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From Prodigal to Pastor

Barbados native Derek Ward didn’t want anything to do with faith—now he’s been a pastor for almost 20 years and has a degree from Moody
  • Anneliese Rider
  • March 8, 2024

Moody Theological Seminary graduate Derek Ward

 

As the fourth son of a pastor, Derek Ward remembers begrudgingly having to be at church “15 days a week” while growing up on the Caribbean island of Barbados. A self-confessed free spirit and adventurer with no intention of following in his father’s footsteps, he had no interest in the Christian faith. As soon as he was allowed to, he ditched church altogether.

“I became a prodigal at 16 years old,” Derek says. “I didn’t want to pastor a church. I didn’t even want to be a Christian.”

Looking back now, Derek shakes his head and smiles at his unexpected adventure from prodigal to pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Barbados—and God’s direction through the whole journey.

‘You don’t go and get saved like that!’

Derek soon joined the Barbados Defense Force and served for a year before becoming a police officer for the next 11 years. Meanwhile, he met a young woman named Sheron.

Moody Theological Seminary graduate Derek Ward as a cop in Barbados

 

“I thought, ‘This is going to be fun,’” Derek says, intending to have a relaxed relationship, but God had other plans. “She was invited to church to sing in the youth choir. As opposed to just singing in the youth choir, she got saved.”

Derek wasn’t thrilled. “I was like, ‘What!? You don’t go and get saved like that!’” But that wasn’t all: she also tried to break up with him.

“I knew what I wanted from the Lord, and I knew he wasn’t yet there,” Sheron says.

But instead of accepting her rejection, Derek started attending church with her. Soon, he was convicted to return to Jesus, and in July of 1992, at age 22, he was baptized in the ocean.

Reluctant recruit

Derek and Sheron were married the next year. Seeing Derek’s bent for teaching, their church’s pastor asked him to start a Sunday School ministry. In Barbados, the average church size is 25 to 30 people. On the day that the Sunday School launched, 44 people showed up.f

Impressed by the number, Derek and Sheron’s pastor asked Derek to start a church. Derek agreed but admits he wasn’t ready to assume such a significant role.

“I was not prepared mentally,” Derek says. “I was not prepared emotionally. I was not prepared theologically.”

Derek’s new church closed after only two years. Derek and Sheron and their young daughter returned to their original church, but almost immediately Derek was asked to succeed a retiring pastor at another church. With his eye on a career in social work, Derek agreed to fill the role for two years.

Two years stretched into 11, during which Derek also earned his BS in Social Work, and he and Sheron added a son to the family. But something still wasn’t right.

Moody Theological Seminary graduate Derek Ward and family

 

“I felt like you know, this is not where I want to be,” Derek says. “I don't want to be a pastor.”

Derek soon stepped down. For the next six years, he served in his church and used his social work training to be a counselor and consultant. But in 2016, he started feeling like God was calling him to something new. He just didn’t know what.

Third time’s the charm

While doing a favor for a friend with a broken-down car, Derek met a recruiter for Harvest Bible Chapel’s church-planting team. Soon, Derek knew that God was calling him to plant a new Harvest Bible Chapel location in Barbados.

Sheron, on the other hand, wasn’t interested in another attempt at pastoral ministry. “She said, ‘Absolutely not. We're not doing that again,’” Derek says.

The recruiter continued talking to him, but Derek was adamant that, without Sheron’s support, he wouldn’t do it. Finally, the recruiter invited them to visit Harvest Bible Chapel in St. Vincent so they could see for themselves.

While Sheron had her own goal—to find every reason to say no—what happened was just the opposite.

 “I saw how they loved the Lord and how they served the pastor,” Sheron says. “And I said, ‘Okay, yes, we can do this.’”

Derek and his family spent six months in Chicago taking part in Harvest’s church-planting training. Back in Barbados, they launched a new church in September 2017. On the first Sunday, 270 people came. “We saw God moving in ways that we had never even imagined,” Derek says.

Today, weekly church attendance is steadily over 100, with more than 20 nationalities represented.

Applying God’s Word today

Now a pastor for the third time, Derek recognized his need for solid theological training. He learned about the online graduate program at Moody Theological Seminary (MTS) from classmates at Harvest’s church-planting training.

Moody Theological Seminary graduate Derek Ward and Wife

 

“When I first started Moody online, it was kind of a shock because of the level of work,” Derek says. But it didn’t take long for him to realize the immense value of the classes. “Moody refined my preparation for preaching,” he says.

In the Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program, Derek participated in 12 courses led by 12 different professors, each one teaching from a unique individual perspective. One of the most valuable skills he developed through his classes was the ability to study God’s Word and apply it to his listeners’ lives today.

“Scripture trumps culture, but culture is very important for application,” Derek says. “Moody has given me the ability to see what this writer was trying to communicate to the people at that time and how these principles can be transferred to now.”

Deeply thankful for how his Moody training helped him as a pastor, Derek plans to begin the new DMin in Biblical Preaching program at MTS soon.

“Moody has really refined what I do,” he says. “It has given me an appreciation for different genres of Scripture.”

At 16, Derek scoffed at all things church, promising he’d never go back. But today, he’s a pastor with a true shepherd’s heart—one who stops at the end of an interview about himself to pray for the writer on the phone.


About the Author

  • Anneliese Rider