Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’

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 »

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 »

Knowing Your Neighborhood

by   |  12.15.17  |  Alumni

Knowing Your Neighborhood

Part 1 of 3

One Sunday morning, years ago, a refugee family showed up at church and they kept coming back. I walked out of the office one afternoon, made my way up the street, and knocked on the front door of where the refugees were living. The door opened and the gift of hospitality was extended. Over coffee, I learned of their story. I also learned this family was deeply committed to the life of Christ.

Over the next several months I would continue to unexpectedly drop in. One day the matriarch of the family said something similar to the following:

Seeing you at our front door reminds me of our church back home. Back home the preacher was the priest who made daily visits to the neighbors. The neighborhood knew the priest and the priest knew the neighborhood. But it seems, in North America, the neighborhood doesn’t know the priest and the priest doesn’t know the neighborhood.

Ethnography of the Neighborhood

A common refrain by those engaged in the missional church conversation is that the church does not have a mission, but the mission of God has a church. Those leading the conversation then help churches discover the avenues in which churches can join God already in His mission. However, often what is lacking in these conversations is knowledge of the neighborhood we are sent too (Luke 10:1-12). If we are going to be communities of faith announcing the nearness of God’s kingdom while we heal, cast out demons, and receive hospitality by the strangers, I wonder if one of the first steps we must take is to know the neighborhood to which we are being sent. More »

Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 4)

by   |  05.04.10  |  Uncategorized

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Does the Gospel sell itself?  That’s how I began this series of posts, and that’s how I’ll end it.  If we are on a road alongside of which are exits to narcissism, self-indulgence, and self-promotion, and the Heavenly City seems further away in our rearview mirrors, then how do we change directions?  (I’ll drop the metaphor there, if you don’t mind!)  I’ve tried to set out some of the interpersonal and intellectual challenges because to reflect theologically and to act on the basis of that reflection, we need to consider several factors.

But here’s the final one, and the decisive one.  What does God want?  Now, I know that this question is tricky and easily hijacked by various sides of any given debate.  If you want change, you point to the God of renewal, and if you don’t want change, you mention the old paths.  Both sets of languages — both descriptions of the nature of God — have biblical warrant.  Which one applies at a given moment depends on several factors, not all of which everyone will agree upon.  Moreover, Christians have a wide range of views of just how specific God intends to be.  Neo-Calvinists assume that the sovereignty of God implies a very high degree of planning of human lives, while most other Christians are content to think of God painting in the cosmic picture in broader, more impressionistic strokes.  I do not say any of this to be cynical, but simply to note that I am aware of the hazards.

Still, as a Christian, I must always ask myself what God wants.  It is not legitimate to try to escape the question, if you want to think in Christian ways.  Here are some things (not everything!) that Scripture, which I believe to be the best indication of God’s will that we have, seems to think God wants from us:

1. Let’s be passionate about the search for God.  Christians should pray a lot and with passion.  If we spent more time on our knees, we might spend less time wringing our hands or shouting.  As Paul said to the Athenians, God has given us evidence of nearness by raising Jesus from the dead.  The search is not an idle quest for an elusive goal, but the pursuit of one lover for another seeking rest together.

2.  Let’s care about the stranger.  I have long been struck by Exodus’s story of the redemption of Israel and the legal conclusions that the text draws from that experience: “you shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).  Perhaps Christians are so hostile to immigrants and other vulnerable people because we have concluded that this land really is our land, not simply a place on loan from God while we move toward our final home.  Have we forgotten that we too are strangers, that we too are redeemed people?

3. Let’s remember that we are in this together.  It is distressing to watch churches split over issues that can only be classified as trivial.  I have always found that praying for those with whom I disagree (which is quite a few people, as it happens!) or whom I found narrow and annoying and petty (also a fairly large group) changes things.  Very few Christians are so alienated from their own calling that we cannot find in them something to cherish. More »

Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 3)

by   |  04.22.10  |  Uncategorized

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Ours is a time in which all the old truths have seemed questionable, all the old habits indefensible, and all the old passions unthinkable.  Since Christianity is no longer a new religion and since Christians are often leaders in the power systems of the world and therefore often implicated in its evils, many men and women ask us whether Christianity, and thus the Gospel, makes any sense.  They ask, to put things very bluntly, if Christianity is good for you.  Does following the way of Jesus make you a better person?  Does the church help people live in community in better ways?  If there is a God, is this God good?  Critics of Christianity such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens tell us that God is not great, and that religion (at least they don’t just try to finger us!) is the source of all the evil in the world.

Now a lot of their rhetoric is nonsense.  Let’s be clear about that.  Many of the critiques are ill informed about all sorts of things.  They set up straw people to knock down.  They pit the most ignorant Christians and against the best informed non-Christians.  So there is much of the noise we can safely ignore as the last rantings of a publicity-seeking, sensationalistic media and public.

But is that all there is to the brouhaha?  Surely it is fair to say that many of us Christians (and other religious people) are confused about what our faith really teaches.  We adjust to a series of compromises with worldly structures and react out of fear when we should act out of hope.  The critics have a point there.  To provide a real answer to the intellectual challenges facing us, then, Christians have to be clear about a few things that our faith actually teaches.  Here are some:

1. There really is only one God, and we are not it!  The great Christian confessions such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed, to say nothing of the Bible, are organized around the confession of the supremacy, transcendent goodness, and honor of God.  The center of the faith is not the faith itself, much less any laws, practices, ideas, doctrines, etc. deriving from the faith.  God is God, and we are all seekers in need of redemption.

2. The human approach to God comes through radical submission to the way of love.  Christians vigorously pursue nonviolence in all we do.  We join in the criticism of the relentless pursuit of money and power.  We strongly question any human system that turns people into commodities.  We disdain privilege in all its forms.  We believe that God calls us to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

3. We also believe that all human systems are flawed, some very deeply.  Some Christians call this original sin, and of course we debate just how deeply flawed humans are.  Surely the evidence is complex.  But it is also incontrovertible.  When St. Paul said that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, he was simply stating the obvious.  It follows from this fact that no human system can command our final, unquestioning loyalty (not a nation, not an economic system, not even a way of doing family). More »

Does the Gospel Sell Itself (part 2)

by   |  04.15.10  |  Uncategorized

How do we get off the road?  How do we join the earliest disciples in their journey, for which a single change of clothes and the greatest possible trust in God was enough?  How do we do this together, so that we don’t play generations or theological stances or ways of doing church off against each other, adding to the divisions of Christendom?  Let’s try some basic ideas.

First, let’s get some clarity on mission. The Bible talks about the church in many different ways: herald of good tidings, a people sent, an attacking army (remember that line “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”?), the cosmic body of Christ, God’s household, and other things.  The church is not a dispenser of goods and services, but a body of praying and serving people.  We don’t point to ourselves, but to God living in us.   Selling the church as such is almost the worst thing we can do.  We “sell” the story of God’s redemptive work in us and beyond us.

Second, let’s shift from an idea of the church member as consumer to the member as seeker of God. All of us are seekers, and all of us are trying to grow in our love of God, our faith in God’s promises, and our hope for a better life for everyone.  A lot of my friends want us to get rid of the idea of church membership altogether, because they think it’s unbiblical (which, technically, it is) and, more seriously, unhelpful.  It reinforces divisions (insiders and outsiders) that don’t quite make sense.  I’m not sure I think we have to get rid of the language altogether, but my friends have a point.

Third, let’s think small. Now, I’m not criticizing big churches.  That’s not the point.  Healthy big churches work hard on building relationships in small groups, and they use their size to accomplish things that small churches usually can’t pull off.  The problem is not size as such, but anonymity.  Let me give an analogy.  When I was a little kid, I used to love to go to my grandpa’s service station.  It had two gas pumps and a garage for a mechanic.  And it was a gathering place where people had relationships.  If you couldn’t pay for your gas this week, Grandpa Sullivan would put your name in his little book so you could pay next week.  Contrast that with the chains I buy gas at now.  They’re quicker, more efficient, probably more environmentally responsible, and they sell more of the junk food we like on long trips.  But relationships?  Not really.  In our increasingly fragmented world of people bowling alone, churches have to think pretty carefully about community.

Fourth, to tie all this up, let’s talk about stakeholding. In other words, are there people in our churches whose absence we would not miss, whose opinions we do not consult, whose faith we do not consider, and whose wisdom we don’t draw on?  My guess is that the answer is yes.  Think about the incredible waste of that situation.  How do we give more people more of a stake in what happens in our congregations?  This especially applies to the young and the old, but it applies to all of us.

These are some thoughts.  I’d welcome your comments.  Next time, I’ll try to talk about the intellectual/theological issues we face today.

Dr. Mark W. Hamilton
Associate Professor of Old Testament and
Associate Dean
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
Editor, The Transforming Word More »

Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 1)

by   |  04.09.10  |  Uncategorized

Like many other people, I read the other day about the big church that was giving away cars, big screen tvs, and other spiffy consumer goods to draw folks to their Easter service.

Also like many others, especially smart-alecky professor types, I quickly passed through the stages of theological grief: mockery, dismay, resignation, and sadness.  What are we coming to?

But then a deeper thought: granted, it’s sad to imagine that the news of resurrection from the dead and radical human transformation seems passe to jaded Americans and (even more seriously) the churches that serve them.  But one does not arrive at such a state overnight: like the pilgrims on the Canterbury trail, we all get there one step at a time.  So, I thought, where am I and where are the churches I serve on this road, and how do we get off?

Where we are is fairly clear.  In a consumerist society in which the ultimate value is choice, a message of sacrifice and transformation casts such a dazzling vision of hope as to be totally counter-cultural.  The Christian message is unsafe and so it must be domesticated.  So we think.  And so we do, in many ways, large and small.  When I was a kid, that meant inviting people to marriage seminars in the hopes that they would then, somehow, hear the even better news of the gospel.  I’m not sure that ever worked, but it was honorably, if naively, intended.  It got too easy to come to think that a better marriage was the gospel.  Or, more generally, we can reduce the life of the church to a sort of self-help society for those who are, or would like to be, upwardly mobile.  No sacrifice required, no hope for a totally different world, just a cleaner version of this one.  It’s as though Jesus had hired a p.r. firm to remessage himself.

Diagnosis is easy; cure is much harder.  How do we get off the road?  I’ll take that up in the next posts in more detail.  But for now, let me try three simple ideas from the world of consumerism and p.r. (we might as well take back something from this road we’re on!).  They may seem hokey, but they’re something to talk about, at least. More »

The Relevance of the Bible for Life Today: Justice

by   |  03.09.10  |  Uncategorized

What is justice? How can we be more just people, and a more just church? These questions seem acute in our time, as American Christians have access to unprecedented wealth and power while so many of our brothers and sisters sometimes lack even daily bread. As this new series of podcasts tries to show, the Bible offers a profound and eminently workable approach to changing our own lives — our attitudes, behaviors, values, and desires — so as to become more just people. I hope you enjoy this series and welcome your comments or questions.

Dr. Mark W. Hamilton
Associate Professor of Old Testament and
Associate Dean
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
Editor, The Transforming Word

Welcome to the ACU Graduate School of Theology Blog!

by   |  03.08.10  |  Announcements

We know it’s been a long time in coming, but we’re excited to finally launch the ACU Graduate School of Theology Blog where professors and students alike can contribute and interact around a multiplicity of fascinating and significant subjects. Of course those of you who aren’t ACUGST professors or students are most welcome to feast upon, delve into, and comment on the material you find here.

You may be asking yourself: “Who are these GST people?” Our Associate Dean, Dr. Mark Hamilton describes us thusly:

Our community of women and men comes from around the United States and many other nations across the globe. We seek to learn how to serve God and thus God’s creation with our hearts, hands, minds, and feet. Rigorous study of the Bible and the theology and history of the church, sustained and reflective engagement with the arts of ministry and the skills of leadership, committed practices of prayer and service – these are the elements we cultivate in our lives together.

Our community is firmly grounded in the life of the church. Many of us come from the churches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, a group of Christians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who sought to reclaim the vision of unity, holiness, and service present when Christianity began. Our school embraces that vision even as it welcomes all who seek to serve in imitation of Jesus Christ. We believe that the church needs spiritual leaders in order to be part of God’s work of bringing peace, wholeness, and purpose to the world.

We think we’ve got some pretty good ideas for ways to make this blog exciting, informative, and even transformative. So make sure you keep watching the blog for updates.

Two things soon to come — 1) Dr. Mark Hamilton shares a three part series on Justice in Isaiah, and 2) an exciting announcement about our upcoming GST Preview Day Event. See you around! More »