Last weekend, I attended a conference in Rockville, Maryland – where it was sunny and hot, nearly 90 degrees! – hosted by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. As their website says, “Shalem is grounded in Christian contemplative spirituality yet draws on the wisdom of many religious traditions.” I would guess, simply based on observation, that the vast majority of the 150+ attendees to this conference are Christians, but they practice Christianity in a way that is a bit different than how you and I usually practice it.

I attended this conference in order to fulfill a requirement for my current Doctor of Ministry “independent study” course. I designed this course a few months ago, in consultation with my supervising professor, in order to propel me forward into the Professional Project which will be the culmination, the capstone, of my doctoral work. According to the seminary’s instructions, my independent study was to include an “immersion experience” which would connect to this Professional Project and, at the same time, would stretch me in some meaningful, significant ways. Last weekend’s Shalem conference did exactly that. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Reconciliation is the process of restoring friendly relationships between individuals and communities. It is something that is desperately needed in today’s world, from the streets of Ferguson to the mountains of Afghanistan, from the hallways of public schools to the pews of local churches, from county courthouses to family living rooms.

Reconciliation is a one-word description of the work of God through Jesus Christ. This passage from 2 Corinthians is very important:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NIV)

You might recognize the last verse as the inspiration for the opening words of “Jesus Messiah,” a worship song that we sing with some regularity at Mt. Haley.

Biblical reconciliation – making things right between God and us, and between each other – is the theme of the Anderson University School of Theology, where I am currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree. In mid-April, I spent a week on Anderson’s campus taking forty hours’ worth of intensive classes for my spring course; the emphasis of this course was all on biblical reconciliation.

In preparation for this course, I read a number of books and articles, as with any graduate-level class. One book in particular stood out: “Mobilizing for the Common Good: the Lived Theology of John M. Perkins.” This book is an anthology of essays about John M. Perkins, an African-American Christian leader who has worked tirelessly in his 85 years of life for the causes of God’s kingdom, social justice, and community development. Perkins founded the Christian Community Development Association in the late 1980s and has promoted “relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution” as three Christian principles that can transform local communities.

I did not know anything about John Perkins before taking this class. Our discussions about his urban ministry efforts reminded me of our time in inner-city Indianapolis. In a way, the issues facing urban areas – issues like poverty, drug abuse, homes in disrepair, and socio-economic segregation – appear in rural settings like ours, as well. This class gave me much food for thought.

On Friday, on my way home after classes ended, I stopped in nearby Muncie to have dinner with an old college friend of mine. She and her husband live in a depressed neighborhood with their two young children. I had not seen this friend for about a decade, so we had quite a bit of catching up to do.

I asked my friend about her church life, which I know is very important to her. She talked about how the core group of church leaders (including her family) moved into that Muncie neighborhood several years ago as a stabilizing force in a very transitional community. She spoke about how everything their church does is aimed toward the goal of reconciliation. And then she asked me a question that made me do a double-take:

“Have you ever read anything about John Perkins?”

Why, yes, actually I had just spent that entire week learning about John Perkins. And now I was sitting in the home of a friend whose church was putting into practice the principles of Perkins’s ministry.

It was like reading a book about baseball and then being thrust into the dugout of the home team during a regular-season game.

What kinds of reconciliation are needed in our community today? How can we partner with God (and with others) to accomplish this great work? It is, after all, the work that Christ left us to do in this world.

A voice from the past calls us into the future.  A journey begins with a simple yet profound ceremony.  We lift our eyes to the hills ahead of us.  Those intimidating mounds must be crossed.  We realize that our help comes not from the thrill of hill climbing but from God, the maker of the hills, the guide along our journey (Psalm 121).

I have begun a professional academic program at the Anderson University School of Theology.  In four years, I will earn a Doctor of Ministry degree (see these preliminary thoughts).  My DMin degree is an applied degree that will be intimately tied to the life of Mt. Haley Church of God.  The program culminates in a “professional project” in which we will work together to address a ministry-related issue in the life of the church.

This is our journey, not just mine.  I intend to keep you updated on my classes, readings, ruminations, and dreams throughout this process.  Soon, I will ask a few of you to serve on a “local support team” which will work closely with me over the next four years and will help give shape to my DMin project.  (Would you be interested in that responsibility?)

For three weeks a year, I will be in Anderson for intensive classes with the eight other students in my cohort.  The first of those weeks is taking place right now.  I want to share with you a wonderfully meaningful event that took place at the end of the seminary’s chapel service this past Tuesday.

All of the new DMin students (including me) and new master’s degree students were asked to come forward and kneel at the chapel’s altar rails.  The faculty and other mentors anointed us and prayed God’s blessing on our upcoming journeys.  And then we were given a small, silver cross.cross

Take a close look at this image.  Look at the date and the signature.  This was signed on September 2, 2003 by Dr. Gilbert Stafford, one of my mentors and seminary professors.  (Dr. Stafford was pastor of East Ashman Church of God in Midland prior to his time as seminary professor in Anderson.)  He was endlessly enthusiastic and deeply theological; he inspired, challenged, and transformed his students in remarkable ways.  He was a writer, a thinker, a discussion partner, and a worship leader.  And he prepared small, silver crosses like this to give to incoming students at the beginning of their time in the seminary.

Dr. Stafford died of bone cancer in 2008.  I was working on my Master of Divinity degree in Anderson then.

Just recently, the seminary’s leaders discovered these signed crosses in a long-forgotten file and decided to give them to this year’s incoming students, including me.

Where were you on September 2, 2003?  I was beginning my second year of math studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  I was 23 years old and was not married.  I had not yet begun seminary studies, let alone service as a pastor.

Somehow, across the years, my life keeps intersecting with Dr. Stafford’s life in meaningful ways.  I can only hope that my ministry intersects with his just as meaningfully.

A voice from the past calls us into the future.  A journey begins with a simple yet profound ceremony.  Stand on the shoulders of yesterday’s giants.  Can you see what the future holds?

Will you join me on this journey?

Pastor David

This fall, I am planning to begin a four-year journey: the Doctor of Ministry program at the Anderson University School of Theology. This is the seminary at which I earned a Master of Divinity degree before coming to serve at Mt. Haley. The Doctor of Ministry (or DMin for short) is a professional, applied, and terminal degree. I have discussed the particulars of this opportunity with the Church Council, and today I would like to share with you why I am excited to take on this challenge.

First, some details: The DMin is designed for people actively serving in pastoral roles. It is a part-time distance program; I will continue serving as the full-time senior pastor at Mt. Haley for the duration of this degree. Over the next four years, I will take one class per quarter, excluding summers. Almost all of my studies will take place at home, except for a week-long set of “intensive” classes in Anderson each term. The final year of this degree will include a “Professional Projectthat will directly apply to our ministry together at Mt. Haley.

This journey’s benefits to our church will, I believe, be tremendous. Down the road, I will choose between two tracks in the program: Spiritual Formation and Leadership Development. At this point, I am leaning toward the former; spiritual formation has to do with growing deeper in the faith, building stronger relationships with God and others, and learning to follow Jesus more closely. (I have used the term “discipleship” to describe this in the past couple of years.) The classes I take each term will certainly find direct application in our life together as a congregation. My desire is that this process will strengthen Mt. Haley spiritually even as it strengthens me professionally.

The overarching theme of all programs at the Anderson School of Theology is “Biblical Reconciliation.” This DMin program is no exception. The curriculum is designed to emphasize God’s work of reconciling humanity to himself, as well as our work of reconciling with each other and with God. Restoration of relationship is at the core of this idea. To study spiritual formation through the lens of God’s desire to love, heal, and forgive this is especially appealing to me.

I am excited to begin this program and to share its benefits with you! Please keep me in your prayers through this process. If you have any questions about the DMin program, its requirements, or its impact on Mt. Haley, come and talk with me any time. Your input is valuable to me!

Pastor David