Northeastern Seminary Blog

Vulnerability Re-Imagined

Posted on Wed, Nov 04, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

The truth is, we are all deeply vulnerable down to the core of our beings. We may be strong, yet not as strong as someone else. We may be intelligent, but awkward with our hands. We may be lonely, anxious, over weight, or not as good looking as some others. We must all come to a place of acknowledging our vulnerability, and the awkwardness we feel in the presence of others and of God. But the challenge of ubiquitous human vulnerability can be turned to hope for the future of our society if we as Christians are willing to live into this particular truth of our shared humanity. Our very differences and imperfections have potential to bind us together, through hospitality, in God’s kingdom as agents of God’s loving grace.

In his book, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, Thomas E. Reynolds places the stigma of disability within the framework of human vulnerability. The meaning and power of disability is not as obvious as we might think, as it is driven by context and social norms. It is important to understand that the root of any disability rests in the soil of our vulnerability. Out of this vulnerability grows a host of societal coping mechanisms by which we control one another.

Reynolds’ theology of disability, then, is infused with an understanding of how vulnerability was present at the beginning of God’s creation, and is ongoing in God’s plan of redemption. God does not place a yoke upon his creatures that God does not share in equal or greater portion.

What stands in the way of humanity embracing its vulnerability? Reynolds calls it the “cult of normalcy,” a reaction to either personal or corporate vulnerability. It is a protective mechanism to maintain comfort, security, or the status quo. Society at every level embraces this cult of normalcy, thinking it will thrive best when vulnerability is hidden or eradicated.

Reynolds addresses the church’s culpability in this cult of normalcy in a discussion of the imago Dei. It is not difficult to imagine that anyone who does not conform to norms established by the Church could be accused of as not conforming to the image of God, and should therefore be shunned, or otherwise denied some degree of fellowship in the Church. Reynolds’ idea of imago Dei as “imitatio Dei” challenges the idea that being “in God’s image” implies that we are “perfect” in some human projection of “godly” standards. Rather, we should obtain perfection in our conformity to the loving nature and work of God, who embraces the weak, the disabled, the poor, and the marginalized. Thus, the “imitatio” interpretation acts as a reminder that we, like our God, should love broadly and tenderly, assuring that God’s love is cast horizontally to the entire world, not just vertically between God and a few of God’s “chosen servants.” Reynolds sees that wholeness is not the absence of vulnerability or disability, but something that is only found as we live with one another in the truth of our weakness, our need, and our vulnerability. This way of living celebrates our unity and our “welcome” with both our creator and one another. 

What might it look like for the church of Jesus Christ to take up the call to “be perfect” as God is perfect? It might look like a church that prioritizes people over form and appearances. Television and radio broadcasts of services may seem like a good evangelization tool to some, but the demands for a “good performance” can deny a congregation the joy of simply being themselves with one another each week. I recall my father, an Episcopal priest who never passed over a teachable moment. More than once we watched him step down from the pulpit, walk down into the pews, and pick up a fussy child right in the middle of a sermon. He smiled and said, “Aren’t we blessed to have children with us?” With these words he silenced the angry thoughts of those who were annoyed that someone would bring their baby into a service, and at the same time he blessed the child and her family who needed to know how welcome they were, and how important it was for them to be in the service.

Imagine how much more we would reflect God’s image if, like Jesuit priest Fr. Greg Boyle, we saw our moments of interconnection with other imperfect people as holy moments of “kinship.” Imagine how much more we would reflect the image of God if we carried what Reynolds calls “God’s Welcome” with us into every conversation, and every human interaction at churches, in our homes, and in our day to day lives.

This blog series features the work of students from the Disability Awareness course offered at Northeastern Seminary during the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Barbara Isaman-Bushart (MDiv/MSW, ‘08), this course focuses on the diverse needs of individuals living with disabilities, with an emphasis on how to improve awareness, accessibility, and inclusion within the local church. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

Michael Brown is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary.
He attends Church of the Holy Trinity and works as a librarian for Marcellus Central School District in Marcellus, N.Y.

Tags: disability awareness in ministry, equipping for ministry, ministry

Cultivating Ministries that Learn From Individuals Living with Disabilities

Posted on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

Living with a disability is a reality for nearly 20 percent of the American population, affecting two of every seven families, and though eight of 10 people with disabilities state that they consider faith to be an important part of their lives, they also report they are very unlikely to attend religious services

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and still houses of faith are often much less accessible than secular organizations. Addressing accessibility calls for more than architectural accommodations such as ramps, elevators or lifts, though these are very crucial; awareness, open attitudes, and flexibility in practice are also key to breaking down barriers for people with disabilities as they seek faith communities in which to worship and grow in faith.

The goal is not to create ministries “for” but an openness to learn “from” individuals living with disabilities and to grow in reciprocal relationships that would truly represent full incorporation into the Body of Christ. The gifts of full inclusion are diverse and rich: exposure to fresh ways of seeing, hearing, and expressing God’s character and active presence in the world; a witness that human vulnerability is accepted in Christ’s Church and that all human life is infused with God-given dignity and value; and the much-needed gift to slow the pace of ministry and recognize the Holy Spirit’s work among the people of God—ALL the people of God.

This blog series features the work of students from the Disability Awareness course offered at Northeastern Seminary during the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by adjunct professor Barbara Isaman-Bushart (MDiv/MSW, ‘08), this course focuses on the diverse needs of individuals living with disabilities, with an emphasis on how to improve awareness, accessibility, and inclusion within the local church. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

Barbara Isaman-Bushart has worked in the Greater Rochester area as social worker dedicated to disability advocacy for many years. She is also a part-time faculty member of SUNY Empire State College and a member of the pastoral team at Community of the Savior in Rochester, N.Y.

Tags: disability awareness in ministry, equipping for ministry, seminary alumni, ministry

To Thrive In A Foreign Land: The Faithful Service of Northeastern Seminary Students and Alumni

Posted on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 10:37 AM

bare_feet_imageSadly, refugees are often a misunderstood people notes Rev. Bob Tice (D.Min., ‘12) senior pastor at River Rock Church. “At worst, many think of them as rejects and outcasts, poor, and a strain on America; and some a bit better think of them as just strange.” What is more alarming is that many people do not understand the unique needs of refugees.

“Imagine you fled your home country with your family, and now lived thousands of miles from anyone you know. You have very few possessions to speak of, little money, and you do not speak the country’s language.” Marie Moy (MATSJ ‘15), a home visitor at Jericho Community Health Center, prompts reflection. “Refugees need help navigating American systems of banking, schools, housing, and medical care.” They often find what seems normal to Americans to be peculiar and overwhelming.

In response to the unique needs, Tice and Moy, among other Northeastern students and alumni, are actively engaging in focused ministry in neighboring cities: Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. Rooted in biblical principles, refugee-conscious ministries give refugees a solid foundation to build on and the opportunity to thrive in a foreign land.

Patricia Welch (M.Div. ‘09), while pastor of New Hope Free Methodist Church in Rochester, N.Y., oversaw the resettlement of 34 African refugees who were finishing their six-month government-sponsored resettlement program with the Catholic Family Center, also in Rochester. She helped renew benefits with the U.S. Department of Human Services noting that at the sixth-month mark many refugees are at risk of losing their services if the proper paperwork is incomplete. In this ministry, Welch helped refugees open bank accounts, obtain needed household items, liaise with landlords, get to medical appointments, and receive job coaching. Welch also helped develop an English-as-a-second-language program which trained consultants and provided individual tutoring at refugees’ homes for a full year. Her next venture includes setting up an immigration and legal aid clinic to provide additional needed services.

In some ways similar to Welch, Moy supports refugees’ basic needs in the area of healthcare at the Jericho Community Health Center who partners with churches like the Renovation Church in Buffalo, N.Y. where Moy attends. Volunteers serve as English tutors, mentors for pregnant women and single mothers, drivers to take people to medical appointments, homework tutors for middle schoolers, and/or childcare providers for parents attending educational classes. Moy serves as a home visitor through the Parent Child Home Program, providing educational toys and books and preparing pre-school age children for school twice a week. The church’s ministerial efforts of reaching out to those in need are making a noticeable difference. Moy explains, “Low-income children statistically have about a 55% high school graduation rate—with rates being lower in Buffalo. After participation in the program for one year the graduation rate increases to about 63%, and after two years the rate goes up to 84%, which is on par with middle-income families.”

But graduation rates are not the only concern for children. Refugee children require particular attention in the transition process. In Michael Brown’s (MATSJ, C32) field education experience through Northeastern he worked as a co-leader with Hopeprint Summer Kids Camp in Syracuse, N.Y. The camp addressed many basic needs for refugee and non-refugee children with opportunities to engage in English language programs, formal and informal mentoring, tutoring, teen programs, children’s programming, and more. “While we are engaged in many immediate needs,” Brown further clarified, “we are always aware of the broader needs of individuals, families, and communities to develop to their fullest. We are always thinking about two-way mentorships, about leadership development, and about issues of community development.”

By far, a supportive and loving community is one of the most important aspects when working with refugees. The needs of these children and adults transcend the necessity of food, clothing, shelter and work. Refugees need the unconditional support of volunteers, the community, and especially the church.

The Boaz Project at Dongwon Kim’s (MATSJ C32) church, the Korean Church of Syracuse, provides computer services to refugees, teaching people basic skills about operating systems and how to use office programs. “It is a tool for spreading the Gospel [and] we hope the skills help their life,” Dongwon explained. As people serve one another through the Boaz Project, invisible barriers between refugees and non-refugees are broken down and in its place noticeably stronger relationships are built.

At River Rock Church Tice aids in cultivating such a community by encouraging a culturally fruitful environment for people to commune and worship as a single body in Christ. He explains that at “River Rock Church itself we hope we are developing an authentic multicultural church where every culture and race and group has a voice and the opportunity to be empowered in ministry according to their gifts, including the leadership of the church across all its diversity.”

Likewise, Bishop William Turner (MAT ‘01) creates a welcoming multicultural experience at the churches where he serves. Bishop Turner founded the Living Word Temple Restoration Ministries and oversees three sister churches. Whereas some of the members, such as the Bhutanese population, were persecuted for their beliefs in their native country, at church they are able to worship God freely and cultivate a love for Christ.

Showing the love of Christ by spreading the Gospel, reaching out to the refugees, and pouring into their lives is a ministry that is making a noticeable impact in communities across New York State. These ministries, the passion of Northeastern Seminary students and graduates alike, allow refugees to thrive and transition from the foreign to the familiar as God’s love is manifested through the hands and feet of His willing servants.

The content of this article was prepared by Ashley Henry, a Roberts Wesleyan College student and a communication intern at Northeastern Seminary for spring 2015.

About Northeastern

Since opening its doors in 1998, Northeastern Seminary on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College has continued to grow in prominence as a significant resource for the church community in upstate New York. Northeastern Seminary is a multi-denominational graduate school of theology offering five academically and professionally accredited degrees: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice, Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership, and Doctor of Ministry. The student body is comprised of more than 30 different Christian faith traditions represented among 170 students and over 350 graduates ministering around the nation and world.  For more information visit or call 585.594.6800.

Tags: community, ministry, compassion

Sabbath-Keeping: Practicing Openness

Posted on Sun, Dec 21, 2014 @ 01:42 PM

“You don’t have to try so hard. You don’t have to bend until you break.” I hear these words through my car radio and they fill my soul. Colbie Caillat’s song “Try” is not a theological treatise by any means, but it sure is insightful!

Trying describes today’s teens. As I work in a youth group setting I see first-hand how they try. They are trying to: get good grades, earn money, make friends, beat records, get scholarships, help their family, get a car, and even to escape pain. They’re busy. They’re following the adult model. We all want the best. We all want to be the best. We will pay great prices to get and be the best.

The word “Sabbath” is foreign to us. Teens may or may not attend church, but they are likely to do homework Sunday afternoon or evening. Many will even work a paid job on the day that would ordinarily have been set aside to rest. When I wanted a job as a high school senior, I felt that my only option was to make myself available every day of the week. Our culture has lost what it is to pray and play together once a week. Our week is consumed by our busyness. We do not know Sabbath.

Sabbath is a time of intentionally pausing from work and turning toward intimacy with God and neighbor. It is a time instead to rely on God as provider. Remember how the Israelites—wandering in the desert—could not gather manna on Sabbath? It is also a time of healing. Jesus healed on Sabbath.Sabbath_Keeping_Sarah_Grice-1

Sabbath is for stopping work, loving God and others, and for being healed.

People are hurting for Sabbath. I am hurting for Sabbath. I am only practicing the best I can. As I practice, my ability to slow down and focus on God grows. As I practice, I seek to share this Sabbath practice with others. I need rest. I see that the teens I work with need rest. The adults in these teen’s lives, need rest. We NEED to let the divine healer spend time with us.

We NEED to learn to play and pray together. I need that! Can we be angry when we’re sharing milk and cookies; probably not? In a recent lecture, Dr. Matthew Sleeth speculated that it is impossible to break the 10 Commandments while one is napping. And in her book, “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly,” Marva Dawn made a connection between Sabbath keeping and peacekeeping. She believes that Sabbath keeping teaches us to grow in compassion and understanding with one another. Sabbath keeping in community causes us to play and pray together.

Sabbath has become a deliberate choice. It is a choice that we need to make together once more. I pray that God will honor us as we begin to honor the Sabbath once more.

Sarah Grice, M.Div. ’15, is in her final year at Northeastern Seminary, concentrating on spiritual formation.

Tags: interacting with God, reflection, ministry, sabbath-keeping

Sabbath-Keeping: So We Can Look For God

Posted on Sun, Dec 14, 2014 @ 01:30 PM

Last year I traveled to Peru to talk with some Free Methodist pastors about the importance of self-care in ministry. One of the highlights of that trip for me was a small group time where we talked about taking a Sabbath rest each week. Most of the pastors in the group were bi-vocational, and poured themselves into their ministry whenever they had the opportunity. The idea of taking a rest each week, while acknowledged as imSlide1portant, was also experienced as a real challenge.

As I prepared for that trip and those discussions, I read a number of books on Sabbath-keeping, including Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s book, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. I enjoyed it very much, and so when I heard that Sleeth was going to be presenting at Roberts Wesleyan I signed up. Not because I thought I was going to hear anything I hadn’t heard before, but because I knew I had been neglecting my own Sabbath-keeping, and I thought maybe this would be a good way to re-orient myself, again.

Sabbath-keeping isn’t just a difficulty for bi-vocational pastors in Peru. It’s a difficulty for at least one full-time pastor in the United States (that would be me!) For a pastor, there is no clock that gets punched, and a pastor is never really “off.”

Of course there are other vocations with the same fuzzy boundaries, and it’s not just pastors that struggle with Sabbath-keeping. And people of faith who have jobs that do offer specific “time on/time-off” parameters also struggle with Sabbath-keeping. Because the struggle isn’t so much about finding the time as it is about orienting ourselves correctly.

In his book Sleeth says this about Sabbath-keeping: “Resting one day a week by any name is holy— the point is to stop on that day and look for God.” Sabbath-keeping is about pausing and appreciating God and his gifts.

Sleeth began his lecture asking us to talk with each other about how we spent our Sundays as children. In my small group we shared stories of simple, but satisfying times at church, with family, enjoying one another, without anxiety about what needed to get done. I’m sure every Sunday wasn’t like that; but those were the kinds of things we focused on; the things that stayed with us.

Interestingly this week I’m preaching from Philippians on Paul’s teaching regarding contentment. As I listened to Sleeth I realized how closely Sabbath-keeping is connected to contentment. When we stop to “look for God” we are remembering that He is the source of our contentment. We are proclaiming that all of our work and our accomplishments are secondary to our relationship with God. We are acknowledging that apart from God we will struggle to find contentment. And we are inviting God to teach us how to be content with what He offers. When we fail to regularly rest and look for God, we cut ourselves off from our greatest source of contentment.

Sleeth noted that without a regular Sabbath our lives become “run-on sentences.” Listening to someone who speaks in run-on sentences can be tiring! So do yourself and others a favor and punctuate your life with regular times of rest and Sabbath-keeping. You and those you love will be better for it.

Vern Saile, M.Div. ’01, is pastor of Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia, N.Y.

Tags: interacting with God, reflection, ministry, sabbath-keeping

The Writer's Calling: A Seminary Student's Reflections

Posted on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 @ 04:22 PM

book_image_Jae_NewmanWhat convictions has God planted deep within your heart this semester, this month, this year,  or the past decade? Northeastern Seminary student, Jae Newman (MAT) reflects on his journey of discovering, writing, and the role of seminary.    

“I am no Pastor, and yet I still feel the call, with James 3:1 as an admonishment, to be a teacher of sorts... It’s not easy. At one point during the last five semesters, I found myself reading Augustine after midnight in my bathtub while we had company downstairs. But I choose to walk and sometimes run when I understand that this is my responsibility. This is my proof that my God who sent the prophets is alive in me.”

Read the complete blog titled Flame against Flame: Reflections on North Korea & Wiesel’s Night on Ruminate Magazine website here.

Tags: seminary education, personal formation, poetry, non-traditional seminary, reflection, theological education, ministry, spiritual gifts

Growing Oaks from Seeds

Posted on Tue, Jun 05, 2012 @ 09:50 AM


A guest post by Doug Milne, M.Div. ‘11, youth pastor, Grace Church of the Nazarene. Rochester, N.Y. and Mike Kuhlkin, D.Min. youth pastor, Pearce Church, Rochester, N.Y., about the value of youth ministry in a church context.


There has been some recent discussion in ministerial circles about the value of youth ministry in the church. In fact, there is a new film documenting youth ministry as a “failure” because of the results of specific, carried-out philosophies by churches and their youth pastors.

Despite this suggestion, there is tremendous value in incorporating youth ministry into the church context if done in a biblical and communal way. There are four basic values of youth ministry in the church context.

youth ministry group playing table tennisEnergy and Excitement – There is no doubt that teenagers bring energy wherever they go. Churches can quickly become stagnant, but youth ministry seldom allows this to happen. Although we often hear of the stereotypical lazy and bored adolescent, it could not be further from the truth. Students are often the catalyst for mission trips, social action, and “outside the box” thinking. This generation is excited and passionate and they are looking to put that energy into something. Most of our teens are not satisfied with simply talking about today’s problems—they want to participate in opportunities for change. This excitement and energy is infectious and is needed to move a congregation from a state of observation to a state of motion.

Leadership – Youth ministry is training leaders for today and the future, but we have to keep in mind we are training them for the Kingdom not just for our congregations. Fostering leadership through youth ministry is two-fold. First, it builds young leaders. Our churches are filled with plenty of places for leadership development—worship leading, teaching, preaching, service, and so on. Second, youth ministry provides training for lay leaders. They have opportunities to serve, to work directly with a trained pastor, and it allows them to hone their ministry skills.

Builds Healthy Community – Mission and community are close kin. Without mission, community suffers and the reverse is just as true. The church is diverse, filled with all sorts of people from various backgrounds—that is the beauty of it. Multi-generational congregations with families worshipping together are part of a healthy church community. Students who learn the value of community at a young age become adults who value community. Knowing that teenagers are part of the current church and empowering them to participate as such, helps defend against the old adage that they are the church of tomorrow.

Seeds Become Trees – Churches have “Sunday School” classes and discipleship groups for younger generations because there is the strong belief that we must train children in the way they should go. It is most beneficial to start early with biblical and theological training. Children’s ministry and youth ministry supplement parental guidance and teaching. These ministries work at getting the attention of younger parishioners to help raise them in the Christian life. The process of individuation, often seen during the college years, can cause students to stray from “Christian principals.” Although seen as unfortunate or negative, this period can be navigated successfully if the seeds that have been planted in youth ministry are nurtured. The “oaks” of the faith often grow from the seeds planted in youth ministry.


Read more Northeastern Seminary ministry leaders' thoughts around serving teens and young adults in the latest issue of ResOund, the Seminary's enewsletter.

Tags: community, equipping model of ministry, missional, youth ministry, teenagers, adolescents, ministry

Choosing a Good Ministry Placement

Posted on Tue, May 29, 2012 @ 03:00 PM

A guest post by Nelson Grimm, director of field education and associate professor of applied theology

seminary student in ministry placementField education provides a unique opportunity for students to develop their skills and abilities in ministry. Because of the potential for learning through doing, students need to be careful in the placement they choose.  A good placement will:

Help Clarify Vocational Goals

A good placement provides opportunities for students to explore their sense of calling. Some may feel called to a particular type of ministry e.g. youth ministry, music, pastoral care provider, administration, etc. and look for very specific opportunities to ‘test the waters’ to find confirmation that this is the direction to pursue. Sometimes students complete a semester of field education and discover that the experience was not at all like what they had expected and can look in new directions without feeling guilty or that they had somehow failed. Others may want a more generalist approach and want a placement that allows them to have a wide variety of experiences. Often this approach enables them to discover new abilities and interests.

Provide Opportunities for Observation

Depending on a person’s background and experience, one of the gifts of field education is the ability to observe. Observing provides the student with some sense of what is involved in ministry without having to shoulder all the responsibility. I still shake my head in disbelief when I remember the first official board meeting I concluded in my first pastorate. I had never before even observed an official board meeting, let alone provide leadership for one! Another anxious moment was the first time I was asked to prepare for and conduct a funeral. At that point in my life I had only been to couple of funerals and never talked with anyone about what a pastor should do. A good field education placement will provide opportunities for the student to observe a wide variety of ministerial functions and to ask questions about the details of each.

Assist in Developing Leadership

While students should have the opportunity to observe, they also need the opportunity to develop leadership skills and abilities. Students are expected to function as a leader within some area of ministry. It may be a class you teach, or a small group you facilitate, or a choir you lead, or a mission trip you plan. Regardless of the area of ministry, a good placement will challenge you to grow in your abilities to plan, recruit, train, and support others around you. The challenge needs to be big enough to capture your imagination and to bring out the best within you. A good field education placement allows you to be creative and responsible while still having the safety net of capable supervision. 

Tags: clergy, person in ministry, field education, equipping for ministry, call to ministry, Dr. Nelson Grimm, ministry

Beyond Disability Awareness: 4 Ways to Equip Your Church to Serve

Posted on Thu, Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:25 AM

A post by guest blogger, Barbara Bushart, MDIV, MSW, adjunct professor at Northeastern Seminary. 

Giving webpage linked arms imageA 2007 study funded by the National Organization on Disability reported that 54 million Americans live with a significant and permanent disability.[1] In light of that statistic, churches must be prepared to minister to individuals with disabilities and their families with sensitivity and a biblical vision of hospitality which welcomes all people. One mother of a child with autism related that she was tired of churches turning her and her son away by saying they were not “equipped” for her son’s special needs.[2] What must we do to become better “equipped” to welcome those living with disabilities? Some suggestions follow for those wishing to begin or strengthen existing disability ministries:

1) Express an openness to address accessibility issues. Invite dialogue when individuals or families encounter barriers to their full participation in the life of the local congregation. Be sure that all print and electronic media utilized by your community of faith have statements that welcome people to share their needs in this regard. 

2) Involve individuals and families in decisions about what accommodations work well for their circumstances. Many common and erroneous assumptions exist about various disabilities. For example: Not all blind individuals have learned to read Brailled materials and many people with profound hearing loss do not use sign language to communicate. Good intentions based on wrong information will not yield a positive outcome. Ask, listen, and proceed together toward a solution for the accessibility need represented.

3) Do not assume that most accommodations are cost-prohibitive. Often creativity and willingness are more necessary components to eliminate barriers than funds.

4) Do not become discouraged or impatient if the solution requires multiple attempts before it is solved. Every setting and situation is unique and the person with the disability may not have an immediate answer to what will work without some experimentation. The process itself can be an opportunity to give and receive grace if approached with open minds and hearts.


Barbara Isaman-Bushart, MDIV, MSW, Adjunct professor,
Disability Awareness for Christian Ministers and Laypersons
Northeastern Seminary

Learn more about Disability Awareness class offered April 9 – May 7, 2012.

[1] National Organization on Disability, accessed October 15, 2009,

[2] Preliminary research indicates that the “unchurched” rate of families where a child has a disability is between 90 and 95% as cited by Jessica James Baldridge, “Church Based Disability Ministries” in Why O God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church, ed. Larry J. Waters and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011), 40.

Tags: people with disabilities, disability awareness in ministry, equipping for ministry, ministry

The Benefits of Test-Driving Ministry through Field Education

Posted on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 @ 08:15 AM

A guest post from Dr. Nelson Grimm, director of field education at Northeastern Seminary:

  • Apply ministry principles to the context of life

I will never forget when a student told me “Field education changed my life!” The student used her field education assignment to explore ministry options and found a perfect fit.  In many ways, field education is a chance for you to test-drive ministry and to gain the insight necessary to make good decisions. It is the rich and effective bridge between the understanding and analysis that occurs in the classroom and the thoughtful and appropriate application that transforms both you and those to whom you minister. 

  • Discover how God has gifted you

As you prepare for more effective service within God’s kingdom, the field education setting helps you ask (and answer) questions like: How has God shaped you for life? What are your abilities and strengths? What experiences have you had that have been most rewarding? What societal needs challenge your heart the most? As you are able to test various ministry contexts, you are better able to confirm your sense of fit with your anticipated vocation and to develop skills and confidence. And when this “testing” is done alongside seasoned mentors, those who understand the nuances of the individual and communal aspects of their unique ministry context, the discernment process is further strengthened. 

  • Do something new—or do something in a new way

Perhaps you will, for the first time in your life, work on a new program for the disenfranchised “30-somethings” population, or preach a sermon, or develop a community service ministry, or engage in visitation at a hospital. Or maybe for you, field education is not be about doing something new, but about doing something in a new way. I recall a student who had been a pastor for many years before coming to seminary. When he came to discuss his field education focus, he indicated that he had done it all, that his twenty-plus years of pastoral ministry provided him with all sorts of experiences. I agreed; he had experienced the wide range of pastoral responsibilities, so I challenged him to think of what he could do in a new way.  He chose to work on his preaching and designed a rigorous program including soliciting feedback from parishioners and videotaping sermons that he reviewed later with his mentor. Within weeks, parishioners were commenting on how much his preaching had changed. He moved away from overused words and awkward mannerisms. He improved his eye contact with people and structured his sermons more simply. Whether you are very new to ministry or you bring multiple years of experience, field education provides the opportunity for exploration and growth all within your context for living. 

  • Build a network of colleagues and resources

As with many placement programs like field education, you establish professional and collegial relationships that you can draw from as a resource long after you’ve completed seminary. Not only can placements lead to permanent employment, but because there is a propensity to become isolated in midst of a demanding ministry, these connections can become central, serving to sustain efforts, provide perspective, and re-energize visions. Ministry collaborations and vocational learning provide ongoing enrichment.


Grimm, Nelson 073

Dr. Nelson Grimm
Director of Field Education, Associate Professor of Applied Theology
Northeastern Seminary 

Tags: field education, Dr. Nelson Grimm, ministry, seminary curriculum