College of Christian Studies: Finding Balance Among Family, Ministry and Studies
Travis Bracken, associate/student pastor at Potter’s Clay Fellowship in Easley South Carolina, enrolled at the Anderson University College of Christian Studies, where he completed his undergraduate work and is currently finishing up in his M.Div. program. He plans to start working on his doctorate in the fall of 2023.
Bracken shared with us his calling into Christian ministry:
How did you discover Anderson University?
At that point I had gone out of a family owned business for 20 years and went into full-time ministry. I didn’t go to college out of high school because I had the family business. I made the money I needed, I didn’t need that. So when I decided to go and do what God was calling me to do for years, I ended up at the church I was at already doing part-time student ministry.
After a year and a half of sitting in my office, I came to a point, a personal point of “hey, I’ve got to have more. I can’t do this. I need more knowledge that I can’t gather.” That was kind of a wakening call.
My wife Robin is an education alumna. She was heavily involved in the Teaching Fellows program. One evening Robin was just looking through and saw the online program for Christian Studies and she said, “what do you think?” I said, “that would be interesting.”
I think it was Dr. (Ben) Brammer who actually called me. I set up an appointment to go down and talk to Mrs. (Laurie) Thompson at that point. I remember walking out of the office that morning, and my wife was actually teaching near the school at Calhoun at the time and I called her and said “I have no idea what I just did.” She said “what do you mean?” I said “I just signed up for classes.”
I’m 37 years old. I’m not supposed to be doing this. I took it as, you know, with five kids, a lot of people told me I couldn’t do it. It was a challenge off the ground probably that first year. I had a very supportive wife and family and friends. The first year was a struggle, then after that, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m looking towards a Ph.D. I hate the idea of leaving academia because I’ve grown so much in all aspects.
I will say about AU, I’ll recommend it highly to anybody I can now. I was on the phone with another pastor friend of mine and we were just talking about the same thing… The professors know you. I think that’s what makes it different. I don’t think I’ve ever had a class that a professor didn’t say they want you to earn your degree, but they’ll say, “Hey, if there’s anything that comes up where we need to help you, we want to help you.”
One thing I’ve noticed is the majority of our professors are out in the field, so I feel like they know what we struggle with, so that’s been a blessing itself. They may not be pastoring a church, but I feel like they pastor their students.
Tell me about the ministry you’ve been involved in.
I am a student and associate pastor full-time at Potters Clay Fellowship in Easley off 123, almost towards the Greenville side. I’ve been in student ministry for about 15 years now—part time or whatever. I’m not one of those who push to speak, but if I’m asked to speak, I’ll take it. But I will say through schooling, I’m a lot more comfortable speaking now.
At first my wife was actually working with the youth where I’m at, and I was helping. I would do the logistics and she would do the teaching, because she’s a teacher.
We knew that God was calling me that way, and I’ll never forget that Monday night before that Wednesday when she looked at me and said, “By the way, I’m not teaching Wednesday.” I asked, “Who is?” She said, “You are.” I said, “No I’m not.”
I was scared to death, and I remember going to my pastor at the time and asking, “Hey, what do I do? I feel like I could mess people up in 15 minutes of what they’ve learned in 15 years.” Having some background knowledge—that was the thing I went into college to do. I took that as for my own betterment.
Tell us about your family’s business.
I was the fourth generation in landscape nursery work. I was running my dad’s business and I’ve been with him since I was about seven years old, literally working every opportunity I could. When I graduated from high school, I took over the business. I took over finances, meeting people, installs—the whole nine yards. I ran it; my dad was there; he was a good teacher and taught me how to do it, taught me how to be successful in it. I was his retirement, so I felt like I owed it to him. It took me a while to kind of phase everything out and get him through retirement and that's when I finally went full time. I felt like I was to a point where I’ve got him where he can be comfortable and now I can move on with it.
Tell us about your calling into ministry.
I felt a call into ministry when I was about 13 years old. At the time my older brother had been called into ministry. At the church I grew up in Easley, they had a “preacher boy” class. Danny Gray was the pastor and he would take these guys, spend time with them and just kind of mentor them, shepherd them, give them opportunities to preach.
I remember then, the only reason I didn’t pursue it at that age was because my brother had done it and I had in my mind they would think I was doing it because my brother had done it. I went away from it and knew the whole time what God had done to me. I graduated, went into the family business and it grew very well. The majority of our stuff was in the Cliffs Communities in Pickens and Northern Greenville counties.
So, with a growing Upstate and people moving here from all over, business was good; then in 2008 something happened.
That was kind of a wake up call for me; that’s when the economy dropped and started falling apart. But we were still busy. On the way home from a job, from Glassy Mountain, I was in the truck by myself coming down (highway) 25 and it was probably the most audible I have ever had. It was like God sitting in the seat beside me and He said “All right, I’ve taken it all away… I broke down in the truck then and said “Okay God, it’s yours. That’s it.”
I came immediately home. My wife came home from work from teaching. I told her “We’re going to have to change.” She said, “What?” I said, “I’m going to do what God wants me to do. I want to be where God wants me.”
I was serving part-time at the time. I asked God if He wanted me in full-time ministry. That night, probably about 2 o’clock in the morning, I was emailing my pastor and said, “I don’t know what this means, I don’t know what we’re doing, I had an encounter with God today and I said it’s the most real thing I ever had. I am ready. I am going to surrender to full-time ministry. I don’t know if that means tomorrow or four years from now, but I just wanted to let you know where I’m at. Whether this is at Potter’s Clay, or this is somewhere else, this is where I’m at.”
From that time it took about four years. It got to a point where… and I’ve been told this before—if you can think of doing anything else, then you need to do that.
It got to a point where I was miserable going to work to do what I used to love to do.
Landscaping, design work, changing God’s creation on the plant side was all I thought of, and it got to a point where I just wanted to be back at church. I wanted to be serving and doing what I want to do full time and not part time.
Finally, we had a meeting one day and he (the pastor) said “Hey, let’s go to lunch.” He said “We want to offer this to you full time if you’re still… I said, “Absolutely. I want it.” We left that meeting, and later that night I called him and said “Hey, it doesn’t really matter, but what am I going to make?”
He laughed and said “It really doesn’t matter because He’s going to lead the way.” I share that to say that I knew God had me where He wanted me to be. I knew what He wanted me to do. And I’ve kind of lived my life that way, especially in the latter years, but whatever He wants, He makes it work. Everyone’s got to have money, but it’s in His hands.
When I started at Anderson we had the same conversation.
Me and God were like “God, I know this is what you want me to do but I don’t have the finances.” Some people disagree with this, but I said “If this is what you want me to do, I’m going to trust that you’re going to pay for that.”
I’ve told students this over the years when they’ve asked, I’m very cautious if a kid comes to me and says “I think God’s calling me into ministry.” I have never said “I think He is too.” I encourage, but I don’t want to be that determining factor. I usually tell them the same thing I had people telling me “If you can envision yourself doing anything else, don’t go into ministry. If there’s anything else that can make you happy, don’t do it.”
And I think that’s where I’ve kept that same thing. Have there been days I’ve wanted to walk away? Absolutely. There are more good days than bad and I usually tell people that I write out my resignation every Monday morning and throw it away on Monday afternoon.
At the end of the day, what gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment?
Well, if you asked me that 15 years ago, the answer would have been different. Now my biggest accomplishment at the end of the day—not to be holy roller, super spiritual sounding—but it’s to know that I’ve done what God wants me to do, and I’ll give you an example of what changed that.
About eight years ago I had a group of students. I think I had about 14 or 15 senior students out of 50 who graduated. They were involved, active, and I remember walking into our youth room on Wednesday night defeated, because when I walked in they were gone. When you take 15 people away, immediately that’s a big dent in the crowd, especially when they’re impactful. I walked in that room. It was another one of those times that God asked “Why are you doing this?” I said, “Okay, I understand.” Especially when I’m dealing with students alone, that’s my thing, why am I doing this? I love my students, I love my people, I love my church. I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for God, and for me that makes all the difference, because it changes my whole objective for what I do.
What would you say to somebody about Anderson University?
Anderson is a family. When you see somebody on Facebook talk about their kids, “Hey my kids are looking at schools,” or somebody pops up and said “I checked out Anderson University today,” I can promise you I’m going to jump on and tell them, “Hey, awesome school, but unbelievable family. Not just students, but you’ve got a faculty who truly genuinely cares for who you are. You’re not a number. You’re an individual.”
I think one of the ones that impacted me the most was not even my professors, but my advisor, Mrs. Laurie Thompson. She sat in the office with me, you know, 20 years out of high school, a lot of things have changed. We didn’t even have the Internet when I left high school.
I wouldn’t do it over Zoom or over the phone, I would go down to the university and sit in her office because I knew when I left I would be motivated to continue.
I look forward to that even with professors. In the Clamp Divinity School, they tell you that we’re here for you. And you can probably get that from other schools, but I know for a fact that Anderson is concerned about who you are. They want you to be successful at what you do, and it’s not just a number of “We’ve got your money, we’ve got your admission, you’re done.”
Where do you feel the Lord is leading you now?
I feel strongly that He is leading me to pursue the Ph.D. I’ve had invitations from other schools to check out their programs, but Anderson has been a close place for me because of the relationships that are there. I’m going to move into a lead pastor position, prayerfully here at Potter’s Clay, then I would love at some point to even come back and reinvest and pursue the lives of students as I was invested in at Anderson to do some kind of teaching at AU in Christian Studies.
Anderson University College of Christian Studies
The College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School offer academic excellence in programs that emphasize practical ministry training for a new generation of Kingdom leaders. More information can be found online.