By SHERYE S. GREEN
Matt Brooks is a man on a mission. And although the venue for fulfilling that mission may have changed from the baseball field to the sanctuary pulpit, the purpose of his mission has remained unchanged: to glorify God, to lead others to Christ, and to take His message to the ends of the earth. Matt’s recent selection as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Jackson (FBCJ) has placed this Oklahoma native on mission for God squarely in the heart of Mississippi.
When meeting Matt, you are immediately impressed with his genuine smile, his enthusiastic spirit, his boundless energy, and his passion for the Lord. At age 35, he is one of the youngest senior pastors to lead this church. This fact has not escaped Matt’s attention. “The Lord has blessed me with a tremendous amount of responsibility and ministry at a young age.”
Matt was approved unanimously by FBCJ’s congregation on February 21, and officially began his pastorate on March 20. His dynamic style has appealed to all ages. “Pastor Matt is the total package,” says Bob Waller, Deacon Chairman. “He brings energy, vision, and preaching that will lead First Baptist Jackson to change people’s lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ from the end of the street to the ends of the earth.” Dr. Frank Page, President and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, says of Matt, “I am impressed by his teachable spirit and his desire to grow and learn even more of what it means to be a great leader.”
Matt and his family have been busy since moving from Alabaster, Alabama, where he previously served as Senior Pastor of Westwood Baptist Church. Not only have Matt and his wife, Bren, packed their household and helped their young children—son Major (6) and daughters Maggie (4) and Gracie (2)—make the transition to a new home, but they have also welcomed a fourth child and second son, Tate, born on Mother’s Day. Additionally, the couple has celebrated the birthdays of their three older children since unpacking suitcases in March.
Life-giving seeds sown long ago in the hearts of an Oklahoma couple, Mike and Kathy Brooks, now bear abundant fruit in the ministry of their son, Matt. “I accepted Christ when I was six years old. It was the gospel through my parents that tremendously impacted me for Christ. Even at age six, I knew that I was a great sinner who had an even greater savior.” Both Mike and Kathy believe firmly in the power of prayer. “One of my most vivid childhood memories,” Matt remembers, “is of being awakened in the night to find one or both of my parents praying over me.”
Mike and Kathy lived out their faith every day before Matt and his younger sisters, Amy and April. Mike, who worked thirty-five years for the U.S. Postal Service, was an active servant leader at church and taught Sunday school. He also shared his love of athletics as a volunteer coach. Kathy’s main focus was rearing her children and maintaining their home. Matt remembers his mother’s sacrifices, as she would work occasionally with Southwestern Bell in order to pay bills for expenses such as braces for her children.
During Matt’s teen years, his love for the Lord grew and his athletic abilities advanced. “God used sports as the vehicle through which my parents and godly coaches spoke wisdom and truth into my life.” Matt excelled in both football and baseball at Blanchard High School. A gifted athlete, Matt enjoyed great success. By his senior year, he had garnered numerous accolades including being named an All-American baseball player, chosen for both All-State football and baseball teams, and selected as an All-State running back.
“I knew God had called me to be a professional baseball player.” Matt’s original game plan was to graduate with a degree in communications, become a professional baseball player, and “tell as many people as possible about the good news of Jesus Christ.” Matt’s prowess as an outfielder had earned him a spot on a Division I baseball team at Kansas State University. “My scholarship increase, however, was not honored, and I transferred to Northern Oklahoma College my sophomore year.”
On his first day in his first class at his new school in the little town of Tonkawa, Matt met a pretty brunette. The young coed sitting next to him in his 8 a.m. class was Brenda Kodesh. Better known to her friends as Bren, she would later become Matt’s wife. Once they started dating, Matt would accompany Bren and her twin sister, Linda, on visits to churches and youth group meetings. The girls sang and also played piano and guitar. Matt preached.
The next summer, during a Wednesday night service at Falls Creek student summer camp in Davis, Oklahoma, Matt answered a call from God to preach. Although he was enjoying athletic success at the collegiate level and would receive his communications degree, Matt recalls, “The dream in my heart had changed.” God had a different broadcast plan in mind.
After college, Matt and Bren moved to Dallas, Texas, and Matt enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While completing his Master of Divinity degree, Matt served first as Intern and later as Associate Minister to Young Marrieds at Prestonwood Baptist Church. The couple moved next to Roswell, New Mexico, where Matt had been called to lead First Baptist, a church without a staff, whose very existence seemed questionable. Under Matt’s leadership, First Baptist Roswell experienced a tremendous turnaround. From New Mexico, the Brooks family moved to Alabama. Matt completed his Doctorate of Ministry degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015.
The selection of Dr. Matthew Wade Brooks as FBCJ’s 22nd Senior Pastor is unique in that this is the first time in the church’s 178-year history that an outside search firm, Vanderbloemen Search Group, has partnered with members of a pastor-search committee to choose a new leader. “I was impressed,” Matt says, “with the humility of this church to use a non-traditional method of selecting a pastor.”
Recently, Matt has shared with First Baptist’s congregation four simple, yet profound ways to fulfill the Great Commission—know and follow Jesus, connect to Christ-like community, invest in a few, and make a difference. These four disciplines will equip the church to live out seven core values, defined during the 10-month interim before Matt’s arrival. Jim Baker, former FBCJ Executive Pastor and founder of Sacred Structures, led the congregation through a series of “NEXT Listening Sessions,” a process for discerning God’s future plans for the downtown church. Jim shares, “Matt is a compelling expositor of scripture, a man of devout prayer, authentic and cross-generational in his relationships, and a catalytic organizational leader.”
Pastor Matt is excited about the days ahead at First Baptist Church of Jackson. “This church has a history and legacy of leading, and I pray God will honor that commitment. The heritage and enthusiasm of our people is contagious, second only to our potential. May we have the faith to be obedient to the mission God has called us to.”