Dean of Students Christine Vogel led us in a family-style arranged worship this week entitled, “Holy Waste.” Worshipers were arranged by table and at the end of the service, the Eucharist was partaken within our individual tables and presided by Joanne Lindstrom, our Director of Field Studies and Experiential Education.
Category: Dean of Students
In a recent daily meditation for the Center for Action and Contemplation, Father Richard Rohr wrote that “you never think yourself into a new way of living. You invariably live yourself into a new way of thinking.”
That reality has always been relatively clear to me – especially when it comes to faith and the gospels; but it became even more clear several weeks ago when I participated the 2012 Western National Leadership Training in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Futurist M. Rex Miller, author of The Millenium Matrix, was the keynote speaker for this annual conference and his topic was “Developing Leadership in Changing Times.”
Miller’s starting premise for both his book and presentation was as follows: In the beginning was the Word….[and] what happens when you change the container of the Word. In other words, the new ways (aka containers) in which and through which we communicate, are encouraging (even compelling) us to live into new ways of thinking about words and the Word, about institutions and about leadership.
He took us on a brief tour of the cultural containers in which both religion and society have operated (terms and dates coined by Miller):
In the Oral culture – aka ancient (? BC- 1500), the credibility of the word was that of the person who spoke it.
In the Print culture – aka Modern (1500-1950), we began to see the word as idea, more than as relational.
In the Broadcast culture – aka Post Modern (1950-2010), the word became experiential;
In the Digital culture – aka Convergent (2010 –), the word both becomes and facilitates conversations.
The implications for society and certainly for faith and religion are downright mind boggling, at least for someone like me, who didn’t become conversant with digital until I was already into adulthood . The digital age has changed our understanding of what it means to be relational, accessible, and communal. We are indeed living into new ways of thinking that are happening so quickly that we barely have time to adjust to one adaptation before another has taken its place.
When Miller showed us a brief video from YouTube, I was struck by how much I still have to learn. I encourage you to open the link and let this speak for itself. Ask yourself if you could have imagined (if you are not a late Gen-Xer or a Millenial) such a scenario.
The digital age is changing the way we lead, the way we think, and the way in which we see the world. Miller points out that “the changing technology of communication has also fundamentally altered the character of the church” (p. 140), despite the slowness (and even reluctance) of many to live into this new way of being. As we become familiar with and integrated into what it means to live in an interactive culture, we will embrace these opportunities for teaching and learning, for worship, leadership and communication.
The Gospel of Matthew reminds us that we cannot put new wine into old wineskins, lest the wineskins break, the wine be spilled and both wine and wineskins be ruined (9:17). The digital era – and the emerging convergent church — are the new wine, searching for appropriate spiritual and institutional structures that will flex and expand to embrace “the connected intimacy and simultaneity of the [new] digital culture” (Miller, p. 143).
Are you ready?
Today we continue on our in depth look at relationships and how life is affected by being in seminary. A large portion of our students, both commuter and residential, have families. As such, people with spouses and children face a unique set of circumstances while studying to fulfill God’s call on their lives. I’m no expert on the subject, so I’ve asked two fellow class mates to share their perspectives – Jeff Courter and Ken Crews. Jeff and Ken are both second year students- I have asked them to share because they have had experiences living on and off campus, being full and part time, having a spouse also in school, etc. I feel like their two stories help to show what it’s really like for folks with families to study at McCormick.
First up is Jeff:
Living in the residential building with my wife and children has been interesting, to say the least, especially now that my wife is also going to school. Five students in one family – someone please stop the madness! Books and papers are everywhere. We don’t have family meals – we graze, like sheep. We have become a small band of hunter-gatherers, foraging in the refrigerator in search of nourishment to keep us alive, stopping at exotic stores like Aldi’s or Save-A-Lot to stock up on food to be consumed without having to be cooked. We have acquired a taste for raw produce.
How does this lifestyle affect my seminary studies? My apartment life has become a lab experiment in communal tribal living…this living arrangement is intentional and happenstance at the same time. We live in a mixture of organization and chaos…It is not painless, and we have each seen more challenges in our lives than we have ever undergone until now. Negotiating conflicting schedules, adjusting to using public transportation instead of driving in suburbia, now being connected more by school breaks on the calendar than by family events – this year has added new stresses to our family life. Yet each one of us looks forward to a brighter future, each of us anticipating doing what we love to do in new careers. After all, that’s the promise and premise of education – to enable and equip us to fully engage in a vocation, in the fullest sense John Calvin used that term.
For me personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed living with and among colleagues and peers. I get to discuss things that most Americans avoid – spiritual issues! It’s a little like being part of an underground culture, without the persecution and oppression (thank God for that!). For me, the community of faith is essential. It’s what we are called to build. It’s the embodiment of the Kingdom of God in our world. It’s why I came here, and what I long to help develop and create.
This has been an exciting time for me. I have learned from women and men who have great learning, who have devoted much of their lives to research and are handing that experience down to us - not only on subjects like theology, history and languages, but also essential knowledge about practicing spirituality and self-care, and understanding human relationships in pastoral ministry. McCormick’s instructors are some of the most interesting and caring people I have ever met.
I have also met some of the most enthusiastic and committed men and women as fellow students. My hope for both our denomination and the greater Christian Church has grown, due to seeing and hearing from my peers. What excites me is being able to share my vision, and hear the vision of others, which are often similar to mine. It’s like “we get it” together, seeing our responsibility to social justice, to the transforming good news of Jesus Christ, to our stewardship of God’s creation, and to a greater sharing of love and fellowship to the world. These students are my partners in a Christian movement of transformation of our world, from what it is to what God wants it to be. While our callings and paths may diverge after this time together, we are linked in this great endeavor, and will carry one another from this place in our hearts and memories.
This is a transitional time for all of us. Many come to McCormick with new relationships – new families, new spouses, new children…many come here after relationships end. We also establish new relationships while we are here! But most of us will go forth from here to someplace else; our time together is temporary, and we understand this.
Even so, whether permanent or temporary, life is all about relationships. People will come and go in our lives, some for longer periods of time than others, some affecting us more than others. Some become relationships we call family, and some become our spiritual family. McCormick is an institution devoted to helping us grow and develop our relationships with God and one another. To me, this is the most important lesson we can ever learn. Our relationships define us, and affect our families, our churches, our societies, and our world. Even temporary relationships are important, and can change us permanently. Relationships are like any other growing and living thing – they must be nourished and attended to in order to thrive. We must be intentional in our interactions with one another, in order to make our relationships positive ones.
My family is changing, as all families do. Two of my children are in college, and my youngest is applying for college. My wife has returned to college. Seminary and college are each a preparatory and transitory phase in most of our lives. My children are moving on with their lives. My wife and I will move on from here as well when I am finished with my studies. While this is not my last year, the day is coming when I will finish and leave McCormick. I will likely grieve having to leave, because I love being here. But this is a preparatory phase, not a final destination. There is a larger objective for us outside McCormick.
I sometimes think of McCormick like a sort of cyclotron – a particle energizer which accelerates subatomic particles towards the speed of light. The more I learn, the more I accelerate, and the more energy I absorb, it seems. Sometimes I am anxious to burst forth and do what I came here to be equipped to do – ministry! I love being here, but I am also ready to be sent forth, like the disciples of Jesus. The day for me to go forth is coming quickly – life moves fast, as my family life has shown me.
Meanwhile, I am trying to make the most of every minute, every learning experience, and every relationship I have while I am here. The more energy I absorb, the more I will take with me.
Last, but certainly not least, is Ken:
What was I thinking when I responded to God’s call to attend seminary? The reading assignments alone can be a full-time job (thanks Ken and Bob!), not to mention actually having to attend class, write papers, try to conjure up some creative idea for a PIF project, and make time for the occasional study break! Now add two children (Owen 9, Evelyn 5), a wife (Heather, you can ask her age!), a dog (the amazingly lazy, Sasha), a part-time job, and a commute to and from Indiana everyday to the mix and you have yourself quite the adventure. While all of this creates a rather demanding time schedule, I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the riches in this world. Why? Because, I am precisely where God wants me to be. I am able to engage in deep conversation with wonderful friends in a unique community, and at the end of the day be delighted when my daughter, Evelyn, finds it comical that she and dad are both learning their letters – English for her, and Greek for me!
Be assured, this adventure is only possible because of the support of many amazing family and friends. It has meant that my wife, Heather, had to return to full-time work outside of the home because I left a well paying job to follow God’s call. She never hesitated, and has always supported me in my journey. It has required many family and friends to sacrifice time to look after our children as I pursue my studies and Heather works full-time, and it has required that my children sacrifice time with mom and dad while we’re both away from the home more. Sometimes it has even required professors and EA’s to sacrifice classroom space when my kids had to sit through class with me (thanks Paula, Katie, and Sylvia!!!).
Although attending McCormick has required quite a bit of sacrifice, it has been so much more rewarding. My family and I have grown closer to one another because of all the change in our lives, and we have all grown closer to God as we move along this path together. We are always discovering new ways in which we come together as a family, and new ways in which God is working in our lives and providing for us as we move along the journey. Our journey through seminary as a family is proof that God uses many unique people in many unique ways to accomplish the work of divine love.
May God bless and keep you all, and your families (whatever shape they take!)….
So there we have it! If you have questions pertaining to your family, don’t be afraid to ask the friendly Admissions office workers, or even our dean of Students.
We’re not done with this series yet, so keep checking back for more students responding to what it’s been like for them and their relationships while in seminary!
Peace and Blessings,
Every week the Alban Institute, an organization dedicated to fostering healthy clergy and congregations, sends out an on-line newsletter filled with pithy bits about life, church, ministry and leadership. This week’s focus on healthy practices features an excerpt from David Edman Gray’s book Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life. Edman offers 10 practices to follow and they represent a reminder of what each of us – clergy and laity – needs to do if we are to make informed and discerning choices about how to balance the myriad competing demands in our lives.
Rather than trying to restate what Edman has already said so well, I have appended the 10 practices– along with his explanations. He says that they have made a difference in his ability to achieve balance in his life and work.
1. Begin each day with a centering phrase. I have found that saying a centering phrase over and over first thing in the morning helps me begin the day with centeredness and balance. Some mornings I wake up feeling stressed and pressed. Maybe I went to bed the night before feeling anxious, or I was awakened by the children several times during the night, or I had a bad dream. But if I say my phrase over in my mind several times before I get out of bed in the morning, my head feels much clearer, and I feel more positive and less anxious.
2. Pray daily. When you are frustrated with balance issues, pray. When you are upset at your work situation or boss, pray. When you are frustrated with your kids, pray. Prayer is a critical practice when it comes to work-life balance. It is the original, calming practice that Jesus taught and that connects us to God. Prayer calms, refocuses, and provides the spiritual strength we need to find balance in our days.
3. Care for your body. God has given you one body for this life. Caring for it allows you to do your work and to care for others. Eating healthfully is important. Especially when we are traveling or working hard, we tend not to eat so well, but our diet contributes greatly to our health. Exercise has great rejuvenating effects. My daily exercise is critical to my well-being. When I am feeling stressed and out of balance, few things can rebalance me like exercise.
4. Simplify your life. Jesus and his disciples lived simply. Read Mark 6:6-9:
“Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” Jesus had access to all the riches of heaven but chose to live simply and called on his disciples to do the same. Figure out what is most important to you in life and hold on to it dearly. Let the rest go.
5. Come to terms with your relationship with money. Our desire to accumulate and spend can spur us to work extreme hours in order to make more money. We must develop a habit of budgeting our money and living within our means. We can easily get caught up in the culture of consumption to the point where we feel we must work as much as possible in order to afford the lifestyle we think we want. If we can appreciate the need for and benefits of money while watching our expenses and not allowing the desire to make money to become our dominant value, then we can more easily make the choice to spend our time on activities other than work.
6. Designate a quiet space in your home for rest. It is important to have a space in your home to which you can retreat when feeling pressed. This is particularly essential when your family includes young children and the house can become loud. The space doesn’t have to be large, but it does need to be a sanctuary for you.
7. Invite the Holy Spirit into each activity. We are at our best when we invite God’s Spirit into each activity of our lives. I have a friend who has helped me think of my work and family lives as more integrated with my spiritual life. She has encouraged me to think of parenting as a spiritual time, not as a distraction. That way, each movement of my parenting can be a spiritual experience. Thinking of the routines of life as spiritual practices can make these moments sacred and can allow us to be more fully present with children and spouses, rather than viewing routines like child care as obligations one has to get through.
8. Go on retreats and vacations. Rest is important enough that we should also set aside significant periods of time dedicated to it. Our bodies, minds, and spirits need to lie fallow, like farmland, in order to be refreshed. Taking a week or two of vacation can help do that. However, 43 percent of Americans do not even take all their vacation days. Those are important opportunities for rest, and we should make the most of them.
9. Commit to spending regular time with family and friends. Having good times with family and friends can balance our work and caregiving responsibilities. Meals are important times to connect with family. Having dinner with family can be difficult for pastors and other congregational leaders who have evening meetings, so we need to find other times for fun with family and friends. Whenever possible, I try to come home for dinner before returning to church for meetings. I meet monthly with a group of men for fellowship. I participate in a monthly clergy support group. They make a great difference for me. The perspective and support we gain from relationships can make such a difference when we are stressed, overwhelmed, and trying to balance work and life.
10. Take a break each evening before bed. There is an old saying, “Don’t go to bed angry.” I think we should add, “Don’t go to bed right after doing work.” For many years I worked late into the evening after my family was asleep, sometimes past midnight. However, I got to the point where I knew I needed more sleep. After my twin girls were born, I decided to put a limit on my evening work. My grandfather used to say, “This is enough for today. That’s what the good Lord made tomorrow for.” I have made those words my evening mantra.
I readily admit that I’m far from perfect in following all of these practices with absolute regularity, but I do my best to stick to several without fail. Erdman quotes author Annie Dillard who said, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”
How are you spending the days of your one precious life?
Dr. Brad Braxton is preparing to leave McCormick after serving for the past two years as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. He is a scholar, a preacher, a tireless advocate for issues of social justice and an engaging human being. He’s been a dynamic presence in our community and will certainly be missed by many of us. He is starting a new position at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in the Lois Craddock Perkins Endowed Chair of Homiletics, the first African American to hold this position. His responsibilities include a full teaching load, mentoring students and working with his faculty colleagues. He will do all this while living with his family in Baltimore, Maryland where he has begun serving as the founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, a new congregation located in the same city where he served in his first pastorate nearly 20 years ago.
Founding a new church was not something that happened overnight. Brad first envisioned The Open Church more than a decade ago (see CURE Blog post from April 17, 2012). Over the years, he has employed a great deal of thought, collaboration with others, frequent consultations with his family and the “wisdom circle” of clergy and other partners who have served as touchstones for him throughout his ministry. That, plus the serendipity of being called to SMC made it possible for him to launch the dream at this point in his life.
I asked Brad what advice and counsel he would offer someone who wanted to start a new church. What did he believe was at stake in such an undertaking? How does one begin at the beginning, and at the same time, begin with the end in mind? Brad believes you should know the goal of your leadership in starting a new church endeavor; you should he asserts, know “where you are going beyond your efforts to be ‘professionally holy.’ “ He reduced his advice to five essentials:
First, starting a church requires a sense of purpose. Brad believes you must “find that thing for which you are willing to die.” In other words, you have to be willing to take a risk and leave your old life behind you. It’s important, he adds, to have some knowledge of your own personality type and be comfortable in your own skin, and it helps to have a “questioning personality” that isn’t satisfied by the status quo or easy answers.
Second, don’t ignore the fact that structures of authority are being flattened and democratized; it’s important to recognize that you will continually need to hold democratization and collaboration in tension, along with your own understanding of pastoral authority. For Brad, pastoral authority is ultimately the bottom line; so he’s encouraging his leadership team at The Open Church to create a governing structure where there won’t ever be a need for him to break a tie vote. If that happens, he notes, his deciding vote will make it clear who’s in charge.
Third, you need to make certain that your family support system (in whatever configuration that takes) is part of your thinking and conversation from the start. The process of starting a new church (or revitalizing an old one) is time consuming, laborious and can be energy draining. It’s critical that your family be on board with you. It’s one of the reasons why he is adamant about supporting models of family life and church life that “promote fullness.”
Fourth, you need to ask yourself if this is the right time in your life and ministry to take this step. Where are you in your professional development that would make this the time to launch such an endeavor?
Fifth, and critically important: Ask yourself if you have the resources (or commitment from others for the resources) necessary to make this work. Give substantive and careful thought to what a start up budget for your dream church would look like. And don’t forget to take into account issues of space, necessary equipment, legal incorporation, liability insurance and salaries (for others, if not for yourself).
No one ever said that ministry was easy. Starting a new church is even less so. But if that leadership endeavor calls out to you, find a way to begin. As Brad said in a lecture he delivered last year atFourth Presbyterian Church: “Leadership is neutral; it doesn’t make any difference until you shift it into forward or reverse.” Could a new church start be the way your leadership is taking you forward?
Well, McReaders, this is the last blog you’ll get from me. Wes will be taking over soon, and I’ll be done with seminary after 3 glorious years.
Thinking about the past 3 years is a bit overwhelming. As I’m leaving seminary, I’m not one of those prefect Presbyterians who passed all her ordination exams in the first try; I’m not walking out of seminary with a job in hand, ready to become ordained; I’m not in the minority. I am, once again, in the majority. I’m walking out of seminary with debt, no job, very little idea of where I am going to live, and a car that requires prayer each time to drive it down the Dan Ryan (which, given the shape it’s in, I don’t go down the Dan Ryan with it if I can help it). It’s not that I don’t have skills, I have mad skills. It’s just, there really aren’t many jobs out there. Recently, several people have asked me, “So, if you had to do it over, would you do it all again the same?”
Yes. I’d do it all over again and I would not do it differently. Here are a few reasons why:
1. I met Megan, Alex, TC, Sylvia, Tracy, Jon, Joe, Holly, Kim, Jason, Bong, Lilit, Ching Boi, Tyler, Ken, Lora, Matt, Jenny, Hannah, Amber, Molly, Han Kook, Dave, Kristi, Meredith, Kristin, Robyn, Tina, Karl, Michele, Vimary, Abby, Nathy, Nancy, Jeanine, Sergio, Kristin, Deanna, Mo, Stephanie, Melva, Kathi, Wes, Liz, Albert, Mike, Monica, Daniel, Sarah, Sarah, Katie Jo, Kate, Kirk, Jamie, Matt, Allison, Casey, Phil, Jeff, JC, Honna, Jake, Kelly, Megan, Sarah, Melvina, Delores, Kay, Sheila, Chris, Brenda, Peter, Heather, Jamie… the list is endless. This only includes the people that I could think of in 5 minutes and doesn’t include staff, professors, students from other seminaries, people in the community… Need I say more?
2. The friendly folks at the Starbucks at 55th and Woodlawn know my name.
3. I now know that Joel is an actual book in the Bible.
4. Ted Hiebert taught me Hebrew and Sarah Tanzer taught me Greek.
5. Janaan Hashim and Bob Cathey answered all my ridiculous questions and never told me to shut up. Ever.
6. I got to be Lib Caldwell’s EA.
7. If you ask nice enough, Luis will put on his Dracula cape.
8. Christine Vogel lets me cry in her office and Frank Yamada lets me cry in the halls.
9. Dr. Daniels made singing “Welcome Table” my favorite communion tradition.
10. Deb Mullen helped me accept who I was on my first day of classes.
11. Joann Lindstrom has a puppy in her office.
12. Sam Evans talks in a French accent when he’s in the office.
13. David Crawford is my friend and I know how hard he works for the seminary and the people there.
14. My classmates are fabulous dog-sitters, bird watchers, fish sitters, and plant waterers.
15. Melody Knowles taught me how to write a better paper.
16. Ted Hiebert made me re-think how I read the Bible.
17. Jennifer Ayers made me appreciate food and be thankful that I have it.
18. Ken Sawyer.
19. Ken Sawyer’s Mustache.
20. David Esterline’s wife’s cookies.
21. Knowing that Priscilla Rodriguez is always laughing at my facebook posts and understands my existential angst and will always have a hug for me.
22. Christine Vogel has a constant and steady supply of chocolate in her office.
23. No one reads the Psalms quite like Nanette Banks.
24. Dr. Frank Thomas taught me how to preach like I was on fire and then he made us go play in the snow.
25. Joann Lindstrom has my back.
26. Deb Kapp is an awesome cook at Iron Chef.
27. Monica actually smiles, you just have to know how to make her do it.
28. Natasha thinks I’ve already graduated.
29. I sort of have teacher crushes on Bob Cathey, Ted Hiebert, Lib Caldwell, Melody Knowles, and Janaan Hashim.
30. Community meals are always better food than I have in my apartment.
31. David Crawford often confuses me and Abby Mohaupt.
32. Boundaries don’t actually exist at McCormick despite Joann Lindstrom’s attempts at educating us.
33. Kimchi and Chapchae are two of my new favorite foods.
34. After being her EA, Abby Mohaupt and I now know that Lib Caldwell drinks Diet Coke at break and her Starbucks order is a grande unsweetened passion fruit iced tea.
35. I learned more about YAV’s than I ever imagined was possible.
36. I learned that Frank Yamada used to be in a band.
37. Anna Case-Winters lets me call her A.C. Dub.
38. Ken Crews can eat ungodly amounts of fast food in one sitting.
39. Deacon retreats aren’t the same without Christine Vogel present.
And last but not least…
40. The University of Chicago has a library. Thank God, or none of my work would have ever gotten done.
Well, that’s it. There are other things I could have talked about on here, but this is all I had time for, I have to finish a project for Bob Cathey. Go figure. Graduation, here I come!
Peace – Shelley D.
As the number and size of many churches in the mainline denominations decline, student enrollment at seminaries has been flat or in decline and many seminarians are considering alternate forms of ministry as they do their vocational discernment and post-seminary planning. A number of our students choose to do their field education placement in an agency or faith-based ministry rather than in a congregation, because they are thinking more intentionally about non-traditional forms of ministry. Those who are in dual-degree programs, such as the M. Div./M.S. W., often do two field placements – one in a church setting and the other in an agency setting (thus satisfying the requirements of both the seminary and the educational institution where they are pursuing the social work degree)
Faith In Place is one such ministry. Begun in 1999, it was initially a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and its goal was “to gather religious leaders in the Chicago region in dialogue, prayer and action on issues of environmental sustainability.” The Reverend Clare Butterfield, an ordained pastor and trained attorney is the founder and Executive Director of Faith In Place.
She offered some good suggestions at a panel discussion held on campus last semester. From her perspective as the director of a non-profit, faith based entity, Rev. Butterfield spoke about what it takes to start and sustain such a ministry. The following summarizes the points she made; they provide some “go with your gut” guidelines if you’re considering any form of entrepreneurial or evangelistic ministry (which could, of course, include a new church start — but more about that in another blog).
- Follow your passion; if you don’t love what you’re doing you probably won’t succeed. Starting a new ministry is not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged. So think long and hard before you take the plunge.
- If you can’t start your own ministry; hook into an existing organization, if one already exists, and find ways to add your gifts and skills to the mix.
- Define your ministry and mission carefully, and then stick to it. If it’s not your mission, don’t do it.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of your ministry regularly. Part of an ongoing evaluation may include letting go of programs that aren’t really working.
- Learn to “play well” with others.
- When you volunteer your time, be realistic about who may be getting paid for what you have offered to do for nothing.
- Stay positive about your ministry in public (you can grumble all you want in the privacy of your own office). Donors and potential donors will tend to walk away from you if they sense your negativity.
- Have a group of friends with whom you can honestly talk with about the downsides and stumbling blocks you are experiencing in your ministry.
- Find security (and pleasure) in things other than your job.
- Recognize your blessings every day.
Happy Unusually Warm Thursday!
Last December, a few members of the McCormick community were invited to sit and have a chat with Different Drummers, a web-based program produced by CBS here in Chicago.
Lets have a look: Click to view (link opens in a new window!)
Melva Lowry, Angela Ryo (whom you might remember from a post last September), and Dean of Students Christine Vogel talk about what specialized ministry is and why it’s important. McCormick has a long tradition of preparing students for all aspects of ministry, including parish and specialized. Through McCormick’s unique degree programs, which include Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Discipleship Development and Master of Arts in Urban Ministry, students gain the tools necessary to become successful in anything and everything God is calling them to do!
See you next week!
Bob Dylan sang, “He who isn’t busy being born, is busy dying.” Those words, surely a variation on Ecclesiastes 3, were relevant when he wrote them and they’re even more fitting today. They’re a call and a challenge to people, churches and yes, to seminaries and theological education.
Being born takes effort and time. Having given birth twice, I know full well that the process isn’t painless or easy. And in most cases, it takes a lot of time. Do we expect a spiritual birthing process to be any easier? We are impatient people who prefer instantaneous results for our efforts. We are also easily discouraged when things don’t go according to plans and our preconceived expectations and wishes. When something takes too long or, conversely, when something changes too quickly, alarm bells go off in our heads.
McCormick Theological Seminary is in the process of giving birth to something new. We have a new president, a new sense of energy, and a diverse student body that is excited to be in the midst of a community that challenges them to grow in faith and understanding of what it means to be called to ministry in the 21st century.
The rapid shifts taking place in our churches are calling us to rethink our own place in theological education. How do we best prepare these emerging leaders, both lay and ordained? How do we hold the emerging future in a time of chaos, and remind people of their roots even as we open up God’s Word to them in new ways?
Some days the questions are unnerving. But then I remember that God, who is eternal, strengthens all of us for faithful living in the midst of this birthing process. God’s word is bringing us to new life and a new day, even though we do not yet know how long it will take or what it will look like. God’s presence and steadfast love will call us to “keep busy being born.”
Welcome to my little corner of McCormick Seminary — which is NOT actually a corner, but an office in the middle of the second floor of the seminary building – a veritable Grand Central Station of activity. It’s never a boring place, rarely a quiet place, and it’s filled with the comings and goings of staff members and administrators, students, faculty, prospective students and all manner of guests and visitors – all engaged in some form of active ministry, learning and faith formation for leadership in the church of today and tomorrow. Which is what I hope this blog will be about – leadership, spiritual formation, and what it means to take this uncertain, yet incredibly awesome journey into ministry.
And that makes me think of Moses and his progressive formation as a leader of the Israelites (a logical segue). Having crossed the Red Sea to escape from Pharoah and his armies, Moses and the whole congregation “journey[ed] by stages , as the Lord commanded (Ex. 17: 1b),” moving through the perils and challenges of their trek through the wilderness.
At first glance, Moses doesn’t appear to have qualities that would make one think he’s a natural leaders – he’s not a genius; he’s not an eloquent speaker – after all, he stutters; he’s on the lam after having killed an Egyptian who was beating “a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk (Ex. 2: 11).” And when God calls out to him from the burning bush, he is filled with doubts about his ability to do what God asks of him.
Yet Moses does have an alertness to the presence of God; he turns aside to look, listen and discern what God commands, and he demonstrates a willingness (after much protestation and many excuses) to take on the responsibility that God lays upon his shoulders. He agrees to put himself at risk to do what God says needs to be done, and to serve God when he might have preferred to do anything other than…… Moses drags his heels, but ultimately he understands that the best and most faithful ways to lead others is by serving – by always listening for God’s leading, and not his own desires.
As you consider seminary, or journey through seminary, or continue to practice whatever ministry you believe God has called you to follow, ask yourself what you’re willing to risk. What things need doing that are the things of God? Are you willing to be God’s humble servant, even more than you are determined to be God’s chosen leader?