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Cumberlands Alumnus Named One of Ten SBC Pastors to Watch in 2010


Dr. Tony Merida spoke at Cumberlands’ Spring Awakening, the campus revival, in March 2007.

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky.—On January 4, the Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma named its “Ten SBC Pastors to Watch in 2010, and faculty and staff members at University of the Cumberlands were pleased to see Dr. Tony Merida, a 1999 graduate, in the No.3 spot.

The article commended Merida for his recently published book, Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity, which, according to the Messenger, “. . . has gained wide acclaim as one of the best and most accessible books on preaching available to date.” The publication also cited Merida’s preaching ministry at Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., and stated, “His sermons are notable for their verse-by-verse orientation and penetrating applications.”

Douglas Baker, editor of the Oklahoma Messenger and author of the article, said he had accessed news analyses and reports, the internet and other sources to find individuals whose work and life show great promise. “We attempted to make the selections for the list as quantitative as possible, so we looked all across the SBC for young pastors who were attracting notice at a regional and national level.” He went on to say that Merida certainly fit the search criteria, as he is the motivational pastor of a thriving church, who employs new approaches, seeks ecumenical community involvement and has created a mentorship program that extends beyond the boundaries of his congregation.

When asked how he felt about being named one of the “Ten Pastors to Watch,” Merida replied that his first reaction was shock, because he knows several of the other individuals on the list. “It is humbling and an honor to be named with people like J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, David Platt and others. It’s encouraging and uplifting. However, I try not to make too much of it, because someone else could create another list next week.” He went on to say, “I didn’t know anyone was watching. Now, I’ll have to behave.”

Members of the Cumberlands community remember Merida as a native of Barbourville who came to campus on a baseball scholarship. Although he had been brought up in church and was a church member, it was not until his sophomore year that he surrendered his life to Christ. Merida credits teammate Stephen Brown as the greatest Christian influence he met on campus. “He was second baseman, and I was shortstop, so we were together when we played, and we were also weight-lifting partners, so we spent a lot of time together.” He noted that he did not always respond readily to Brown’s enthusiasm. “He would literally pound on my door on Sunday mornings, sometimes for as long as thirty minutes, to get me to go to church,” said Merida. He credits Brown with taking him to a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and leading him to Christ. Many people at Cumberland, especially Brown and his roommate, Kenny McKinney, had a profound effect on Merida. “Their grace and humility just blew me away. They were the first Christians I knew who were a part of my world—sports and college.”

Dr. Rick Fleenor, dean of the chapel at Cumberlands, had this to say about his friend, Merida, “It is amazing to see how God has been at work in Tony’s life. While he was a student at Cumberland, he was a member of an accountability group I met with on a weekly basis. It was great to watch him grow deeper in his relationship with God and to see his passion develop for studying scripture and reaching people for Christ. It’s been wonderful for follow his ministry and see how God continues to use him. Tony is real. He is one of the most genuine and sincere individuals I have ever known. He has been a role model for my teenage son, and my life has also been impacted because of our friendship.”

On campus, as a young Christian seeking to learn all he could and to find God’s will for his life, Merida became involved in Bible study groups, “looking up words and asking a lot of dumb questions.” He was called to preach shortly afterward, and he preached at college, church and youth events and summer camps, like Centrifuge and Crosspoint. When Dr. Jim Shaddix of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) spoke at Cumberland, using what Merida later learned was expository preaching, he knew he had found his calling. “It was a real turning point—I wanted to do what he was doing and learn from him.”

Ten years ago, in January 2000, in a true leap of faith, Merida sold his car and flew to New Orleans. There, he lived with the family of a friend, Matt Hancock, who had served with him on the camp staff at Crosspoint. He received a Presidential Scholarship to NOBTS, where he earned a Master of Divinity in Biblical studies and a Master of Theology and went on to earn a Ph.D. in preaching, with an emphasis in theology. While at NOBTS, he became senior pastor of his first church, Kenner Baptist near the New Orleans airport.

Shortly after receiving his doctorate, Merida was offered the position of dean of the chapel at NOBTS, ironically, the position previously held by his mentor Shaddix. He also taught at the seminary, where he had been an adjunct instructor while a doctoral candidate. He accepted the position of interim pastor at Temple Baptist Church, where he eventually became teaching pastor of a congregation of approximately 2,500 members. He continues to teach part-time as a ministry-based faculty member at NOBTS. With a double passion for preaching the Word of God and for sharing his skills by teaching young pastors, Merida feels he has found “the best of both worlds.”

Merida has also taught at international seminaries, such as Kiev Theological Seminary in Ukraine. Joel Ragains, an International Mission Board missionary in Kiev, commented, “He and his church have partnered with us to help train and equip church planters to plant churches in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. Tony continues to come here to the Kiev Theological Seminary and teach our young church planters. His respect for the Word and his passion for reaching the nations are making a difference.”

In 2009, Merida and his wife Kimberly, who have been married five years, adopted siblings from Ukraine: James, Angela, Jana and Victoria, who range from 5 to 10 years old. A strong advocate for adoption who has great passion for the welfare of orphans, Merida is writing a book called, Orphanology, with Dr. Rick Morton, also an adoptive father of two Ukrainian children. He hopes the book will be published later this year.

Dr. Jim Taylor, president of Cumberlands, expressed his gratitude and appreciation for alumni like Merida. “We are both humbled and blessed how God has been using our alumni, like Dr. Tony Merida In addition to the thousands of our alumni who faithfully perform volunteer ministry, or serve as pastors and missionaries or other paid ministry positions, God is using a number of Cumberland alumni as key leaders in the Kentucky Baptist Convention and in other ministry organizations around the world.

“Throughout the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we have had alumni serve as members of state convention staffs in Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina. In addition, God is using Cumberland alumni like: Dr. Bill Henard, as first vice president of the SBC in 2009 and as Chair of Trustees, Life Way Christian Resources; Dr. Paul Chitwood, as Chair of Trustees, International Mission Board; Dr. Chuck Lawless, as dean of the Billy Graham School at Southern Seminary; Dr. Ergun Caner, as president of Liberty Seminary and Dr. Richard Harris, as mission strategist and acting president of the North American Mission Board. And now, we are blessed to see how God is using Dr. Merida as well, especially in helping to reach today’s youth. These are just a few of the examples of how Cumberlands is having an impact in the lives of individuals through the ministry of Christian education.”