Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On Being a Learner

"In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists."--Eric Hoffer quoted by Jeanne Liedtka, professor of Business Administration, Darden School at the University of Virginia.

Let me provide two disclaimers at the beginning of this discussion.  First, my undergraduate education was in History with a minor in Religion and Philosophy, so I have always been interested in the past and how we got from there to here.  I still think we need to understand the implications and lessons of our history in order to make good decisions about the present and future.  Second, I am currently blessed to serve as an adjunct faculty member for a theological seminary with many learned and gifted colleagues.  Most of their disciplines are thoroughly rooted in the past—theology, history, biblical studies.  Again, if we are to understand who we are now, we need to have a grasp of how got here.

With that established, I would argue that Hoffer (and Liedtka, by association) are not suggesting that our history is not unimportant or that we should ignore learning about it.  They are arguing that we should be present in the moment.  We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before but we are not limited by their experiences.  We have our own experiences upon which to build.

The truth of the quote is that if we rest on our laurels, that is, only value what we have learned in the past, we miss the opportunities of the present.  We must immerse ourselves in the reality of the now in order to respond to its challenges.

From a Christian perspective, the church has always been in the process of learning.  When the early disciples engaged the Greco-Roman culture of their day, they took advantage of language, philosophy, and law to articulate more clearly their message so that they might that engage the people of their day.   They did this not in their own power but in the power of the Spirit.

In the upper room discourses in John’s gospel, we read the words of Jesus preparing his disciples to engage the world:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12, NIV)

It is not too bold to say that Jesus expected his disciples to learn, grow, adapt and listen to the leadership of the Spirit in order to be faithful to his mandate of sharing the Good News.

To be a Christian learner, one respects the past but is not bound by it. Rather, the Christian “dances in the moment” and responds to the insights of the Spirit of God in order to bring in the Kingdom of God.  In so doing, the church is renewed, refreshed, and repurposed for the challenges of the day.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Get Out and Vote

One of my cherished memories of childhood is going with my Dad when he voted on election day.  He drove a city bus in Mobile, Alabama, so he usually went to work early and got off in time to go to the polling place at a local school after work. Often, he would take me along.  I was always impressed that this was a priority for him and that he wanted to share this experience with me.

I have rarely missed an election and voted by absentee ballot when I was on active duty during the Vietnam era.  Voting is not just a privilege for me but a responsibility as well.  There are many around the world who do not have this opportunity.  As a result, I don’t have a lot of patience for those who say, “I am just not going to vote.”  The last time I looked, we have more than two choices, even in the Presidential election.  And if you don’t like any of those available on the ballot, you have the option in most places to write in a candidate.

There is much discussion today about honoring veterans of military service. They are asked to stand in public and be acknowledged, sometimes they are offered admissions discounts, and other attempts are made to say, “Thank you for your service.”

If you really want to honor veterans and those currently serving in the military, make your way to your appropriate polling place and vote.  If you want to celebrate those who have gone before us and invested their lives to make this nation possible, get out and vote.  It is important.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Paying for Seminary Education

Theological education is a good thing.  Few would argue that becoming a more fully formed and equipped minister is a bad thing.   Like most good things, however, a seminary education is not cheap. 

Central Baptist Theological Seminary recently released its annual report which includes the sources of tuition and gifts that fund the seminary’s budget of over $3 million dollars.

Students provide 31 percent through the payment of tuition.  Basically, they are paying one-third of the cost of their education.

Thirty-four percent comes from foundations like the Lilly Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, and the Luce Foundation.  Much of this funding goes to special programs and initiatives. 

Individuals provide 30 percent of the seminary budget.  These gifts—both large and small—come from people who believe that theological education is important and are passionate about the mission of the seminary.

Two percent comes from the American Baptist Churches Central Region.  This is greatly appreciated in a time when denominational budgets are stretched thin. 

Two percent comes directly from churches. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the last figure could be multiplied ten times?  In all honesty, few churches are willing or able to increase their giving to the seminary without some clear and motivating purpose.  Let me suggest three:

First, when a church discovers a young person within their fellowship who has responded to a call to ministry (and they are few and far between these days), the church can provide affirmation in many ways, but one specific way is to assist that student to attend seminary by providing some tuition funds.  The investment in the student speaks volumes about the church’s belief in the student’s calling.

Second, there is a trend in churches to call out gifted men and women from within the congregation to assume ministry positions.  The effectiveness of these individuals would be enhanced by enrolling in a seminary degree program, and the church could help to fund this expense over and above the individual’s benefit package.  With the seminary’s new online curriculum, the student can be anywhere in the world and take advantage of seminary studies.  Both the church staff member and the church benefit from this arrangement.

Third, a church might choose to become a teaching church, inviting an enrolled seminary student to become part of the church’s ministry team while providing a portion of the student’s tuition as part of the total benefit package.  This helps the church by engaging a minister-in-training and assists the student both financially and educationally.

A new generation of Christian leaders is dependent on foundations, churches, and individuals for their education.  It is worthy investment of resources.