Fruitland Baptist Bible College

It’s kind of hard for me to believe, but my Fruitland experience goes back 22 years. It was the summer of 1999, and I was 19. Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (has since been renamed Fruitland Baptist Bible College) was an excellent beginning choice for my higher education. My connection with Fruitland began even before my birth. My uncle James Hefner, also a Southern Baptist pastor, went to Fruitland in the 1960s. When my brother Robert and I, announced our call to vocational ministry, we chose to attend Fruitland because of our family connections, appreciation for faculty such as Dr. Kenneth Ridings and Randy Kilby, and because of its tuition affordability. That decision turned out to be life changing. 

One of greatest benefits of FBBC is the practical theology of its educational curriculum. Most of the faculty are part-time and most were or have been in full-time Christian ministry. Professors who are also pastors help the courses to be both academically sound and ministerially applicable. Students learn first-hand about pastoral ministry. 

My two years at Fruitland introduced me to mentors and professors whose influence continues in my life. As a student, the camaraderie and theological development alongside other students shaped my perspectives and practices. As for academics, the lessons of studying, reading, researching, and writing I learned at Fruitland formed the foundation for my academic endeavors all the way to my Ph.D. studies. 

Fruitland became life changing for me in more ways than academics. Fruitland is nestled in Hendersonville, NC, and while a student, I began an internship at Mud Creek Baptist Church where several members of the pastoral staff taught at Fruitland. The opportunity to learn academically while serving ministerially in part-time and then full-time ministry formed my ministry philosophy. Because of my connection to Fruitland as a student and through fellow pastors, I had the opportunity to substitute in a variety of classes and grew to love Fruitland not just for the education it provided, but for the opportunity to share what I had learned with others. 

Currently, I serve as a professor at Fruitland (Western Civilization, online and Theology, on campus). Having also taught Apologetics, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the impact Fruitland has on students and NC Baptists. It is an honor to look aspiring minsters in the eye and participate in shaping their academic development and ministerial philosophy. 

As a student I didn’t fully appreciated the connection between Fruitland and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, but now I do. Because Fruitland is an entity of the BSCNC, tuition costs have remained affordable. This was one of the primary reasons I attended Fruitland and is a factor for many current students. As an NC Baptist, I want to take this opportunity to thank my fellow NC Baptists and convention leadership for their continued investment in FBBC. I don’t know where I would be without the academic foundation it provided and the opportunities it offered.

NC Baptists, when you give, you support a school that trains ministers to have a high view of biblical authority.  When you give, you provide for the education and development of pastors who will do kingdom work for decades to come.  When you give, students learn how to communicate the unchanging gospel to an ever-changing culture. When you give, you help students develop their ministry philosophy that will impact eternity. 

For me, Fruitland is more than an entity of NC Baptists. Fruitland Baptist Bible College is the ministry lifeblood for Baptists across North and South Carolina. 

To the faculty at Fruitland, thank you for investing in the lives of students who will go on to be pastors, missionaries, and denominational leaders. 

To the leadership at the BSCNC, thank you for your continued support for FBBC to remain an academic and ministerial foundation for NC Baptists. 

To NC Baptists, thank you for giving. Your giving influences kingdom work right here in our state and throughout the world. 

This article was originally posted here for the Biblical Recorder, the Baptist paper for North Carolina. Find more information here about how to subscribe to the Biblical Recorder and get more stories like this one each month.

Photo by Trey Musk on Unsplash

In 1999, I started at Fruitland Baptist Bible College (then, Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute). Dr. Kenneth Ridings was the President, and one of my first professors. He taught homiletics on Fridays. My uncle, James Hefner had gotten to know Dr. Ridings when he was a student at Fruitland in the early 1970s, and I had heard him preach before I came to Fruitland. I knew he was a fabulous preacher when I arrived on campus.

There was nothing like being in his homiletics class. Dr. Ridings’ taught homiletics by modeling. He would preach to us in class and “whet our appetite for the Word of God.” I’ll never forget his unique ability to hone in on a text of Scripture, expound insights that could only be discovered through meditation and study, and deliver them in a style all his own. He alliterated his points, but didn’t stretch the alliteration to fit the text. From his articulate, near flawless speech patterns to his unique hand movements, Dr. Kenneth Ridings was a powerful preacher whose heritage of faithfulness to the text from the pulpit has been rarely equaled.

One of the most intimidating experiences of my entire life was preaching in “the pit” (the affectionate name of the preaching classroom at Fruitland). Students would preach in front of him and Dr. Whitefield for their homiletics grade. Dr. Ridings was known on campus for his articulate and direct critiques of student preachers. I was thankful to make it out of that preaching event with a B+. The following week, my brother Robert preached, and Dr. Ridings did something I’ll never forget. The practice in class was to let classmates critique the student preacher before the professors shared their thoughts. When Robert finished his sermon and sat down, Dr. Ridings declared to our class, “Well, there’s really nothing for you to say after that.” He didn’t allow us to critique Robert’s sermon and gave him an A+. The lesson Dr. Ridings taught us that day is that a sermon flowing directly from the text is the goal of preaching. There was nothing fancy about my brother’s sermon. It wasn’t alliterated. He wasn’t that dynamic. But he preached what the text said, and thereby allowed God’s Word to speak authoritatively. Preaching is a task immersed in and wedded to the content of God’s Word. That’s a lesson I learned from Dr. Ridings, and I’ll never forget it.

Dr. Ridings was a challenging professor and godly President. The renovated chapel is named after him, and the legacy he leaves behind is substantial. Most influential is the heritage expositional preaching. Pastors all across North and South Carolina who sat in Dr. Ridings’ class will share similar stories as mine above. As they preach in their churches, Dr. Ridings’ heritage flourishes.

Dr. Ridings leaves behind a great treasure in his wife, Ann. Dr. Ridings’ persona was often interpreted (at least by students) as closed and a little intimidating. By contrast, Ann was always smiling, warm, approachable and looking for ways to brighten a student’s day. Dr. Ridings was much more approachable the longer I got to know him, and I’m positive the man he was can be credited in large part to Ann. Dr. Ridings shared numerous times how Ann personally led him to Jesus, and there is little doubt the approachability and affability he developed in later years came from her warmth that rubbed off on him.

I am eternally grateful that my heritage includes Dr. Kenneth Ridings. He was part of my Fruitland family, was my professor, and was my mentor. Those of us who had the honor of sitting in his classes at Fruitland will testify that we will never be the same because of the heritage of Fruitland and influence Dr. Kenneth Ridings.

While we mourn the death of Dr. Ridings, heaven gained a hero of many students, parishioners, and friends. There will be a visitation and funeral for Dr. Ridings at Mud Creek Baptist Church on Sunday March 8. Visitation will be at 3 pm. The funeral will be a 5 pm. Two of Dr. Ridings’ favorite preachers will be speaking—Dr. D.L. Lowry and Dr. Greg Mathis. If you are unable to make the service, live streaming will be available at http://www.mudcreekchurch.org The service will also be archived at the Mud Creek website.