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.
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.
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.
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.