Jeff Bassett l NTS Class of 2014
Master of Divinity Degree Program
When I was waking up to God’s call on my life, I lived and worked at a church in inner city San Diego. When I came to NTS to get a Master of Divinity degree, I also chose to have an Intercultural Studies emphasis because I assumed that I would keep working in underserved urban neighborhoods; and as a middle class guy, I thought I should be wrestling with some of those questions a bit more. But God has continued to act in surprising ways.
I love the small churches that I worked at and where I learned to do ministry. I came to love those neighborhoods in Kansas City and San Diego where I was introduced to people unlike me who inhabited the Kingdom in such rich ways. But after a year at NTS, I began to feel God’s call working in me in different ways than I had expected. I kept feeling drawn to small churches, but of a different sort—the out of the way, rural churches in communities that seem to be withering and dying. Because of NTS’s distance learning program, I was able to move and intern at a church in rural Lone Pine, California (population 2,000 on a good day). I spent a summer taking Dr. Wesley’s Theology of Mission while ministering to octogenarians who live an hour from a Starbucks and 15 minutes from a National Forest. It was in this place that I began to see more clearly what God’s mission means.
I realized that there will always be somewhere more attractive than the place that I am. There will always be a higher paying church, a more prestigious position, a more visible platform to speak the message I think God has given me. But as soon as I allow that to pull me away from the mission of God-from the backwood corners of the earth or from the forgotten towns hours away from an interstate, or from the homes of ailing seniors who are beginning to lose their faculties—as soon as I allow those temptations to pull me away from these places, I have abandoned the gospel of Jesus the Nazarene for the devil’s second temptation.
And so my life was set on a path for a different kind of intercultural ministry. A year and a half later, I am now the pastor of this tiny Nazarene church where I struggle daily with how to communicate God’s grace to country people born during the Great Depression. My understanding of God’s mission in this place continues to expand and take on new dimensions through both my study at NTS and my ministry in Lone Pine. I have been able to work out with fellow students and ministers the implications of serious theological and biblical study as it relates to this marginal and wonderful place. And likewise, I have seen the importance of places like Lone Pine for my learning and study.
God is truly surprising. When God calls, it is often not to the glamorous or glorious. It is to places like Lone Pine and Galilee. It is to people whose futures are unsure and whose lives are fragile. But I pray that we would never be the sort of people who assume that because the people we serve are fragile or marginal, our preparation can be shoddy. Theological education is an opportunity for us as students and ministers to grab hold of the best of academia and allow our good and careful pastoral work to dignify the people we touch on a daily basis. I am grateful to God that NTS has allowed me the opportunity to be present in both these worlds as seamlessly as possible.