I was raised by Arkansas people. Consequently, although I was reared in western Oregon, my upbringing had a fair amount of “southern” flair. I know how an entire dinner can be prepared in the same cast-iron skillet. I know what “iced tea” actually means. And, although I cannot claim to be a fan, I am very familiar with the Southern Gospel songbook.
Part of what I learned from my parents was a lexicon of words and phrases that I have discovered were regional and colloquial. On more than one occasion I was told, “You haven’t got the sense God gave little green apples.” I still don’t really know what that means, but the tone of frustration made it clear that it was not complimentary.
One common phrase among my people was, “Come over and sit a spell” or simply, “Let’s sit a spell.” This was an invitation for leisurely conversation. It did not mean anything as quick as a text or a 140-character tweet. “Sit a spell” is an invitation to stop, sit down, listen, and respond. My childhood home centered on what we called “the sitting room.” It was not a place for television or individual occupation. It was a space for lingering in conversation that was usually fairly ordinary but would sometimes break into deep and life-shaping talks.
The official seal of Nazarene Theological Seminary includes three Greek words that can be translated simply as “sit, send, and proclaim.” Jesus invited his disciples to sit and learn before they were sent to proclaim the good news of the arrived and arriving reign of God. This is the invitation that NTS extends to all who desire sustainable preparation for vocations of Christian ministry.
Seminary is about much more than offering ministers pragmatic tools in order to be good or successful leaders in the work of the church. The heart of a seminary education is guiding women and men who are called by God into the practices of spiritual formation that can shape them in the way of Jesus over a lifetime of ministry. This does not happen by simply downloading content or by the rote learning of practical strategies for success, variously defined.
To be formed as “faithful and effective ministers of the gospel” requires that one is willing to “sit and learn.” This takes a while because our students (and all of us) are so formed in the ways and means of this world. We are shaped as impatient consumers who simply want to know the bare minimums for achieving desired results. What we are doing here at NTS is not simply indoctrination in any parochial way. We are offering space and guidance to “sit and learn.”
The kind of learning that is our objective begins in prayer; a life of prayer. It is nurtured as we learn to listen well, to consider the other, and to discern the work of the Spirit who is always sending the church into its future. It is firmly rooted in Scripture, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the life of the Church. It is optimistic and hope-filled, for this kind of learning does not rise from fearfulness or protectionism, but from confidence in the God who always pursues us in love, wooing us into the graced fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Nazarene Theological Seminary is not new to this work, we’ve been doing it now for 75 years. During 2020 and into 2021, NTS is celebrating our 75th Anniversary. From a vision cast largely by Dr. J. B. Chapman in the 1920’s, to the faith of the 1944 General Assembly which voted to establish a seminary, we have now witnessed over 6,000 students willing to “sit and learn” in the deepest of ways so that we might be formed in service to the gospel. We invite you to join us, beginning with Seminary Sunday in January, to give praise to God for the blessing of our Seminary.
Everywhere I go I hear stories from alumni about how their NTS experience was a critically important component of their preparation for a lifetime of ministry. The stories are not really so much about facts, data, and content as they are about relationships, conversations, and loving guidance from professors, pastors, and colleagues. These are relationships that can really only happen when are willing to “come and sit a spell.”
At Nazarene Theological Seminary we are working to build a community of learners with the patience to be formed in the way of Jesus. This requires a way of being that is quite different than the anxious pace of contemporary life. It is not so much interested in that which is quick and efficient as that which is true and faithful. We need to slow down, listen to one another, and speak truth to one another. Kathisate. Or, as my folks might say, “Sit a spell.”
Jeren Rowell, President
Nazarene Theological Seminary