Recently, I have heard a few people at church express their concern that my Doctor of Ministry work is leading to one inevitable outcome: my “moving on” to another pastoral position at some other church. If those few people had the courage to share their feelings with me directly, I can only imagine that others of you may be feeling the same thing privately.
Let me clear some things up for you: I have no intention of leaving Mt. Haley any time soon. I am not doing this Doctor of Ministry degree as a “career advancement” move. I’m doing these studies because I believe in this ministry, the Mt. Haley Church of God, and I want to enhance both my skills as a pastor and our ministry together as a congregation.
To be sure, there will come a day when I will say farewell to the Mt. Haley congregation. No pastor lasts forever, right? We are all human, after all. Even if I remain your pastor for my entire career, eventually I will retire (or die “in the saddle”!). Someday, this church will have a change in leadership.
All I am saying is this: that change in leadership is not yet on my radar.
I have entered into the “Spiritual Formation” track of this program. (My other option was the “Leadership Development” track, but for personal and professional reasons I opted for “Spiritual Formation” instead.) Spiritual formation is a fancy term that is all about deepening our relationship with the Lord. It has to do with spiritual disciplines, prayer, contemplation, a richness of life that is available to everyone. I truly feel “at home” when I read, think, and grow in these areas. Also, I see spiritual formation as a real growing edge for our congregation and our community; as we deepen our relationships with Jesus, we can position ourselves to bring a real message of good news to our community, in ways that are unique to us.
I met with part of my Local Support Team the other week. These are five individuals from our congregation (Nancy F., Ann, Don, Jeremy, and Isabella) who have agreed to walk alongside me during these years of study. They (and perhaps others of you!) will work with me as I develop the Professional Project which will be the capstone for this degree. This project will meet a specific need of our congregation. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.
During our discussion earlier this month, this team helped me recognize a phrase that describes where I would like for us to move as a congregation. The idea centers on a two-word phrase: “creating space.”
I want us to become a congregation that “creates space” for people to experience relationship with God. I want to see us use our time, energy, efforts, and resources to “create space” so that people can know the love of Jesus and be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. What does this “space” look like? I don’t know. But I know it centers on relationships: with God, with each other, and with people in our community who are not like us.
Here’s a brief summary of my Doctor of Ministry classes over the last year and a half, and how I see them tying into this idea of “creating space”:
- Introduction: This first class gave me an overview of the whole program and got me thinking about issues and ministry opportunities that are present at Mt. Haley.
- Hermeneutics: This was all about how people read, what happens when people read, and what a text (like the Bible) is really about. The class helped me realize that our engagement with the Bible is transformative because we experience change when we read and obey scripture. Reading scripture can help us “create space” for God to move in our lives.
- Reconciliation: This was especially about racial reconciliation, which is important given our national news lately. This class helped me to see that we need to “create space” for people in our community to talk about issues of race, gender, economics, religion, and even politics. These aren’t just global issues; they are neighborhood issues, too. What’s important is that we work toward reconciliation in all circumstances, which is God’s mission in the world.
- Evangelism: This class helped me rethink what “evangelism” means in the context of present-day American society. The emphasis is all on building relationships and on listening to each other’s stories. Evangelism isn’t about shouting “Jesus” at people; it is about “creating space” so Jesus can grow in the midst of our relationships. This class was the foundation for our current sermon series on evangelism, and it opened my eyes to “contemplative spirituality,” which is part of the “spiritual formation” track of this program.
- Contemplative Action: This is the class which I will attend in January 2016. I am reading the books for this class even now, and I am finding them to be incredibly rich and fulfilling. In short, “contemplative spirituality” is all about “creating space” in our lives for Jesus to shape us into his own image, for Jesus to speak peace and transformation into our hearts.
I hope this gives you a good idea of where I am in the Doctor of Ministry program. As I said before, this is our journey, and I want to share as much of this program as I can with you during our time together.