By Mark McKenzie
It is history making enough that Wilshire Baptist Church has had two consecutive pastors who served more than 30 years apiece, but now the Dallas church is making history again by calling a pastor who is the product of the church’s own nationally recognized pastoral residency program.
Timothy Peoples of High Point, N.C., was called as senior pastor at Wilshire by a vote of the 3,650-member congregation Sunday, Dec. 4. He will begin his new role on Jan. 22.
The Oklahoma native is not a new face to Wilshire. For two years, 2015 to 2017, he served as a pastoral resident at Wilshire — a post-graduate-level program for young ministers envisioned by his two predecessors in the Wilshire pulpit, George Mason and Bruce McIver. Since 2003, the Wilshire pastoral residency has been acclaimed as a model for churches nationwide to equip young ministers with practical skills to complement the theological education they received in seminary.
The idea for such a program was voiced by McIver (pastor from 1958 to 1988) to Mason (pastor from 1989 to 2022) as McIver was hospitalized in his last days of life. Mason and the Wilshire congregation took the idea and, with generous grants from the Lilly Endowment, birthed the program that now has trained 39 ministers who serve around the nation and in Europe.
Peoples left Wilshire in 2017 to become senior pastor of Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., where he has served five years.
“Almost five years ago to the day, the wonderful congregation of Wilshire Baptist Church ‘loaned’ us Timothy Peoples. Your community helped shape and guide him to become the wonderful young man that our church so desperately needed in order to learn and grow,” said Sue Brammer, a lay leader at Emerywood. “Over these five years, he has led us through many challenges no one could have fore- seen: a global pandemic, the powder keg of racial and political issues in our country, the growing importance of inclusivity in church life — the list goes on and on.
“We sincerely pray that we are sending Timothy back to you both more mature and seasoned as a pastor than when you last knew him as a resident. If I had to encapsulate my favorite characteristic of Timothy, it would be his ability to make every member of a congregation, at all ages, feel loved and guided by their pastor,” she added.
Mason joined in praise for Peoples and his return to the Wilshire fold: “What a joy to welcome back to Wilshire an extraordinarily gifted former pastoral resident to lead our church in the years ahead. Timothy brings a buoyant spirit, a vision for justice and a passion for the church that are infectious.”
That an alumnus of the pastoral residency program would be chosen as Wilshire’s next pastor was not a foregone conclusion. He was recommended to the congregation by a 12-member search committee that evaluated candidates over a 10-month period. Search committee chair Katie Murray said, “We had the honor of speaking with remarkable pastors throughout this process. After almost a year of discernment, listening to the congregation, staff and the movement of the Spirit, we found that there was meaningful connection between Wilshire’s hopes and dreams for the future and Timothy’s gifts in ministry. He is beautifully equipped to lead us into the next chapter of Wilshire’s story through building on the legacies of prior generations and helping us live into our vision of being ‘a bold witness to the way of Christ in our time.’”
Peoples was raised in Jones, Okla., and made his way to Adrian, Mich., and Adrian College before earning a master of divinity degree from Yale University School of Divinity. He currently is a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
In High Point, he is engaged in several community ministries and has served on the board of nearby Duke Divinity School’s Baptist House of Studies.
He also serves on the governing board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a progressive denominational group Wilshire was instrumental in helping launch in 1991.
Both he and his wife, Valerie, come from families of ministers. She studied music and English education at Louisiana Tech University, earned a master’s degree in education in community development from Vanderbilt University and recently completed her Juris Doctor from Elon University in North Carolina.
Founded in 1951, Wilshire has developed a reputation for innovation in ministry and in responding to human need. The predominantly white North Dallas congregation stood at the forefront of the 2014 Ebola crisis and made headlines again in 2016 when it voted to become fully inclusive of the LGBTQ community. Wilshire has been a leader in racial reconciliation efforts and ecumenical work for many years.
The church is located at 4316 Abrams Road, near the intersection of Mockingbird and Abrams.