September 1, 2021
I’ve come to believe that being trusted with someone’s story is one of the great privileges of pastoral ministry. When I began serving NTS as Pastor in Residence eight months ago, knowing that almost all of my interactions would be over Zoom and pre-recorded video, I had little expectation of getting to know the stories of NTS students, staff, and faculty. But thankfully – I was wrong. I’ve been surprised by the way students and faculty have welcomed me into their (albeit virtual) space, trusted me from afar, and shared some of their deepest truths with me. Some of the stories I’ve heard have been painful; others jubilant. But every story I’ve heard has been a story of obedience that makes me proud and humbled to be a part of this community. (Some story details below have been modified to honor confidentiality.)
While we met over Zoom, one young NTS student told me her story of being newly married and recently relocated while attending classes online. She and her husband had moved cross-country to start a new church in a densely populated area of a city on the East Coast, and she was full of insightful questions. But it was clear there was a lot already going on! She shared surprising details of how God had opened doors for them thus far – even in the midst of a pandemic. With excitement, she told me the way her coursework, reading, and conversations with faculty were making direct connections to the work of church planting. I was and continue to be struck by this young couple and their obedience, boldly taking faithful steps into risky territory. And I am equally struck by the significant gift NTS is in her life, and in the life of the new church she and her husband will be pastoring.
I heard a similar story from a faculty member, who had been a part of her own church planting journey years before coming to NTS. She shared with me the twists and turns of her path, including the times of disappointment, fear, and loss. And then a few weeks later I was present as this faculty member led a discussion on “liminal space” – the space in between letting go of one thing and moving into the next. I know this faculty member has an earned PhD and gives excellent instruction in her classes. But in that moment, I saw her own story of lived obedience as the instruction being offered that day. What a gift it was – to me included! And I believe her story makes her classroom instruction all the more valuable, accessible, and important in the lives of her students.
In another setting, students and recent graduates were asked to share the story of their call to pastoral ministry. Most of the people in this event had come to seminary later in life, after time in other career fields. I’m not sure what I expected to hear from them, but I did not expect the stories they told. One person told of a critical illness that coincided with divorce, and how God totally reoriented him through this time of terrible suffering. He came through the fire knowing God’s presence with a deep fire in his own belly to offer grace and healing to others who suffer.
Another shared with tremendous honesty about calling out for help while trapped in cycles of sin and addiction – and received not only rescue, but a reaffirmation of a call to preach! And yet another current student shared that it was still unclear exactly what God was calling her to; but she knew the next step of obedience was seminary, so she enrolled.
In my congregation of 8th Street Church, we often talk about doing “the real and good work of God together.” And through the stories I’ve heard and received over the last eight months, it is clear to me that the people of NTS are indeed joining in the real and good work of God! This is the hard work of risk, courage, faithfulness, obedience, and surrender that is shared by students, faculty, administration, and staff alike. And it is clear that though this work may be hard, it is indeed producing very good fruit! In every story, I’ve heard about the ways God’s Spirit has brought healing, growth, insight, joy, affirmation, and empowerment through the work and the people of Nazarene Theological Seminary.
I am humbled, grateful, and proud to be a small part of these stories. And as an alum, a friend, a donor, or a fervent pray-er – you are too. So, thank you for joining in the very real and good work of God that is NTS!
Rev. Michaele Lavigne
Pastor in Residence