category: Campus News

Carson-Newman honors alumnus with Sparks Award, touted as “difference maker”

Carson-Newman alumnus and Cleveland, Tennessee, resident, Jeff Lovingood, pictured center, is congratulated by Dr. Jonathan Akin, C-N’s vice president for Church Relations and Campus Ministries, left, and University President Charles A. Fowler upon receiving the 2023 Ken Sparks Award.

Carson-Newman University presented 1987 alumnus Dr. Jeff Lovingood with the 2023 Ken Sparks Award. The honor was announced during C-N’s Alumni and Friends Dinner on Nov. 14 at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The event was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. 

Named for long-time Carson-Newman football coach Ken Sparks, the award recognizes pastors or lay people within the church who exemplify the traits of the legendary coach. 

“When one considers the impact of Dr. Lovingood’s ministry and his faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ in being a difference maker in the lives of so many, it is truly inspiring,” said University President Charles A. Fowler. “What a privilege it is to call him one of ours and to present him with this honor. May the Lord continue working through his life and ministry.” 

Lovingood began playing football for the Eagles before multiple knee operations sidelined him indefinitely. Wanting to still be a part of the program, he continued serving as a student assistant to Coach Sparks. 

After graduating from Carson-Newman, he continued his education, receiving the Master of Arts degree in Religious Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Lovingood now serves as senior associate pastor at First Baptist Cleveland in Tennessee. Over the years, he has demonstrated having a heart for FBC Cleveland, serving three different stints at the church over the course of his ministry, first as Student Ministry staff, then as student pastor in the mid-1990s before returning in 2015 in his current position. The church is cited as the 5th largest church in Tennessee with an attendance of some 3,500. 

When he was not serving at FBC Cleveland, Lovingood stayed true to his passion of making a difference in the lives of youth. His service included youth ministry at several churches in Texas, Florida and Tennessee, including Knoxville’s First Baptist Church Concord. 

He served over a decade as senior associate pastor for Spiritual Development at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Under his leadership, the church was recognized as one of the top churches for children, student and adult baptisms. 

“It is hard to put into words just how influential Jeff Lovingood has been in next gen ministry in the state of Tennessee and beyond,” said Dr. Jonathan Akin, vice president for Church Relations and Campus Ministries. “When it comes to leadership and evangelism, few have had the impact of Jeff, especially when it comes to the next generation. He is a gift to Tennessee Baptists and Carson-Newman is incredibly proud of him.” 

Over the years Lovingood’s Christ-centered service carried over into his community involvement. Along with serving on Carson-Newman’s Board of Trustees for nine years, he was chaplain for the University of Tennessee football team under Coach Phillip Fulmer. 
Lovingood and his wife Rachel have three children.

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