I entered into lent this year captivated by the idea of anticipating the resurrection. It has been 10 years since I began to observe Lent. During those years I have fasted from habits and I have fasted from food. I have contemplated dying to self, wrestling with sin, and receiving forgiveness. But this year as I entered Lent I was captivated by the anticipation of the Resurrection.
It began as I was preparing my homily for the last Sunday after Epiphany. The reading was Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration in chapter 17. I have preached on the Transfiguration twice a year since I was ordaineda priest 4 years ago. The bonus of preaching from the lectionary is that I don’t have to worry about finding a passage to preach on every week. The down side is that certain passages repeat so many times I worry that I will run out of sermons.
As I stared at the passage Matthew 17 I thought this was going to be one of those moments that I dread. I approached the moment where a preacher ceases to delivery inspiration and offers up information instead. In frustration I asked myself why I had to preach on the Transfiguration twice, once before Lent and again in August. None of the other events in Jesus’ life get the same amount of air time. So what makes the Transfiguration so important?
It was at that moment that I had an epiphany: The transfiguration is a foreshadowing of The World to Come. We see this as Jesus is viewed in his perfected body, a point the disciples are forbidden to talk about until after the resurrection. We also see this foreshadowing of the World to Come in Peter’s desire to build tabernacles, a recognition that God is dwelling in their midst and one of the few Jewish feasts that will be celebrated in the Messianic age (Zechariah 14:16).
There is a line at the very end of the Nicene Creed that gets mumbled through as if it were merely a footnote. This line points to the reason the Gospel is truly the good news. “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the World to Come.” That was it! That funny obscure line at the end of the creed was the reason I had to preach on the transfiguration twice a year. That anticipation of the Resurrection and the World to Come is why we read the Transfiguration before Lent. That anticipation of the Resurrection and the World to Come is precisely the reason why we observe Lent. Sure there is the part about spiritual discipline, of self sacrifice, of repentance and restoration but the reason behind all of those things is “the Resurrection and the World to Come.”
Lent is far more about life than it is about death. Death has been defeated! I can’t wait until Easter morning to shout, “Hallelujah!”
Fr. Andrew Wyns (MA '08) has served as the executive director of Bridges of New York, a
transitional housing program for addicts and parolee's and as the priest in residence at Christ the King Church in New Paltz, N.Y. He is currently serving as the Dean of the Cathedral of the Northeast for the Charismatic Episcopal Church in North America.
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:24
"By what rule or manner can I bind this body of mine? By what precedent can I judge him? Before I can bind him he is let loose, before I can condemn him I am reconciled to him, before I can punish him I bow down to him and feel sorry for him. How can I break away from him when I am bound to him forever? How can I escape from him when he is going to rise with me? ... I embrace him. And I turn away from him. What is this mystery in me? What is the principle this mixture of body and soul?" (John Climacus Step 15)
Our struggle can earn a crown or punishment, says St. John. The struggle with the flesh is a real struggle that has been a theological hairball for a long time. We say that grace overcomes all things and indeed it does, but why is there still such a struggle. In us are yearnings of the spirit that are in conflict with the passions of the body. Lust, pride, covetousness, wrath, self-pity, and the like wage war against the gentleness, love, patience, and peace of the inner man.
In this struggle is the danger of despair which is a precursor of death and is a sin because the soul marries grief and guilt while rejecting repentance. It is the embrace of condemnation. The darkness overwhelms us and swallows us whole in temptation, trials and defeats. The mortal hollowness collapses under the weight of judgment. Our flesh, unruly as it is, is our eternal companion who will rise with us at the judgment to bear witness to our struggle. The struggle matters and that it is won matters too.
God has given many aids to overcome this situation. There is confession and contrition, a medicine of antiquity. There is the brotherhood where prayers are offered. Additionally there are the scriptures, vigils and contemplation. If we are successful in faith the flesh will enter the glory of Christ with us. If we indulge the flesh, it will bear witness that and lead us to perdition. So the struggle is not the success; rather, it is in the outcome of the struggle we are rewarded. We succeed in faith through grace which enflames, illuminates, and enables our lives. It is Christ who saves us, after all. We are called to make the sojourn here complete by struggling for the spirit and against the flesh for the lifespan of our years. Glory be …
Fr. John Mark McMonagle, D.Min. ’11, is pastor of Saint Brendan the Navigator Western Orthodox Mission, Honeoye Falls, N.Y.
In the Old Testament book of Joel, we see the author warning the Israelites about a plague of locusts which will come and overtake their lands, destroying their crops, and leaving them with no food. This coming locust invasion is the direct result of their disobedience to God. But it’s not too late, this invasion can be stopped if the people will just repent of their sins and follow God.
In 2 Corinthians, we also see a call to repentance. Paul is telling the Corinthians that they too need to be reconciled with God. There is one big difference between the two, however. Had we kept reading in Joel, in verse 28 we would have seen the promise of the coming Savior. “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” The difference between the two is that the Savior had come. God’s Spirit has been poured out on all people.
Still, the call to repentance was just as real for the people of Corinth in the 1st century, as it was for the people of Israel 900 years earlier. And that call to repentance is just as real for us today, too. Because even though we know Jesus as our Savior, even though the Spirit has been poured out on us, we too struggle with sin. We still struggle to do the right thing, and not do the wrong thing. The ways of the world still look so inviting.
Paul knew all too well what it’s like to struggle with sin. He was no “holier than thou” prophet that didn’t understand what he was asking. He knew first hand. He confessed this in his letter to the Romans, in Chapter 7. He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep doing.” Does it sound like Paul was struggling with sin? You bet he was. At times in his life he struggled with doing the right thing. Sin was ever around him tempting him.
Does his description of his struggle with sin sound like your struggle with sin? He doesn’t tell us what sin he struggled with—it really doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that he struggled too. He could relate to us all to well in this regard. What did he do? Did he give up? He was a preacher, an apostle, who struggled with sin—he should have given up, shouldn’t he? I mean, really, if he couldn’t get past this sin struggle, what hope do we have? We might be tempted to think that because we struggle with sin that we should give up. No. Paul didn’t give up because as much as he knew the power of sin, he also knew the grace of God. And so he kept going. And he urged the Corinthians to keep going. And he urges us today to keep going. Because God’s grace is stronger than the power of sin.
Steven Dygert (M.Div. ‘02) is pastor of Almond Union of Churches in Almond, N.Y.
In the Deep South, although the first day of spring is still officially a few weeks away, the plants and trees around my neighborhood are beginning to show signs of re-birth. Winter is slipping away. Shoots and blossoms, while mostly dormant at present, will soon burst forth with glorious expression.
Shoots and blossoms also appear in an interesting story in Numbers 17. Aaron’s rod that budded and that was later placed in the Ark of the Covenant, may be something of a metaphor of the resurrection of our Lord and of the fruitfulness of His gospel ministry. Like a “root from dry ground” and the “the stump of Jesse,” He became that “shoot” that grew up and that “branch” that sprouted (Is. 53:2, 11:1).
Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the meeting tent. The next day Moses entered the covenant tent, and Aaron’s staff of Levi’s household had sprouted. It grew shoots, produced blossoms, and bore almonds (Numbers 17:7-8).
From the context, this was God’s way of revealing the family and person He had selected to be priest. God’s lesson to this rebellious element of His people is that no one could take the honor of priesthood or service upon himself. The priest was to be chosen and appointed by God. As W. A. Criswell said many years ago, Aaron’s rod “had been quickened and made alive in the night, in the tomb, in the dark; and it had buds and blossoms and fruit upon it.”
In similar fashion, God has shown the world that only His Christ, His Son, would be the firstborn from the dead, and that no person on earth is capable of such powerful demonstration. God’s Son, Jesus Christ became the firstfruits of all who would rise from the dead. He would blossom, bloom, and produce almonds, (fruitfulness), because He was God’s choice for man’s redemption.
What strikes me about this story in Numbers is that something happened—during the night, in the darkness. As we are now on a journey, the journey we call the Lenten season, we enter a time when we remember the passion of our Lord. This is a season wherein we seek to identify with Christ’s renunciation of self; a time, so to speak, of darkness, a dark period, a dark night, one in which we contemplate our Savior’s loneliness, rejection by men, and denial of himself. Embracing our cross as He fully embraced His, spending some time in solitude, alone, recalling his rejection and suffering, may enable us to bud with the Spirit’s fruitfulness. Oh, that we might blossom with shoots of grace and like Christ Himself, burst forth with glorious expression!
Gary Brady (D.Min. ‘12) is pastor of Newberry United Methodist Church in Newberry, Fla.
After I had completed my Master of Divinity degree I engaged in many seminars, professional development events, spiritual life refreshments, and other ongoing educational opportunities. But I was "chomping at the bit" for something much more rigorous, a kind of personal and professional development that had real accountability and required authentic advancement.
The doctoral program at Northeastern Seminary provided all of that, and more, for me. I figured I was about three quarters of the way through my career as a pastor (making many assumptions, of course) and I did not want to just coast my way toward retirement. The entire experience was like having the third stage rocket boost me higher than I imagined possible.
Obviously, when I say "yes" to a major opportunity like a doctoral program, I must say "no" to some or many other responsibilities that had accumulated in my career and life. Once those matters were put into a secondary level, and I could devote myself for three years to a concentrated advancement, it all flowed well. Rather than just try to carve out some time for a new book or a seminar, I validated the entire process by the program itself and all of the people in my life respected that. I worked carefully to gain the affirmation from my family and my church before engaging the program, and the rest came more easily.
What can you say “no” to in order to experience that “rocket boost?’
Myke Merrill, D.Min. ’07, presents and facilitates seminars and workshops on human actions and interactions based on how we function through our basic emotions. His dissertation, Five Basic Emotions: A New Systems Approach, is the basis for his work with organizations to develop teamwork, cultivate understanding among those in crisis, and enhance understanding within groups and organizations.
I was in my late 50s when I made the decision to start the D. Min. program. At that point, my time was divided between two challenging occupations. For half of each week, I was engaged in the practice of law at a large law firm. For the other half of each week, I was employed as the assistant director of U. S. ministries for an association of churches.
As I look back on my D.Min. years, I realize that the journey was actually a very smooth one. The studies proved to be a relaxation for me—especially the residency week of class. As it worked out, the program fit nicely with my two jobs and was not a source or pressure or stress. It was a joy.
When new challenges flow, the Lord's grace always deserves the credit. In addition, there are often practical circumstances that aid us—a framework that has been set in place for us that makes it easier to succeed. I can identify two of the frameworks in my life that helped me succeed so well.
The first framework that helped me was my solid employment relationship with my employers. I had a 10- to 15-year history with both employers and had always been excellent in my work. In that context, I had earned enough points to negotiate a schedule that worked for me. I reduced income slightly, but gained the critical extra weeks I needed to engage in the course work. They understood and I understood that I simply had a third "employer" with a claim on my time. All three employers needed to be respected and honored.
The second framework that helped me was the mindset of completion with which I approached the D. Min. program. Rabbit trails may work when you are 28, but there is no place for them at 58. When I made the decision to start the program, I set myself to complete it. That was a great advantage for me, because waffling as to whether you will finish the program is a set-up for letting it slide. To complete a dissertation, you must be convinced that you are going to complete it. Once that is settled, then it is just a matter of choosing a practical topic that is related to your ministry and starting the process of writing.
I am very glad that I gave myself the opportunity to go through the D. Min. program at Northeastern. My ministry and my faith gained depth through that process.
How have you made time to pursue your own professional development?
M. Stephanie Zeller, D.Min. ’08, is the founder of Love Your Law, a ministry to churches and organizations to assist them in their understanding of law and tax. Her dissertation was: State Law and Church Polity: Amending the Law for the Incorporation of Elim Fellowship Churches.
My journey through the D.Min.program was marked by growing insight and motivation to strive for excellence for myself and those to whom I minister. In particular, the coursework and dissertation project enhanced my view on ministry in an urban African American community in five distinct ways.
First, the Congregational Systems Inventory we employed in an initial class increased my understanding of the various dimensions of leadership and how excesses within any one of the seven dimensions, as outlined by the Alban Institute, can have significant impact on congregational vitality and operations.
Second, the research aspect of the program was an eye-opening experience and brought to me a keen awareness of the problems and issues facing the African American community and the churches that attempt to minister in an urban environment. There are many issues such as health, environmental, and social issues that are more prevalent within the black community and they make ministry much more difficult than in an average middle-class setting. I discovered there are no "magic bullets" and any attempts at making an impact must involve partnering with other agencies and organizations that have expertise in those areas.
Third, through the combination of the survey from the Alban Institute and the small focus groups I conducted, I have a better awareness of the DNA of my congregation. I also found, when comparing our results with median score of other churches throughout America, we are not very different from other congregations.
Fourth, this project increased my desire for self improvement and excellence in the ministry, while also leading my congregation to seek excellence and to live out its values on a day-to-day basis. In order for us to truly become "ambassadors for Christ," we must have a personal commitment and a bias for aiding others on this journey.
So even though I had reservations about the impact [the program would have] on my time, I was at the point that I really wanted to do it and now I am developing a more robust background for my teaching and preaching.Finally, this entire process of the project and dissertation taught me the process of viewing a situation, reviewing literature and history related to the situation, understanding its theological implications, and making informed decisions about the situation. This journey caused me to look beyond esoteric information and really delve into what is going on within a local congregation. Appearances can be deceiving, but when detailed data gathering, analysis, and comparisons are done in a structured, repeatable way, actions toward improvement can occur.
How has your D.Min. research informed your ministry?
Anthony D. Bonds, D.Min. ‘13, is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rochester, N.Y. His dissertation was: Urban Black Church Leadership: An Andragogical Approach to Developing and Nurturing Leaders Within the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Holistic is the best single word I have for the D.Min. program at Northeastern Seminary. At one and the same time, the program is intellectually challenging and rigorous. It takes a holistic approach in terms of integrating classic theology, with an aggressive, missional, and global orientation in every single course offering, all while spiritual formation is placed in the very center of and throughout the program. NES "hits it out of the park" by bringing in the most outstanding scholars and practitioners for special course modules and conferences to supplement its own outstanding faculty.
Another great strength I found is the way doctoral candidates are allowed and given the option from the very beginning of the program to integrate our particular research and ministry interest into each of the final assignments of each course, enabling us to think through and further develop our specific interest, and filter it through each course offering, along with the input of the instructors and program colleagues. This is an outstanding exercise in doing holistic missional theology.
One of the other notable characteristics of the program is that all of the great sub-traditions of Christianity are highly respected in the NES community—including the way racial and cultural diversity is highly esteemed. My Pentecostal tradition is embraced as a vital and important part of the greater catholic church, both in the academic material and dialogue as well as experientially.
Finally, and rounding out the holism of the NES experience, NES does all this in the framework of truly authentic Christian community. I personally faced the dying and death of my wife throughout the course of the program (and several hospitalizations for myself), and yet I was surrounded again and again by genuine and practical care by not only my D.Min. colleagues but perhaps especially by the faculty and staff. This demonstrated to me that the word “community” was not simply an abstract theological term and idea but a value lived out in extremely warm and heart-felt ways by those leading the program.
What word would you use to describe the strength of a D.Min. degree?
Bob Tice, D.Min. ‘12, is pastor of RiverRock Church in Buffalo, N.Y. His dissertation: Envisioning
and Implementing a Theology and Praxis of Unity-in-Diversity in a Core-City and Multicultural Local Church in the Context of Globalization and Glocalization.
When coaches develop a team, they want to create chemistry—by finding the naïve genius (talent and intelligence) of the players and by knowing each player well so that each one can function optimally in the execution of the play book.
Teams in churches are not dissimilar, as youth leaders can best lead when vision is shared and team members feel safe to express ideas and be creative in implementing the vision.
Teams often function like a family and individuals are prone to play the same role on the team in the present as they did in their family of origin growing up. For example, the star of the family may want to still be in that role. Or the peace-maker may still play that role on the team. Someone experiencing violent family conflict may be aggressive or have aversion to conflict. The cultural background regarding rules of how to fight may play out over and over in the present, i.e. no emotion is ever shown, or wild abandon with emotion is the norm— or no one younger can ever win.
Back stories also provide insight into behavior. An individual’s own trauma experiences may influence his behavior on a team, and a leader may react poorly without understanding why someone is so controlling or overbearing, or why someone always defers to everyone else, or why there seems to be no tolerance for mistakes. Knowing that someone had been abandoned by a father, for example, may help the leader understand the need for someone to have constant reassurance before making a decision.
Even the youth leader’s own background may play out in how he/she leads. When leaders have been praised for having lots of ideas and getting the job done efficiently and quickly, they may tend to take over, make decisions alone and quickly, micro-manage, or problem solve or work quickly, leaving others behind.
Knowing personal stories about team members growing-up experiences helps leaders understand and interact with more compassion and wisdom, and be more vulnerable about sharing their own mistakes.
Kathy Elliott was guest speaker at the Northeastern Seminary Youth Ministry Summit in February 2014. She has counseled hundreds of individuals, couples and family members since founding Agape Counseling Associates 35 years ago
1. Show Up
If your first reaction to reading this was, “Duh!,” then you get it. Sometimes students can think they are qualified to be a student leader because they are popular. This is frustrating. The truth about student leaders is that they serve. You cannot underestimate the value of faithfulness, dedication, and a servant-leader heart. Showing up is the first step to being a student leader. If you aren’t around, it is hard to know if you are invested. Come, serve, and be faithful.
2. Be Confident (But Not Arrogant)
Is there anything more annoying than an arrogant know-it-all? Probably not. On the other hand, it is also frustrating when a student does not walk in the confidence of Christ. At some point every student must move past their nerves and step up into the role God is calling them into. It is OK if you are still struggling with questions, or even if you have struggles with sin. Often the enemy wants you to believe you are not good enough. But you are. You are created in the image of God and can be his hands and feet. Walk in that truth and in the confidence that Christ is enough!
Truth is, I don’t want anyone on my team who isn’t after this. Integrity is who you are behind closed doors—when no one is looking. And part of integrity is simply being authentic with who you are and where you struggle. And integrity is owning up to your mistakes—no matter what. Integrity-filled people understand that it is not about them, but it is about loving God and loving others.
Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
4. Know Your Kryptonite
Every one of us must be aware of what can make us fall. We must realize that there is an enemy who is out to destroy. But we have a Living God who can and has conquered all. Christ in us gives us victory. But we must also be aware of our shortcomings—and set up people and systems to help us succeed in the times where we feel weak. For me, I’ve got a group of other youth pastors I get together with monthly to talk through struggles and temptations to make sure I stay on track. I can’t tell you how helpful this is!
As student leaders, we must take our influence seriously. Voltaire said that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether we are a professional athlete, a parent, or a student we all have influence. Whether we asked for it or not, it is there. We must intentionally think about how to use that influence to help others find the Light.
5. Laugh a Little
Seriously! No, not seriously. You get the point. Relax. Be joyful. Have fun. Don’t be so intense all the time. There’s a time and a place to be serious (for sure!), but it is equally as important to have a good time. That true joy can help you stay sane as well as the others around you.
6. Be Encouraging.
It is such a discouraging world. From the news headlines to people’s attitudes to hallway bullies it can be very dark. We’ve got to encourage every person around us. That includes those above us in leadership—even when we think they are not doing as good a job as we could do.
One of my heroes, Doug Fields, is a youth pastor. He was talking with a lead pastor who was leading a huge church. He was literally reaching hundreds, even thousands, each week. Doug talked to the pastor after the message and said “Man every service kept getting better than the last. Thank you so much, that was so encouraging and challenging!” What’s interesting is that the pastor texted Doug later and said, “Thanks for coming and supporting—your kind words came at the perfect timing. I really needed that!”
Really? HE needed that? But he was supposed to be the confident leader on stage who had done this longer than I’ve even been alive! But he needed to be encouraged.
We all need encouragement. And we need it all the time.
7. Refuse Complacency
Student leaders pursue excellence and reject apathy. Apathy is a chronic problem in our generation. Apathy is where you show a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Peers praise apathy because it makes you look cool, but in reality, apathy is a defense mechanism against disappointment. But we must move past our fears of standing out and be passionate. Of course it is risky, but in order to make a difference, you’re going to need to refuse complacency and apathy. Ghandi said it best: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
8. Empower Others
As a leader, we must focus on helping others succeed more than on our own success. In fact, I think we need to change the definition of success. Success is not just more followers—it is how those followers are succeeding. Can others move forward without you when you are gone? This is, of course, the opposite of what business school taught me. Business school said that as a leader, I must keep control. But the Kingdom model says that power is not for me and not about me. Instead I want to do everything I can to help others succeed. What’s interesting is that the more you share with others, the more opportunities become available.
So how do we empower others? We start by identifying them and reaching out to them. We must never underestimate the power of an invite. Say something like, “Hey I see a lot of leadership potential in you and I’d really like you to try out __________.” Invitations are affirming. Invitations give a statement that that person is valuable. Invitations cast vision for what could be. And invitations must never be self-seeking, but instead focus on how to help that person grow and succeed. Invite and empower!
9. Be a Follower
You are never the top dog. Ever. There is always someone greater. And if you a follower of Jesus, you know you always have a leader to guide you. This should be comforting! This world doesn’t depend on just you! And if someone is in authority over you, respect it! Don’t undermine it. Followership is a big deal in leadership.
10. Have Vision
Know where you are taking others. Sometimes the best way to get clear vision is to step back and step out for a brief season. What is working well—and what is not? How do we improve? Listen to the trusted voices around you (not just the loud ones). Next, take this vision of where you are going and clearly communicate it. Be sure that in this vision you leave no one behind and that you treat every member of the team as valuable.
11. Protect Your Team
Finally, know that there are wolves out there that are ready to devour. Do not let them! You may need to take the bullet for someone else’s mistakes sometimes. NEVER throw someone on your team under the bus. Ensure the critic that you will fix the problem and then address the issue in private. And don’t be afraid to tell the wolves they have to leave. The team is too important. And so is the vision.
God is with you. Now go be a student leader!
Jonathan Sigmon was guest speaker at the Northeastern Seminary Youth Ministry Summit in February 2014. He is a youth pastor in Chili, N.Y. who loves seeing students develop their unique giftings for Christ and is extremely passionate about the Gospel and raising up student leaders.