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Dr. Carla Sunberg  |  President


Read President Sunberg’s thoughts concerning ministry, the pastorate, theology, theological education and the Church. 

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Friday
Feb052016

CLERGY, MINISTERING TO THE WHOLE CHURCH OF THE 21st CENTURY

What does it mean to be called to the ministry? I think that’s a question that a number of people are asking themselves these days. Dan Aleshire, executive director for the Association of Theological Schools recently commented that the days are gone when the winds of culture and society would simply blow people into our churches and fill the pews. As a result, those who have a call to ministry may not find themselves serving in a traditional setting. Instead, we discover clergy who feel called to coffee shops, bakeries, hospitals, schools, community and international development, chaplaincy, and the local church. If this is the case, then how does a Seminary help to prepare clergy for the 21st century who serve the whole church?

While there is great diversity in the context of ministry these days, there are also features which are relevant to all who are called. It is those common features which must be the focus of theological education and preparation for those who will minister.  

No matter where one serves, a minister needs to know why he or she is serving. When my husband was young his father told him, “If you’re called to be a pastor it’s the best job in the world. If you’re not called, it’s the worst job in the world.” The why question must be related to a call from God and not a call from family or friends, or because one thinks it would feel good to help needy people. Throughout all of history God has been in the business of calling individuals to vocational ministry. God called the Levites who began serving at the tabernacle when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. That was their context. They prepared daily sacrifices and cared for a portable place of worship, but they knew that this was their calling. Today the calling carries into a new context where God continues to use his servants.

No matter where one serves, a minister needs to know what he or she believes theologically. Since her inception the Church of the Nazarene has existed within the stream of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement. This movement has filled a distinctive role within the body of Christ, challenging believers to a deeper walk with the Lord, resulting in a life of holiness. Our theological beliefs create the blueprint for all of ministry. Whether serving coffee in a café or preaching in a pulpit, our Wesleyan theology informs the ways in which we minister.

No matter where one serves, a minister needs to live as an authentic servant leader. The Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1Cor. 11:1) He knew that the people whom he served would be watching the way in which he lived every single day of his life. He could have never preached or taught about a life of faithful service if he weren’t willing to live that way himself. The daily life of a minister may say more about their ministry than what is preached from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. Effective ministers throughout the centuries have been those who have been willing to serve others with an attitude of humility.

No matter where one serves, a minister needs to have a passion for knowing Christ. Too many people have struggled in ministry because they have failed to make knowing Christ a priority. The goal of the Christian life is to become more and more like Christ. Time must be set-aside for prayer, scripture reading and study. This intentionality and self-discipline has formed the ministers of the past and will continue to shape and form effective ministers in this century.

No matter where one serves, the more the minister knows Christ, the more his or her heart will break for those who are lost and suffering. Passion for the lost grows out of love for Christ. If the motivation for ministry comes from the latest program it will eventually lose its energy. Far too many ministers have found themselves burned out by their dependence on their own merits rather than relying on the passion which comes from Christ. When one truly becomes united with Christ, then the burdens of Christ become personal. Christ died for the lost and when this becomes a living reality within the heart of a minister, there will be an overwhelming desire to reach out and touch a very broken world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

The context in which the church is ministering is rapidly changing and this is creating numerous challenges. The whole church is now being found in the sanctuary and in the coffee shop around the corner. Ministers are needed to serve in a variety of capacities and the church and Seminary must be ready to support them in these new settings. At the same time, we must continue to nurture the core and fundamental needs which remain unchangeable. The principles of clergy preparation remain timeless as God continues to call, and the Seminary continues to prepare faithful and effective ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Thursday
Dec032015

THE BEST TOOLS

If you have ever held a garage sale you will discover the vast number of individuals who are looking for that “bargain” when someone has decided to sell all of their tools. People get excited about saws and wrenches and finding a great deal! The point is, the more proper tools you have the more efficiently you can do your work. Or, at least this is the excuse that many husbands use when they arrive home with the latest power tool!

Recently I was speaking with a retired District Superintendent who shared with me his observation of ministers with whom he had worked. He said that he didn’t have any direct data, but it appeared to him that NTS graduates seemed to have a longer tenure in the pastorate because somehow they were able to adjust to changes which inevitably occur over time. This prompted me to check in with the research department of the Church of the Nazarene to see if there may be data which could corroborate this assumption and sure enough, an NTS graduate who is currently pastoring serves, on average, two years longer than someone who has not attended Seminary. This brings us back to the issue of tools. Could it be that just as it comes to fixing cars and projects around the house, the better the tools a pastor has in his or her tool box the more complex issues he or she is able to confront?

There are numerous pathways to ministry and to ordination in the church and God uses all of these in the kingdom. At the same time there are those who are asking whether there remains a need for a Seminary education, or whether there could be faster and/or cheaper ways for people to get into the ministry. We should never continue to do things the way we’ve always done them simply for tradition’s sake! At the same time, being a historical theologian, I am amazed at what we can learn from history. Historically, when the church has been at a major crossroads she has needed a clergy with the ability to utilize a full tool-box to respond to the seismic changes in the world around them.

The Apostle Paul speaks of his own upbringing at the feet of Gamaliel, and that he was “educated strictly according to our ancestral law.”[1] Paul had one of the finest educations of his day for Gamaliel was schooled in philosophy and theology. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and his influence so great that he is “one of only seven Jewish scholars who have been honored by the title ‘Rabban.’” [2] Paul goes on to use his education tool box to become the greatest missionary the world has ever seen. His life and writings comprise half of the New Testament and influence all of Christianity to this very day.

Basil of Caesarea was a minister and theologian in the fourth century. He lived during the first century in which Christianity found itself free to worship without the threat of punishment from the government authorities. This time of cultural shift was difficult to navigate for no one had experienced Christianity in this context. Basil was educated at home in the Scriptures and then studied Rhetoric in Caesarea. After this he traveled to Athens to study at the great school of the philosophers. In reality, he had the finest education one could receive in day. For Basil there was no separation between the study of theology and his life in service to God for they were one and the same. His voice in the doctrinal debates of the 4th century, those between the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, continues to shape Christianity to this day. He was able to employ everything that he had learned and experienced in life as tools to help Christianity forge a new future in the midst of radical change.

In less than two years we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The world was changing rapidly during this period of the Renaissance, including major shifts in political power. The role of the Roman Catholic Church was being tested in ways she had never quite imagined. Enter a man by the name of Martin Luther, an ordained priest who had taken years to study for the ministry. He had two bachelor’s degrees as well as a Doctorate in Theology. He served on the theology faculty of the University of Wittenberg. Reaching into his toolbox he translated the Bible into the German vernacular which became transformational in the lives of generations to come. He was able to use his mind and tools to adapt and minister in new and different ways.

John Wesley was an Anglican minister who studied at Oxford. He earned both the bachelor and master’s degrees, taught Greek and lectured on the New Testament. Of course there is much more to Wesley’s life and many experiences which followed his formal education which led him to eventually co-found the Methodist movement along with his brother Charles.  Wesley believed that his Methodists needed to be well-educated on a variety of topics therefore he, himself wrote numerous books and encouraged all his Methodists to be well-read. So that they could be well-read he was a proponent of Sunday School, a place where low-income children could learn to read and write. As a result of a creative imagination and a box full of tools Wesley was able to have a major impact on Christianity and society as a whole within a politically hot environment of cultural change.

 Any of this sound familiar? Just read the headlines on a regular basis and we realize that we are living in an era of major shifts in society and Christianity: 

Mainline Protestants make up shrinking number of U.S. adults[3]

Demise of Christianity: 1,000 churches could shut across Britain as congregations shrink[4]

Christianity Has Only Itself to Blame for Its Demise[5]

While these may be the headlines, they provide a glimpse into a new future that will not look like the past. Just as the great leaders of history utilized all the tools and resources at their disposal to transition through times of great change, we too have that opportunity. Os Guinness suggests that we are entering a “Grand Age of Apologetics.” He comments that the era of “Christian consensus” is coming to a close and as a result “we have a fresh opportunity to make the gospel appealing.”[6] This requires an ability to communicate truths at a depth that reach to the very heart of the people to whom we want to minister. Os reminds us that Jesus didn’t use the same techniques over and over again, but spoke directly to the needs of each individual. This requires discernment and an ability to adapt, utilizing different tools in each setting. 

Not everyone will have the ability to attend Seminary; but if it is at all an option, it is one which ought to be explored. Phineas Bresee once said, “If I knew that I had but ten years to live and serve, I would take five years for preparation, and do more in the remaining five than in the whole ten years.”[7] We need those who will take the time to fill up their tool boxes, not just with the tools, but with the capacity to think about how to use those tools and then work beside a master craftsman until the tool and the person become one. We need those who will be able to lead us through the storms which lie ahead and will carry us through without losing our faith or theological underpinnings. Sometimes you simply have to invest in the best tools possible and combine those with the work of the Holy Spirit and then move out in faith into uncharted waters to lead us through, safely to the other side. It’s been done before and it can be done again. The Church needs those who are willing to sacrificially give of their time to study, seek the face of God and lead us as a holiness church into the future.

 


[1] Acts 22:3

[2] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 838). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] Pew Research, May 18, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/18/mainline-protestants-make-up-shrinking-number-of-u-s-adults/

[4] Express, August 1, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/595398/Demise-Christianity-1000-churches-shut-across-Britain-congregations-shrink.

[5] Huffington Post, June 9, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/byron-williams/christianity-has-only-itself-to-blame-for-its-demise_b_7546058.html.

[6] Os Guinness, “Welcome to the ‘Grand Age of Apologetics.’” An interview by Tim Stafford in Christianity Today, July 23, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-web-only/os-guinness-interview-welcome-grand-age-apologetics.html.

[7] Brickley, Donald P. Man of the Morning: The Life and Work of Phineas F. Bresee. (Kansas City MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1960), 21. 

Wednesday
Sep092015

THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACE

The new virtual, or digital, world provides us with opportunities for study in a variety of ways. We can be anywhere in the world and still connect into a classroom and participate in ways that would have only existed in our imagination just a few decades ago. NTS offers numerous innovate ways to study through the use of technology. We have purely online programs, video-conference and 1-week intensive courses at campuses around the country, making the NTS experience within reach of anyone. And yet, there is something significant about having a place to call “home.” No matter how many satellites we send off into space they still have to orbit their home – and no matter how many new forms of teaching we adopt, there is still something about the DNA of the “home” from which the teaching originates.

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Wednesday
Jul152015

THE COST BENEFIT OF THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION

Recently, I was talking with a minister who shared with me that he wanted to do his doctoral work at NTS, but that he couldn’t because (he believed) it was simply not affordable.  He told me that he had completed his Master’s degree at another Seminary because it was closer to home, and presumably cheaper. When he told me the cost of degree, I told him that it was nearly twice the cost of the MDiv at NTS. Then I told him the total cost of the Doctor of Ministry degree at NTS and he was stunned at the affordability. 

The cost of all forms of higher education is a frequent topic of conversation these days. This is especially true for those who have a call to ministry. Insurmountable debt can become a barrier to pastoral ministry and therefore it becomes wise to ask questions about the program into which you will be entering and compare the information.

Nazarene Theological Seminary is subsidized by the Church of the Nazarene  and all students realize these benefits with a very competitive tuition rate. Among comparable seminaries, NTS is the best value. Our hourly rate is less than most of our competitors. Not only is our regular rate competitive, but we offer numerous scholarships. Our average scholarship rate is 22%.

Most of the educational debt that students incur comes from their undergraduate education. Even bearing this in mind, one-third of all NTS graduates complete their education with no debt. Another third will graduate with a manageable amount of debt, but unfortunately another third will leave with a combined undergraduate and graduate debt that is quite substantial.

NTS is committed to helping those students entering NTS with large debt. Through our Center for Pastoral Leadership (CPL), we are providing financial tutorials as well as an on-site financial advisor to help with issues of personal financial management. These services are made possible by a grant from the Lilly Foundation to help our students keep educational debt at a minimum and help facilitate them in ministry.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

Nazarene Theological Seminary has been in the business of preparing kingdom leaders for 70 years. When the doors of the Seminary were first opened, tuition was provided by the denomination. As we embark on the next 70 years we would like to do all that we can to reduce the cost and eventually provide for most or even all of our students’ tuition costs. For this to happen, we have begun a new endowment: “Future Pastors and Leaders Scholarship Fund.” Our goal for this fund is $10 million. To date we have $1.4 million and are looking for those who will help us invest in our future kingdom leaders.

In the next 10-15 years, 40% of all pastors of all denominations in the United States will retire. We must be intentional about helping to raise up and support the next generation of pastors and leaders. If you would like to help us make a difference and participate in this fund, please feel free to contact me at CSunberg@nts.edu

Wednesday
Mar052014

"Reclaiming Eve" Forum Follow-Up

What a privilege it was to share with the NTS family about Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God. In a forum with faculty, staff and students, healthy discussion ensued. What you read below is in response to that conversation. 

WHY DOES EVE NEED TO BE RECLAIMED?

People within church congregations are asking theological questions on a daily basis.  Interestingly, they are often not aware how much theology influences biblical interpretation. I’ve been told, “I don’t want to hear what some person thinks, I just want to hear a sermon from the Bible.” However, every time someone preaches, they share their interpretation or view on Scripture, and this is influenced by theology. As a result, people are engaged in theological discourse—whether they know it or not.

This leads us to a discussion of Eve. Our attitudes toward Eve have been formed by the theology that has shaped our lives. The name Eve itself conjures up all kinds of images, most of them not good. She is remembered as a temptress who continues to live in all women who are cursed because of Eve’s behavior! Humanity’s relationship to God is altered, as is Eve’s relationship to Adam, and they are expelled from the garden.  

But now comes a theological question: Do we believe that humanity’s relationship to God can be restored as a result of the work of Christ? Yes! Isn’t that what Christ’s death on the cross has done for us? Isn’t that the understanding of the atonement … the “at-one-ment” that we can experience with God? Most all of Christianity celebrates this truth.

So here comes the second theological question: If we believe that humanity’s relationship with God can be restored, why do we not profess that the Adam-Eve relationship can be restored? You may think, “Of course, I do believe that!” But do you really? It is in Christian circles that I have heard a male-female relationship of subordination affirmed, and the rationale given is that this is how God ordained the relationship as Adam and Eve left the garden. 

This leads us to the fact that Eve needs to be reclaimed. Not the temptress Eve, but the original Eve; the one created in the image of God with the purpose of being an equal partner together with Adam in caring for this world. It is in reclaiming this original Eve that we discover God’s intention for every woman and God’s purpose for male-female relationships … the Blessed Alliance

WHY WRITE Reclaiming Eve?

Because people in the pew are asking theological questions, we need to respond by providing theological answers in accessible ways. While the academy is continually engaged in theological dialogue, laypeople are not often brought into that level of conversation. This is a sad commentary on both the academy and the condition of the church. In the early years of the holiness movement, laypersons were known to have large libraries of holiness literature that they read and studied with veracity. Not only do I believe that it’s time to Reclaim Eve, but it is also time for theologians and biblical scholars to write in such a way as to shape the theological landscape of the church. 

I am deeply grateful to my co-authors, Suzanne Burden (pictured far right) and Jamie Wright (pictured far left) for their commitment and willingness to go on the “Reclaiming Eve” journey with me. The three of us labored over this project for several years because as we studied and began to Reclaim Eve, we too began to grow. What we learned we want to share with others. 

From the early centuries of Christianity, theology was never intended to simply be an intellectual practice; it was to be the deeply personal expression and articulation of a growing faith. The Church Fathers wrote theology as they were wrestling with their own personal experiences with God.  We wrote Reclaiming Eve because even today we must continue to wrestle with our personal experiences and what they mean for us theologically. Inside the pages of Reclaiming Eve, we share in a very transparent way how we have been stretched. And that’s why we had to write the book.

WHAT IS OUR DESIRED OUTCOME?

One of our pastors present at our chapel forum asked whether I thought it would be possible to preach a sermon from what we find in Reclaiming Eve. I certainly hope so! Could it be that we have been silent for far too long because we don’t want to tread into theological waters? How can we not? As I said in the beginning, whenever we explain Scripture we are doing theology. 

The church should be willing to speak out about what she believes about the restoration of relationships between God and man, and humanity to humanity. Could that be why Jesus continually reminded his followers that they were to love God and love neighbor? By Reclaiming Eve, we reveal the depth of love of neighbor. By supporting God’s original intention for Eve, we unleash a whole new generation of women who are set free by the work of Christ. These women will link arms with their brothers as strong partners in the work before us in the kingdom. The synergistic energy will be a revelation of Jesus’ desire that the world look upon his followers and know that they are Christians by their love for one another.

We are heading into the Lenten season, and this week we will celebrate Freedom Sunday. All over the world, women are being bought and sold because they are simply viewed as commodities. Church, we must stand up and Reclaim Eve, the woman created in the very image of God. She is not a commodity to be on the marketplace. She is the crowning jewel of all creation. Let us be willing to embrace our theology and bring it to the people. Then, may we live out our theology and be willing to take action, as God’s sons and daughters are unleashed in service to him. 

Let’s see what God might be up to as we Reclaim Eve. Find the writing team at ReclaimingEve.org, and join in the conversation at #reclaimingeve and #neverendingprayer.