Zane Witcher delivered his first sermon when he was 14 years old. His grandparents attended a small church of 20 people, and they needed a preacher for a Sunday service. He said that first sermon was “rough,” but soon not only his grandparents but other churches were asking him to preach.
“Every time I preached, they would encourage me – no matter how bad it was,” he said.
He listened to God’s call to a life of ministry as more friends and family told him to consider becoming a preacher. While he was studying Biblical text in ACU’s College of Biblical Studies, Witcher started saving, teaching and preaching at Highland Church of Christ. He became a finalist for the Next Generation Preacher competition in 2015. Today he serves as Highland’s university minister while working on his master’s in Christian Ministry.
When Witcher moved from Georgetown, Texas to Abilene to start his freshman year, he didn’t want to spend too much time looking for a church. He decided right away to get involved at Highland, a church with close connections to ACU.
“I loved what the church loved,” Witcher said. “I wanted to be with a church that had a great mission and multiple generations.”
During his second year at ACU, Highland’s preaching minister, Jonathan Storment, invited him to become a preaching intern. Faculty worked with Witcher’s schedule so he could take classes in the morning and work at the church in the afternoons.
“I could read about all these different things in the classroom, and then I could see how they were actually happening in a ministry setting,” Witcher said. “Everyone in this major will at some point be challenged because ACU prepares you to recognize the Kingdom of God is bigger than what you can learn in a textbook.”
Witcher faced the challenge of not only applying what he learned in his classes, but also teaching to his own peers while interning with the University Ministry at Highland. He decided to ask his fellow students many of the same questions he wrestled with, rather than telling them how to live their lives.
“A biblical text degree teaches you how to ask the right questions about God that lead you into a deeper understanding of God and His Kingdom,” Witcher said.
Many times he would learn something during the week, then teach the same concept the next Sunday. Though he can minister to any age group, Witcher said he especially enjoys discipling young adults.
Some of his professors attended the same church, and Witcher said he was impressed to see professors living what they taught. Randy Harris, spiritual director of the College of Biblical Studies, encouraged Witcher after hearing him preach.
“From the get-go, he wanted to be a preacher and he wanted to be a good preacher,” Harris said. “He took every opportunity. He was aggressive. He found situations where he’d get better.”
And Witcher did get better, even outside of his Bible classes. As a resident assistant and area director for an on-campus residence hall, Witcher built relationships with sophomore residents.
“I wanted to be able to extend community where people are living,” he said.
Witcher also learned outside the classroom when he attended the Next Generation Preacher competition and conference at Pepperdine University in 2015. Students participate in the annual competition by attending a two-day training session, then giving a five-minute sermon, which is recorded and sent to preachers throughout the U.S. The preachers rate each sermon, and the top four finalists get to travel and speak at conferences across the nation.
For his audition, Witcher preached about the discovery of Jesus’ tomb at the end of the Gospel of Mark. The theme was show-and-tell, an idea he said resonated with the audience.
“The most empowering thing is the idea that God would choose to use common people like you and me to tell the uncommon story of grace,” Witcher said in his audition sermon.
Witcher’s message resonated so much with the audience that he was given a finalist position and the opportunity to preach the same message at numerous conferences. ACU faculty once again worked with Witcher’s class schedule so he could travel while keeping up with his schoolwork.
Witcher’s focused mindset and the support of his professors, friends and family helped him not only to achieve his goals, but also to make the most of every chance he had to preach the Gospel.