Published on November 28, 2023 by Neal Embry  
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Until recently, Beeson Divinity School student Kristofer Labenske was “terrified” of public speaking.

“I wasn’t sure that preaching would be a significant part of my ministry coming into Beeson,” Labenske said.

But those in attendance for chapel on Nov. 7, 2023, likely would not have guessed that Labenske had such fear. Labenske, this term’s recipient of the James Earl Massey Student Preaching Award, delivered a powerful sermon entitled, “The Way in the Wilderness,” encouraging students, faculty, staff and guests from the Gospel of Mark.

“For our God has come. He has gone before us and made a way for us and is with us in the wilderness,” Labenske said in his sermon. “We endure the difficulties of the desert by looking to Him, the One who has suffered for sinners and died for our deliverance, who has been raised to give us new birth and ascended to the right hand of the Father, from where He pours out His promised Holy Spirit.”

The James Earl Massey Student Preaching Award is given to one graduating student each semester for his or her excellence in Christian preaching.

“It’s a testament to God’s grace being sufficient and His power being perfect in weakness,” Labenske said. “I was truly surprised when I was told. It wasn’t on my radar. I think the Lord made it clear … through the encouragement of close friends and my wife that it would be a way to step out in faith.”

While Labenske may have been surprised, his professors were not.

“You are an excellent choice for the preaching award,” Douglas Webster told Labenske. “You have a Spirit-gifted blend of humility and authority that impresses me as deeply rooted and enduring for lifelong pastoral ministry.”

“Kristofer is a most attentive and careful student in all he does,” said Michael Pasquarello. “He loves the church and possesses a strong desire to serve the church with the gifts he has been given.”

Robert Smith, Jr., the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson, said Labenske has “grown in competence and confidence” and “has emerged as a very effective preacher of the Word of God.”

“Information and inspiration remain inextricably tied together in his proclamation as he continues to grow in the pursuit of finding his own voice,” Smith said.

Kristofer Labenske

Labenske, born and raised in San Diego, has been involved in the Church of the Nazarene from an early age, and currently serves at the Gardendale Church of the Nazarene as a young adult pastor and Sunday School teacher.

During his college career at Point Loma Nazarene University, Labenske was involved in discipleship groups and felt a call to Christian ministry, integrating his love for God and theology with a love for history.

A professor from Point Loma knew of Beeson Dean Douglas Sweeney from conferences and tipped Labenske off to Beeson. From there, Beeson staff developed a genuine connection with Labenske.

“The talk about community and life together was something they were actually embodying,” Labenske said.

Beeson has lived up to its commitment to life-on-life learning and a godly community that shapes and forms each student, Labenske said.

“I’ve met some of my best friends here,” Labenske said.

Being educated in-person is the best way to be prepared for ministry, Labenske said. Beeson not only provides incarnational learning, but academic rigor, not for its own sake, but for a “deep understanding of God’s Word and the riches of the tradition that can inform our lives and our ministries,” he said.

While Beeson has shaped Labenske as a student, it has also benefited his wife, Kaitlyn, who he met in college.

“It’s been a really good source of community for Kaitlyn as well, through the Beeson Wives Fellowship and being able to join for different events and chapel when she’s off work,” Labenske said.

Labenske is currently applying for PhD programs and plans to continue to serve at his church. While he does not, as of yet, feel a call to a weekly preaching ministry, Labenske is a licensed minister for the Northern Alabama District of the Church of the Nazarene, enabling him to do some pulpit supply as well.

“My ideal would be to teach at a Christian college or seminary, so I feel like I’m directly investing into those who are also wanting to serve the church,” Labenske said. “I always want to have some sort of weekly teaching ministry within the church, and hopefully a place for a preaching ministry.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.