If you're going to plant churches, you need good leaders. Sometimes it's not mentioned as often, but training and discipleship are definitely part of the missionary task in addition to church planting and evangelism.
Before being called into missions, Russell Woodbridge worked on Wall Street in investment banking. Now, he’s a theological educator and church planter alongside his wife, Ingrid, in Germany.
Get to know these North Carolina missionaries through the following Q&A.
Where has God called you to spread the gospel?
- Vienna, Austria: My wife and I and our three kids served with the IMB from 2001 to 2003 in Vienna, Austria, and our fourth child was born in Austria.
- Wake Forest, North Carolina: I received a job offer to teach full time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We moved back to North Carolina, and I taught at Southeastern from 2003 to 2009. The whole time, we were open to returning overseas, but we couldn’t find the right fit for what we wanted to do with theological education. I have a PhD in theology and my wife had a master’s degree at that time and later finished her doctorate of ministry.
- Kyiv and Lviv, Ukraine: In 2009, we left Southeastern and moved to Kyiv, Ukraine, with our four kids, ages 6 to 12. We spent seven years in Kyiv, doing theological education at Kyiv Theological Seminary and were privileged to help plant two churches. In 2016, we moved to the west in Lviv, Ukraine, to help Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary. I served as their academic dean for five years. We also helped Ukrainians plant a church in Lviv.
- Germany: Colleagues had asked us to consider moving to Germany to help with some projects. Initially, we were not interested because the ministry in Ukraine was phenomenal. God was really blessing at the seminary and at the church plant. Both were growing numerically and spiritually. But while we were stuck in the States during the pandemic, my wife had some health difficulties. Unfortunately, we weren’t going to be able to return to Ukraine, so we moved to Germany in the summer of 2021.
Have you always wanted to be an educator?
The short answer is no. I went to undergrad and got a degree in Management Information Systems, and then headed to Wall Street in New York City. I worked for a big investment bank. I ended up doing projects in London, Tokyo and Frankfurt for the bank. While I was in Frankfurt, I moved to the trading desk, and I was a stock trader for the bank. I had a six-year career at the bank before I moved to North Carolina to go to seminary in 1995.
How did you know God was calling you to switch careers?
It was a process. I was making good money. The question started to come to me: Is this all there is? Is this what you really want to be doing for the next 10 years or longer? I decided I think God wants me to do something else, but I wasn’t sure exactly what.
People came alongside me from our church and said things like, “Hey, when you teach the Bible study class on Sunday morning, it’s really good. We see that you have a gift for teaching and preaching.” There was a lot of encouragement and affirmation in that direction.
It became clear that I needed to follow God into some kind of ministry. Even though the way wasn’t 100% clear, I had complete faith and trust that He would lead and guide us. I think that there was a test going on in my heart from God. The final questions were, “Do you trust Me?” and “Do you love Me more than money and the security that money can bring?”
What challenges have you faced in Germany involving missions?
The big challenge is when people are in church in Germany and they believe that they are saved or that they are fine spiritually, and that when they die, they will go to heaven. But the sad truth is that they don’t know the gospel. They don’t really know Christ as their Lord and Savior. There’s this general idea that “I’m in the state church, I was baptized as a baby. I even did my confirmation when I was 12 years old. I’m good, right?”
The second challenge here is that many evangelical churches are embracing the homosexual agenda. It’s a bit challenging to find a church that really embraces Scripture and wants to form its doctrine solely based on Scripture and not on culture.
What is your role as a theological educator?
Many missionaries teach in different settings and capacities, but I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Kyiv Theological Seminary, Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary and now Bibelseminar Bonn. My wife, Ingrid, is also on staff as a professor at Bibelseminar Bonn, and her specialty is biblical counseling. She spends time with students, helping them as they need help.
Sometimes we think missionary work is just purely church planting, purely evangelism — and it is that — but there’s also a component of training and discipleship and formal training to get people prepared, theologically and spiritually, to lead in the churches. If you’re going to plant churches, you need good leaders. Sometimes it’s not mentioned as often, but it’s definitely part of the missionary task in addition to church planting and evangelism.
How are education and missions tied together?
I think we always want to be strategic about theological education. When I started working with Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, we started new programs and effectively relaunched the seminary. I proposed that we could also have a missions program for sending Ukrainians outside the country and a church planting program to send students as missionaries inside the country.
In one stretch of the church planting program, we had a list of 45 church planters that had come through the program in three years or so, or were in process in the program. They may not have graduated yet but were out there trying to start churches. It has an amazing multiplication effect.
How have you seen God at work in Germany?
I was asked to come to a church and help them do a vision casting evening for church planting in March. I was amazed at the people who came that evening. There were people from maybe six to eight different locations who were interested in planting churches. One guy came from a small town of maybe 10 or 15,000 people. He stood up and said, “I’m here. I’m from this town, and I want to plant a church in my town. Can you help me?”
My response was, “Yes. How can we work together?” We just want to help those who want help.
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer
Editor’s Note: Russell and Ingrid Woodbridge are among the many church planters and missionaries featured in our Praying for the Nations prayer guide. To learn more and to join hundreds of N.C. Baptists who are praying for the nations, visit praync.org.