Dann Cecil pastors a growing urban church on the south Florida coast. Two years after its launch, the church is a growing congregation with its own governing elders. They recently moved to a larger facility. "What I'm committed to is the idea that growth follows health. I came to a church plant with 18 members. Now we run 45-50 on an average Sunday," Cecil says. "I'm after the minds and hearts. It's teaching that changes the world.
I'm really committed to the teaching of God's Word, giving an exposition of a biblical passage and how you can apply it."
Cecil's journey to serving God in professional ministry began thousands of miles away. God used a woman, Nordic Track, and Knox Seminary.
He grew up in a tiny South Dakota town. Cecil attended church, but he never heard or understood the gospel. "I knew more of the gospel through Christian music than through all my years of going to church." He attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, having no idea of the plans God had for him there.
During his college years as an athletic training major, Cecil got a job at a local fitness center. He developed a romantic interest in a special customer named Christi. "We dated for a few months. She was a Christian. I thought I was a Christian.
She would ask me the tough questions, 'How do you know you're going to heaven?' I gave the answer 'I believe we're saved by faith and faith alone.' I had heard that, but I had no idea what it meant."
Christi returned to the University of Nebraska, and the pair continued to date long distance. But one day she called with bad news. "She said 'I don't know but I feel like God is telling me we have to break up.'" Cecil says it was six painful months before they spoke again. "God used our breakup to show me my need for Jesus. I knew the Good News, but what I really needed was the bad news, that I need a Savior and to come to grips with sin." He began to grow in his personal relationship with God, and became a Christian in the fall of 1995.
Cecil says becoming a Christian changed his perspective on the relationship he wanted with this amazing woman. "I was convicted that I couldn't go seeking after her. I needed to be seeking after God, trusting that he would provide this woman, or someone else. I couldn't imagine it was someone else, I thought she was the one for me." Christi sought the Lord during their separation as well. The couple grew close again, and two years later they married.
After graduation, Cecil began his career managing several Nordic Track fitness stores. "I worked in retail sales. I was wondering for a couple of years if I would go to seminary. It took a couple of years to work out my personal theology and to decide where I would go."
Cecil says looking back he sees how God used those three years in retail. "I probably needed the time, developing my communication skills. You have so much of that in sales, dealing with people, and when Christmas roles around, you deal with irate customers and times of confrontation."
"When I would train employees to sell, I would think in terms of a feature, a benefit, an end-benefit, and a tie-down. For example, this treadmill goes 10 miles an hour, that's a feature. This treadmill allows you to run up to a 6 minute mile pace (a benefit). That will get you ready for that road race in the spring (an end-benefit). Does that sound like something that would interest you? (a tie down)." The new pastor says he finds himself unintentionally using the same techniques: feature, benefit, end-benefit, and a tie-down, in counseling situations.
"We lived 2 miles from a seminary in South Dakota. So when we told our parents 'We're going to seminary.' They were excited. But then we said 'Its 1,800 miles away in Fort Lauderdale." Cecil remembers his father-in-law saying "The good news is that wherever you get a pastorate will be closer to home." Cecil laughs and says "We are closer now, by about 2 hours."
Cecil says his time in seminary was crucial to his profession. "I think seminary helped tremendously." It helped him develop a sound theology. "Unless you're talking about what color carpet goes in the sanctuary, everything comes down to theology. "
"Seminary just re-enforced the theology I was bringing to it. I went to Knox because I was beginning to embrace Reformed theology. I had read several books by Dr. Robert Reymond and books by R. C. Sproul. Those were my professors for systematic theology
The faculty was the reason I went to Fort Lauderdale. Two things: faculty and doctrine."
Cecil says seminary also taught him the practical parts of ministry. He cites a pro-fessor's advice about avoiding financial temptation at church. "I can't tell you who gives what at our church. I have no idea. I can tell you we have a financially giving church. But I can't tell you who is giving what. That's on the advice of a professor who said 'You just don't want to go near that. It's too easy to get pulled by money.'"
Cecil says one of the best things seminary gave him was specific evangelism training through a program called Evangelism Explosion. "It helps you sharpen your presentation of the gospel. So I can turn any counseling conversation into an opportunity to give the gospel, and give a clear presentation of it."
Seminary also helped secure Cecil's first job as a pastor. North Fort Myers Presbyterian Church hired him just months after graduation. "Seminary helped sharpen my philosophy of ministry, my philosophy of worship. How I would do things in a church. When I was asked during the job interview, 'What is your philosophy of worship in church?' I said 'I can give you my philosophy in a five part definition.' I'd read numerous books and through my professors, I'd honed that philosophy."
Kara Miller is a freelance writer and TV producer in Chicago.