For this edition’s alumni focus, we visited with Micah Fries, formerly of LifeWay Christian Resources, now senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Fries graduated from Midwestern Seminary in 2010 with the Master of Divinity degree. He has been married to his wife Tracy for 17 years, and they have three children—Sarah Grace, Kessed Noel, and Haddon, who was adopted from Southern Africa in early 2017.
You served the Southern Baptist Convention in your previous role with LifeWay. What was that like?
My job was to work with and for Ed Stetzer, to help manage relationships with entities and organizations outside of LifeWay, and to speak and write on behalf of LifeWay. I also got to help innovate and create new products and services. One thing I loved about it was working with Christians from across the evangelical spectrum, seeing the diversity within the kingdom of God and constantly asking the question, “How can we best resource the church?” LifeWay has a laser focus on serving and resourcing the local church, and I loved being a part of that responsibility.
You were a full-time pastor before working there. Tell me about the call back into full-time pastoral ministry. How did you discern that?
Well, I never felt a call to leave pastoral ministry at all, and that was significant. So when I went to work at LifeWay, I went with the understanding that I could serve in a pastoral role in the Nashville area. I loved serving as teaching and missions pastor at Fairview Church under the leadership of my good friend Dr. Jon Akin even while I was employed at LifeWay.
However, in my final year there, I was privileged to serve as interim pastor at First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi. As I preached to the folks there, I realized that, while I regularly preached in my role at LifeWay, I deeply missed the rhythm of preaching weekly to the same people—of shepherding people’s hearts. God used that experience to heighten my love for the local church and for serving as a senior pastor in a local church. Shortly thereafter God confirmed this call in Tracy’s heart and, literally, the search team from Brainerd called us within hours of God’s confirmation in mine and Tracy’s heart. This was amazing to us because we had never put out a resume and did not know that Brainerd was considering me as a pastoral candidate.
What is Brainerd Baptist like?
Brainerd is nearly 90 years old and is, aptly, named for the iconic missionary, David Brainerd. Our church’s two most recent pastors, before me, were significant. Dr. Daryl Craft served as senior pastor and was instrumental in leading the church to a place of theological and structural health. He helped make significant changes that prepared the church for growth. Dr. Robby Gallaty then came and served as pastor, and the church exploded numerically under his leadership. We grew from around 950 when Robby arrived to 2,150 when he left. Under Dr. Craft, Brainerd added a second gathering venue in our gym, and it has seen the significant bulk of our growth and now represents the majority of our people.
Our church is known for many things but more than anything we are known as a church that is passionate and committed to discipleship and mission. Under Dr. Gallaty’s leadership, we developed a deep culture of personal discipleship and disciple-making that continues to this day. Under the leadership of our missions pastor, Barry Wilks, we have one of the strongest missions cultures that I’ve ever seen, sending somewhere between 40-60 mission teams around the globe each year.
How did your seminary education prepare you for your ministry?
Among the greatest things that seminary did for me was teach me to be a better student. No education, anywhere, can give you every answer that you will ever need in ministry. However, a great education will not only give you many of those answers, but it will also teach you to love God’s word, to know how to study God’s word and to exegete both the word and the culture around us. In other words, an education can either give someone a fish, or teach them to fish. Midwestern did the latter, in my case. Midwestern gave me a love for learning, a love for the word of God and a love for Christ’s church.