I would first want to be known as a Christian. Like the apostle Paul, I want to know Christ and be like him. Yet, each day I am reminded of how far short I fall of that calling. So I know the need for and the cost of God’s grace. Therefore, I live in gratitude and as a willing servant of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Next, I would want to be known as a husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather. I would want to be known as one who emphasizes the practice of Christian faith in our family and encourages them to live as Christians. I want to be known as a son who respects his parents and his heritage, and as a friend who cares and can be counted on.
I am also known as the president of Austin Grad. For the past decade I have served in this role. Before that I had given 35 years to ministry in the church. I never dreamed or planned to make the move from pastoral ministry to academia. I was completely surprised when the call came.
My goal at Austin Grad is to encourage the faculty and staff at Austin Grad to equip and encourage those who are committed to preparing themselves to minister in the church. My job is to keep us focused on our mission to promote knowledge, understanding, and practice of the Christian faith by equipping Christians and churches for service in the Kingdom of God. Along with imparting information, we want to be transformed in the process of theological education.
In view of my move from ministry to academia, two stories come to mind. One is about a minister who was called to serve as a seminary president. He was surprised by the invitation. To those inviting him to take the new position he commented, “I am not a scholar so I do not see myself qualified for the position.” To that he heard the reply, “But you are from the church and you know a Christian scholar when you see one.” I understand those sentiments and strive to live up to the trust given to me.
A second story comes from Barbara Brown Taylor. She also made the move from parish ministry and preaching to academia. One Sunday morning fairly soon after the transition, she sat in a pew. A member of the congregation sitting near her commented that the view from the pew must be quite different from that of the pulpit. That resonates with me because my identity as a minister had shaped most of my adult life in the church.
There have been bumps along the road and some detours as I have tried to steer through this intersection of life in the academy and life in the church. But through this I have been convinced that the seminary and the church need to be not only in conversation, but working in partnership. The seminary exists to serve the church. The church can benefit from the careful thought about Christian faith undertaken in the seminary. That knowledge and understanding sought at the seminary should help shape the practices of the church. The seminary needs the church to remind it of its place and purpose.
In the graduate course I teach on ministry I define ministry as service offered to God through the church on behalf of its members (edification and mercy) and the world (mercy and evangelism). Ministry is done in the name of Jesus Christ. It is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. All is for the glory of God. Jesus serves as the source and model of all Christian ministry. His redemptive ministry on behalf of the world continued when he sent the Spirit to work in and through the church.
It has been said that every meeting between a minister and a church member is a pastoral occasion, and that every pastoral occasion is a theological opportunity. Seminary professors have given their lives to assist and equip Christians who are willing to take up the challenging questions and actions of ministry in the name of Jesus, through the power of the Spirit and to the glory of God. I am honored and thankful to be a part of the noble calling of training and equipping theologians for the church.
Recommended Resources for Ministry
Wallace M. Alston, Jr. and Cynthia A. Jarvis, editors, The Power to Comprehend with All the Saints
Wallace M. Alston, Jr., editor, Theology in Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Thomas W. Gillespie
David Bartlett, Ministry in the New Testament
Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care
Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit
Fred Craddock, Preaching
Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century
T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live
Rodney Hunter, Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling
Richard Lischer, A Theology of Preaching: The Dynamics of the Gospel
Richard Lischer, Open Secrets
Thomas Long, The Witness of Preaching
Thomas Long and Cornelius Plantinga, A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today’s Preacher
Martin E. Marty, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography
Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic
Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles
Eugene Peterson, The Pastor
Eugene Peterson, Praying with the Psalms
Richardson, Creating a Healthier Church
Peter Steinke, How Your Church Family Works
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life
Brian C. Taylor, Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of Benedict
Paul Scott Wilson, The Four Pages of the Sermon
Paul Scott Wilson, The New Interpreter’s Handbook of Preaching
Helmut Tielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians