1 Question: Diversity in the Seminary?

Our recent Quarterly issue marked the 125th anniversary of North Park Theological Seminary. In it both Seminary Dean David Kersten and ECC President Gary Walter reflected on the seminary’s future. Toward ongoing conversation, we asked pastors and scholars associated with NPTS to respond to the following question: What implications does or should shifting demographics have on our seminary and its curriculum? We invite you to engage their thoughts – and add your own – in the comments section. You’ll find the comments link below the article title.

sheppard_phillis-isabella“Seminaries by nature have always been affected by the demographic shifts occurring in society – though often with resistance to change. A failure to change the curriculum and the ethos reveals our narrow vision of community. Curriculums and seminary communities have the power to form those preparing for ministry. When the presence of people previously excluded, based on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, does not inspire curricular and co-curricular transformation, then we have essentially failed to become communities of formation for ministry in a diverse and changing world. Our vision for NPTS and the world has to be expansive, loving, and just.” Phillis Isabella Sheppard, former NPTS professor of pastoral care, current chair of the faculty and associate professor of religion, psychology, and culture, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

profile_headshot_mtao“Shifting demographics spotlights the need for continual institutional reform.  Increased racial and gender diversity mandates a thorough internal review to ensure that curriculum, pedagogy, faculty standards, academic affairs, student life, etc., prioritize persons of color and women and treat intersectionality in positive and contextually appropriate ways.  This reform need not sacrifice NPTS’s core convictions arising from a socially-conscious, pietistic, Scandinavian evangelicalism. Rather, interrogating and challenging every area in which white supremacy and patriarchy have become embedded liberates NPTS to be more faithful to achieving its greatest potential while positioning it to remain a standard-bearer for effective theological education.” Mark Tao, NPTS graduate, ordained Covenant pastor, reentering call process, Chicago, Illinois

dr-willie-o-peterson“Hopefully there will be no pressure to trivialize NPTS curriculum for the sake of culture. My first reaction to this Forum question was to imagine the assumption that shifting from a homogeneous population to a diverse one presupposes an automatic curriculum overhaul. NPTS has a legacy of graduating servant leaders for the church. A mastery of the essentials remains requisite for vocational ministry no matter the generation or culture. All ministry candidates need a mastery of the Gospel’s message, and ministry methodology. Future generations will continue to need women and men who are masters of the right message and methods.” Willie O. Peterson, assistant to the superintendent, Midsouth Conference, Evangelical Covenant Church

deasy-cropped“If the purpose of seminary is to prepare all God’s people to minister to all the people whom God loves, then shifting demographics must have an impact. Theological education must be about teaching people to think, translate, and integrate what they are learning in order to serve the world they have been called to. This requires curriculum that is deeply connected to diverse communities of faith, faculty who are interculturally intelligent and engaged, students who are intellectually curious, and a denomination with a vision of theological education that prepares future ministers not for themselves but for all those who are to come.” Jo Ann Deasy, former NPTS dean of students, ordained Covenant pastor, director, Institutional Initiatives and Student Research, the Association of Theological Schools, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

How do you believe shifting student demographics should impact North Park Seminary? Join the conversation in the comments section (link located below title). We look forward to dialoging with you.

1 Question: Gains & Losses on the Vitality Pathway

To generate reflection in anticipation of our upcoming Quarterly issue on congregational vitality, we asked Covenant pastors serving in a variety of congregational contexts, In your experience with the vitality pathway, what were the primary gains for your congregation? The primary losses? We invite you to share your own experience in the comments section.

KJohnston“Wakefield is a predominantly white church in rural northeast Nebraska, averaging about ninety in Sunday attendance. The vitality pathway has given us tools for conversation about our life and health and an awareness that we are not alone in our journey. The biggest challenge has been taking conversations to the next level to discern when and how to bring about real change, while also being realistic about the pace of such change. Our congregation has gained a healthier and happier pastor because of resources and connections the pathway provides. In particular, our involvement in Navigate put me in relationship with a handful of other pastors in similar settings, with a similar passion. After three and a half years, we still gather regularly to encourage and support one another in our ongoing efforts to lead vital churches. As a young pastor, this collegial support has been priceless for me, and I think, by extension, has benefited our church as a whole.” Kelly Johnston, pastor, Wakefield Evangelical Covenant Church, Wakefield, Nebraska

tvs at ipeap - Copy (002)“Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico de Albany Park has an average Sunday attendance of seventy, representing ten different Latino nationalities. Sixteen months in the vitality process have taught our current leadership new concepts and shown them new faces of authority from the denomination interested in the healthiness of our church. As pastor of a once-divided church, I have been revitalized through personal relationships with vitality staff and fellow-pastors on the Navitage. This has enabled me to continue leading church leadership through a major reorganization, focused on the realization of our vision and mission. Developing a behavioral covenant has helped participants understand the danger of conversations that inhibit growth as well as what we need to do to cultivate a healthier climate. The journey has not resulted in any losses in our first-generation, Spanish-speaking congregation. However as we forge along, it is evident that congregational follow-up and subsequent progress depend on the proactiveness and the vitality of a pastor who is both bi-lingual and bi-cultural.” Tomás Sanabria, pastor, Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico de Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois

Chapman“Countryside Covenant Church is a 73 member, 115 year old monoethnic church located on a county highway in rural LaBolt, South Dakota. The vitality pathway has given us language and constructs to understand what type of church we are and what is happening around us. We were able to hold the course of the changes the Holy Spirit led us to when the effects of those changes created tensions within the church. Through the behavioral covenant we gained the ability to speak the truth in love and to recognize that disagreement and conflict are normal and natural. We gained forward thinking, visionary and creative people being drawn to our church. Our greatest loss was people who left the church before they were able to understand or accept why and how their church was changing. Through the Holy Spirit, the vitality pathway has brought this rural congregation a hope and a future.” Mark Chapman, pastor, Countryside Covenant Church, LaBolt, South Dakota

Bea Radakovich (002)“I served as solo pastor for Buffalo Covenant Church, a small (<100), inner-city, multicultural congregation from 2009 to 2012. Chief among the significant gains BCC experienced was the ability to acknowledge our current situation and trajectory as an at-risk congregation. Our work developing and implementing a behavioral covenant was transformative in how we related to one another. Finally, the pathway helped us cast a growing vision for mission to a very needy community. I would mention one significant one: we entered the pathway too late. After a thirty-year decline, the congregation simply did not have the people power, financial muscle, or time to sustain a complete turn-around. It was heartbreaking to see such growth in health and mission and yet to still have to lead the congregation through the process of closing its doors and becoming a Living Legacy congregation. Don’t wait until it’s too late! The earlier a culture of vitality is embraced, the better.” Bea Radakovich, administrative coordinator for Start and Strengthen Churches, Evangelical Covenant Church

s200_hans-erik.nelson“Foothill Covenant Church is a semi-suburban congregation in the heart of Silicon Valley. The vitality pathway has helped us name where we are and where we need to go. It has encouraged us to create a new, healthier ‘normal’ for our interactions with each other. Our renewed health fills us with energy and optimism that God’s Spirit will guide us into the future to become a missional church that embodies the life of Christ and his priorities. We have lost un-health, and some unhealthy elements in our body.” Hans-Erik Nelson, senior pastor, Foothill Covenant Church

Pastor Todd with tree“Community Covenant Church, Eagle River, Alaska, is located in a suburb of Anchorage. The twenty-year-old congregation has a Sunday attendance of approximately five hundred. The vitality pathway has empowered our congregation to participate in a shared journey of becoming a healthy missional church. Several persons, having no previous church involvement, moved from being spectators to participants on vitality teams and continue leading church ministries. Our greatest gain has been our experience of vitality as a movement of the Holy Spirit. This is evidenced through the impact of a dynamic prayer renewal that is sweeping through our church. We are seeing Christ’s hope and healing bring wholeness to those whose lives are being transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit! Our greatest challenge has been helping some members understand that congregational vitality is not a program that offers a quick fix but a Spirit-led journey of personal and corporate renewal that awakens vision and new possibilities. Consequently, there have been a few who have left the church because they desired more immediate results.” Todd Michero, senior pastor, Community Covenant Church, Eagle River, Alaska

What has your congregation gained and lost in pursuit of vitality? What can other communities learn from your experience? Let us know in the comments section (link under title above).

1 Question: (Why) Does the Church Need to Read the Bible Interculturally?

In his interview and article (“Reading the Bible Interculturally: An Invitation to the Evangelical Covenant Church and Evangelical Christianity”), New Testament professor Max Lee advocates the value of intercultural biblical interpretation for the evangelical church. To stimulate consideration of Max’s proposal – and the topic of our upcoming Quarterly issue – we asked Covenant pastors and leaders the following question: (Why) does the church need to read the Bible interculturally?

What do you think? Is an intercultural reading of Scripture desirable? beneficial? possible? How does or might this practice impact your reading, teaching, and preaching of Scripture? Join the conversation below.

Martinez“When the church of Christ reads the Bible interculturally, it acknowledges not only that Scripture was written for all people of the world but also that other cultures read it differently. In our exegetical ambition, we cannot claim a ‘one application fits all’ mentality. God is the creator of all races, ethnicities, and cultures; therefore, we should care about how others receive Scripture.” Danny Martinez, senior pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Spring Valley, California

Bros“Everyone brings presuppositions to their interpretation of the scriptural text. To approach the Bible with an intercultural perspective not only helps us to confront those particular ways of thinking that limit our understanding of Scripture; it can also help open us to knowing the great salvation story of God in new ways through the acknowledgement that we are not independent but interconnected in Christ.” Janice E. Bros, lead pastor, Abbey Way Covenant Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

d.edwards“We receive everything that we hear or read – even the Bible – through filters. Our filters are formed by our language, gender, culture, station in life, and other factors. In order to understand the Bible better, we need to interpret it within a broad community that encompasses people from a wide range of backgrounds – which is, after all, what the Body of Christ is.” Dennis Edwards, senior pastor, Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota (blog)

gary-walter2“If disciples make disciples to the ends of the earth, it only makes sense that from the ends of the earth there are reciprocal discipleship lessons. From everywhere to everywhere and from everyone to everyone is the global interchange implicit in the Great Commission.” Gary Walter, president, Evangelical Covenant Church

Yumi“Intercultural reading reveals the multiple layers of the text. In my own experience it has been tremendously beneficial to read the Bible from various cultural/socio-economic standpoints. When I worked among the trafficked children at the brothel town of PoiPet in Cambodia, John 3:16 promised the love of God for the young prostitutes being raped every night. The same passage declared the truth when I was speaking to the friends and families in Japan about God. Intercultural readings also highlight the indisputable universality of our God. Full appreciation for the transcultural nature of Scripture begins with the intercultural readings.” Yumiko Nakagawa, pastor, Highrock Covenant Church of Brookline, Brookline, Massachusetts

J.Rasheed1“When Scripture is read interculturally, the church understands God’s equality, justice, and abundant love for all humankind. We, the church, are empowered to appreciate the uniqueness of each cultural expression and eliminate racism and divisions from within the Body of Christ. God has designed all humanity to worship him, and Scripture manifests the splendor and glory he receives through the magnificence of diversity.

“The familiar parable of the good Samaritan highlights a point underlying this question: ‘How do you read it?‘ (Luke 10:26) Jesus answers the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ with the illustration of the needs of a ‘certain man’ (10:29-30). This is all very particular. Jesus’ call to ‘Go and do likewise…’ (Luke 10:37) is a call to not only read the text but to live it. And the church needs to live it.” Josef Rasheed, senior pastor, CrossRoads Covenant Church, DeSoto, Texas

LCarnes“Every person reads the Bible from their cultural perspective. Our churches are becoming increasingly diverse with people moving from one part of the country to another and people moving to America from every part of the world. For this reason we need to consider how other people read and understand the Bible.” Linnea Carnes,  retired, former pastor of Immanuel Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois

What do you think? Add your response in comments, using the link below the post title.