Each person who responds to God's call to ministry enters into a process of preparing, of getting fit," for ministry. This period of "cross training"-involving everything from volunteer work and advanced education to times of intense personal reflection and vocational training-is as unique and varied as those individuals whom God calls into his service. Here are the stories of three people who discovered that seminary education, when combined with life experience, provided a vital component in their being equipped for ministry in the twenty-first century.
For Felicia Brown, a senior deputy probation officer with San Diego County for the past 15 years, getting a master of divinity degree is but one more step in "a whole chain of events" that is moving her from social services to pastoral ministry. Brown feels called to "prepare the church to do social services," she says, a responsibility the church has, for the most part, relinquished to the government. "I should be able to call the church on the corner and say, 'Pastor, this is a family that needs help. Can your church pick up the pieces here?'"
In addition to working as a probation officer in 19 San Diego schools, Brown is associate pastor at Imani Temple Church of God in Christ in Temecula, California. Although she already has a master's degree in counseling psychology, Brown began attending seminary two years ago in response to a call to ministry that she describes as "something that had been on my life all of my life, but it took me until a couple of years ago to recognize it" she says.
Brown's professional experience has convinced her that social service agencies should be able to work in conjunction with the church. "Agencies are collaborating their resources, but what's missing in the collaboration is the church," she notes. "I see the church going full circle to the point where it will be the agency to pick up the pieces that the government is dropping. And at the same time as it meets the needs in the social services arena, the church will reconcile people back to Christ."
Three years ago, businessman George Lee began working toward an M.Div. degree through an evening seminary program. An economist with a well-established career in marketing and sales, Lee says his call to ministry came in phases. "For me, attending seminary is not only about the pursuit of biblical knowledge but also about how to exercise and prepare myself for the next step," he says.
Lee has had a successful career as senior vice president for a major direct marketing company; as the chief operating officer for a $100 million insurance company; and, most recently, as senior vice president of marketing and sales for a high-tech research company. Lee says he decided to slow down his career track after the death of his wife three years ago in order to "become much more involved with my family and God's mission for my life."
The son of a Taiwanese diplomat who has lived in the United States for 35 years, Lee chairs the board of deacons of the Minnesota Mandarin Christian Church. Formed two years ago with the mission of introducing Chinese seekers to Christ, the church targets young professionals. "With the increasing number of Chinese exchange scholars and students coming to the Twin Cities, we feel that there are some great opportunities for the gospel," Lee said.
Although he serves as a translator and Sunday-school teacher at the church, preaches occasionally, and hosts a weekly Bible study in his home, Lee says he is not preparing for full-time pastoral ministry. "My mission statement in life is to be a blessing to someone each day," he says. "I only pray that the Lord will give me enough love, courage, and wisdom to accept the challenges he has for me in the future."
Nine years ago, Oleg Voskrensensky came to the United States from Moscow to attend a Russian Orthodox seminary. Though a non-Christian at the time, he had an academic interest in studying Christianity. What he did not anticipate was that he would become a Christian while at the seminary, a decision that changed the course of his life.
After transferring to Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Voskrensensky completed an M.Div. degree; then, a ministry to the Russian immigrant church began to open up for him. "God wants me to use my knowledge of different languages, cultures, and church traditions in teaching and preaching the message of his love, acceptance and peace," he says.
Voskrensensky is currently enrolled in a master's program in communication through Bethel's Center for Graduate and Continuing Studies. In addition, he works as an employment counselor for World Relief Minnesota, serves as one of the pastors of a Slavic Evangelical Church, and maintains a Russian Christian Web page.
The site, which offers bilingual theological materials and the Russian Bible in digital form, has proved to be a valuable tool for ministry worldwide, according to Voskrensensky. The Internet is highly valued by Russian academic and business populi, most of whom are either atheists or nominal Orthodox Christians, he says. "It opens up new avenues to groups of people who have not been reached by conventional evangelism."
Being fit for ministry, Voskrensensky notes, requires having a strong theological grounding, ongoing cross-cultural communication experience, Internet design literacy, and homiletic and writing skills. His ministry call, he says, is to "those of both Russian and American culture and of any church tradition, who have limited God by the boundaries of their own culture or denomination."
Phyllis Alsdurf is director of publications at Bethel Theological Seminary.