Posts Tagged ‘Students’

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 »

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 »

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.