A Beautiful Culture of Excellence

By Grant May

Briarwood is a large and devoted Presbyterian congregation led by Harry L. Reeder. It is located in Vestavia Hills and has with a weekly attendance of around 3,800. The congregation is very diverse in age, and at a typical service, one would see many families, college students, and elderly couples worshiping passionately alongside each other. Their services are very organized, well-prepared, and worshipful. Briarwood was formed as a Bible study in 1960 by Rev. Frank Barker, and since its formation, Briarwood has always existed as a conservative evangelical Protestant congregation. In 1977 construction on their current facilities commenced, and then in 1988, the congregation had its first worship service in their lavish building on Acton Road (Bhamwiki). Briarwood has played a part in the creation of many ministries within the greater Birmingham area and the world, including Briarwood Christian School, Birmingham Theological Seminary, and Campus Outreach.

All “for God’s glory,” Briarwood is “committed to equipping Christians to worship God and reach Birmingham to reach the world for Christ.” This mission statement posted on the their website rings true for all of Briarwood’s services. Their passion for the word of God is evident in how their services are planned and crafted. Also evident is their concern for excellence. Through my study of Briarwood in the spring of 2023, I was very impressed at the attention to detail displayed through their multiple morning and evening services.

The services held at Briarwood are sophisticated and formal but include many modern elements. As far as their musical worship is concerned, Briarwood sings a mix of traditional hymns and modern ones from popular writers such as CityAlight, Indelible Grace, and Keith and Kristyn Getty. Worship scholar, L. Edward Phillips has identified the goal, or telos, of most “traditional” Protestant worship services as “sophisticated spirituality” (2022). This describes Briarwood’s worship and it differs from that of most American evangelical churches. Worship at Briarwood is not designed to meet the new congregant where they are, but to pull them to where the congregation is in its rich theology.

Briarwood Presbyterian Church, opened 1988. Photo: Birmingham Christian Family.

Simple Excellence

In every aspect of Briarwood’s services, there is a focus on excellence that became more evident to me as I attended their services. In my experience of the “church world,” excellence has, in some ways, become a synonym for rigidity or performance; however, when using this description of Briarwood’s services, I mean that Briarwood’s leadership focuses on doing things well and sees the planning and execution of their worship services as worship itself.

Since it is part of the Presbyterian Church in America, Briarwood’s worship is guided by the denomination’s Directory for the Worship of God contained in its Book of Church Order, chapters 47-63. Excellence is an important theme of the Directory. In Chapter 47, section 6 of the Book of Order, it is stated. that it must not be forgotten “that there is true liberty only where the rules of God’s Word are observed and the Spirit of the Lord is, that all things must be done decently and in order, and that God’s people should serve Him with reverence and in the beauty of holiness” (Book of Church Order 2022, 146, emphasis added). This direction is clearly exemplified in Briarwood’s worship services from start to finish. Throughout my study of Briarwood, I have been very impressed at how the leadership balances excellence and sincerity while still maintaining a deeply theological environment.

Ben Carson, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, speaking to the congregation of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in 2015. (AP/Butch Dill)

Sophisticated Spirituality

Based on my experience at Briarwood and the study I have done of the congregation, I believe the congregation experiences the presence of God through the intellectual understanding of the word of God. This assumption is informed by the attention that the Book of Church Order places on the communication and use of God’s Word, as well as the Bible being the central text of all aspects of Briarwood’s worship services. While the sophisticated spirituality of the congregation is the goal, I believe that the means is the congregation’s practical understanding and worship of God within the context of their everyday life. This is outlined formally in the Book of Church Order, but this sentiment is expressed through Briarwood’s sermons. In every sermon I observed, there was a practical aspect that was to be applied throughout the everyday life of the congregant. For example, in the 6 pm service on April 16, Stephen King, the young couples pastor, spoke about prayer using Luke 18:1-8 as his text. During his sermon, King discussed the theology of the passage by breaking down the point Jesus was making in his parable and analyzing the text for what it is saying; however, he closed his sermon with practical and informative points to apply what Jesus was teaching to a modern-day believer’s context. While a practical application is not abnormal for an evangelical pastor’s sermon or any sermon for that matter, Briarwood’s leadership approaches their sermon topics from the standpoint that the Word of God is enough. There were no catchy phrases, flashy points, or gimmicks what was presented was enough, and there was nothing that needed to be added.

I really respect the depth of Briarwood’s services. Since coming to college, I have developed an interest in “serious” church, and I would place Briarwood in that category. I come from a intensely modern evangelical background, and the services at Briarwood are very refreshing. They are not playful or silly; there are no unnecessary theatrics or ploys to get people to attend–it is just church. The services are conducted with a sort of self-awareness that I really admire, and everyone seems to be on the same page–clergymen and congregants alike.

Briarwood Presbyterian Church
2200 Briarwood Way, Birmingham, AL 35243
Services Observed:
Sunday Worship online March 26, 6 PM worship, April 16, 2023
Video Archives: Briarwood Presbyterian Church. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@briarwoodpresbyterianchurch
Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/BriarwoodPCA/videos
Affiliation: Presbyterian Church in America
Congregation established: 1960
Moved to current location: 1988

Grant May ‘25 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford
University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2021.


The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America: Includes All Amendments Approved up to and Including the 49th General Assembly, in Birmingham, Alabama June 21-24, 2022. 2022. The Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. https://www.pcaac.org/bco/.  

“About Us.” Campus Outreach Birmingham – About. Accessed April 21, 2023. https://cobirmingham.org/about.  

“Briarwood Presbyterian Church.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, April 17, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briarwood_Presbyterian_Church#cite_note-7.

“Our Heritage.” Briarwood Presbyterian Church, PCA, October 19, 2021. https://briarwood.org/visitors/about-briarwood/our-heritage/

Grant May ’25 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2023.

Published April 29, 2023.

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