Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

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 »

On the Training of Ministers

by   |  01.09.18  |  Professors

On the Training of Ministers

Pete Ward’s new book Introducing Practical Theology: Mission, Ministry, and the Life of the Church (Baker Academic, 2017), emphasizes throughout the importance of the church and the lived experience of the community of faith. Ward describes well two conversations that I often have with prospective students and mid-career ministers. First, why do people desire to begin theological studies? Many simply have an affinity for knowing more about their faith. They see more rigorous engagement with the Bible, Church History, Theology, and Ministerial Practice will make a difference in their personal growth and congregation’s well being. He states, “The desire to know more often comes out of a realization that we do not know enough. It is not at all unusual for practice to get ahead of theory. This could be a simple situation—for instance, being asked to lead a group study on a particular issue” (22). He goes on to describe that the resources often accessible are the first steps in becoming a theologically reflective practitioner. However, there comes a time when maybe a crisis or a heavy issue emerges that cannot be engaged in faithfully without formal and professional training. He continues, “This sense of a gap in knowledge can become particularly acute when someone, for example, has trained as a community activist or as a youth worker and his or her practice seems to have developed in ways that no longer fit with previous theological understanding. This experience is actually common, and it is one of the main reasons ministers and others who are professionally engaged in different kinds of ministry want to return to academic institutions to study theology, and practical theology in particular” (23).

The second conversation Ward describes as an ongoing and “normal Christian experience.” He states,

Practitioners often find that they have lost their theological bearings. Losing a theological orientation is not quite the same as losing faith. The normal pattern is that practitioners continue to find their personal faith to be meaningful and helpful, and God is still a reality in their lives. At the same time, they start to become more hazy about how this personal faith connects to what they do. … It is like taking an inflatable raft out onto the water. Drifting with the current seems pleasant, but after a while you can find yourself quite far from where you are meant to be. Practical theology is one of the ways that practitioners can look up from where their professional ministry has taken them and find ways to reorient themselves (23).

Ward concludes the chapter describing the possible reasons why ministers find themselves adrift. The gap between theory and practice (long ago described by Aristotle but keenly felt by every generation since), the ever-shifting contexts in society, the overwhelming need of people, globalization, and the complexity of the ministerial task often deflate one’s ministerial aspirations and capacities. While not the only reason, the gap ministers feel between their aspirations and their practices is why many return to school to pursue the Doctor of Ministry degree.

The dual services of the Graduate School of Theology and the Siburt Institute represent two facets of ACU’s desire to serve churches. I believe it is the responsibility of the church (not the school) to raise up the next generation of leaders. The school partners with churches by providing theological training to those identified as “called” to serve the people of God. The Siburt Institute provides resources for ministers and congregations who serve on behalf of God for the sake of the world. 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 »

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.