(405) 425-5070

A conversation with Denny Petrillo

PREACHER, MINISTRY TRAINER  and president of Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver discusses a minister shortage, changing affiliations and other challenges facing Churches of Christ.

From the time he was in junior high school, Denny Petrillo knew that he wanted to preach — and train      others to preach.

At age 54, he’s doing exactly that as president of Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. The ministry training program prepares men to serve in pulpits across the nation and around the globe. The institute has extension programs on five continents.

Petrillo came to Bear Valley in 1985 after teaching at York College and Magnolia Bible College and preaching for churches in Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

A minister for 31 years, he has degrees from  York, Harding University and Harding Graduate School of Religion as well as a doctorate in religious education from the University of Nebraska. He teaches courses in Old and New Testament and is the author of commentaries on Ezekiel, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus and a study guide on the minor prophets.

Between preaching and teaching assignments, Petrillo has coached and served as a referee at soccer games. He’s a fan of the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies.

He and his wife, Kathy, have three children, Lance, Brett and Laura.
Does a preacher shortage exist? If so, what can be done about it?
I’ve been with Bear Valley since 1985 and have constantly witnessed a preacher shortage. We receive calls weekly from brethren who need preachers. While some have suggested that no such shortage exists, we face the reality of empty pulpits continually.
The larger congregations that are looking for men are inundated with applications, creating the impression that there are lots of men out there looking for preaching jobs. But the reality is that the smaller congregations have a very difficult time finding a sound man.
Why? I believe that Christian parents no longer encourage their children to preach, and our society has created a desire for high-paying secular jobs. The solution is simple: Christians need to re-prioritize and recognize that there is no higher calling than to preach the gospel, and thus encourage their sons and other young men to preach.
How are preacher training schools doing these days?
The main preacher schools have been in operation for dozens of years. Bear Valley has been training preachers for more 40 years, and we’re as strong as we’ve ever been. In the last year alone brethren from all over the U.S. have asked us to start a preacher-training extension in their cities.
In addition, Bear Valley is involved in foreign extension schools in Ukraine, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Peru, Columbia, Panama and Cambodia. These schools are presently training more than 400 men to preach to their native people.
These men go to school full time for two years and receive a quality education like the one we provide in Denver. We will soon be starting three more foreign extension schools. Plus, Bear Valley is equipped to teach these men in foreign lands through a video-conferencing system.
There is always an ebb and flow in student numbers, but we’ve remained consistent in our enrollment at Bear Valley.
In your work with Bear Valley, what are the greatest difficulties?
The greatest difficulty is finding men who really want to preach. Far too many are looking at preaching as a job, a 9-to-5 vocation. There is no passion, no clear sense of mission and no willingness to sacrifice for the cause of Christ. We presently have a student who is a surgeon, but has determined that he wants to preach the gospel because it is the most important thing in the world. This is the kind of commitment that is needed today.   
What does it take for a man to be well-prepared for ministry today?
In the U.S., we are modern and sophisticated. A man has to be able to carry himself well, look professional and be able to communicate clearly the message of the gospel. But even more important is his knowledge of the Scriptures. At Bear Valley we concentrate on the principles of 2 Timothy 2:2. A well-prepared man is one who has received the teachings of the apostles and has the skills necessary to take those teachings and pass them on.
What is the difference between preachers trained at Bear Valley and those trained at a Christian university?
I graduated from a preacher training school, a Christian university (as a Bible major) and a Christian graduate school.  
I do not believe that our Christian universities are focusing on training men to be front-line soldiers in the battle for souls, men primarily dedicated to doing the work of an evangelist.
At Bear Valley we train evangelists. We train men to go where the need is the greatest, and to accomplish the mission of winning lost souls. In addition, our degree program has, like most universities, 128 credit hours. But all of these hours are in Bible and ministry-related subjects. Our graduates have spent considerably more time than students in our universities in studying the text of the Bible and learning about the ministry of being an evangelist.
Churches of Christ do not seem as homogeneous as in the past. Why?
I believe that 2 Timothy 2:2 answers that question. Many in Churches of Christ are no longer committed to the teachings of Christ and the apostles.
Paul wanted Timothy to receive what Paul had given him and to teach that specific content to others. Today we have many church leaders who are no longer seeing the Bible as the sole guide to belief and practice.
The apostolic teachings have become secondary and have ceased to be the standard of our unity.
If we are to stand in the tradition of men like Hezekiah, Josiah and Nehemiah, we must return to a deep commitment to following the revealed word of God.
Recent studies of Americans find that many people switch religious affiliation frequently. Why?
Because of weak and generic preaching in our pulpits, today’s church members lack commitment to the objective truth of Scripture. Paul made it clear that objective, biblical truth could be known and understood.
Many preachers are preaching a message that implies, or in some cases states directly, that it is difficult or impossible to know biblical truth, and that one church is as good as another. This teaching does not produce loyalty to any specific doctrinal core.
To be a faithful man of God, Timothy had to take the teachings that came from the apostles and teach that message to others no matter what. If we truly believe that the Bible is the word of God, we must fully commit ourselves to it.
Preachers who have that kind of passion and commitment will produce disciples who are loyal and committed to the Lord’s church.

  • Feedback
    I have been a preacher for 24 year and if men can’t congratulate then my faith Lord will.No body nor i don’t remember receiving any penny from anybody as a pay for my up keep,yet i am the poorest of all in Africa.we plant Churches but still there no sound men to serve in them or you happen to get a sound preacher you luck sound brethren who can serve as elders and deacons,or if you get, may one but not the required number.I would suggest, Bear Valley or elders from any congregation of good will recruit a sound missionary to come and work with us in Western part of Kenya.we don’t have any and those who tried in the past fell into earthly businesses. some ha deserted the Bible and are now trading in minerals.
    Elisha Munubi Ondego
    Kenya Church of Christ- Kongoni
    Nairobi, Kenya, Kenya
    October, 24 2012

    “I believe that Christian parents no longer encourage their children to preach, and our society has created a desire for high-paying secular jobs.”
    Or maybe men who could preach want to protect their families from abuse and busybodies and be able to support them?
    September, 3 2008

    Bear Valley does such a great work.
    July, 10 2008

Filed under: Dialogue

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time