Urbana Theological Seminary


August 11, 2014

Back to school: class spotlight

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 4:20 pm

It is hard to believe it is mid-August already! In just a couple of weeks, Urbana Seminary’s fall classes will begin. With that in mind, we have asked three of our professors to say something about a class they are offering this semester:

First, Dr. Mike McQueen explains his favorite class: “Ministry and Evangelism in Cultural Context (MECC) is the class I most like to teach for two reasons. First its content is designed to help students think through ministry in the real, changing and frustrating world in which we find ourselves. Truth meets postmodernism, not only in the context of daily witness, worship, preaching and counseling, but also in work, entertainment, sex, and politics. Second this class is primarily oriented toward discussion. Not just readings, but also TV, movies, songs and jokes provide the basis for critique of both culture and church. This course is by far the most popular among students of the courses I teach.”

Second, Dr. Kenneth Cuffey explains why everyone should take a perennially popular class: “There’s Adam and Eve, there’s Abraham and Moses. Don’t forget David, Solomon, and Isaiah. Abraham lived in tents and lied about his wife. Moses talked to bushes, went through the Red Sea, and got the law from God. David killed Goliath, along with lots of others, and got a crown. Solomon was one wise fellow, but overwhelmed by too many wives (as in 1000). Isaiah spoke for God. So the Old Testament is a long string of exciting stories, right? All having nothing to do with each other? Not so! No way! The Old Testament tells a story. It fits together, it flows along, it starts in the beginning and goes somewhere. What? How? Old Testament Survey is designed to be a life-changing experience, as you get a feel for the glue that connects the seemingly separate stories of the OT one with the other. Do you know where God is heading in the story of the Old Testament? Do you know what that story has to do with you in 2014 in Illinois? Old Testament Survey is a great place to discover–about God, about how to read the Bible, and about what holds it all together. Solid. Thought-provoking. Down to earth and practical for now.”

Finally, we are introducing an exciting new class this semester:

Pilgrimage: A Prominent Theme in Celtic Christian Spirituality
Peter D. Spychalla, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

Peregrinatio, or pilgrimage, is an important biblical theme expressed prominently and creatively in the piety of Christians through the centuries living in Celtic lands—modern-day Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. In the New Testament, believers are exiles (1 Peter 1:1) whose true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). They seek their true heavenly homeland (Hebrews 11:13–16), following their Lord and Savior, Jesus, who had no earthly place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Celtic believers sought to be “pilgrims for Christ”—some sailing away to new lands for God’s purposes while others separated themselves from earthly distractions in radical devotion to Christ. Celtic hagiography recounts missionary endeavors and fantastical seafaring voyages of Saint Patrick, Saint Columba, Saint Columbanus, Saint Brendan the Navigator, Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, and others. The motif of the spiritual life as a journey with the Trinity as one’s companion is woven like a Celtic knot throughout hymns, songs, and poems found in Celtic Christian tradition. As an Irish hymn expresses, “Alone with none but Thee, my God, I journey on my way; what need I fear, when Thou are near, O King of night and day?”
We invite you to join this pilgrimage with us this fall at Urbana Theological Seminary as we study this theme and others in the course “Celtic Christian Spirituality.”

These three classes offer great adventures and learning experiences this fall that you will not want to miss out on!


April 12, 2014

Founders Day 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:21 pm

Every Spring Urbana Seminary observes Founders Day.  For 2014 it’s today, April 12th!

 

What is Founders Day and why do we observe it?  It’s a day to commemorate the hand of God in our founding as a school, to remember the people who made sacrifices and gave gifts, who prayed and created and worked.  Founders Day is a time to say thank you to all who have helped and played a part, to register our gratitude to God for his hand overseeing the creation of a new ministry here.

 

Urbana Seminary was founded in 2002.  In 12 years so much has happened.

  • The decision to seek stand alone status as a school
  • The pledge of a significant gift that enabled the Seminary to launch (April 26, 2002)
  • The gathering of a core of people with a heart for the work who began the process of designing a curriculum, teaching and serving students, and applying for state approvals.
  • Dedication of the new suite of offices at 314 E Daniel (April, 2004)
  • Granting of Operating Authority by theIllinoisBoard of Higher Education (April 5, 2005)
  • First graduation of two Certificate students (May, 2005)
  • Granting of Degree Granting Authority by the IL Board of Higher Education (December 4, 2007)
  • Launching of the first Founders Fund campaign (April, 2011)
  • Launching of the 10th anniversary celebration year (April, 2012)

 

Praise God!  We celebrate his guidance and involvement in all that has happened.  You’ll notice that in the selection of events listed above there are a number that occurred in April, hence our choosing April each year for Founders Day.  And much more—each successive year another graduation (2014 is our 10th annual!); other significant donations that have ministered to our students and staff; a growing library; beginnings of accreditation processes; additions to the faculty and student services staff; a succession of students who have come to study and grow and get equipped.

 

This is a kingdom ministry to train God’s servants for His glory.

Unless the LORD build the house,

The builders labor in vain. 

Psalm 127:1a

If God’s not in it, it won’t get anywhere.  But if God is in it, He will prevail and work His purposes through our human efforts.  Looking back it seems clear that God has been in this!

 

Three follow-throughs to mark Founders Day 2014:

  • I encourage you to join me to praise God that he has established a seminary in such a strategic location for the kingdom and to represent Christ.  And look forward with real anticipation to what He will yet do through Urbana Seminary—pray for us for the future and God’s continued provision and direction.
  • Come to graduation this year.  It’s May 23rd, 6:00 PM, at the Chapel of St John the Divine Episcopal Church, near the university campus.  And you’re invited!  Instead of hosting a separate Founders Day event this year we would love to have our community supporters and friends come to see and hear from those who take their training and go out to serve the Lord.
  • On the Founders theme, remember the Founders Fund Campaign.  You will receive more info about this in the near future.  To have a growing circle of financial supporters is essential for the Seminary to move forward into the future to the glory of God.  We cannot do it without you.  This is an urgent ministry.  A huge thanks to those who already give.  And an encouragement to those who don’t yet to consider 2014 as the year you begin to give regularly to the Seminary’s ministry.

 


January 30, 2014

Tolkien and the Arts

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:33 pm

By Dr. Melody Green

For the last month, now, each of these blog posts have been about one author, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.  If you have been paying the least bit of attention to these, you will know that on Saturday, February first, Urbana Theological Seminary will be hosting its second conference on Tolkien. You may remember having read somewhere that he is a heavily influential writer, and he was a Christian, which are two good reasons to pay attention to what is going on with his work. On the other hand, you may be someone who loves Tolkien’s work and are looking forward to the chance to hear more about it.  You may even have been one of the attendees last year who enjoyed the experience and are looking forward to attending a second time.  Or you may still be deciding whether or not this conference is something you want to invest your time in.  Either way, hearing a little more about what is actually going to be happening at this conference might be exactly what you need to either help you make up your mind, find out what this is really all about, or get you even more motivated to join us!

So, what exciting things do we have in store for you?  First, because the theme of the conference is “Tolkien and the Arts,” artist Jef Murray, illustrator of Tolkien calendars, books, and the EWTN documentary Bilbo’s Journey, will have Tolkien-themed artwork on display (and for sale) both before and during the conference.  Anyone interested in visual art will find his use of color and design well worth viewing.  Then, there will be five excellent speakers, including two of our own students, Rick Williams and Bryan Meade.  Rick will be presenting an extended version of a paper on Tolkien as a Teacher that was originally written for a Tolkien class he took through the seminary two summers ago. Bryan, who already has degrees in film and is currently working toward his MAR, will be presenting on film presentations of Tolkien’s work.  Not only are these excellent topics in themselves, but if you have ever wondered what kind of work Urbana Seminary students are capable of, these two papers will be well worth hearing.

The other three papers are going to be presented by people who have done other work in the realm of Tolkien studies.  Both Father Charles Klamut and Dr. Melody Green have spoken at Tolkien conferences, and both either have or are working on multiple publications on Tolkien.  Father Charles will be presenting on leadership and stewardship in The Lord of the Rings; Melody will be talking about books by other authors that present Tolkien as a fictional character, and the implications of these sorts of stories.

Finally, Jef Murray, the artist we have brought in for the occasion, will be giving a fascinating and thought-provoking paper on what Tolkien called “Subcreation”—that is to say, the idea that we create stories and art because we were created in the image of a Creator.

One of the most exciting aspects of this conference is that the organizers who are bringing this event to you are working with Square Halo Press to get the papers from this year’s and last year’s Tolkien conference published in book form. The book will be titled Tolkien and the Arts, and will be published as a companion to their already-available book, C S Lewis and the Arts.

So, these are all excellent reasons to join us this Saturday, February 1st at 9:30 AM at University Baptist Church (314 E. Daniel St., Champaign, IL, 61820).  We hope to see you there!  For more information, go to http://tolkienconference.com/


January 10, 2014

The Influence of Tolkien

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:09 pm

written by Dr. Melody Green

In 2000 and 2001, several magazines, newspapers, and publishers put together lists of the “best” authors of the twentieth century. While these lists were organized in different ways and focused on different criteria, J. R. R. Tolkien frequently showed up near the top, if not at the very top, of them.  More recently, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the most recent installment of the more-than-a-decade-long film interpretations of Tolkien’s work, has done quite well in the box office. While many who are familiar with Tolkien’s work may be unhappy with specific ways that these have depicted, left out, or changed specific details, one thing is clear: J. R. R. Tolkien, a Christian author, is quite influential in contemporary culture.

This is a good reason for Christians who are interested in contemporary culture to pay attention to Tolkien, the influence he has, and why he has it. For many who have loved these stories, their connection began with one sentence: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”  Thus begins the story of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a quite respectable hobbit who enjoyed peace, tranquility, and six meals a day. The one thing he did not want was any sort of adventure, thank you very much.  After all, adventure makes one late for dinner! Bilbo was comfortable, and wanted things to stay just the way they were.  But just as it does for many people in this condition, this all changed in ways he had never imagined. For Bilbo, this change occurred abruptly one day when a rather odd character named Gandalf showed up on his front step.  Before the hobbit knew what was happening, Gandalf sent him off on a journey that changed his life. Bilbo met people he had never dreamed existed, had adventures he didn’t know were possible, and saw places of indescribable beauty.  He came home richer, happier, and wiser than he had ever been before, even though if he had had his own way, he would have never left his comfortable home in the first place.

Bilbo’s nephew Frodo had a similar experience in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo also lived a life of relative ease, until one day Gandalf also sent him on an adventure. But his quest was different. As Frodo  explained to a few of his hobbit friends who wanted to take the journey with him, “this is no treasure-hunt, no there-and-back journey. I am flying from deadly peril into deadly peril.”  Where Bilbo’s adventure ultimately led to a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the life he had before taken for granted, Frodo’s travels led to a very different place.  Where Bilbo learns courage, leadership skills, and develops as a character, Frodo learns both hope and sacrifice. These two complimentary stories have led countless readers into wonder and delight, while at the same time often helping them see their own experiences in a different light.  Like Bilbo, many people find themselves facing things did not expect. Like Frodo, many people carry burdens that threaten to destroy them, the people around them, and everything they hold dear.  Many readers have found comfort and encouragement in the stories of Bilbo and Frodo.

Intriguingly, because these stories come to mean so much, some readers even create their own art in response to them—as a different way of thinking through what is going on and what really matters in these stories. On February 1, Urbana Theological Seminary will be hosting our second Tolkien conference, at which three of the papers will be focusing on how this works. This includes Jef Murray, a Tolkien artist who has designed calendars and illustrated books, who will be explaining some of his work and how he views creating such art as a Christian discipline. Urbana Seminary student Bryan Mead will be discussing film adaptations of Tolkien’s work, and Melody Green will be focusing on fiction stories in which Tolkien appears as a character, and the implications of this.  Two other fascinating papers on Tolkien will also be presented: Rick Williams, also an Urbana Seminary student, will be presenting on Tolkien as a teacher, and Father Charles Klamut of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center will be speaking on Stewardship and what it means in Tolkien’s work.  For more information on the Tolkien conference, follow this link:  http://tolkienconference.com/

We hope you can join us!

 

 

 


May 25, 2013

Corinthian Correspondence

Filed under: Course Preview — admin @ 12:04 pm

written by Dr. Laura Brenneman

To all of you interested, intrigued, or flat-out frustrated with the Apostle Paul, here is your opportunity to delve deeper into some of his most interesting writing. Sign up to take BI 605-190 Corinthian Correspondence, which runs June 3-20, 2013 (3 credit hours), with Dr. Laura Brenneman, specialist in Pauline studies. These letters offer a unique view into the life of the early church, a life in which a diverse people were working out their identities as people of God, the many-gifted church of Christ, in relation to the wider church movement. Sound familiar? If you think about how the Bible relates to matters of church conflict, leadership in the church, unity in the midst of diversity, and discipleship in Christ, this is the class for you! Class meets Monday-Thursday, 12:30-4:30 p.m.


May 21, 2013

Spiritual Direction: Prayerfully Attending to God Together

Filed under: Course Preview — admin @ 3:41 pm

written by Dr. Peter Spychalla, Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

Contemporary Christians from diverse traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—are showing increasing interest in spiritual direction, the ancient art of soul care in which one believer helps another prayerfully attend to God. I consider myself among the novices seeking to get acquainted with spiritual direction and take initial steps into its foothills. In official, formal, and hierarchical expressions of this ministry as practiced through the centuries, the human helper, usually experienced and gifted in guiding others, is referred to as a spiritual director. In less-official, less-formal, largely-mutual relationships pursued among contemporary believers, the human assistant may be referred to as a sacred companion, a soul friend, a spiritual companion, or a spiritual friend.

What is spiritual direction? What is its aim? How is it pursued? Spiritual direction is an ongoing process of reflection, prayer, and conversation in which two believers prayerfully attend together to the presence and workings of God in the contours and vicissitudes of the life of one of the believers (the directee) so that she or he might grow in awareness of God and intimacy with God and respond more fully to His invitations to live in grace, wholeness, and holiness. Let us consider five important elements of spiritual direction.

The Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit, rather than the human helper, is the true Spiritual Director. It is the Holy Spirit who leads, guides, instructs, forms, and invites the directee into greater attunement, closeness, and responsiveness to the Loving, Living God. Prayerful attending to God is pursued in the presence of God, by the enablement of God, in communion with God, in dependence upon God, with openness to God, for the love of God, seeking the pleasure and glory of God, seeking greater intimacy with God, seeking greater response to God, seeking discernment from the Living God. Through and through this process of holy listening and discernment is a spiritual (Holy Spirit) activity.

Accompaniment or Companionship – Each of us can use help in attending to the presence and active work of God in our lives. The directee invites a soul friend (a spiritual director) to be a prayerful, discerning companion on the spiritual journey. This ministry may be called spiritual accompaniment or spiritual companionship. One joins with another to pay attention to God. The director shows love, acceptance, and affirmation by being fully present to the directee. The director helps the directee become more attuned to God’s presence and working by asking gentle and thoughtful questions, such as, “Where is God in this?”

Holy Listening – Prayerful attention is at the heart of spiritual direction. Without it, there simply is no spiritual direction. This is a posture of open, prayerful attentiveness to God which reflects the response to the Lord modeled by the young boy, Samuel, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10), and of Mary, “who was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet” (Luke 10:39). The directee and director give themselves to holy listening, individually and jointly. The directee prayerfully pays careful attention to God’s presence and workings in the midst of life’s experiences, both within one’s own soul and all around through relationships, roles, callings, decisions, and circumstances. The director likewise prayerfully attends to all that the directee shares and reflects upon, as well as to the directee’s relationship with God, and their joint conversation about the directee’s life. Together, the two spiritual companions partner in prayerful listening to God during their time of reflection, prayer, and conversation.

Discernment – Spiritual, relational, and inner heart dynamics in the life of the directee are reflected upon in light of God’s heart, character, instructions, invitations, and promises revealed in His Holy Word. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern and affirm what the will of God is, that which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Opportunities, choices, and decisions are discerned in keeping with the counsel of the ancient prophet: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). The directee and director together seek to discern the presence of God, workings of God, and invitations of God in the life of the directee in order that he or she may live more completely in His grace, abide more deeply in Christ, and live out more fully God’s callings. Wise discernment often involves Ignatian reflection on consolations and desolations in the movements of the directee’s soul. Christ invites each one to true spiritual rest in Him: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My load is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Transformation – The aim of the ministry of spiritual direction is for the directee to draw near to the Living God and be more fully transformed, inside and out, into all that God has called them to be in Christ. The directee seeks to grow in awareness of God and intimacy with God and respond more fully to His invitations to live in grace, wholeness, and holiness. This ministry of the care of the soul aims at the cure of the soul, nurturing it toward health, wholeness, and vitality. This is to be more fully conformed to the image of Christ.

In summary, spiritual direction crucially involves the Holy Spirit, accompaniment or companionship, holy listening, discernment, and transformation. If this ancient Christian art of soul care interests you, consider joining us this summer at Urbana Theological Seminary for a journey into the foothills of spiritual direction in the course “Spiritual Direction and Soul Care.” We will adopt the posture of young Samuel, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). We will seek to learn how to prayerfully attend to God together.


May 17, 2013

C.S. Lewis: An Overview

Filed under: Christians throughout History,Course Preview — admin @ 2:03 pm

written by Melody Green, adjunct professor

November 22, 2013 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century. The occasion will be marked by conferences around the globe, as well as the unveiling of a memorial to him in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, where the most influential British writers are memorialized. And most importantly for our purposes here, Urbana Theological Seminary is offering a class on C. S. Lewis this summer.

C. S. Lewis has been described as one of the most influential Christians of the past century. Part of this is because of the wide variety of genres in which he worked: he wrote popular theology, fantasy, science fiction, essays, poetry, literary theory, memoir, allegory. Part of this is also because of his advocacy of what he called “mere Christianity,” or a non-partisan, non-sectarian view of the Christian faith. Some of his popularity is due to his ability to put difficult concepts into pithy, easily-remembered statements (take, for example, the quote from The Problem of Pain popularized by the movie Shadowlands: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world”), while some of his popularity is due to the fact that he was not afraid to address those difficult concepts in the first place.

A close reading of Lewis’s texts reveals that no matter what genre he was working in, a few themes frequently reoccur throughout his work. The relationship between faith and reason is one of his most important themes, and can be seen not only in books like Mere Christianity, where one would expect the apologist to be at work, but also in his children’s fiction. One of Lewis’s most frequently quoted statements is his argument that Jesus cannot be viewed as “just a good man,” but must be either “liar, lunatic or lord.” The same argument shows up in the children’s fantasy The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when three children approach an elderly professor with a concern that their sister is talking about something that they don’t understand, and the professor responds by carefully explaining that there are only three options: either their sister is mad, or she is lying, or she is telling the truth. There is no other way out. This parallel use of argument is not accidental: Lewis frequently tackled the same topics, themes and concepts through various genres, grabbing the attention of different audiences as he did so.

Other important, recurring themes include the concept he called “Joy,” the relationship between love and suffering, what it means to be a created being in a world of created beings, and the importance of moral behavior in the Christian life. All of these themes, however, fall under one larger theme that is pervasive throughout everything Lewis wrote after his conversion: a deep and strong love for Christ.

One example of a place we can see this love at work is in an essay he wrote to answer a question he was frequently asked: why did an Oxford professor who wrote both literary theory and popular theology spend time writing a series of fairytale-like children’s books? His answer was this:

“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?”

In this class, we will read several of Lewis’s books in various genres, exploring how these themes are developed and how the different genres reveal different aspects of the same concepts. We will also discuss Lewis’s popularity, we will read some of his well-known (and some of his lesser-known) texts, and we will spend some time looking at Lewis’s presence in popular culture: this includes movies, music, and recent books in which he appears as a fictional character.

By the end of the semester students in this class will have gained an understanding of who C. S. Lewis was, what his most important ideas were, what different genres he worked in, and why he still matters today. We will look at aspects of Lewis’s life that are important to understanding his writing, and we will discuss some of the writers who influenced Lewis, including George MacDonald and G. K. Chesterton. But most importantly, this class will provide us with the opportunity to see Christ in a fresh light.

 


April 5, 2013

My Daily Walk with God

Filed under: Personal Spotlight — admin @ 4:14 pm

written by Andrew Kamm, pastor at Christ Community Church in Champaign, Urbana Theological Seminary Alumnus

Let me open up with a bit of straight talk. This may surprise you, but carving out space in my day to read the Bible, pray, and relish the presence of God is not something that comes naturally for me. In fact, there are times when I am just bad at it. Inconsistency is likely as much a problem for me as it is for anyone else.

One reason for this inconsistency is the lack of perceived results from an hour spent in study and prayer and seeking God. Often I get to the end of an hour and I feel like nothing happened. Another reason for my inconsistency stems from the lack of a good plan. Finally, whenever I do get into a rhythm of devoting time to these ancient practices I find there is a rat’s nest of motivations, good and bad, all tied closely together. I begin to feel a sense of pride for my commitment. When this happens I want to run from it, so I leave good habits in the name of promoting grace over legalism.

Let’s face it. We’re all kind of a wreck when it comes to these things. On the one hand we believe it would be good for us, but because we rarely “feel” like making the space and when we don’t see the change we wanted, we often leave these good practices behind and end up feeling guilt-ridden.

So let me make this simple for you. The most explosive, dynamite attack on self-righteousness and pride is to honestly read the Bible, pray and seek after fellowship with God. Like any relationship, a good plan will help you stay the course. And when it comes to change, you have to remember that believing the gospel is momentary, but transformation is a long-distance run.

Over the summer, I read Colossians more days than I didn’t. Since August, I’ve read Mark on most days. I haven’t read it everyday. Some days I enjoyed it more than others. Once or twice I really sensed God guiding me by his Holy Spirit. I struggled dealing with my mixed motives, but looking back over the last few months I do see how God’s word is being implanted in my heart and it is chiseling away at my propensity toward self-justification.

Here’s the takeaway.

1. Make a plan. When and where will you be? What will you read? I’ve found it helpful to be alone and to read over the same scriptures regularly for a period of time.

2. Don’t let bad motives paralyze you. Inevitably you will often end up with a Bible in your lap more out of duty than delight. Who cares? God’s word and His presence has the power to blow up your superficial religion. Give it a try. See if he will.

3. Pursue God like a distance runner. A super-marathoner doesn’t get too high or too low at mile 5. After all, she still has 95 miles to go. A summer pursuing God might not do much, but what about a decade or 50 years? Just imagine how God might grow you.

At the end of the day, take heart because God is pursuing you and He wants you far more than you want him.


March 16, 2013

Children, Cross-Cultural & Incarnational Ministry

Filed under: Faith and Culture,Local Ministries — admin @ 5:56 pm

written by Nathan Lenstra, M.Div., pastor at Connexion Church in Danville, Urbana Theological Seminary Alumnus

My name is Nathan Lenstra and I’m a 2009 M.Div. graduate from Urbana Seminary. My education at Urbana Seminary helped me develop a solid biblical framework and foundation for thinking about ministry, especially God’s mission in the world and how I could be a part of it. In what follows, I describe how my church and I have put into practice in our community what we’ve learned about God’s mission.

Children matter to God! Remember the gospel story about people bringing children to Jesus to have him bless them (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17)? The disciples tried to keep the children from Jesus, perhaps thinking that the Messiah was too busy or too important to spend time with children, but Jesus welcomed the children and then turned the disciples’ thinking on its head when he said that everyone needed to receive the kingdom of God like a child in order to enter it.

So God loves children and thinks that children are important. The Cape Town Commitment from The Lausanne Movement says, “Children and young people are the Church of today, not merely of tomorrow. Young people have great potential as active agents in God’s mission. They represent an enormous under-used pool of influencers with sensitivity to the voice of God and a willingness to respond to him.” About one-fourth of the world’s population is under 15 and research has shown that most people who make a commitment to Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14, so what are we doing to invest in this key demographic to develop the leaders of today and tomorrow? And what are we doing to ensure that all children encounter God’s love?

For the last six years, my church has had a ministry with children, youth, and families in the Fair Oaks neighborhood in Danville, IL. Fair Oaks is part of public housing in Danville and is more than 90% African-American while my church used to be almost exclusively Caucasian. If you live in east central Illinois, periodically you may hear a news report about a shooting or some other criminal activity in Fair Oaks (in Danville the reputation of Fair Oaks is entirely negative and often condescending), but I’m here to tell you that God is present and at work in Fair Oaks.

Almost every Friday during the school year, we have an after school Bible Club for elementary students and for the past several years, we have done a weeklong Vacation Bible School in the summer for children. We do these (and other) activities in the Fair Oaks neighborhood where the people live for a few reasons. It’s easier for the children to attend (no transportation logistics to figure out), it eases the parents’ minds (Who are these people, where are they taking my children, and what are they doing with them?), and we think it’s biblical (Jesus didn’t just stay in the temple or in Jerusalem and ask people to come to him. He traveled throughout Palestine with the message of the kingdom of God.).

Through my ministry involvement in Fair Oaks, I have grown and have learned a lot, perhaps especially that children are children, regardless of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic background or any other way we might class people. They are energetic, curious, playful, and they often have a desire to learn about God and to follow him.

Some find it hard to believe that there are people in America (or at least the Midwest) who don’t know anything from the Bible, but I have interacted with several children who don’t know about Jesus, the 10 Commandments, Adam and Eve, etc. – stories that I think many Christians assume everyone in America knows about. I’ve found that these children as well as those who go to church regularly both want to know God. I’ve almost cried at times when children call out, “I want Jesus to be my king!” or they ask, “What are we going to learn about Jesus this week?”

I think about some of the children (and youth) I know and how God is at work in their lives, and then I think, “Where would they be if I wasn’t obedient? Would they have known about God and Jesus if my church and I didn’t go to Fair Oaks?” I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that I’m grateful for what God has done. Things have been challenging and difficult at times and I’ve thought that I was in the midst of a wasteland at times, but God has proven faithful (cf. Isaiah 35; 41:17-20; Isaiah 43:16-21; Luke 4:18-19) to bring healing, hope, and life to those who may be overlooked by others.

Let me conclude by saying, “I love children!” I am a single, white, balding 32 year old man who is not especially energetic, enthusiastic, or dynamic. If you were going to pick someone to be involved in children’s ministry (especially ministry among minorities), I wouldn’t be the first choice, but a few years back when I was in a small church on a Native American reservation in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota, a pastor’s wife challenged me to lead a children’s ministry. I had no idea what I was doing and I often still don’t know what I’m doing. But I have come to love children and I especially love teaching them the Bible and talking with them about God and how God loves them.

If God can use me, he can use anybody. I encourage you to pray and ask God if he wants you to get involved in children’s ministry in some way, especially consider children that may be overlooked in some way in your community. Jesus loves them and he may want you and your church to be the ones who go to them with the message of his love.

If you want to learn more about our ministry or about how you could go about starting a similar ministry in your community, I’d love to talk with you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at Lenstra80 at  yahoo.com or  474 1293. Thanks for reading!


February 22, 2013

Five Questions with Zack Eswine

Filed under: Faith and Culture,Interview,Preaching — admin @ 1:03 pm

Zack Eswine, senior pastor of Riverside Church in St. Louis and author of Preaching to a Post-Everything World, joins Urbana Seminary for our annual Preaching Forum on March 4.

Here he shares with us in a very honest, inviting and insightful way about his spiritual journey.

What pastor/preacher has had the greatest impact on your life? How so?

The pastor/preachers that have had the most impact on my life are local. Dr. Bob Smart has apprenticed me in life and ministry, love and forgiveness. He preaches and I taste a sweet sense of prayer and of God. Jerram Barrs has offered friendship, invitation, frightening gentleness and hospitable presence to those he serves. When he preaches I experience a tangeable expression of Jesus’ presence.  Dr. David Calhoun has preached quietly and steadily while living with cancer for years. With quiet exaltation he bids us to look up off of ourselves to the steadfast love and majesty of the Lord. I suppose, I hear the sermons of men such as these through the aid of their lives. I see something of both their sorrows and their rejoicing when the pulpit mic is turned off. This makes the moment of their preaching shine all the more to me.

As it relates to preaching I’ve also greatly valued the writings of Augustine, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Robert Smith Jr., Tim Keller, Calvin Miller and Bryan Chapell. The writings of Eugene Peterson have greatly aided my concept of the pastoral vocation.

Since those years ago when you transitioned from serving as professor to serving again as the pastor of a local congregation what has the Lord been teaching you?

Humorously I can say that I actually thought that it was a humble thing in Seminary to let someone call me “Zack” rather than “Dr. Eswine.” Being in the pastorate again reminds me that human beings often call each other by their first names. There is nothing uniquely humble about it! In the small church that I serve folks care very little whether I’ve written books or preached all over the place. What matters to them is that I pray for them, seek to live alongside of them, confess my own need of Jesus along with them, and point them to Him from the word in a way they can understand. Likewise, as a professor I could play to my strengths more. People almost always encountered me at my best–in a pulpit preaching, in a classroom teaching, in my study advising. In contrast, a church this size forces others to encounter my weaknesses, sins and limits much sooner.  We get to learn to do life together warts and all.

What first got you interested in writing a book on preaching to a “post-everything” world?

First, my life had changed so much that I began to wonder if I could reach who I once was with the gospel. Second, the cultural landscape of America continues to change rapidly. Many of us will preach in contexts with people who do not know, understand or have experience with the Bible. Third, I wanted to account for these realities in the context of the preaching curriculum at the Seminary in which I was teaching. These personal, cultural and curricular concerns forged a desire within me to write the book.

What has helped you most in faithfully preaching the gospel while still connecting with a post-modern, but ever-changing, audience?

Trying to get to know my neighbors, listening to my kids, being honest about my own human dilemmas and trying to pay attention to the local questions and answers that people are asking and offering. I also value access to other pastors and apologists who are actively trying to preach Jesus from the Scriptures while paying attention to our cultural moment.

Given your recent book, Sensing Jesus, what advice can you offer your fellow pastors that you yourself wish you had been given?

God heard your prayers before you went into the ministry. He walks with you, not because you are a pastor, but because of Jesus. Therefore, the greatest challenge you might face in ministry is to try to act like you are something other than a human being. In truth, you read the Bible with coffee breath and preach with toothpaste breath. This means paying attention to the power you lack. People will demand that you be God for them or praise you for trying. But only God can fix everything, know everything and be everywhere at once. You needn’t repent because you can’t fix it all, know it all or be everywhere for all. If there is any repenting to do it is for our attempts to try knowing everything, fixing everything and being everywhere for all–in other words, it is for our old edenic attempts to try and be like God. This also means paying attention to one’s place. There are no little places. In order to reach the world for Christ someone has to make it their great ambition to reach the folks on the corner of Kirkham and Rock Hill in Webster Groves Missouri or any and every other place–no matter how small or large.

Finally, almost anything we value in life requires a marathon not a sprint. But almost everything around you teaches you that success equals doing large things, in a notable way as fast as you can. This sprinting way of life values impatience and haste–two values that the Bible equates with folly. The pastorate requires us to learn how to cultivate small beauties slowly over a long period of time. This is Jesus’ way with each of us after all! Jesus possesses the grace to show us how to get somewhere by staying put. Pastors and congregations desperately need this grace.

 


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