Archive for ‘Students’

On Vocation

0 Commentsby   |  04.20.18  |  Students

On Vocation

As I approach the impending deadline of the “rest of my life,” the question of vocation haunts me like a Dickensian specter. The more I am asked the question, the larger it looms, building up an intolerable pressure. Posing such a question inevitably forces one to confront the more tacit and deeply terrifying questions that no one really wants to think about: what is my purpose, who am I, and am I significant?

What lies behind these questions are deep-seated fears and anxieties about our very identity and existence. Being able to articulate one’s calling is the signature of one’s meaning and purpose in the universe. It says, “God has seen me and given me a special task to do.” Thus, the true fear of investigating one’s vocation is that one will be met with God’s silence: what if I don’t actually have a vocation? What if God hasn’t called me to anything?

However, there are two problems with this line of questioning. The first, is a misunderstanding of what vocation is and what it entails. The second, is a general ignorance of the Christian response to existence. A simple clarification of the concept of vocation along with an explication of the Christian response to mortality will provide one with a therapeutic release from the pressure of “having it all figured out.”

Generally, people approach vocation with unrealistic and sometimes devastating expectations. The assumption that one could spend a few years in higher education and proceed to immediately step into one’s vocation is blatantly false. Underlying this fantasy is the presumption that finding one’s vocation is a passive activity. One only needs to wait for an obvious epiphany to be compelled towards a particular profession.

This presupposes that one discerns their vocation without much thought or reflection. However, discovering one’s vocation is demanding work. Discerning one’s vocation requires an immense amount of thought, exploration, and wisdom that can’t conceivably be achieved in the short span of one’s twenties or thirties. Paradoxically, it may be a sign of great maturity to accept that one’s sense of vocation is obscure throughout most of one’s life, rather than continue to suffer under the false assumption that one ought to know what one’s vocation is at any given point in time.

Furthermore, we deceive ourselves if we assume that vocation is reducible to a career. The fluidity of life simply cannot accommodate such a static definition of the term. It may assist our own sense of self and vocation to start thinking about vocation as a way of life, rather than a day job. By construing vocation as a way life, we become better attuned to the Spirit’s constant movement within the seemingly inane details of our lives. Consequently, we discover that God’s calling is and will always be present upon our lives. More »

Diversity Within Unity

by   |  03.19.18  |  Students

Diversity Within Unity

Ever since taking a Christology course during my undergraduate years, I have loved dwelling on the ways human beings are to reflect God as images of God. More specifically, I enjoy pondering the ways in which the Church, as an aggregate of Spirit-filled Jesus followers, is called to reflect the divine realities of the social Trinity.

Stanley Grenz writes: “Through the doctrine of the Trinity we affirm that, although differentiated from each other both ontologically and functionally, the three trinitarian persons comprise a unity that entails diversity.” In order to not be considered a heretic throughout much of mainstream Christian history, one needs to believe, among other things, the Trinity to be One, Three, and Equal. Another way of putting that is the Trinity has eternally maintained the qualities of unity, diversity, and equality. Underemphasizing or overemphasizing any of these three characteristics develops into a particular heresy earning one a range of undesirable outcomes, depending on the charity of that particular Christian era. Grenz later describes the Trinity as “diversity within unity.” Because God as Trinity perfectly exemplifies diversity within unity, the Church as a corporate family of God’s image-bearing children ought likewise to exemplify diversity within unity.

We can see this as an ideal from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry until now. Jesus picked 12 apostles of notable diversity and united them with a common purpose. This common purpose is how a tax collector—a wealthy Roman henchman—could co-exist and co-operate with poor fishermen and a Roman-subverting Zealot. Beyond the apostles, we see diversity within unity among first century churches. Due to being united in the name of Jesus, many earthly divisions of male and female, Jew and Samarian or Gentile, slave and free, wealthy and poor, etc. were being transformed within the Church in ways quite uncommon in society. Yet it is this transformative development of diversity within unity that still caused many of the early churches’ problems. Most notably, the inability of Jewish and Gentile Christians to discern what diversity within unity might look like in a church setting accounts for a substantive portion of the epistolary literature.

The Church today shares the same, beautiful call of reflecting the diverse, unified, equal Trinity. We may have moved on from the Jew-Gentile division, but in America, we have inherited what at times feels like more divisions than we can track. So we talk about conservative Christians and progressive Christians. We have our white churches and black churches. Red-state Christians and blue-state Christians. Poor Christians and wealthy Christians. Rural Christians and urban Christians. Denominational Christians and non-denominational Christians who, quite ironically, are approaching the largest “denomination” of American Christianity. All of us sense these divisions at a personal level, and if we are honest with ourselves, we often identify righteously with one side or the other. Polarity is our zeitgeist. The growing emphasis on the adjective in front of what kind of Christian one is leads to division over unity, rather than diversity within unity. Diversity has yielded to division.

The opposite approach might be less common today, but can mar the image of God in the Church just as much. This approach overemphasizes unity by pretending we have no earthly differences that could and should potentially lead to varying and even conflicting perspectives. This mindset has been detectable in wider culture when seeking “color-blindness” has upheld racial disparities by suppressing differences under the surface. Neither the Church nor the wider culture can achieve meaningful unity by putting on a fake smile and pretending we all think, feel, and act the same way at all times. “Unity” has been achieved in many cases throughout history solely by further suppression and oppression. Unity has yielded to uniformity.

It seems as if we are left with a tension-filled paradox, as I have come to expect when discussing anything difficult in theology, philosophy, and life. This should especially not surprise us in this particular conversation, however, because the trinitarian reality the Church seeks to reflect is itself a paradox. Diversity within unity is a paradoxical truth we must affirm concerning the Trinity, and it is a paradoxical ideal we must seek and embody in the Church. More »

Concerning Palaver

by   |  01.24.18  |  Students

Concerning Palaver

Just like you and everyone else, I want to be heard. Just like you and everyone else, I am convinced that I have something to say. Yet who can hear a single voice when there is so much shouting? The answer is here, scribbled in my moleskin journal, if only they would listen! I can lob my voice into the throng with all my might and all my wit and all my hard earned knowledge, but like a raindrop in a hurricane it will never be noticed.  For every ascending decibel my voice is only further absorbed, diluted, and eventually commandeered by the day’s cacophony.

The ministers of our faith, as well as their students (you and I), who participate in this clanging din of unproductive shouting are rusting out the bottom of the boat. The critics are smirking and crowds are shrugging, as “sailing on faith” looks less and less like something they want to try. So what then? What are we, with our moleskin journal answers supposed to do?

Ministers, instead of shouting let us palaver. To palaver is to speak eye to eye, to talk-story, to whisper along good news with a grin and a wink. Palaver is a thing of warm huddles and close-knit circles, shared meals and flame lit faces. There is no shouting in palaver. There is only love wrapped in what meager words we know. Passed back and forth they move us to weeping, to singing, and to laughter, and from this movement comes change.

Palaver is the medicine this world needs right now. When the stumbling masses are silent, a shouter must rise up. History is full of such times, and too many of us (myself included) nurture secret ambitions to be among such leaders (we might as well admit it). But unfortunately for our egos, that is not the age we have inherited.

Right now, shouting is easy. That’s why everyone is doing it, and that is why doing it is nothing special. When Dietrich Bonheoffer spoke publicly against the Nazis it was in a time of harshly enforced silence and there was nothing easy about it. But now we live in a culture that demands free speech and imbues every citizen with a megaphone. We are more equipped and encouraged to shout our opinions into each other’s faces than any other generation that has ever walked this planet. And now our voices cannot possibly be heard. So we must speak differently from the rest, we must speak in old way: we must palaver.   More »

My ACU Campus

by   |  01.18.18  |  Students

My ACU Campus

Having completed four semesters in the Masters of Divinity program, perhaps it is a fine time to pause and offer a brief reflection on my experience thus far.  My campus is a spare bedroom in my West Virginia home resting, as many West Virginia houses do, on a ridge in the forest.  As I look out my “dorm room” window, I see a very “non-Abilene” mountain rage speckled with barns and homesteads currently covered in a layer of ice and snow.  When it is time for class, I open my laptop and log in.  When life calls, I feel free to pause and return at a more convenient time.  To some, I am “just” an online student.  

I believe, however, that being an online student makes me no less a student than my residential counterpart.  My mantra is “every student can obtain a first-class education,” although not all university enrollees are necessarily students.  Being a student requires a somewhat different skill set that just being admitted to a program.  Regardless of where one sits as they complete their assignments, learning will always be a function of dedication, effort, and attentiveness.   

Being an online student has its advantages not least of which is the ability to wear pajamas to class and feel free from judgment. The most rewarding practice that online education has encouraged in me thus far is the propensity to be swift to hear and slow to speak.  Communication, in the form of discussions, is slow and intentional and I have often redacted my writing upon review as I realize ways in which I may be misspeaking.  If I were in a “live” discussion, I fear I may often say things I would later regret. Maybe not, but I know myself well enough. This practice has begun to influence my face to face communication with others as a result.  For that, my co-workers and I are thankful.  

Notwithstanding, being an online student comes with some disadvantages.  Chief among them is the sense of separation from the broader learning community.  While I communicate with professors and students, I rarely get to talk to them.  When I do, those experiences are treasured – perhaps more so because of their rarity.  We communicate, I believe, with a communion of senses as members of a communal context.  Given that, I miss the nonverbal aspects of communication like body language, tone, and facial expressions.  You know that look your friend gets in their eye when they are about to “go off”?  I don’t.  You know that subject you can bring up and get your professor off topic?  Yeah, well, I wish I did.  

In his first book of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross offers some wisdom for attaining the “highest estate of union” symbolically located atop Mt. Carmel.  This understanding, while intended for our personal spiritual quests, fits nicely in the context of online versus residential learning.  He writes: More »

Reflecting on the Past Year

by   |  01.12.18  |  Students

Reflecting on the Past Year

Using the New Year as a time to reflect has always captivated me and reflecting on 2017 has even more so because so much has happened personally. For the first time in my life, I moved out of my hometown and I have been challenged scholarly and spiritually. I was born in Searcy, Arkansas and when the time came for college, I went Harding University. A shallow part of me decided to come to the Graduate School of Theology at ACU because I wanted to go somewhere a little further from where I have been living my entire life. I am so glad that I did because my first semester at ACU has exceeded any expectations that I had.

When my wife Kaitlyn and I moved to Abilene in July, we only knew one person. Austin McCoy is a friend from Harding who started in the GST the year before I did. One of the first weekends after we had moved in, Austin invited us to meet some of friends that he had made at the GST. Matthew Roberts, Chance Juliano, and Sarah Dannemiller became our fast friends. It was funny because immediately after seeing Austin, he left to travel to attend a few weddings and visit friends from Harding. Kaitlyn and I’s new friends continued to invite us to spend time with them and I am moved by the friendship that they extended to us so quickly. I am truly grateful for never feeling lonely after moving to a new place.

Kaitlyn and I invited our new friends to our apartment during Advent. While we were at Harding, a professor invited us and some other students to his house on the Sundays of Advent to observe the season. Our professor introduced us to the Advent wreath and to the penitential meaning of the season before Christmas. It made an impression on Kaitlyn and I and we decided that we wanted to continue the ancient tradition in our own home. We were happy to introduce the tradition to our friends who had also welcomed us.

Tradition has been a large part of my experience in the GST. Growing up in the Church of Christ, I was always told that we were striving to be like the early church. That idea is part of what encouraged me to join the Master of Arts program in Ancient and Oriental Christianity. As my new friends and I began to discuss theology, they helped me wrestle with issues that I have struggled with, not by rejecting my faith when problems arise, but by looking to the church’s tradition. My views on theology have developed in ways that I would not have expected in the short time that I have been at ACU.  Through conversations with professors and fellow students, I have come to believe that the tradition of the church is an essential part of the Christian faith.

As I reflect on my year, I am very glad that I decided to come to ACU for graduate school especially because of how I have seen myself grow in a short period of time. I encourage you to reflect on your own past year and look forward to what the rest of my time in the GST has in store. More »

Looking Back, Looking Around, Looking Forward

by   |  01.03.18  |  Students

Looking Back, Looking Around, Looking Forward

At Crestview, the church where I serve as Youth Minister, our weekly staff meetings always follow a similar pattern. First, we evaluate recent events. Then, we discuss what is coming next and how we can best prepare. Finally, we remind ourselves of what is on the horizon so that we are never caught by surprise. In other words, we look back, we look around, and we look forward.

As we come up on a time of year where many will be focused on resolutions, goals, and positive change, I think it is healthy for each of us to look back, look around, and look forward in our own lives. We all run the risk of falling into the routine of going through the motions, checking off boxes on our to-do lists, and becoming stagnant in our faith, careers, and relationships. As the quote many of us have seen on social media says, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.”

So how can we do this? Let’s walk through each of these steps together:

Looking Back – As you think back on the previous year, what were the highlights? What were your favorite moments? What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I have many great memories from 2017. In January, my wife and I bought our first house. In April, I graduated with my Masters in Ministry from Oklahoma Christian. In September, I competed in a duathlon. I took teenagers to San Francisco, Oklahoma City, and New Mexico. I went on vacation with my wife. I helped my sister move into her dorm room overlooking the ocean in Malibu. More »

Why is This Season Different from All Others?

by   |  12.19.17  |  Students

            Why is This Season Different from All Others?

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that you may have too many holiday traditions, and that sometimes it feels like every day of December has to contain some holiday movie, treat, or experience, I invite you to come spend a week with my family. Our holiday traditions make a high-church liturgy feel as free-flowing as a Quaker meeting. Growing up, we had specific ways of opening gifts, specific meals we would eat on specific days, and specific Christmassy beverages we would drink while watching specific movies. In fact, it feels like almost everything we did during the month of December centered around some sort of tradition. From the way we decorated the house, to the songs we would sing, to the foods we would eat, to the games we would play. Does this sound at all familiar?

Attempting to remember every tradition would be exhausting, and frankly looking at them in a list may make them seem a little overbearing. Why did everything we did have to be so specific? Was there no room for newness, freshness, or even just ‘letting things happen’? Did we really have to structure everything so closely? Certainly not, as my siblings and I have come to realize as we’ve each grown up and moved away from home. We’ve enjoyed the Christmas season perfectly wonderfully without sticking to each of our family’s traditions by the letter, as we’ve learned to celebrate Christmas in different places and with different people. However, at the same time we’ve learned to appreciate our Christmas traditions in an entirely new way. I know I have.

Childers family

The Childers Family

For my family, the weather turning chilly and the days growing longer always meant something. It meant buying a Christmas tree together, and playing hide-and-seek with only the tree-lights on. It meant drinking hot cocoa and watching the How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 animated one, of course). It meant searching for that perfect gift for someone, and learning how to adopt the spirit of giving over and against that of receiving. It meant baking cookies together and playing cards and eating Chinese take-out. And though in a sense each of these traditions is fairly peripheral to the nativity story that forms the center of the Christmas season, but I’ve begun to realize that they were more than fun family experiences. They were in fact vehicles for our experience of the story of Christ’s birth each year.

Not because we can’t celebrate Christ’s birth without a Christmas tree, or because How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a deeply spiritual message (although, of course, it is), but because each of these things reminds us that this time of year is somehow different from other times of year. This time of year we eat different foods, sing different songs, wear different clothes, and think in different ways, reminding us that in a manger in Bethlehem just a few long years ago, the world was turned upside down. Something different happened. God entered the world as a helpless child, and the world can never be the same. More »

No Obstacle is Too Big For God

by   |  12.04.17  |  Students

No Obstacle is Too Big For God

As graduation draws closer, I often find myself reminiscing on the past four years. Those sentimental moments elicit a multitude of emotions ranging from tenderness to downright gratitude. But what strikes me the most is how each year has brought a host of teachable moments, culminating on the theme of faith amid uncertainty. Anyone that knows me well could tell you I’m equally terrible at making decisions as giving directions, which is why I find it telling, and slightly humorous, that such flawed attributes serve as such robust metaphors for my life in graduate school. And so, for the purposes of this blog post, I want to tell you a story.

It was the summer of 2013. I was busy juggling two jobs, just trying to make ends meet. Life wasn’t glamorous by any means, but it was comfortable. I lived in a modest apartment shared with my two inquisitive, endearing cats. I had caring and funny coworkers that could strike a joke at a moment’s notice, turning a frown upside down after a measly sour interaction. I even found satisfaction in helping customers find the materials they needed to complete their latest home improvement project. But, it didn’t take long for me to recognize my life lacked meaning and purpose. It wasn’t my job, necessarily. There are plenty of people who work in retail and make a career out of it. The pressing issue was my spiritual life, which had grown stale like an expired box of half-eaten crackers. Most days I was too exhausted to do anything but indulge in some greasy fast food, a ‘feel-good’ chick flick, and a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

It was the desire for something more and my fading spiritual life that led me to apply to graduate school. How I heard of ACU is straightforward and unimpressive; but how I got to ACU, that was complicated and noteworthy. Applications were not a guarantee for acceptance; and acceptance, for me, was not assurance ACU was where I needed to be. I didn’t want to make such a life-altering decision, like leaving my job and moving across the country, without God’s blessing. So, I decided, on what was either an act of faith or fear I’m not certain, that if I got accepted into graduate school, and housing and employment were lined up prior to arriving in Abilene, I would go to ACU. In my mind, these were huge obstacles. Along with the fact that I applied just two short months before the semester started, I knew finding housing wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Not only do most places want you to have some sort of income before you sign a lease, I had cats, and on-campus housing didn’t allow pets. Employment was hard to find at a distance, and I had zero connections in Abilene. In fact, I had never visited the city or stepped foot on ACU’s campus.

As soon as I hit send on my application, my anxiety hit the roof. The odds seemed stacked against me. I felt insecure and ill-equipped with no ministry experience and little education in biblical studies. In an application essay I revealed my faith was hanging on by a thread, which left me feeling exposed and vulnerable to rejection. Those weeks of waiting for an answer were long and hard. When the day came and a letter arrived in the mail, my heart was pounding. My hands trembled as I opened the thin white envelope only to find, to my surprise, I had been accepted. I was dumbfounded. Obstacle number one, check.

Before I got too carried away, I remembered there were still a lot of logistics to work out.  And so I began the arduous search for housing. One day I was browsing various websites, and this house popped up on Craigslist. It was just a few blocks from campus and within my price range. It seemed promising, but there were no photos and it didn’t say anything about whether they allowed pets. Then, there was the looming question about what they would think about me not having a job. But I decided it was worth a shot, got out my phone, and dialed their number. Part of me questioned whether this ad was real. It was found on Craigslist, after all, so that was a legitimate concern. To my relief, however, I found out the landlords were former GST students. They were ok with cats, and they normally wouldn’t do this, but they said I could rent the house. They understood me moving and needing time to find a job, and were willing to make an exception. When I got off the phone it hit me. Second obstacle down, and what once seemed like a distant dream was becoming a likely possibility. Within 48 hours I got contact about not just one, but two part-time jobs on-campus, both offering me interviews. After dealing with the initial shock, I put in my notice at work and began preparations for a move to Abilene. Maybe these obstacles weren’t as big as I thought, because God sure showed up and blew my expectations out of the water. More »

The Church as Refuge

by   |  11.02.17  |  Students

The Church as Refuge

Two weeks ago, I made the decision to ask a young man to leave our church, and it has left me with a sense of unease. This severing of ties wasn’t due to doctrinal or theological differences, personality conflicts or any of the causes we might immediately consider. It was because he shot up heroin in our bathroom.

We had done the best we knew how to welcome Cameron (1) into the atmosphere of worship and fellowship on Sunday. We made sure that people were actively trying to connect with him. We ignored his outward appearance and looked for the best way to extend grace. We made space to bring him into a table full of people and food during our fellowship meal. At some point, he left those things behind and locked himself in a stall. As I struggled to communicate with him through the high, as I tried to creatively figure out how I was going to dispose of the paraphernalia littering the tile floor, as I did most of this with my 4 -year old daughter at my side, I found myself a minister divided. The part of me aching for Cameron, not wanting to see him turned away, had to contend with the part of me that is already serving many people at Shelbourne Street, including my own family, and my desire to keep them from harm.

A tent city in the shadow of the largest mainline Protestant church in Victoria.

We are not a particularly urban church, but we are becoming more familiar each year with a growing number of addicts and homeless that are immigrating to Victoria, BC. We occupy one of the warmest areas of Canada, and like much of the Pacific Northwest, we have become a year-round haven for people that are endangered or without resources. We are also the seat for the Provincial Government, a distinction that has led to many protests and the creation of “tent-cities” to serve as both shelter and statement in the public eye about the need to address the growing homeless and addicted populations (2).

Into this dry tinderbox, the drug Fentanyl has dropped like a lit match. In 2016, BC Health attributed this refined form of opiate to being the lead cause in a spike of overdose deaths that topped 900 in the province. New reports this May estimate the death toll for 2017 to rise over 1,400 (3). Two of those deaths belong to children of folks in our congregation. Our small, seemingly safe suburban church world is being flipped on its ear by the changes of our community, and the challenge to become a place of refuge. More »

Never. Stop. Seeking.

by   |  10.30.17  |  Alumni, Students

Never. Stop. Seeking. 

When I was just 3 years old, my family was invited to the home of one of the members of the church for which my dad had recently started preaching. They lived in a grand old house with a seemingly endless maze of rooms, each filled with artwork and antiques. As our host gave us a tour, she would pause before various pieces and tell about how or when or where they had been acquired. Passing by an antique chair, she patted it and said, “Oh, there’s a story behind this chair.”

After dinner was finished and the adults were chatting over coffee, my mom looked up and realized that I had left the table. Worried that I might break something expensive in a house filled with priceless objects, she began moving from room to room, trying not to panic. She was less than pleased to discover me in one of the rooms that we had visited earlier, with a piece of priceless furniture overturned on the floor. She gaped at me and asked, exasperated, “What are you doing?!” To which I answered, matter-of-factly, “I’m looking for the story behind this chair.”

I sometimes wonder if hearing that story repeated throughout my childhood is the reason why one of my favorite songs, as a teenager, was “The Seeker” by The Who, the opening lyrics of which went as follows:

I’ve looked under chairs

I’ve looked under tables More »

Student Spotlight- Morgan DeBoer

by   |  10.09.17  |  Students

Morgan DeBoer is beginning her first semester studies at ACU’s Graduate School of Theology, pursuing master degrees in both Christian Ministry (MACM) and in Social Work (MSSW). She is originally from Council Bluffs, Iowa and graduated from York College, where she earned an undergrad degree in English.

Where you have seen God working recently?

I had not considered a formal degree in theology or ministry until recently, so the decision to begin this program was in several ways an uncertain one. But now that I am here, and immersed in my classes, I know that there is no place I would rather be, and nothing in the world I would rather be learning about. So I can’t help but wonder how God may have been at work this past year in ways I didn’t understand.

What made you decide to do a MACM & MSSW? 

There are some fairly broken contexts that I wanted to serve in, but I felt that I wouldn’t be truly equipped to do so without deeper training in discipleship, and a deeper understanding of God. So when I saw that ACU offered both a MACM and a MSSW degree, I was interested in how that might allow God to mold both my heart, and my skillset. More »

(D)evangelism & Healing after the Rwandan Genocide

by   |  09.26.17  |  Students

missionary familyMy name is Caleb Beck. I, along with my wife and two children, live in Kigali, Rwanda. My son Adin is ten, and my daughter Caris is seven. We moved to Rwanda in 2007 as missionaries hoping to work with those struggling to heal the wounds of genocide, and to be a part of the rediscovery of Christianity after its failure in the form of a thin Christendom version of faith in 1994.

We are a part of a team of missionaries and Rwandans who founded a Non-profit organization that works with a number of different holistic ministries with the vision of seeing “Kingdom communities of obedient disciples transforming and redeeming Rwanda”.

We live just outside of the capital city in a small rural community called Gahanga. Jenny home schools our children because we live just far enough outside of the capital that the commute through urban African traffic isn’t realistic. Our community is a mix of animism and cultural Christianity, of survivors of the genocide living next to perpetrators of the genocide, and of a modern city set right next to an ancient village. We are living in the midst of the tensions of village and urban, rich and poor, wounded but healing. However, God is becoming even more alive to us as we grow closer with this community.

Rwanda scenery

A couple of years ago, I found myself sitting amidst 5000 or so Rwandans singing hymns in cohesion without a songbook to be seen. It was not at a church Christmas vigil, but rather at a government sanctioned memorial of genocide remembrance.

This was in a section of Rwanda that had no electricity or running water, but where everyone knew the lyrics of “Come Thou Fount” in Kinyarwanda.

Rwanda was welcomed into the Christendom club last century; and they came willingly. The statistics say that 88% of Rwanda was “Christian” before the genocide of ’94. More »

Discovering My Vocation: The Fanning of the Flames

by   |  09.05.17  |  Students

Recently I was browsing my TimeHop (which, for those who are blissfully unaware, is a cell phone app that mercilessly displays your unfiltered social media posts from today’s date in years past) when I came across a Tweet from four years ago that read something like this: “Is it weird that I’m actually really excited to learn Greek???” If I could talk to this four-years-in-the-past Ryne, I’d tell him that although it is quite weird for you to have shared such an arbitrary thought with the entire Internet, you will be delighted to know that your desire to learn Greek is not weird at all but will in fact be quite fruitful.

That naïve version of me couldn’t have really understood how rewarding the study of this ancient language would be. Indeed, only now in retrospect am I able to fathom the many doors that were opened to me through my study of Greek (and, eventually, other ancient languages) at ACU.

At the outset of my undergrad time at ACU I had only a vague sense of vocation. Something to do with the Bible, something to do with ministry. I was sure that the arc of my career would involve these two aspects, but I had no clearer direction than that.

The story of how my vocational understanding eventually crystallized is long and multifaceted, but for the purposes of this post, you only need to know the primary catalyst and the new ministerial yearning that it sparked within me. The catalyst was Greek; the yearning was for a ministry conducted not in a church building, but in a classroom.

The long and short of it was that I absolutely loved learning Greek. Before college, I had no particular interest in language learning, but Greek opened my eyes not only to a new skillset that I possessed, but also to new doorways through which to study the biblical text that I held so dear. My first taste of Greek was sort of like a baby’s first bite of chocolate cake at their first birthday party—I wasn’t quite sure what this new thing was, but I was absolutely sure that I wanted more.

Luckily for me, I happened to choose a university with a faculty that was uniquely and diversely equipped to give me more. Languages were a huge part of what brought me to the Graduate School of Theology for my master’s work. I had drank deeply from the well of Greek in undergrad and had dipped my toe in the waters of Hebrew, and the GST offered an opportunity for more of the same as well as an expansion of my linguistic horizons. More »

Student Spotlight

by   |  10.17.16  |  Students

Zane Witcher is a first year GST residential student, was recently highlighted in myACU News. The article begins,

“Zane Witcher delivered his first sermon when he was 14 years old. His grandparents attended a small church of 20 people, and they needed a preacher for a Sunday service. He said that first sermon was “rough,” but soon not only his grandparents but other churches were asking him to preach.”  Read the full story here.

Evans Ngoge

by   |  03.29.16  |  Students

The Graduate School of Theology has a long history of service to churches and ministries in Africa. Recently, Abilene’s local news highlighted the work of Evans Ngoge in their Know Your Neighbor section. Read the online post here.

International Residential Opportunities

by   |  05.28.15  |  Students

This week Dr. Mindi Thompson, Director of Distance Education for the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, wrote “Global Seminary Programs: Learning across Cultures Online, at Home and Abroad” for Colloquy. 

Read article here.

Commenting on the article, Brad Carter, ACU alumnus with both a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry (2000) and Master of Arts in Religion (2003), states,

Some of the lessons learned lead to an idea I’ve been tossing around with folks for the past 18 months. Situations like these may need for an African “guide” or “translator” that is on-the ground assisting African students and the professor in making the cultural connections, assisting with appropriate communication (like the email greetings as mentioned), translating cultural metaphors and colloquialisms, and helping African students make the relevant cultural application to the material that is often difficult for a Western lecturer to do — at least at first. This may be another area that is worth exploring in having someone in Swaziland that can communicate, participate in the courses as a guide, and play the role of translator/guide alongside the lecturer — much like the recruiter or person who was the original point of contact that serves as the go-between. –Brad Carter, President of African Christian College, Swaziland,

The GST is exploring other options for expanding our service to the continent of Africa. We are having extensive conversations with the good work at African Christian College. Once we figure out some logistics, the GST expects this site to be the third residential site for graduate theological education. The primary hurdle that faces us is the funding needed to scholarship African students is much higher than American students (90% scholarships or $1620/course). However, the GST’s commitment to serve out weighs these financial issues.

With the exception to offer residential courses in Zagreb and Accra approved by the ATS Board of Commissioners in 2013, ACU has the opportunity to be a leader in international theological education. Thanks to Dr. Mindi Thompson for her role in directing the GST’s distance education program and making these dreams realities.

Bridging the Gap in Distance Education

by   |  05.16.14  |  Announcements, Students

The Graduate School of Theology has a long history of educating students while they serve in local congregations.  Whether it’s a youth minister across town, a preacher in the Metroplex, or an intern working part-time for a rural congregation, we’ve always tried to provide flexible class options.  We have one-week intensive courses in August, January, and May.  We offer two-weekend short courses in the fall and spring semesters.  We even schedule our full-semester classes as three-hour blocks once a week so students who commute to campus can take classes on their day off.

This year, class options for our non-residential students got a lot more flexible.  Our accrediting agency – the Association of Theological Schools – approved our petition to offer up to 75% of the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (MACM) in an online format.  For this 48-hour degree, that means only 12 credits – the remaining 25% – must be taken in a face-to-face setting.  That’s just four classes.  Students can take residential intensive classes when it best fits in their schedule while the majority of their coursework is completed online.  They don’t have to wait for required courses to be offered on the right day or in an intensive format.  They don’t have to spend so much time away from their families – or their ministries – taking classes on campus.  Students can serve congregations at a greater distance from Abilene, whether that’s across the country or around the world.  And all the while they’re still getting a world-class theological education from full-time GST faculty.  How’s that for the best of both worlds?  Serving students, serving the church – that’s what we’ve always done.

For more information about the MACM or our other degree options for non-residential students, contact Dr. Melinda (Mindi) Thompson, Director of Distance Education:, (325) 674-3706.


BMIS 680 Urban Missions

by   |  03.09.11  |  Announcements, Students

A one-week intensive course in New York City

May 28- June 4, 2011

Dr. Jared Looney – Bronx Fellowship, Adjunct Professor

Why? At the beginning of the 21st century, more than half of the globe is now urban, and in North America 83% of the population is distributed in 475 major metropolitan areas.  Urban worldviews and lifestyles touch virtually every corner of our society – whether central city, edge city, suburb, or exurb.  Urban demographics are constantly shifting.  Urban life touches the church as arts, business, education, politics, and nearly every aspect of societal discourse emerges from within cities.  Urbanism – both as place and as worldview – matters to the whole church from the suburb to the central city.   

How? In a one-week intensive, students will engage in theological and missiological reflection while embedded in a diverse urban context.  The class will benefit from interactions with the city as well as with practitioners serving in the city.  Ranging from youth culture to community development to church planting to congregational ministry, missional practice will be emphasized.  Students will focus on theological principles, cultural context, and practical ministry.

Course Fee = $185
The course fee includes lodging at Refuge House (Bronx, NY) for seven nights; most meals; and Metro Card for transportation about the city.
Students are responsible for their own travel to/from NYC.

For more information contact Dr. Stephen Johnson, Director of Contextual Education. More »

Mercy Project

by   |  12.17.10  |  Students

At ACU Graduate School of Theology, we are convinced that deep learning requires real-world engagement. Contextual education–the phrase we use to describe this approach–reimagines the “classroom,” and “study;” and it means that we get to watch students partner with God in truly amazing ways. Working on behalf of enslaved children in Ghana, West Africa, Chris Field (Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Executive Director of Mercy Project) is one such student. These are his words:

His name is Tomas, and he is about nine years old. He sits perfectly still in the middle of a small wooden fishing boat and watches my every move closely. I reach my hand out to him, and he slowly reaches back. As his small, dark hand embraces mine, these incredulous words form in my mind: “I am holding the hand of a slave.” Tomas lives in Ghana, Africa where he fishes on a boat fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Tomas was probably sold by a desperate mother, for about $20, to a man she hoped would be able to send Tomas to school and feed him three times each day. Instead, his life is miserable, full of dangerous work and only enough food to keep him alive.

Unfortunately, Tomas is just one of an estimated 7,000 children working as slaves in the fishing industry of Ghana. These are the children we are working to help. These children are the reason we started Mercy Project. Our initial focus was to raise as much money as we could to help the children in slavery. But it didn’t take us very long to realize that the scope and depth of the problem would require more of us. Long-term solutions to the issue of child slavery in Ghana would have to include economic development- economic development that attacked the poverty and lack of economic opportunity that “forced” men to buy children like Tomas in the first place. This is why we are working to transform Ghana’s economy by creating new industry and businesses that are not dependant on child slavery. This economic development and opportunity gives viable alternatives to the country’s current economic choices. We believe this transformation is what will help us save Tomas and the other children working as slaves in Ghana.

This Christmas season, in the midst of all the celebration, I keep catching myself thinking about Tomas. I am sad that–on the outside–he has little reason to celebrate. But I am grateful for the chance to work on his behalf, and I am hopeful that his next Christmas will be full of joy. We invite you to join us in praying for Tomas and all of the hurting people in our world. Could there be a more fitting way for us to celebrate the humble birth of our Lord Jesus?

Theology, Technology, and Innovation

by   |  11.29.10  |  Students

ACU Graduate School of Theology, the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, and the Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry (DBMM) are all a part of the College of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University.  In the video below, DBMM instructor David Kneip speaks about theology, technology, and innovation at ACU.

Contextual Immersion in New York

by   |  11.23.10  |  Students

Carol Mendoza and Penny Peng, GST Students

In January, ACU GST students Carol Mendoza and Penny Peng will arrive in New York City for a seven month Contextual Immersion experience. During their time there, Carol and Penny will work closely with Jared Looney (Bronx Fellowship) who will serve as their Contextual Supervisor. They will be engaged in the life of the city and God’s mission in the world. Though not exclusively, Carol will move in relationship to the Hispanic Diaspora in New York and Penny the Chinese community. During the seven months, they both will earn nine hours toward their degree programs.

Sounds cool. What does this mean?

Contextual Education is at the heart of how we are forming students for ministry and mission in the Graduate School of Theology. This means we want our students’ learning and formation to be connected to the life and mission of God in the world in its particular expressions (contexts, if you will). From their first semesters in the GST, students are not only thinking about this notion, but actually participating in a particular context as “situated learners” (see Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation).  Students’ participation in a particular context stretches across the span of their degree program and deepens as they move through through it.  At the center of this deepening relationship is Contextual Immersion – something like the seven month immersion experience that for Carol and Penny will take place in New York.

While we who teach and administer in the GST have been conceiving of a “new curriculum” for some years now, it is students like Carol and Penny who are helping us bring the potential of it to fruition.  Penny and Carol have created a video that tells a bit more about them. 

Also, they are raising funds to make this experience possible.  If you are able to help them, you can make a contribution online here.

Dr. Stephen Johnson
Director of Contextual Education
Associate Professor of Ministry
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
General Editor, Academy 
Website More »

When Mommy Gives You Lemons, Make a Lemonade Stand

by   |  06.14.10  |  Students

After setting up a lemonade stand for mommy and daddy in the living room, our son decided to take his show on the road. Though ostensibly to grow his “Toy Story 3” fund, I think he really just enjoyed making the homemade, freshly squeezed treat and sharing it with others. He sold it cold in the doorway of my seminary office for “one, ten, or twenty-five cents.” The “customers” responded well to his approach- most payed a penny and left a quarter tip. He was also was quick to tell folks it could be free if they questioned the pricing structure. Thanks to all who stopped by!

Russ Kirby
Director of Student Services
ACU Graduate School of Theology

The Gift of Hope

by   |  04.28.10  |  Students

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services
Associate, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Tim Sensing, DMIN, PHD - Director of Academic Services, Professor of Ministry, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Profiles of Ministry is an assessment given to all first year students who are enrolled in one of ACU Graduate School of Theology’s formation degrees (MDiv, MACM, MAMI). The assessment asks the participants to read several case scenarios and to respond according to how they think they would act in a particular situation. Afterwards, the participants are asked a series of questions orally that give them a chance to nuance their answers. For example, a case scenario might ask about a particular issue common in ministry. The students choose one of the items listed. It might not be the exact description of their preferred ministerial action, but it is the best one available. The audio interview allows the participants to elaborate about various areas of ministry through open-ended questions.

Over 40 areas are covered in the assessment measuring the students’ perceptions of ministry. For example, one of the indicators measures how balanced the students’ perspectives are regarding “world mission.” The item is measuring how likely the students are to choose between teaching the gospel and trying to meet a particular social or economic need. In other words, will they give a cup of water to quench someone’s thirst or are they more likely to open the Bible and share the gospel? ACU GST students consistently score “very likely” to be balanced. They are just as inclined to give a cup of cold water, as they are to “preach the gospel.” They discern on a case-by-case basis the best approach in each situation.

After listening to students answer questions and examining the results of the written reports for over 11 years, my hope for the future of the church grows. Let me offer two illustrations. One of the indicators measures “denominational collegiality.” Most of the GST students score “likely.” This is good news. If they scored, “very likely,” then we would wonder how realistic they are. They would need to remove the proverbial rose-colored glasses and realize that institutions are flawed and we all struggle to be what God has designed. Alternatively, if they were to score lower than “likely,” then we would question why they are considering ministry in the first place. Our students both love and are committed to the church. They are not looking to go elsewhere. They are not disenchanted or cynical. Other questions confirm this finding. Students are encouraged to be part of God’s family and consider the church as a healthy place for them to serve. Good news indeed.

The second example is similar. The last question of the interview asks about their perceptions of the future. Students express confidence in the people of God acting in ways that will serve others and honor God in significant ways. More importantly, they trust that God not only protects the church but also is active in achieving God’s will and purposes in the present and in the future.

I have the great joy of listening to future ministers’ perceptions of ministry and the church. These students bless me with the gift of hope.

ACU Graduate Chapel Sermon (Ben Fike): January 20

by   |  03.17.10  |  Students

Every Wednesday, we meet for worship together in the Chapel on the Hill. Sometimes students speak. Here is a sermon by one of them, Ben Fike, who is the preacher for the Maryneal, Texas Church of Christ. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Matthew 2:1-12 – Laying our Gifts Before the King

by Ben Fike

“The church has just entered the liturgical season of Epiphany one week ago today. The Feast of Epiphany in the Western tradition is associated with this story of the wise men coming to Jesus, the first gentiles who come to worship the child king. Today we join our sisters and brothers the world over in our hearing and proclaiming of this text in this season.

I can’t read this story without thinking of my mom’s collection of nativity sets. She probably just took them down a week or two ago, but during Christmas they’re all over the house. Just little miniature versions of the birth of Christ spread out all over every bookshelf and table. The raggedy looking shepherds, the docile ox and lamb, the surprisingly calm and serene looking Mary and Joseph, little baby Jesus, no crying he makes, asleep in the manger. Blonde, and looking quite Scandanavian. And of course the wise men, all exotic and strange with enormous headgear and camels and robes and big bushy beards, bearing gifts.

But although this popularized version of the nativity may fly some places, we know better don’t we? We know better than that naive conflation of Matthew and Luke’s gospels bringing together Shepherds and Wise Men and Livestock in an ad hoc, irresponsible kind of way. We know better, that this story of the wise men bowing down to Jesus is not serene and precious and cute. It is, in fact, subversive to the point that it will directly contribute to a vengeful and maniacal king massacring thousands of innocents to squelch the perceived threat of the child born King of the Jews these wise men have come to worship. And we know better homiletically than to cast ourselves as the distant floating observers looking down on the tiny scene as if Jesus were a insect and we were a bear.

No, WE know better than that. This is a story we must enter. This story is in someway our story. More »