New CTS President Leads on the PCA Frontier
By Megan Fowler

Tom Gibbs’ recent sabbatical wasn’t like most sabbaticals. Rather than hiding away in his study or pursuing relaxing travel, he sold his house and packed his belongings. He also took part in regularly scheduled Zoom meetings with the staff and faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary, where on July 1 he succeeded Mark Dalbey as president.

When he started work, Gibbs became the first Covenant president since 1985 to come to the position as an institutional outsider. While he earned his M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from Covenant, this will be his first job at the seminary.

Since 1997, Gibbs has pastored on the PCA “frontiers.” Now, he will bring those experiences and his passion for organizational leadership to the denomination’s seminary.

Unlike any previous Covenant Seminary president, Gibbs is one of a growing number of PCA agency heads who is a part of Generation X. As such, he has reaped the benefits of PCA visionaries who built churches and ministries that were instrumental in his coming to faith and spiritual growth.

While an Auburn University student, Gibbs attended Reformed University Fellowship, his first taste of the PCA. His years at Auburn coincided with the early years of Auburn’s RUF ministry (called Covenant University Fellowship at the time).

After graduating from seminary, Gibbs’s first pastoral call was planting an RUF chapter at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, before a PCA church even existed there. In 2002 he left Waco to plant Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, which was then a PCA frontier city.

Six years into the church plant, Gibbs realized he didn’t have the skills to lead a rapidly growing, urban congregation. “I wondered if I too might become a church-planting casualty,” he said.

Though San Antonio was largely unreached by the PCA, the city was booming. From 2000 to 2021 San Antonio has added more than 1 million residents, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. Because of San Antonio’s explosive growth, Redeemer Church needed a pastor who could quickly pivot from getting the church up and running to keeping it healthy. Skill in the former does not always mean skill in the latter.

Six years into the church plant, Gibbs realized he didn’t have the skills to lead a rapidly growing, urban congregation. “I wondered if I too might become a church-planting casualty,” he said.

So Gibbs reached out for help. He worked with a leadership coach to develop new skills. And then he returned to Covenant to study organizational leadership and earn his doctor of ministry degree.

Not only did Redeemer Church grow — the church now has close to 1,000 members — but Gibbs discovered that he could help others, too. He founded the Ethos Leadership Initiative, through which he mentors other church and ministry leaders. He teaches church-planting seminars, serves as a church-planting assessor with Mission to North America, and helps pastors and church sessions with particular leadership challenges.

Sam Graham, chairman of Covenant’s presidential search committee, called Gibbs a “proven leader who possesses an elusive combination of genuine humility, grace-driven strength of leadership, and vision. His passion for God’s Word, commitment to the Great Commission, and deep experience in organizational leadership will serve him well as he enters this new role during this strategic time in the life of the seminary and the denomination.”

Church planters pour their energy into gathering a core group, moving from there to the first worship service, and from there to finding the momentum to keep going. We don’t give as much thought to what’s next, after survival seems secure. But Gibbs thinks not just about growth, but about health and multiplication.

The PCA is good at assessing and training planters, Gibbs believes. These men have got the skills to take a church from startup to particularization. But beyond that —in what Gibbs calls the “solidification phase” — things sometimes get difficult.

Growing Where We’re Not Yet Planted

For the PCA to grow, it must send workers to new places. Therefore, if Tom Gibbs gets his way, Covenant will send students where the PCA has never been before, in the U.S. and around the world. It’s in his makeup. Gibbs serves on the Southwest Church Planting Network executive committee and founded Reach South Texas, a collaboration of pastors and churches committed to strategic church planting in a region that’s trying to reach a rising generation amid the nation’s changing demographics.

Gene Bowman of the Hispanic Leadership Initiative (HLI) appreciates how Gibbs has worked to make Redeemer a multicultural church in a city where immigrants make up a sizeable portion of the population growth.

“He has the compassion of a pastor and the fervor of an evangelist paired with the biblical understanding of a theologian,” said Greg Davidson, stated clerk of South Texas Presbytery. “The church and our denomination will be blessed to have him in this position of leadership at Covenant.”

Victor Martinez grew up in the Presbyterian Church in Puerto Rico but became a Christian as a college student. For years he prayed for a church that wanted to engage the culture and existed to serve the city. A visit to Redeemer San Antonio was the answer to his prayers. And he was the answer to the Redeemer’s prayers, too. For years the church session had prayed that God would bring a Latino to its pastoral staff. And not just to minister to the Latino members, but to help lead the whole church.

Tom can lead, Martinez says. He sees the details and how the puzzle pieces come together. But he also has a pastor’s heart. The men have worked side by side for 13 years; Martinez already misses his friend. But as a Latino he says, “this choice makes me excited for my denomination.”

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