Whether dressed as a Roman soldier or a Jewish shepherd or supplying his class with 3D glasses to be at the empty tomb through a video he created, Jim Wicker strives to demonstrate for his students how to accurately — and creatively — teach the Scriptures.
“We’ve all heard boring lessons or boring sermons at some point,” said Wicker, professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2000. A messenger can be “accurate, but if you’re boring, they’re asleep,” he noted.
Through magic tricks he calls “gospel illusions” or using modern technology coupled with a skit to show the consequences of a verse of Scripture taken out of context, Wicker said his goal is for students to leave his classroom with a “better understanding of how to correctly interpret God’s word and then [be inspired to] creatively preach and teach God’s word.”
Bringing the text alive
The result has been a memorable classroom experience for his students.
Karen Kennemur, professor of children’s ministry and Bessie Fleming Chair of Childhood Education, had Wicker as a New Testament professor while earning her master of arts in Christian education at Southwestern in the early 2000s.
“He really brought the New Testament alive for those of us that were in his class,” she noted.
Calling Wicker “the most creative professor” she had at Southwestern, Kennemur recalled that “every class period was going to be a new and different experience.”
She remembers walking into the classroom one day and seeing 3D glasses on each desk. Wicker used a picture of Jesus’s tomb so that when the class put on the special glasses, Kennemur recalled, “we felt like we were standing at the tomb, looking at the tomb, where they had laid Christ’s body.”
At the time, Kennemur did not know she would teach in theological academia, but Wicker’s example “really prompted me to understand that your teaching could be creative even in the seminary.”
Wicker’s innovation and creativity continue to be readily apparent to his students today.
Samuel Kim is a master of divinity student who was born in South Korea but raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. He recalled a “gospel illusion” Wicker used in class to reiterate what it means that Jesus has forgiven sins.
The professor wrote “sin” on a special piece of paper, lit it on fire and the word quickly disappeared. Wicker explained to the class this is how God views the sin of those who repent and confess it to Him.
Kim realized the visualization “can impact a kid but also grown adults who are master’s students.”
In course assignments, Wicker encourages his students to tap into their creative skills through the Creative Biblical Arts Project.
He explained the purpose is “to show everyone can be creative” as they prepare to teach the Scriptures.
Wicker challenges students to look for ways to share a biblical text creatively, including “writing a song, singing a song, painting, drawing, [writing a] skit, [doing a] gospel illusion, [performing a] spoken word” or anything else to be creative. In one of his classes the challenge is for extra credit, while in another it is a requirement.
Under Wicker’s guidance, some students are learning that they are more creative than they originally thought.
One student last spring opted not to participate in the extra credit assignment. He explained to Wicker, “I’m just not creative.”
Wicker responded, “You’re creative because you’re putting together that sermon. You have the text, but then with your sermon you’re creating that with your applications, illustrations and all of that.”
For this student “the light bulb went off,” Wicker said, because he was “thinking just because he couldn’t write a song, he’s not creative.”
Creative at an early age
Wicker’s desire to use creativity to effectively teach and share the gospel began at a young age.
When he was a child, Wicker said he performed gospel illusions at children’s birthday parties, however, he stopped in junior high when other kids began to tease him. While he was a student at Hillcrest High School in Dallas, Wicker and other friends began helping lead and facilitate Bible studies twice a week at the school.
After a motorcycle accident in high school left him incapacitated, he and a friend wrote a comedy act that won competitions including the high school talent show, the State Fair of Texas, Key Club and Key Club International. This opened doors for them to perform the show 365 times one summer at Six Flags Over Georgia.
Wicker recalled the experience was invaluable, and it taught him how to read an audience.
It was not until he was an oral communications major at Baylor University and leading weekly backyard Bible clubs in and around Waco, Texas, that Wicker began to use the gospel illusions with children. He presented the plan of salvation several times, he recalled.
After graduating from Baylor in 1977, Wicker began as a master of divinity student at Southwestern.
While a student there, he began performing in shows alongside his Southwestern classmates.
These classmates included Neal Jeffrey, former San Diego Chargers quarterback and current associate pastor of pastoral and preaching ministries at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, and Christian comedian Dennis Swanberg.
After graduating from Southwestern in 1980, Wicker served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Lavon, Texas. He also began working toward a doctor of philosophy degree at Southwestern.
He recalled how he pursued doctoral studies because he wanted to teach, but thought he would “pastor in a college town and then teach in a local university.”
In addition to First Baptist Lavon for more than two decades, Wicker served as pastor at First Baptist Church of Farmersville and First Baptist Church of Frisco. He also taught at satellite campuses of Dallas Baptist University.
An intentional instructor
Wicker’s pastoral experience is evident to his students, said James Ross, a master of divinity student from Cross Plains.
Ross has taken five classes with Wicker, because “he has a pastor’s heart.”
“He loves teaching God’s Word, but he also is like a pastor-shepherd to students here, including myself,” Ross said, noting that Wicker takes prayer requests before class, encourages his students, and makes himself available to his students.
Wicker will also stop in the middle of a lecture, Ross said, “and share a few minutes about an encouraging word, something that, maybe in the moment, the Holy Spirit lays on his heart to share” as the professor is “helping train us and prepare us for ministry.”
Though Wicker never thought he would have an opportunity to teach at a seminary, he’s still doing so after more than two decades.
“It’s very meaningful to me to be here and invest in students’ lives in the way that those wonderful professors [I’m so thankful for] … invested in my life,” he said.
“God sometimes brings these unexpected, wonderful experiences into your life.”
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EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Ashley Allen and originally published by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.