencer adds that some of the best advice he received was secondhand advice. “In college, I started going to Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and Adrian Rogers was the pastor. He met with a friend of mine and told him to go to Southwestern, and I was the one who took Dr. Rogers’s advice and not my friend,” he remembers.
At Southwestern, Spencer pursued a Master of Divinity followed by a Doctor of Philosophy in systematic theology. Shelley earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education.
The Plumlees recall they enjoyed many classes while attending Southwestern, but they both enjoyed their systematic theology classes more than any others.
“I would say that the systematic class on the atonement that I took was the most helpful class at Southwestern,” says Spencer. “I took it as an elective, and spending the entire semester thinking about the death of Jesus and the weight of it, I think did more clarifying work for me theologically.”
Spencer adds that “through these classes, Southwestern challenged me to think deeply about God’s Word so that I not only developed theological convictions but also a theological vision for ministry.” Though she, too, says she enjoyed her systematic theology classes, Shelley says she enjoyed her Old Testament classes and “evangelism was a class that was really enjoyable and beneficial to me.”
While studying at Southwestern, Spencer and Shelley were introduced to each other by mutual friends and then started dating more intentionally, soon realizing “early on when we started dating each other that I was the grader for her systematic theology class,” Spencer remembers. “I was able to talk with the professor and get it worked out that the other teaching assistant would grade her assignments, but it was a funny coincidence for us.”
The day following Shelley’s spring 2008 commencement, marking the seminary’s 100th anniversary, the couple was married.
“I was a centennial graduate which was fun because we got to graduate outside,” said Shelley. “I graduated that morning, then in the evening we had our rehearsal dinner, and we got married the next day.”
In 2004, Spencer became the college minister at Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth while he was earning his M.Div., but he began “part-time as the assistant to the youth minister, and I quit my paint job to volunteer as the college ministry director,” he says. “As the ministry grew, they brought me on part-time as the college minister, and eventually full-time as we grew to have about 250-300 college students attending.”
During his ministry at Southcliff, Spencer befriended Madison Grace (’06,’12) who was also pursuing his Master of Divinity. Grace, who was recently installed as provost and vice president of academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern, also was ministering to college students in Fort Worth.
“While Spencer was at Southcliff, I was a college minister in south Fort Worth, and we were both getting our M.Div.s,” said Grace. “We were doing a lot of similar things in the same area as each other and we became friends during that time as we both pursued our Ph.D.s in systematic theology.”
During his Ph.D. work, Spencer and Shelley felt called to move from the college minister position at Southcliff to Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, Missouri, so Spencer could serve as pastor.
“In between our time at Southcliff Baptist Church and First Baptist Mansfield, we spent five years at a great church in Missouri,” says Spencer. “While there my name got recommended to be one of the preachers at the SBC Pastors’ Conference. It was an incredible experience to meet different pastors from all over the country.”
Spencer adds that it was a “humbling experience” to be one of the seven pastors invited to preach. “It was actually really encouraging to see the health of our denomination. I think there is a lot of ‘the sky is falling’ attitude towards the SBC, but I think the average SBC pastor is doing great work,” he notes.
In 2018, the Plumlees followed God’s calling and moved their family from Missouri to Mansfield, Texas, and Spencer became the senior pastor at the same church where Shelley grew up.
Though Shelley is not on staff at First Baptist Mansfield, she does feel that she has a ministry in the church from her position as the pastor’s wife.
“My newest ministry is working with newborn babies, and that is one of those things that God has kind of showed me that I didn’t know I would love, but I love it,” says Shelley. “When I get in there, I can talk to those moms being on the other side of having babies since our kids are grown and I can just encourage them in that way.”
One way Shelley was discipled was through help from the pastor’s wife and youth minister’s wife at the church plant she was a part of in college, Gateway Church. She explains what they modeled and taught has helped her in her role as the pastor’s wife.
“The pastor’s wife and the youth minister’s wife both really took me under their wing and just really discipled me,” Shelley recalls. “They showed me what it was like to be a pastor’s wife and I just was able to watch them minister through that position, and they really confirmed my calling in that way.”
Discipleship is part of the entire church’s vision and Spencer himself is “very passionate about multiplying disciples in our church, it’s kind of passion number one,” he explains. “I am actively looking to help the people around me take their next step in their relationship with Jesus. Whether that is conversion, discipleship, or disciple-making, I want to help them move forward.”
“As I’ve come to First Baptist Mansfield, we have really led and organized our resources, our time, our staff, and all of the things that our church has in terms of stewardship around our disciple-making ministry vision,” Spencer says. “As of today, we’ve seen about 400 or so of our adults go through the disciple-making process, and many of them are engaging in replicating that ministry.”
One way First Baptist Mansfield focuses on disciple-making is through their intensive discipleship program. Throughout this program, members go through several weeks of Bible study and review of practical applications of the Word.
Tray Traylor, facilities director at First Baptist Mansfield, went through the program three separate times and feels that the process was “very rewarding.”
“The experience has enabled me to speak to and listen to others to help us each to understand how to walk to honor God and to depend on Christ,” says Traylor. “It’s my favorite part of the Bible, knowing we are commanded to ‘go,’ do what we can to teach others, baptize others, and to bring others to Christ.”
Another way Spencer and the church focus on helping followers of Christ take the next step in their relationship with Jesus is through the pastoral residency program. Through the program, the church employs someone who is pursuing pastoral ministry but needs experience. The church provides a full-time salary and benefits and allows the resident to have an active leadership role in ministry to gain vital experience.
“One of our great ministry efforts is one for the Kingdom as a whole, and it is our residency program,” Spencer says. “Our current resident is Harrison Frueh, and he is leading our college and young adult ministry. He is getting some good experience and development through it.” Through the residency program, Frueh (’23) is able to learn in a practical way what it means to be a pastor of a church.
“There are three things that we are hoping for in formation of me as a person and those are character in Christ, competency with the Word, and capability in ministry,” says Frueh. “Spencer has just been pouring into me and helping me develop in that way.”
As the pastoral resident, Frueh shares an office with Spencer in order to witness decisions and daily tasks that Spencer and many other pastors face each day.
“They just renovated the office so that I work in his office,” says Frueh. “A lot of my learning has been just watching him do pastoral ministry and him telling me why he did something a certain way.”
Spencer added that the program is geared specifically towards pastoral ministry as the need for young, experienced pastors is growing. “I see many older pastors who are going to retire in the next few years, and we need to support our churches by equipping young men to be pastors in those churches,” he adds.
The church’s emphasis on discipleship is not only focused on Christian growth in the lives of the members but it is also focused on training the members to share the Gospel to those who do not know Christ. One way this is done is through the work of Carl Bradford (‘11, ‘18), interim associate dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, assistant professor of evangelism, and Malcolm R. and Melba L. McDow Chair of Evangelism, who serves as the minister of evangelism at First Baptist Mansfield.
“We evangelize to make a disciple, and we disciple by teaching others to share their faith,” Bradford says. “It demonstrates Spencer’s commitment as a shepherd to the Great Commission. He teaches that ministry is not business but raising people to God. I also like that we have a healthy balance between the two. The church is both inward- and outward-focused.”
Along with Bradford, Grace also serves at First Baptist Mansfield, formerly as a teaching pastor and currently as a lay elder. Bradford and Grace serve alongside Spencer at the church and seminary as Spencer is also an adjunct professor of pastoral ministry.
“It is a great joy of mine to get to participate in seeing future generations come through a place that has been so rewarding to us,” says Spencer. “To get to do this is so incredibly enriching and [a] blessing to us.”
Spencer and Shelley Plumlee grew up in completely different areas, but both ended up at Southwestern Seminary where God grew their knowledge and love for Him while bringing them together. “Southwestern is very special to our family and we owe a lot of who we are as a family and who we are as ministers and leaders to our time there,” says Spencer. “It was incredibly fortunate.”