Ethan Laster graduated with his M.Div. and M.A. in Ancient and Oriental Christianity from ACU. He won the Isaac Errett award in 2018 and was named by the Stone-Campbell Journal as one of their Promising Scholars. Among his academic achievements he is also well practiced minister, consistently working and preaching during his education. He and his wife, Sarah, recently moved to St. Louis, Missouri as Ethan pursues his Ph.D. in Theological Studies.
Ethan, tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Ft. Worth, TX, but called Abilene home from 2011-2019 while I was pursuing my undergraduate and graduate studies. At ACU I met my wife, Sarah, and we were married in December 2016. We have two cats who we probably tend to over-anthropomorphize, but who we’re obsessed with, nonetheless.
As far as hobbies go, I’m an avid reader. I read a lot of theology (yes, for fun), but I’m also read quite a bit of modern fiction, classic literature, sci fi, history, and mythology–really whatever I’m interested in at the moment. I also love listening to and playing music, hiking, and watching baseball. My wife and I are also pretty avid board-gamers.
What degree(s) did you pursue at ACU and when did you graduate?
I did an undergraduate degree in Biblical Texts and Ministry at ACU, and then stayed around to pursue a Masters of Divinity and an M.A. in Ancient and Oriental Christianity. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in Dec. 2014, my M.Div. in Dec. 2018, and will complete my M.A. in August 2019.
What kind of ministry experience do you have and where are you headed now?
During my undergraduate years, I spent all of my summers working in youth ministry internships around the country. During the school year, I volunteered at Global Samaritan Resources, a non-profit in Abilene that provides disaster relief services, supplies medical missions, and does community enrichment. I also served as a small group leader for the Highland Church of Christ campus ministry.At the start of my graduate studies in the GST, I began serving as the youth minister/associate minister of the North Main Church of Christ in Winters, TX, about 50 miles south of Abilene. During my three years in ministry at North Main I ran a Wednesday night outreach program for the local children and teens, taught Sunday morning adult Bible classes, served as the interim preaching minister while the congregation was between senior ministers, and did a host of other miscellaneous task that inevitably come when you serve in a small church, and which make ministry in those sorts of contexts particularly fun.
My wife and I actually just recently relocated to St. Louis, MO so that I could begin a Ph.D. in Theological Studies at Saint Louis University. The program is full time, so I plan to spend the next 5-6 years researching and writing for my “day job,” and volunteering/serving with a local congregation in my spare time. When the program is complete, I plan to pursue some combination of academic and ministerial work. I’m passionate about finding ways to make ministry and church life intersect with the life of the academy.
Do you feel like the GST prepared you for your future pursuits? If so, how?
I absolutely feel like the GST prepared me well for my future pursuits, both academic and pastoral. Academically, the program is rigorous and challenging, but the professors do a wonderful job of keeping the readings, discussions, and assignments focused on what is most important about their subjects. I never felt like I was being assigned busy work–everything “fit” into the broader project of intellectual and spiritual formation. ACU has such a high concentration of world class scholars who are eager to share their knowledge with you. And because the GST doesn’t have a Ph.D. program, masters students get the full attention of the faculty! The GST offers an impossibly high number of ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Ethiopic, Syriac, etc.), has a really vibrant community of students and professors working in systematic/contemporary theology, and gives students access to the upper echelons of theological studies with organizations like CSART. I was able to soak up ALL of those impressive things, and it has made me really well prepared to pursue theological studies at an even higher level.
With regards to ministry, the GST is so unique because all of its faculty are faithful Christians who are incredibly active in the local church. So even if you are studying with an eminent systematic theologian or patristics scholar, he or she also knows a ton about ministering to and with a congregation. Also, the professors teaching the practical theology and ministry classes are all highly experienced ministers who spent years in the “trenches” (so to speak), preaching, teaching, leading worship, visiting the sick, overseeing the running of the church, and spiritually forming congregants. I’ve been able to observe all of these professors, be taught by them directly, and have them as mentors for my own work in churches. As an example, while I was working in ministry during my studies, several of my professors came and were guest-preachers for my congregation. That sort of tangible support was so encouraging and impressive.
What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned in the GST?
The necessity of submitting oneself to intellectual formation in the service of ministry. I learned to ask questions in the GST that I didn’t even know I needed to ask coming out of undergraduate, I read authors that I didn’t even know existed prior to entering the program, but who have been essential for my ministerial practice and academic writing, and I was taught how to formulate my beliefs and ideas in a way that would be clear to others. For all of that to happen, I had to submit myself to intellectual formation–writing papers, reading essays, sharing my thoughts, and then allowing those thoughts to be critiqued, questioned, and modified.
We tend to think of ministry as being only a matter of the “heart”– loving people, being friendly, serving others. And ministry is certainly all of those things. But it also requires being immersed in the Christian tradition in such a way that one learns to think along with biblical authors, the fathers and mothers of the church, the theologians who have devoted their life to pondering God, and the practitioners who have thought long and hard about what it means to be a minister and “do” ministry. And to be immersed in that tradition you need teachers and mentors who will come alongside you, introduce you to those authors and thinker, help you synthesize and articulate your own ideas, and guide you intellectually in your own ministerial journey.
Share a piece of advice for current students.
Spend a lot of time visiting with your professors–talk to them about your pastoral and academic interests, ask them for advice, get to know them on a personal level. Not only are the faculty very interested and deeply invested in the lives of their students, they are also wise and attuned to the things that matter most. Perhaps the greatest strength of the GST is the access that students have to such outstanding professors. They will be an invaluable resource during your time in the program, but also once you have moved on to future pursuits.