May 2011


This month I complete 32 years of full-time ministry, and find myself more passionate than ever about God’s Church, kingdom causes and relationships within the body of Christ.  I would say I’m more energized than ever, but with the caveat it is not the boundless energy of youth.  As one would with a tight financial budget, I find myself managing my energy more carefully since there is not as much “discretionary”!

Why do I find myself at this place when, tragically, many of my contemporaries are no longer in ministry, or have settled for a life full of diversionary activities, or succumbed to cynicism?  I do not take the credit for this sustained passion, but I do find myself reflecting on its causes.  We’ve been exploring lately, in an effort to serve ministry leaders even more effectively in every season of ministry, the issue of “pastoral persistence.” That’s the positive way of expressing what is often oppositely and negatively expressed as failure to launch (never making it from one’s educational preparation to vocational ministry), pastoral burnout or attrition.

A partial list of my reasons for sustained passion includes a clear and compelling call, an amazing spouse, serving a congregation that was supportive and affirming, an accountability partner who helped prompt a life of wholeness in all dimensions, and the one I’d like to focus on now…life-long learning.

I graduated from Marion College (now IWU) at 21 years of age, and went to plant a church in Kentwood, MI under the leadership of Dick Wynn.  From the beginning Dick encouraged me to attend seminars, build my self-awareness through various assessments (personality style, spiritual gifts, motivated abilities, etc.) and continue my formal education.  Although I only served under his leadership two years before becoming the Lead Pastor of Kentwood Community Church, he remained a mentor for me from a distance and those initial years of ministry set the trajectory of learning for my life.

I became a Seminary student while also serving a growing church on a full-time basis.  I was fortunate to have a Seminary nearby (this was before the days when seminaries like ours were committed to “come to you” rather than having to leave your ministry context), and over the next decade completed an MA and then MDiv equivalency.  While the studies were not vitally connected to ministry, they did teach me to reflect theologically, balancing my strong pragmatic tendency.  I then went on to complete my DMin in a program built on one-week intensives, allowing me to work it into my ministry schedule.

My formal, Seminary education continued until I was 36 years of age, covering the first fifteen years of vocational ministry.  My focus was on continuing, not finishing, education…even though I was grateful when it was complete!  During those years I experienced the richness of Seminary and Ministry side-by-side.  Perhaps that’s one reason I’m so committed to what we do at Wesley Seminary, especially with the added value of a faculty and curriculum that highly value practical ministry and make the local church the “living laboratory.”  And why I’m grateful we’ve created the opportunity to “audit” classes for those who are focused on continuing education without a degree.

Beyond the formal dimension of life-long learning, my life has been enriched as I’ve sought and found mentors – some of whom met with me personally, some of whom impacted my life from afar as I read their books or heard them speak.  At most times in my ministry I’ve had more than one mentor – some of us need more help than others!  Multiple mentors, each with unique strengths and experiences, contributed to specific dimensions of my personal and professional growth.   I’ve also had the benefit of “iron sharpens iron” peer relationships, such as those I now enjoy as I work with colleagues who have given their lives to understanding and communicating various dimensions of ministry fruitfulness.

I’ve found that motivation for life-long learning is strengthened and deepened as I identify “learning links.”  For instance, if my learning is linked to my primary spiritual gifts (leadership and communication) then I energized as leaders such as John Maxwell and Bill Hybels speak into my life.  Learning linked to my passions (multiethnic ministry and church planting) motivate me to learn from Mark DeYmaz and Phil Stevenson.  Links to my interests (John Wesley’s ministry and theology, serving the world) deepen the impact of thinkers such as Steve Harper and Timothy Tennent.  The stronger the link, the more sustainable the learning!

So I invite you to reflect on these questions:

What and who has contributed to your continuing education, your life-long learning?

What are your “learning links” – your gifts, passions, interests and experiences that provide sustained motivation for growth?

I’ve been thinking about…

Creation!

Specifically, the Christian faith that God is the Creator has been on my mind, and what this tells us about how we come to know God.

What instigated this line of reflection? As usual, students.

I was reading some posts by students in a theology class here at the seminary about how we know God. Most of them mentioned how God is revealed in creation. This was not a matter of controversy. What was interesting is the varied weight each gave to this knowledge. Some regarded it as a sort of point of entry, to which is added “special revelation.” Others spoke of it more as a way of encounter the God we already know personally in Jesus through the gospel. Still others saw this knowledge as a point of entry, but ambiguous at best, requiring correction and clarification by special revelation.

What an interesting discussion! I think this was a good model of theological conversation: agreement in the faith and mutual recognition of one another’s practice, within which we can express differences in approach. Seminary is not just about learning stuff (i.e., acquiring information), but learning how to learn — which includes learning how to dialogue with others critically yet respectfully.

Ironically, we think seminary ruins good conversation. Maybe it does. But I don’t think it has to. If a bit of the spirit I saw this week could spill into the way we converse with each other in the church, we’d be a lot better off. Tempers get hot in the church over matters of doctrine, which in turn encourages us to just avoid such matters–a strategy that consistently fails, because they’ll eventually come up and we won’t be ready for them.

So, just a word of encouragement this week: keep talking! Have a conversation with someone about God, and don’t be afraid if it gets deep, provided you carry with you a spirit of critical reflection in the midsts of loving respect.

Here is Prof. Bob Whitesel with the latest groups to enter our MA in Ministry program.  Welcome!

What kind of lighting will work best with the opening song set? What sound equipment do we need to pull off the service this weekend? What videos will most effectively capture the attention of the people? What songs can this worship team play with gusto? How much time should we designate for each element in the service? These 5 questions, of course, are necessary considerations for the person or team planning the worship service. However, these concerns are secondary to more significant considerations for the planning of the worship service. Here are the big picture questions that, if answered, can guide the development of the more detailed and practical components of the service toward God-glorifying worship.

Theology: What will this worship experience reveal about God? There are so many things that can be said about God that perhaps we don’t know where to begin or what to say at all. We must, of course, find a way to say something substantial about God in the context of worship. If the worship service reveals nothing about God, no matter how emotionally therapeutic and engaging, it essentially fails to be a Christian worship service.

Bible: What major part(s) of the biblical story will this worship service rehearse? The Bible contains one complete meta-narrative that moves from creation to corruption to salvation to mission to restoration. Identify the major chunk of the biblical story the service will emphasize. Perhaps it will audaciously touch on all moves in the story.

Anthropology: What realities of the human condition will this worship experience highlight and address? The service might focus on human angst, joy, suffering, peace, hope, sin, or disappointment. The local, national, and global human contexts should influence, to some extent, the vision of Christ the service holds up. We usually call this relevance.

History: What orthodox and historical church traditions and practices will guide us in this worship service? It is vital for those of us who lead worship to keep in mind that Christian worship has been going on long before any of us arrived on the scene, for nearly two thousand years actually. There are rich liturgical traditions and practices that have stood the test of time and can enrich contemporary Christian worship.

Theme and Flow: What is the best way to position the parts of the service so that the theological theme is clear and flows from the gathering of God’s people toward the sending of God’s people? The gathered people of God benefit from a worship rhythm that ushers them intentionally toward an encounter with God that reveals a transformational theological theme.

If you are the pastor of local church or the leader of your church’s worship team, the 5 questions above are worthy of your most prayerful, thoughtful, and creative attention. Of course, there will always be those important practical issues to address as well. But all of the best practices and methods without the thoughtful underpinnings that surface from wrestling with the questions above will fall far short of the potential of Christian worship.

© Lenny Luchetti

Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University would like to welcome Rev. Colleen Derr as our newest full time professor, namely, Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Congregational Formation.  She will take the lead now in teaching our Congregational Spiritual Formation core requirement and will become the primary point of reference for our spiritual formation courses and our MA in Youth Ministry.

Rev. Derr is an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church and has served for the last 10 years at Wesleyan Church headquarters as Director of Children’s Ministry for The Wesleyan Church.  She is also Assistant Pastor of Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Indiana, and has served in other roles, including teaching in public schools. She is currently finishing her doctorate at Regent University in the area of Christian Education Leadership.

A hearty welcome to Rev. Derr as she joins our faculty!