Author Archives: kenschenck

Well done! (Wayne Schmidt)

This blog post is scheduled for August 31st – Ken Schenck’s last official day as Dean of Wesley Seminary at IWU.  It has been my privilege to work beside him for nearly six years.  We are opposites in many ways, yet I’ve learned so much from him.

I thought I’d share a few of those lessons – not to elevate Ken, because that would be the last thing he would want.  But because I believe God is honored when we recognize how He is at work in those we serve with…much of what God wants to teach us comes out of team relationships.

  • The area of greatest fulfillment may not equal the arena of greatest fruitfulness

The principal architects of the unique learning model of Wesley Seminary were Ken, Russ Gunsalus and Keith Drury.  After the academic design was initially envisioned, legend has it that Keith challenged Ken to serve as Academic Dean in the Seminary’s formative first five years even though Ken’s first love and greatest strength would not be administration.  Keith planted this seed in that conversation with Ken – perhaps Ken would look back one day and realize his greatest contribution was his time of service as Wesley Seminary’s Academic Dean.  And, typical of Ken’s willingness to go the extra mile, Ken ended up serving an extra year beyond the five.

Ken’s first love is teaching and writing (and maybe posting on social media, but that’s a discussion for another time).  Yet he was willing to serve in a role that wasn’t his first love.  Our greatest contribution may not perfectly align with our greatest contentment and satisfaction – yet God may use it in significant ways for His glory.

When I was involved in planting Kentwood Community Church, one of the early endeavors that providing lasting strength to the Church was a course, provided in a small group context, called B.E.A.M. – Believers Enabled As Ministers.  It was our customized way of helping people to discover their personality strengths and spiritual gifts.  It led to a significant percentage of our congregation knowing and focusing on service in areas that fit their wiring.  Yet we discussed regularly the reality that a portion of their service may not be in their “sweet spot” – and yet the Church would benefit from it.  Our contribution must not be held captive to personal contentment.

Now I tried to pay attention to what I called Ken’s “sigh meter” – his sighs that would emerge when responsibilities with low fulfillment factors began to pile up.  Others of us on the team tried to serve in a way that kept Ken in his sweet spot the majority of the time. But not all of our service is within our strengths.  Some of Ken’s most significant work may well have had more than a few sighs sprinkled in.

  • Find the right mixture of flexibility and creativity

Wesley Seminary has a wonderfully unique learning model of integration of Bible, theology and church history with the major practical areas of ministry, delivered through team teaching.  Traditionally, Seminary learning has tended toward the silo structure – courses in Bible separate from courses in theology separate from courses in church history, and all these not connected to the practice of ministry.  The burden to figure out how it all fit together was left to the students.

Ken worked with the Seminary faculty to take responsibility for the integration – to team together professors in the different disciplines with those having experience and expertise in practical ministry.  You can likely imagine this elevated the level of complexity from our Academic Dean and faculty.  Highly creative, yet particularly challenging – quite frankly, many Seminaries wouldn’t even attempt it.

While this approach has had to be modified, Ken has worked with the faculty to maintain a framework for flexibility.  There is constant pressure to reduce the complexity, but with the unintended consequence of leaving the students unprepared to integrate what they’re learning – and to lose the unique genius of informed reflection on ministry practice.  This may leave our students vulnerable to either irrelevance or pragmatism.  Ken has skillfully partnered with our faculty to reduce unnecessary complexity while preserving the creativity and its resulting benefits.

  • Discern the relationship between your strengths and the organization’s season

When Wesley Seminary started, the curriculum was just being created by Ken and the few faculty part of the Seminary in those initial days.  One of Ken’s greatest strengths is curricular design – and then a lack of defensiveness as it was initially tested and critiqued by our faculty and students (we affectionately refer to these initial students as our gracious guinea pigs).  That is just the strength the Seminary needed in that initial season.

At the same time, in those early days, faculty collaboration was informal – usually taking place in the hallway outside one of their doors.  Ken discerned that the next season would benefit from an Academic Dean that would provide collegial leadership to a faculty becoming more substantial in number and growing each year – and helped us to invite Dave Smith to be out next Dean (I look forward to learning from Dave as well), who is known for his strength in developing collaborative teams.

  • Excellence without arrogance is a joy to be around

Ken is brilliant – I call him “scary smart.”  He does better with half a dozen languages than I do with just English.  Before I came to work in the University setting, I was warned about the “academic arrogance” generally prevalent in higher education.

What a privilege to partner with a person who exhibits profound humility in the context of great capability.  Constantly learning and improving, not a false humility that fails to offer one’s best, but a focus on personal growth while ensuring the glory goes to God.  It could have been intimidating to work with him…instead it has been invigorating.

So what are you learning from those you work with?  What qualities in them do you desire to more fully incorporate into your life and leadership?

Ken, on your last day as Academic Dean, I want to say “well done”…and am delighted that my “well done” probably means very little to you, since you live for a “well done, good and faithful servant” that has everlasting significance.

A Blessed Six Years!

New Dean David Smith and I are in that strange liminal zone of transition. He will officially assume the Dean’s role a week from today, but he has already served as Dean at the consecration service this last Saturday. Meanwhile, I moved fully out of my office on Friday. It feels a little like the kingdom of God–already but not yet. 🙂

The Lord has been gracious in this transition. I am so thankful that David Smith has taken hold of the academic wheel of the Seminary. I can already see ways in which he will advance the mission of the Seminary beyond what I have done. It has been delightful to see how excited the community is to have him return to Marion and to give guidance to the academic ventures of the Seminary going forward.

I have a few reflections on transitions of this kind, including pastoral transitions. They basically boil down to thinking of the good of the community and your replacement. Don’t stop serving the community you are leaving just because you are leaving. Don’t push an agenda on it either. Do all the good you can do in the time you have left to the degree that the community wants you to do it.

Be selfless in relation to your replacement. Don’t give in to the fallen temptation not to want things to go as well after you leave. That is of the Devil. Do everything you can to help your community continue to grow, mature, and succeed after you are gone. Do everything you can to equip your successor to be best equipped for the community to do even better than it did while you were in your role.

I commented last week that I felt good about where the Seminary is at as I leave. I think the faculty have done well to fix the most glaring areas for improvement in our curriculum. Dr. Fosua has completely improved the Worship course. Dr. Peñaranda has completely overhauled our Spanish courses. Dr. Derr is rewriting the two courses that had not been revised since the Seminary started. Dr. Smith will bring great new vision for the academics of the Seminary, but I don’t feel like I have left him anything major to fix. For that I am grateful to the faculty.

It has been a delight to learn from Dr. Wayne Schmidt these last five and a half years. He has taught me much about how to grow a seminary. I have learned a lot from him about how to lead a “seminary plant,” if I ever want to do that again. 🙂 I am incredibly grateful to him for letting me continue to work for the Seminary throughout the summer.

As those of you who know him would expect, he is a model of selfless Christlikeness and has been so throughout this process. He is completely surrendered to God’s will and doesn’t think of himself but of what will most advance God’s kingdom.

So my deepest thanks to the faculty, staff, students, alumni, board, and friends of Wesley Seminary for six incredible years, the chance of a lifetime. My participation in its founding may very well turn out to be the crowning contribution of my life. It is truly poised to change the church for good in astounding ways. The potential is practically boundless. I expect to hear amazing things coming out of the Seminary these next days!

Keith Drury has asked me if I have felt the predictable second guessing you always do when you make a transition like this one. If so, I won’t admit it! What I will say is that I am absolutely convinced that I am in the will of God and that this was the right time for a transition in the Seminary. And this is not a complete good-bye–David Smith seems willing to continue to let me teach for you some in the days ahead.

Also suffice it to say, I am incredibly excited to join the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) this Fall and to return full time to the classroom. As Wayne has said often, administration was an act of love. But I would teach and preach for free. I chanced upon a strategy meeting in STM on Friday and was amazed at the innovative juices that were flowing. “You guys are awesome,” I found myself saying.

So you haven’t heard the last of me. God bless you, Wesley Seminary!

2018 & 2042: Our Many Colored Future (Kwasi Kena)

The future. People have been and remain fascinated by it. Futurism, an art movement originating in Italy around 1909, emphasized the dynamism of speed, motion, youth, technology and the force of machinery. The movement only lasted nine years; ending in 1918. For some Futurism represented progress and hope, for others warning and fear. George Orwell took a stab at predicting the future in his classic book, 1984. Stanley Kubrick shared his thoughts in the film, 2001: a space odyssey. The business world looks to futurists who explore predictions and possibilities of the future. When I attended seminary in the ‘80s, the book Megatrends was required reading. With such widespread interest in the future, where should Christian leaders focus their gaze today? I suggest there are two sets of numbers that we should not ignore; the years 2018 and 2042.

In 2018, demographers note that the majority of persons aged 18 and under will be non-White in the United States.[1] By 2042, this country will become “majority minority”.[2] In California, Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in the state.[3] Though your church may be situated in a culturally homogenous community, the chances are increasing daily that your children and grandchildren will encounter multiple ethnic groups during their lifetimes. How then should we prepare them and ourselves to engage our many colored future?

The past year has been a particularly volatile one for race relations in the United States. We have witnessed too many cellphone, dash cam, and security videos of race-driven violence. The worst culminating in the slaughter of nine innocent victims at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

I have been teaching the Cultural Contexts of Ministry course since I first arrived at Wesley Seminary at IWU three years ago. Sadly, each time I have taught the onsite intensive, there has been some type of racially charged national incident to process in class: July 13, 2013, the verdict in the Travon Martin court case; July 17, 2014, the video release of the choking death of Eric Gardner; August 9, 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown; November 22, 2014, the shooting of Tamir Rice, and most recently June 17, 2015, the murder of the “Emmanuel Nine”. I ask students to share how their congregations responded the Sunday following these incidents. Often the room becomes uncomfortably silent. The voice of the church goes mute when it does not have a vocabulary for such situations. The “what-should-I-say-or-do-say” language only emerges after people muster the courage to enter the life of the “Other” and learn from sitting in communal anguish. Developing the cultural intelligence to deal with current events involving race must become part of the ministry toolkit of today’s Christian leaders because 2018 and 2042 are coming.

As we church leaders walk into the increasingly diverse future, what posture will we take with regard to ethnic diversity? In the Cultural Context of Ministry class, we talk about anticipatory socialization, which involves doing the pre-work of learning about some of the core values, beliefs, and history of “others”. This work involves both formal reading and real-world conversations with people from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Go beyond finding out about ethnic foods, dress, and arts. Chase the “why” question that forms people’s core values and beliefs. Get their historical view on issues.

As we move closer to being a majority minority country, there is some pre-work that Christian leaders can do. Here is a short list of options that some colleges belonging to the CCCU (Christian Council for Christian Colleges & Universities) use to guide their thoughts and actions regarding how their institutions will relate to diverse peoples on and off campus. I suggest Christian leaders review this list and consider what it would mean to practice each concept in word and dead. Invite people in your churches or institutions to help you discern which concepts would help prepare people in your ministry context to relate to others in our many-colored world with deep respect and Christ’s love.

Reconciliation

Peace Making

Anti-Racism

Social Justice

Intercultural Competencies

Celebration of Culture and/or Individual Difference

Human Flourishing

Shalom

[1] Persistent Racial/Ethnic Gaps in the U.S. http://www.prb.org/Publications/Reports/2014/us-inequality-racial-ethnic-gaps.aspx Retrieved August, 2, 2015

[2] Roberts, Sam. “Minorities in U.S. set to become majority by 2042”. The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/world/americas/14iht-census.1.15284537.html?_r=0 Retrieved August, 2, 2015

[3] Panzar, Javiar. “It’s official: Latinos now outnumber whites in California”. Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-census-latinos-20150708-story.html Retrieved August, 2, 2015

 

Two Steps to Discovering the Spiritual AND Physical Needs of Others (Bob Whitesel)

If God intends spiritual reconnection to be a reaction to crises, then how do we help people in the midst of crisis?  And, how to we know exactly which crises they are experiencing?  There are two natural and organic ways to help those in crisis.

  1. Be a friend.  Becoming a friend and traveling along with a person on his/her spiritual journey in the role of a companion is the first and most beneficial step.  Though we may also become one’s mentor, guide and navigator; this process begins with being a friend. Proverbs 17:17 reminds us that friends reflect God’s love, stating “Friends love all the time…”
  2. Ask.  After a friendship has begun, at some point you just have to ask about the crises a friend is going through.  Sometimes crises are so personal and/or unsavory that people are reluctant to share them even with a friend.  John Wesley saw this problem and suggested questions for the small group meetings that would draw out people’s needs (for more on Wesley see “Chapter 4” of Cure for the Common Church, 2012).  Figure 8.3 lists ideas for discussion starters among friends, some adapted from Wesley’s questions.

Figure 8.3 Questions for Discovering the Needs of Spiritual Travelers (Cure for the Common Church, 2012, p. 150) [i]

These questions should be asked with discretion.  Many are variations of the questions John Wesley suggested.  Remember, do not be judgmental and do not use these questions verbatim; rather use them as idea generators:

  • Do you have peace with God?
  • How is God dealing with you lately?
  • How do you feel about God?  How do you think God feels about you?
  • Is there some thought or behavior that has dominion over you?
  • Is there something in your life you wish to change, but have been powerless to do so?
  • What faults are you struggling with?
  • What secrets are you holding that you need to share among friends?
  • What things do you do, about which your conscience feels uneasy?
  • What do you want to say to God about the pain in your life?
  • When is life flowing out of you?
  • When if life flowing into you?

Excerpted with permission from Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012, pp. 149-150. You can find this post and over 1,000 more articles on church leadership and health at www.ChurchHealth.wiki.  Dr. Whitesel curates this research site, where you can sign-up to receive an email each time he posts another article on church leadership, health and growth.  This article can be found at https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/evaluation-how-to-tactfully-inquire-about-non-churchgoers-physical-needs-and-spiritual-needs-twotools/

c.f. D. Michael Henderson, John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples (Springfield, MO: Evangel Publishing House, 1997), pp. 118-119; Joel Comiskey, “Wesley’s Small Group Organization,” extracted with permission from Joel Comiskey, History of the Cell Movement: A Ph.D. Tutorial Presented to Dr. Paul Pierson; http://www.joelcomiskeygroup.com/articles/tutorials/cellHistory-1.html and Elaine Heath, address to The Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, Chicago, IL, June 16, 2011.

KNOW WHAT YOU ARE CALLED TO DO… AND DO IT! (Luigi Peñaranda)

If you are called to do something new, something that does not follow the “this-is-how-we-do-things-around-here” perspective, you will be criticized. Some will simply challenge you because they resist change. That’s normal. It’s your job as a leader to help people overcome their apprehensions to change by getting them ready for a transition and communicating a clear picture of all the positive outcomes that can accompany change. Some, however, will resist you as a leader and will try to discredit your approach or tarnish your reputation. Here is a favorite strategy of the disgruntled ones, which is very effective in church contexts: try to erode the relationship between the leader and the followers.

Jesus was no stranger to conflict, and had to deal with the divisive kind. Consider the way in which the Pharisees questioned the leadership of Jesus in Mark 2:14-22. First, the Pharisees approached the disciples and planted a little seed of estrangement towards their leader: “Why is he [Jesus] eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” Much can be said about the labels used here, but let’s pay attention to the rift the question seeks to create. If your leader’s affiliations are questionable, would you want to be associated with him or her?

Next, the Pharisees approached Jesus, but this time, they raised questions about the followers. “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Most likely, this did not mean that the disciples did not fast at all, but that they were not participating in additional “public fasts” the way other well-established religious groups did (cf. Gianoulis, 2011; Hurtado, 2011). The comparison here calls into question the legitimacy of the group as a whole, not just of the followers. The group’s actions are not honorable in the critics’ eyes and, as Malina and Rohrbaugh (2003) affirm, “to claim honor that the community does not recognize is to play the fool” (p. 213).

To be fair, the Pharisees seem to be bringing up some valid questions. People have expectations about the behaviors and traits that leaders should possess, and they make judgments about the effectiveness of a leader based on those assumptions. Within the field of organizational leadership, the technical term for those expectations is “implicit leadership theories” (Offermann, Kennedy, & Wirtz, 1994). Both questions —the one about the apparent dubious affiliations of the leader, and the one about the lack of compliance of the followers in terms of traditional expectations— have a degree of validity if taken separately. However, the way the gospel-writer masterfully tells the story reveals the true intentions of the Pharisees. They are driving a wedge between Jesus and his followers.

Jesus’ responses are very important. Notice that he is doing something new and he knows that he has been called to do so. His mission is like new wine, and it requires new wineskins. He is not trying to patch things up, he is bringing about something radically new. However, he is doing something new, not for the sake of innovation or creativity, not to attract the followers from other groups (as some churches like to do!), and not to discredit what has been done in the past. He is doing something new because that is his calling. He is like a physician, helping those who are sick. He is like a bridegroom, surrounded with people who must join the celebratory feast.

What should you do with those who, for whatever reason, are splitting apart your leadership group by questioning your approach, your reputation, and the integrity of the members of your group?

The answer is to “know what you are called to do, and do it.” While the answer sounds simplistic, the idea is not. What critics think has little impact on what you do, when you are doing exactly what you know you are called to be doing. This does not mean you don’t offer answers when others criticize you. Jesus was sharp-witted and was ready to give an answer to his detractors. It simply means that you are confident in doing what you are meant to be doing. If you don’t know your calling, you probably should stay put. Why try to do something you don’t know you are meant to do? In the words of Wayne Schmidt (2015), “avoid the danger of substituting ‘copying’ and ‘comparing’ for ‘calling’.”

References

Gianoulis, G. C. (2011). Did Jesus’ disciples fast? Bibliotheca sacra, 168(672), 413-425.

Hurtado, L. W. (2011). Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Malina, B. J., & Rohrbaugh, R. L. (2003). Social-science commentary on the synoptic gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.

Offermann, L. R., Kennedy Jr, J. K., & Wirtz, P. W. (1994). Implicit leadership theories: Content, structure, and generalizability. The Leadership Quarterly, 5(1), 43-58. doi: 10.1016/1048-9843(94)90005-1

Wayne, Schmidt. “Give God Glory.” Heartland Church, Indianapolis, IN. 14 June 2015. Keynote Address.

Wesley Seminary at IWU International Ministry Education (Wayne Schmidt)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is vibrantly spreading “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20) is being fulfilled in a global context impacted as well by growing secularism and the mission of other world religions such as Islam. Technology is being harnessed to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, with avenues such as the Jesus Film resulting in millions coming to salvation.

Simultaneously, the spread of the Gospel has prompted a need for discipleship as never before.  Indigenous disciplers, whether clergy or lay, must be raised up quickly and effectively.  Without the education of emerging leaders in the Church, truth will be lost to heresy and decisions for Christ will fail to yield full transformation through the Spirit of Christ.

Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University echoes the clarion call of our namesake, John Wesley – “the world is our parish.”  Our Seminary’s unique contribution focuses on international graduate ministry education, preparing those who will become educators and movement leaders, who in turn not only effectively serve local churches but raise up hundreds of other leaders in their ministry contexts through undergraduate and Bible Institute training.  We “train the trainers,” the faculty practitioners who in turn provide indigenous leadership and contextualized education to others.

There is urgency and opportunity because…

  • Thanks to initiatives such as the “Jesus Film” thousands have made decisions for Christ. There is a desperate need for immediate discipleship, but also for indigenous leaders who are equipped biblically and practically to raise up local church pastors who in turn will disciple so that the fruit of evangelism remains.
  • North American missionaries can’t be deployed in the quantity needed, making the best approach also the necessary approach – the raising up of indigenous leaders to develop greater capacity to build upon the credibility and connection they already have within their context.
  • Wesley Seminary builds on the proven strength of Indiana Wesleyan University in distance education. When international leaders are brought to the U.S. for extended residential education, significant percentages never return to their country of origin. Those who do return are culturally different due to their residency in the U.S., while the Church in their home region has also changed in their absence – resulting in disconnection from previous relationships and roles.
  • The economics of residential education limit the number who can be equipped because of the greater expense of educating each one – keeping people in their regional context for intensive face-to-face courses is cost efficient.
  • The hybrid format of intensive face-to-face experiences combined with online learning is becoming a common approach with proven effectiveness. The global dispersion of technology in placing online learning within reach of billions for whom it was previously unavailable or unreliable.
  • There is a desire among many foreign governments and international businesses for increased educational opportunities, creating climates where people flourish economically and create stability for communities and nations. A Christ-centered education for emerging ministry leaders, clergy and lay, can serve as a deterrent to the radicalization of young people occurring as the result of other religious groups.
  • The lines are blurring between national and international as the world experiences globalization and migration. Many cities, even in the Midwest U.S., have residents who’ve come from dozens of nations.  Some have revised Wesley’s statement from “the world IS my parish” to “the world IN my parish” because those from other nations are now neighbors.

Two approaches or “formats” are currently being utilized:

  1. INTENSIVE format – cohorts of students meeting in an international setting. The first was launched in the summer of 2013 in Bogota, and we currently have 16 students.  In early 2015 conversations about future intensive sites included Venezuela, Brazil and Spain.  Wesley Seminary and IWU are funding significant tuition discounts and regionally-adjusted tuition and compensation rates to increase affordability.  An appropriate level of financial investment by the students themselves is anticipated, and the right donor support is the final piece in making this endeavor a reality.
  2. INDIVIDUAL format – there are international ministry leaders serving the global church who are not in a geographical area where there is yet a “critical mass” to utilize a cohort approach with regionally located intensives, so we must serve them individually. So far we have served students from Panama, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and the Caribbean.  The level of complexity of this individual approach can make it more “expensive” in terms of time and money (although, if “adopted” and included in an existing cohort additional costs can be greatly reduced), but well worth it when a strategic leader is identified.

We have found, through both positive and painful experiences, building a support system for students is critical.  We have found these factors (among others) necessary for student success: sponsors to help make the degree affordable for the student, reliable internet access (at their home base as well as in areas they travel to as part of their ministry responsibilities), and proximity of missionaries who can provide encouragement and help.

Wesley Seminary at IWU is energized by serving the global Church, and we believe those opportunities will only increase as partnerships are developed, the Seminary’s capacity grows, and IWU’s vision to be a “global Christian learning community” matures.  We truly sense the best is yet to come!

#ShareUrCoat (Joanne Solis-Walker)

sharecoat In just a few days, more than 50 students will gather at Wesley Seminary to be part of a high-impact course on immigration. The Seminary in collaboration with World Relief (http://worldrelief.org/) and Immigrant Connection of The Wesleyan Church, (https://www.wesleyan.org/immigrant) will host the 40 Basic Hour Immigration Law course.  I thought it appropriate to share a few things.

The Training: I get to come alongside the experienced team of lawyers from World Relief and engage in theological reflection with those students registered for academic credit. We will have roundtable discussions and converse about immigration from a biblical, theological and historical perspective. World Relief will teach everything related to the law and the book is HUGE! Lots of immigration law to be learned.

The Outcome: Participants who complete the course and pass the immigration law exam are recognized and certified by the Board of Immigration Appeal (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/board-of-immigration-appeals).  Upon completion they begin the process to open legal immigration centers in their churches or place of ministry, where they are authorized to offer legal immigration guidance.

The Difference: These Immigrant Connection Centers are real missional opportunities to reach an unreached portion of our population that often is hiding. A summary released by the Pew Research Center, reports that 11.2 million of the 41.3 million immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented (Krogstad & Passel, 2014). Based on the 2013 American Community Survey, some of the sending countries with the largest increase during the past five year are (a) India, (b) China, (c) Guatemala, and (d) Jamaica (Zeigler & Camarota, 2014). In other words, God has brought the nations to us…we have a chance to make a difference.

So…What can we do?

I often get asked the question, what can we do? Before I highlight a bible passage I think speaks to this question, there is something personal I want to share in a very simple and yet pointed fashion.

I am Puerto Rican and I am American. My parents moved from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico to Vineland, New Jersey, where I was born into a primarily Spanish-speaking community. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. and all native born Puerto Ricans have American citizenship (e.g. social security numbers). I clarify this so you understand my background in relation to immigration.

It is often assumed that as a Hispanic I am an undocumented immigrant but this is not my case. I should also clarify that I am an educated Latina but it does not make me an immigration expert. How I respond to immigration is tainted by my story and those stories I’ve vicariously lived through undocumented brothers and sister that I dearly love and respect. However, my stance on immigration is mostly shaped by my theology. It is faith seeking understanding. It is putting into practice what I believe God believes about the immigrant.

With that said, I want to share a simple thought based on Luke 3:11 (RSV):

In reply he [John the Baptist] said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

In the next four verses of this chapter, the multitudes, tax collectors, and soldiers seem to ask a similar question: “What shall we do?”

John the Baptist in the previous verses talks about the need to repent, and to change in order to bear fruit. He is upset with those who claim to be the children of Abraham but fail to live this out accordingly. John calls them vipers and brooders; strong choice of words.

As the reader I am wondering how John is going to respond to their question.

  • To the multitude he says:
    • Share your coats (#ShareUrCoat) (v. 11).
    • Share your food (v. 11).
  • To the tax collector he says:
    • Don’t abuse of the vulnerability of others (v. 13).
  • To the solider he says:
    • Don’t misuse your authority to violate the rights of others (v. 14).
    • Don’t falsely accuse (v. 14).

His responses were so on point, they wondered if he was the Christ. 

During the next few weeks I will share on social media some very simple practical ways to #ShareUrCoat with immigrants. Education is a huge piece. This course offers a more intentional opportunity but there are also everyday things we can do to educate ourselves and put into practice ways we can serve those God has brought to this country.

Can you imagine if as the children of Abraham we really lived this out? What if we all decide to extend hospitality and ‘share our coats’ with strangers?  I know immigration seems like such a huge issue and it is but immigrants are people, like you and I.

We like John the Baptist, are not good enough to untie His sandals (Luke 3:16) but we’ve been baptized by the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16 & Acts 1:5) and we have received power to be His witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and in every part of the world. Jesus said we would do greater things in His name.

So what can you do? Perhaps start with something simple… #ShareUrCoat!

Blessings!

Joanne Solis-Walker

Interview with the New Dean, Dr. David Smith

Ken: No doubt this was a hard decision to make. You love Kingswood, its faculty, and students. You are good friends with new President, Steve Lennox, and no doubt were excited about starting on his new journey with him. Why do you feel the Lord is leading you to make this change in your life’s ministry at this time?

David Smith: Ken, thanks for giving me the opportunity to walk you thru the decision from my perspective. First, this was such difficult decision since I have a job at Kingswood University that I love and I work with people who I deeply respect. Moreover, President Mark Gorveatte has given the faculty here at Kingswood freedom to (re)create and (re)vision the curriculum for the 21st century. This is not restricted to the classes we teach but also to the entire delivery system. We have tried to create a transformational environment where we harmoniously partner with the Holy Spirit to fashion men and women in the Imago Dei. I like to think we have accomplished something innovative and unique.

Second, I have the utmost respect for our new president, Dr. Steve Lennox. Ken, you know that when you first approached me about this position of academic dean, I said, “no.” The simple reason was this: above all else, I love this man and desire for Dr. Lennox’s success at Kingswood University. Moreover, I long for Kingswood to be known as THE go-to place for ministry preparation in North America. I want nothing to adversely affect this goal.

Third, with that in mind, why move now? A position like dean at Wesley Seminary does not comes along every day. But more so, the opportunity at this juncture in the Seminary’s creation story is really a once-in-a-lifetime event. Ken, years ago there were several of us that “dreamed” of a holistic Seminary experience that would shape “practicing pastors” in a manner which would not only transform them but their churches and local communities. You, Dr. Schmidt, and the faculty and staff at Wesley have created just such a place at Wesley Seminary. Now, you and Wayne have invited me to partner in the next phase of the Seminary adventure; moving from “creation” to “sustainability.” Let’s buckle-up.
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Ken:  You were at IWU and are now returning, what new insights would you say you are bringing back from your experience at Kingswood?

David Smith:  When it comes to curriculum–Two words immediately come to mind; integrated and holistic. First, and Wesley Seminary stands firm on this value; the best teaching and deepest learning takes place in an integrated life-experience. Most seminaries have historically taught classes within specific disciplines: Bible, Theology, Church History and practical ministry classes. But no one in the real world lives in that kind of silo-mentality. We must “live, move and have our being” as whole persons. My question has always been “why not model teaching the way we live life?” Thus, output from one class serves as input to another. If you are taking a Bible class on the Gospels, an exegesis assignment on Mark or John will become the sermon topic for a Homiletics class. We need not double up assignments thinking that will give us better outcomes. Theological education should mirror life!

My second take away from Kingswood flows directly out of the idea of integration but this new nuance is found in the word holistic. Every area of life becomes a classroom experience. Not merely a room with four walls and some flashy technology. Rooms are great, but there is more to theological education than the exchange of content in a assigned classroom (brick-and-mortar or virtual). Moreover, AFTER seminary, will our learning and growing still take place or must you reconvene with a ministry expert to explore fresh truths? Thus, at Kingswood we have tried to create “classrooms without walls.” Every institution says this. We celebrate it! Hallways, cafeteria, chapel, coffee-time, eating in professors’ homes are just as integral to learning process as the traditional classroom. Learning takes place in all arenas of life.

When it comes to holistic theological education; that implies more than the cognitive realm. Kingswood is not just about making her students smarter but about shaping their heads, hearts, and hands all at the same time. This is just as true for Wesley Seminary. Since everyone one must be serving in ministry while in Seminary; the best learning laboratory is no longer found in the classroom or a library cubicle but the most-favored place for learning is actually in the local church. Personally, in my mind, the shaping of a person’s soul is just as important (if not more so) than the fashioning of their cognitive domain. Listen to what I just read by Dallas Willard this morning when asked what is the primary role of a pastor in the transformation of his/her local church, “You must arrange your life so that you are experiencing deep commitment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.” Willard is stressing (as do all the other spiritual formation guru’s; Eugene Peterson, James Bryan Smith, Richard Foster) that pastoral ministry is less about what you know and what you do; but more flows directly out of who you are! We must be about shaping the WHOLE person to facilitate true Kingdom outcomes.
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Ken:  Some might argue that Wesley Seminary is entering a second phase in his existence. The planting and founding stage is over. As you look forward, what is your vision for Wesley Seminary as its incoming academic Dean?

David Smith:  I am unapologetically a collaborative-leader. It would certainly be possible for me to give you a list of ideas that are close to my heart; many of which I have shared with Dr. Schmidt during the interview process over the last month. I shared them with him so he would know where my passions lay and what causes my heart to beat faster. But if I was to put them into a 1,2,3 step plan for Wesley Seminary during the next 18 months and hand them over at our next Wesley Seminary faculty meeting; I would set the tone as a patriarchal dean. Instead, I desire to get to know the faculty and staff…and to discover their passions for Wesley. Next, to examine the current trajectory and to put into place any needed systems to sustain (and even escalate) the unprecedented growth patterns for the first 6 years.

Being a collaborative-leader often means change takes place at a slower pace. But at the same time, its final outcome is not merely a decision but to enjoy the journey with the ones whom you are traveling. Moreover, the journey is like the offer Gandalf gives to Frodo, “I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” The great delight for me is that when the adventure is over, its not just a wonderful time of creative energy but that we have been fashioned in a unified whole who have a shared vision and unified ownership. I love being employed (and called) in the Kingdom.

But if it might help…let me share two truths about myself that might reveal a few directions I just might be leaning…

I am a Pastor-Teacher. I tell President Mark Gorveatte regularly, I am a pastor masquerading as a dean. I can do administration but heart is with and for the local church. Paper shuffling and I are not best friends; unless it leads to the goal of forming the faculty/staff into persons-on-mission-together or shaping the Imago Dei in others. And the older I get the more I affirm this; teams work so much better than individual super-stars. That is why I love Wesley Seminary; for here we celebrate “foot-washing pastors” not intellectual giants in the front of a classroom.

I am a Bridge-builder. I long for the Academy as a whole to serve rather than be served. We have for too long seen the “ivory tower” as the pinnacle and purveyor of the knowledge of Christ. Yet the call of Scripture summarized by Paul in the Ephesian prayer, “For this reason I kneel before the Father…that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:18-19). Thus, the Academic world disconnected from the local church is disembodied truth; for love, according to the Apostle Paul surpasses our thinking capacities. And the local church isolated from both the Academy and the global Kingdom will and certainly has at times atrophied into its current less-than-effective state (at least in the North American context). Thus, I long to spend time connecting the local church, the Academy, and the world into its purposeful reality, so God can once again declare His creation-fiat, “It is good.” This, in my heart, means we must be driven by His Spirit to be Kingdom minded-creation honoring-ethnically inclusive-local church oriented followers. Kingdom success can be defined in so many ways, but for me, it’s how well we play together and enter into the Perichoretic dance with the Triune God. This I want to be involved in on both the vision-casting level but also as an active participant.
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Ken:  What else would you like to say to those who are excitedly watching you make this transition?

David Smith: In early spring, all Wesleyan pastors are asked if this will be a year of transition for them. I was asked by a number of pastors to help them “traverse” this thought-process with them. I penned this blog post to help others in their process. Little did I know that the Lord was preparing Angie and me to think deeply over the people and the place where we would be serving in the years ahead.

Five years ago, the Lord did not lead us AWAY from Indiana Wesleyan but rather called us TO Kingswood. His voice was clear and undeniable. Not obeying was never an option. We have treasured every day we have spent here in Atlantic Canada– breath-taking landscapes, delicious seafood, and so many beautiful relationships of all ages that have shaped the way we love the Lord and serve others. I have been given countless opportunities to serve the church like never before. For this I am eternally grateful. Nevertheless, the move to Canada was hard because of the distance we placed between family and life-long friends. Angie and I both have aging parents whom we are not serving well and grandchildren who we are watching grow up on Skype.

Everything I Learned about Church I Learned from the Drive-In Theater (Kwasi Kena)

In 1989, Robert Fulghum wrote the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book is a series of two to three page essays. Each one presents a reflection on some unique learning experience Fulghum had in life. His book opens with a poem like creed that proclaims that all one needs to learn about living a good life one already knows or should have learned in kindergarten. In related fashion, I wonder if we can learn much about church behavior from the rise and fall of drive-in theaters.

In 1955, The Reformed Church of America gave The Reverend Robert Schuller and his wife Arvella a $500 grant to start a ministry in California. In a quirky entrepreneurial move, the Schullers chose to launch their ministry in a drive-in theater. An early ad expressed what the ministry appealed to in potential visitors: “The Orange Church meets in the Orange Drive-In Theater where even the handicapped, hard of hearing, aged and infirm can see and hear the entire service without leaving their family car” (Garber, 2012).

The idea of a drive-in church appealed to a combination of privacy and public spectacle. People could worship in the private space provided by their enclosed cars, while simultaneously joining other private worshippers in a public space. Worshippers came, watched and drove home without having to leave their cars or interact with people in the “congregation” or the surrounding community.

In his classic book, With Justice for All, John Perkins took a stance opposite that of drive-in church culture. Perkins, a native of Mississippi, did what many blacks did during segregation. He noted the three choices before him: 1) Stay, accept the system and become dehumanized; 2) go to jail or get killed; or 3) leave for the big city (Perkins, 2007, p. 16). Perkins chose the latter and moved to California where “he made it”. There, Perkins got a good job, earned a good living, and purchased a house where his wife Vera Mae and his children could live a happy comfortable life. But, as Janet O. Hagberg points out in Real Power, what Perkins acquired is what Hagberg refers to as power by achievement. In this stage you acquire the types of status symbols that presume success: a good job, a nice car, a fine home, a comfortable style of living. She goes on to note, however, that real power begins to surface when we acknowledge the call on our lives. When we recognize that we live not just to accumulate external symbols of success, but rather respond to the inner urges of God’s Spirit.

Ironically, in the midst of this season of comfort, Perkins got converted to Christianity and became a diligent disciple. Then Perkins sensed God’s call to return to segregated Mississippi; a place where he had no job, no opportunities, and no home to call his own. It was there that Perkins learned to live among the people he was called to serve; to feel what they felt and see life through their eyes. After years of living among the people, overcoming their astonishment at his return at great cost to himself and his family, the people began to trust him. He entered into solidarity; and from that space of trust Perkins and the people in the community together determined when, where and how they could become partners in helping to build each other up and develop the community for Christ.

In the 1980s there were over 2,400 drive-in theaters; now, there are less than 350. Times have changed. The technology in the movie industry changed from 35mm film to digital and the expense of updating drive-in theater projection equipment is cost prohibitive. Times have changed. The ethnic demographics in the United States is more varied than it ever has been in the history of this nation. Chances are great that the neighborhoods surrounding church edifices built in the mid to late 1900s have changed drastically. Drive-in congregations remain a reality. The question becomes whether or not drive-in congregants are willing to relinquish preferences for privacy and minimal interaction with members of the community surrounding the church.

References

Garber, M. (2012) “Real faith: How the drive-in movie theater helped create the megachurch. The startup origins of the Crystal Cathedral”. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/reel-faith-how-the-drive-in-movie-theater-helped-create-the-megachurch/258248/

Hagberg, J. O. (2012). Real power: Stages of personal power in organizations (Third Edition). (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company).

Perkins, J. (2007). With justice for all A strategy for community development (Revised & Updated). (Ventura, CA: Regal Books).

 

 

Culture and Christ: 3 Lessons (Bob Whitesel)

Lesson 1:

Carefully investigate and examine elements of a culture. Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

However, a failure by Christian communicators to sufficiently investigate modern culture can make us look irrelevant. In an earlier book I interviewed Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California. Larry told me the phenomenal growth of the church was in part because he regularly studies modern culture by perusing secular business, entertainment, and lifestyle magazines. “If I don’t understand the business world, when a businessperson talks to me about his or her world, its like were using two different dictionaries.”(2) The use of disparate dictionaries can also dilute an exchange of ideas with the young culture.

Therefore stay current with today’s youth culture by cautiously scrutinizing their books, music, movies, music videos, computer games, web-sites, web-blogs, etc.. While the truths of the Good News must never be sacrificed nor altered, connecting and contrasting it with today’s youth culture can make it more comprehensible.

Lesson 2

Discriminate and sift elements of a culture. There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)  “Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category, “Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)  Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson 3

Reject or affirm elements of culture. The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled. Freeway’s use of comedic film clips to underscore or juxtaposition God’s Word and contemporary culture has helped this organic congregation connect the Good News to unchurched young people.

Excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press).

Endnotes

  1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
  2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
  3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
  4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
  5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
  6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
  7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
  8. Ibid., p. 114.
  9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
  10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.