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Living the Distance: Some Thoughts on NTS and the Geography of Pastoral Vocation

Cody Ellis l NTS Class of 2014
Master of Divinity Degree Program

My call to ministry began in a particular place, measured and marked by the cracked asphalt, faded royal blue signs, condemned strips of property, and a Cash Advance store surrounding the old mission style architecture of Mid City Church of the Nazarene.  Before I sensed a calling to ‘the church,’ I sensed God’s calling to this place, a congregation located in a diverse, economically depressed neighborhood in San Diego.  I am what you might call a ‘latecomer’ to the Church of the Nazarene, having gained knowledge of the tradition only after enrolling as a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.  As I underwent a process of membership, weekly participation, internship, local and district licensing; both the Mid City congregation and I realized a calling to ministry.  Persons with whom I shared day-to-day life recognized this calling.  The senior pastor of the congregation, John Wright, mentored and counseled me through these years.  Consequently, I have a deep loyalty to this congregation.

Because of this newfound vocational commitment to the church, expressed toward this particular congregation, I had not considered applying to NTS or any other master’s program far from San Diego.  At the time, I did not think I could transfer my calling to somewhere else.  However, through friends at PLNU, I learned that NTS has a modular MDiv program (through which students can attend classes in Kansas City for two weeks at the beginning of each semester); so I applied and entered the program shortly thereafter.

While I had high hopes for the program, I also had my doubts.  Could an education delivered in this fashion have any lasting, formative impact in my life?  Without actually being at the seminary with its day-to-day interactions with faculty and students, wouldn’t the whole enterprise descend into a hopelessly isolated series of assignments unintelligible as preparation for ordained ministry? To my surprise, that is not what has happened. 

Professors at NTS are well aware of the benefits and limitations of the modular distance program, and develop classes and coursework with these concerns in mind.  Of course, the greatest benefit of this program was being able to spend most of my time in San Diego.  I have the unique opportunity to use my seminary education and formation while still learning from a congregation that would otherwise be located too far away from NTS. I have had classes with people from all walks of life; ministers unable to relocate to Kansas City but enabled to be students through online, modular, and video conferencing.  The spectrum for this format tends to be more diverse—challenging me to expand my prior conceptions about the nature of ministry and any ‘homogeneity’ or ‘uniformity’ of Christ’s body. 

Perhaps more importantly, in its service as an ecclesial education hub and capacity to connect widely dispersed students, NTS witnesses to the broader network of believers as we serve in different localities.  When fully immersed in the life and witness of one congregation, it can be easy to forget the support and prayers of all members of Christ’s body who, while geographically distant, have been united as one in Christ.  The faces I see in class, concretely witness to the church in all these places; different and diverse, yet through God’s fidelity to us brought into Gods’ one redemptive mission.

I would say that NTS has taught and continues to teach me how to live the distance.  Christ’s church is never all that I can see or imagine; there is an expansiveness for which I simply give thanks because I know that amidst the trials and joys of one local church, I share with others across great distances the same calling, mission, and witness.  Living in close proximity to some members of the Body and at a distance to others, continually reminds me that God’s gracious act of redemption in Jesus Christ has been set loose on all creation.  What a profound gift that has been for me to see and learn at NTS.   

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Reader Comments (6)

I can really appreciate your post; I am doing the same type of thing here in Ohio through MVNU and NTS. It has been great to meet the professors and students from other places during my weekly classes at MVNU, not to mention it's my home district which makes it nice. God Bless you on your journey. I feel blessed as well to have this opportunity as I saw God open the doors to make this happen here with MNVU. Love your choice of words, "living the distance" I think that is so appropriate and fitting with all our calls to serve God in ministry as we seek to walk out our lives like Christ did.

01.22.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Hello Cody, thanks for your blog post.

These modules are wonderful in that they bring people from all over and in all sorts of ministry together. I learn just as much from the other students as the professors. The pastors who come and share from their experiences and the insights they give have been a real blessing in my seminary education. There is nothing like connecting with those who are doing the work of Christ all over the world.

God bless.

01.24.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames Humphrey

Thank U for sharing that

06.1.2017 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Good job

06.1.2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

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01.23.2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Smith

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