Let me be perfectly clear: Nazarene Theological Seminary is committed to contextualized education. Not all seminaries have the same priority. But we believe deep in our bones that at the heart of ministry preparation is equipping students to flourish in the particular contexts God places them. Supervised ministry is a requirement for every graduate. Mentoring ministry is built in to our 365m program.
But even so, like every seminary, not every student gets it.
I was talking recently to a group of graduating seminarians. I said: “If I have any concerns for you as you graduate, it’s not that you will leave NTS with an inferior theological pedigree. You have studied with some of the finest biblical scholars and theologians that the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition has to offer. You have been given a wonderful education in Bible, theology, and history (traditionally, the three pillars of the M.Div. degree). No, your theological knowledge is not my concern.”
“My greatest concern for you is that your theological knowledge becomes theological wisdom. No matter how hard we have tried to instill contextual learning, there are still a few students who leave here with tremendous theological knowledge, but practically speaking, they haven’t figured out how to take that knowledge and connect it to the life of a local church.”
And then I said: “Never forget … if your seminary-trained theology doesn’t fly in Poteau, Oklahoma, it doesn’t fly.”
Knowledge is what you know – wisdom is how you use it. Contextual ministry is the tie that unites them.
Context is important to all ministers of the gospel, but especially to Wesleyans!
What is context?
Context is being aware of your surroundings. It is learning to be an interpreter of the time, place, and people all around you. There is a marked difference between urban and rural; blue-collar and white-collar; the Northwest and the Deep South. One is not better than the other; just different.
Context also means knowing your place of service as well as you know Barth and Bonhoeffer. Context is learning to read your town, the way you read a book.
Context is how Paul, the expertly trained Pharisee, could also deliver a coherent sermon on Mars Hill. Context is how Jesus, the Jewish trained rabbi, could have a spiritual conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Context is how Philip, one of the seven trained table waiters, could share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza.
Our mission at Nazarene Theological Seminary is not just to teach the fundamentals of religion – it is to teach the practice of ministry. That is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
I concluded my conversation with the graduating seminarians by saying: “Whenever you are faced with the decision between academic preciseness and pastoral sensitivities … choose to be a pastor. If the other always prevails, we have failed to prepare you for your God-called ministry.”
Oh, by the way … if you knew these students like I do, the future of the Poteau church looks very bright.