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Student Spotlight

Joel Childers

 

Tell me a bit about yourself. 
I grew up in Abilene, Texas, and my wife Emily and I met as undergraduate students at ACU, where I received a bachelors in Bible, Missions, and Ministry with a focus in Biblical Text. Emily and I have been married just over two years, and we have the best dog in the world who’s name is Cooper. In my free time, I love to hang out with Emily and Cooper. We go for walks, play games, and give Cooper belly-rubs. I’m a huge sports fan, so I always try to catch a game of some kind on TV, mostly football and basketball. I’ve recently helped my wife develop an interest in football, so we love watching games together. She’s currently on track to have a much better Fantasy Football team than me this year. We love going to football games whenever we have a chance, whether high-school or college. Basketball is my real love, and I’m hoping for another deep March Madness run from Texas Tech. I love playing basketball whenever I get a chance, and had a blast playing on an Intramural team with some fellow grad students last spring. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a team together again this year.

What program are you in and what brought you here?
I’m currently in the third year of my MDiv in the GST, and I’m considering adding an MA in Modern and American Christianity, and I also serve as the youth Minister at the Hawley Church of Christ. I decided to pursue further theological education after my undergraduate Bible degree primarily because I felt somewhat unprepared to step into full-time ministry at the time. I have felt for several years that I was called to congregational ministry, and I poked around into a few ministry opportunities my senior year of college, but I found that my answers to most of the questions these opportunities posed felt inadequate. I felt like I could create a set of ministry programs or plan a series of nice-sounding lessons, but I had little sense of why those programs or lessons were important, how they would move a community towards a desired result, or even what that desired result was. I had little sense of the broader history, tradition, or theology that could, or should, inform my ministry. In short, I felt capable of fulfilling the tasks listed on ministry job descriptions, but incapable of stating why those things should be done, or why some ways of doing them may be better than others, other than “because it’s what we’ve always done before.”
I decided to pursue further education, and the ACU GST was a natural choice for several reasons. I was already very familiar with the school and the town, which I thought would eliminate the additional stress of a move and change of context to the already-stressful transitions of finishing undergrad and getting married. Working in the Bible department at ACU for my undergraduate degree, I already knew that the GST housed a group of professors who were both skilled in their academic areas and deeply committed to benefiting the life of the church. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I was attracted to the GST’s commitment to the Stone-Campbell tradition and Churches of Christ. My time in the GST has already renewed and strengthened my love for the church heritage I was raised in, and strengthened my desire to worship and serve within Churches of Christ. All of my professors and many of my classmates share this commitment, and my education and studies feel both rooted in and directed towards ministry within Churches of Christ. This has provided a space to consider the unique blessings and struggles that come with our traditions, while also considering directions for forward movement without abandoning our heritage.
 

What’s your ministry context look like and what’s been your favorite part of it?

I have loved the blessing of being a part of the Hawley Church of Christ and serving as the youth minister. Hawley, Texas is located about fifteen miles north of Abilene. Emily and I have been at Hawley for about six months, and the church has been generous enough to allow us to live in the church parsonage. We get to work with about fifteen middle and high-school students, who are wonderfully teaching us what it means to be in community and how to be faithful to God. My favorite part of this work has simply been the relationships I’ve been building with students. I have grown to love and trust them in only a brief time, and I hope that the same is happening on their end. They’ve shown me what it looks like to worship with their whole hearts, to study the Bible faithfully, to trust in the power of prayer, and to be welcoming to outsiders. They have excellent insights into the Scripture we study, and always ask intelligent, difficult, and engaging questions. I feel lucky to get to work with such a great group, and they give me great hope for the future of the church and our world.

 

What’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned being in seminary so far?
I’m not sure that I could point to a specific topic or fact that has been the most valuable so far in seminary, but the overall concept of “thinking theologically” has probably been the most beneficial for me. I feel as though I am being given tools, and taught how to fashion tools of my own, for thinking through things with a theological lens. Instead of making decisions in ministry, or even just in life, based on “whatever works,” or “whatever I’ve always done,” my seminary experience has challenged me to make decisions based on the truths of the Christian gospel. I’ve been challenged to ask the question “What is the theological reason behind this program, belief, or statement,” and I have also been given some tools to answer some of these questions for myself, as well as to help communities answer these questions together. I certainly still have a long way to go in this area, but I feel the seeds of theological thinking taking root, enhanced by studies in Scripture, theology, and Christian history. 
 
 
Have any advice for those considering seminary?
My main advice would be to sit down with several older ministers who have undergone seminary training and ask their advice. Doing so helped me to see the potential benefits of such an education, and helped alleviate some of my fears. Ultimately, they helped me see that the potential benefits for future ministry were far greater than the cost (both the financial and the time cost). But, as I said, you’ll have to sit down face-to-face with people who have actually gone through seminary training and lived long enough to see its payoffs.