Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Toronto School of Theology - Offer of Admission!!!

After months of waiting and wondering I received a letter today.


While I was preparing my application (back in the fall) I found reading successful PhD applicants' Statements of Intent very helpful.  Here's what I wrote to the TST Admissions Committee:


TST Statement of Intent - Jason Mills

If my denominational colleges are any indication of broader trends in Christian higher
education, then Canadian Bible Colleges and Seminaries are undergoing radical changes
in how they train leaders. The two denominational colleges of the Evangelical
Missionary Church of Canada—Rocky Mountain College, Calgary, AB and Emmanuel
Bible College, Kitchener, ON—are making sweeping changes in curriculum and format:
fewer full-time faculty members, more options for non-resident students (R.M.C. has
done away with residency altogether), more courses designed and delivered online by
American faculty, etc. These changes affect pastoral formation. The main rationale for
the shifts appears to be financial with very little consideration given to student formation.
That concerns me.

I am interested in studying the impacts that changes in curriculum, class format, and
faculty involvement have on pastoral and congregational formation. My purpose for this
focused study is simple: I see a need for a renewed, clear, and effective educational
philosophy as a foundation for training leaders for the 21st century church. My research
methodology will focus on examining the shifts in educational philosophy within my own
denominational colleges specifically, and Christian higher education institutions in
Canada generally. I plan to hold Jesus’ ways of teaching and training His disciples in one
hand while holding traditional Christian educational models, including the current
Canadian cultural and educational shifts and tensions, in the other.

My extensive leadership experiences give me a strong basis for my research. As part of
my undergraduate experience, I was granted access into college administrative and
disciplinary meetings. That gave me a glimpse into the organizational functioning of the
college. Immediately after graduation a church called me as their full-time pastor. After
four years I returned to the academy with a firmer grasp on the practice of ministry.
Seminary allowed me to bring my pastoral praxis into my coursework and thesis research.
I focused on postmodernism’s impact on church ministry and its implications for pastoral
leadership in the 21st century. My thesis drew on my experiences in church ministry and
the need for change in Canadian church leadership. I completed my M.A. and served for
twelve more years in pastoral ministry—including leading a multi-staff church in the
midst of significant staff turnover and a shifting congregational ministry philosophy. I
also stepped into the undergraduate classroom and distance education department where I
taught the next generation of pastoral leaders how to think, write, and practice Christian
faith. As a result of my varied professional opportunities I am well equipped to
understand the present shifts in educational philosophy as well as the reality of
congregational ministry.

My language qualifications include six years of French language training in the Ontario
French Immersion program at the elementary and secondary education levels—an asset
when researching Christian Higher Education methodology in French language
institutions in Canada. Additionally, the four semesters of biblical Greek I studied as an
undergraduate pastoral ministry student make it possible to study the life and ministry of
Jesus in the original language.

The Toronto School of Theology is an ideal context for my research. TST’s consortium
of theological schools and relationship with The Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education and The Centre for the Study of Ministry is a near perfect fit for researching
both educational philosophy and ministerial training. My hope is to gain admission to the
University of St. Michaels College in order to work directly with Dr. Mario D’Souza.
His research interests in the philosophy of education and religion in education—as
evidenced in his recent public lecture, “The Catholic University and the Unburdening of
the Real World” would make him an excellent primary supervisor for my research. In a
recent phone conversation he commented that my research interests intersect with his
own. Additionally, Dr. Doug Blomberg has been teaching, administrating, and
publishing in the field of Christian higher education for many years. He is retiring in
June 2017 from the Institute of Christian Studies but he directed me to some helpful
books on the philosophy of education and pastoral praxis. He has agreed to consider
sitting on a PhD advisory committee.

In conclusion, I am pursuing PhD studies because God is calling me. I hope to one day
teach and/or serve in the administration of a Christian higher education institution with
strong pastoral formation programs, backed by sound theological and educational
philosophy. I also plan on staying engaged in church ministry, implementing research 
findings and engaging in pastoral formation at the ground level.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Transitional Ministry

One of the most important seasons in the life of a church takes place during pastoral transition.  Roger Nicholson's helpful book, Temporary Shepherds: A Congregational Handbook for Interim Ministry provides and excellent overview of the important tasks congregations should implement on their way from pastoral departure to calling a new leader.

Here's a summary of the 5 tasks from the book:

Task #1 is coming to terms with history.  This, according to Nicholson, is probably the most difficult time in the life of a congregation.  The church needs to come to terms with the loss of their pastor without losing sight of the future.  Nicholson asserts, “Painful experience in many congregations has shown that unless conflict is resolved and healthy communication restored prior to the call of a new pastor, the chances for the success of the new pastorate are substantially reduced.” (p. 7).  This is a time to gain perspective on the recent and distant past—highlighting both the victories and the painful times. 

Task #2 is discovering a new identity.  Congregations tend to think of themselves as changeless and static but nothing could be further from the truth.  Self-study during the interim time allows the present realities to surface rather than fond remembrances of bygone days.  Coming to terms with the 'actual' present also allows the search committee to accurately describe the church to potential candidates.

Task #3 is addressing leadership changes during an interim.  It is not unusual for a change in pastoral leadership to bring about a change in lay leadership as well.  Change at the top may have a ripple effect as overworked leaders tap out.  Those vacating leadership roles make room for new people to step up.  In healthier congregations this can go relatively smoothly.  But in conflicted and struggling churches this can create power struggles.

Task #4 is renewing denominational linkages.  Interim times are wonderful opportunities to re-establish a connection with the denomination.  Denominational resources are available to help with times of transition and the church has a chance to reflect on denominational identity and how relationship between church and denomination could be strengthened for the future.

Task #5 is commitment to new directions in ministry.  As the interim season draws to a close, and the first four tasks have been embraced and worked through, the church is in a place of greater unity and prepared to receive a new leader.  Nicholson says it like this, “Differences and misunderstandings have been resolved; closure of the former pastoral relationship has been completed; a new mission has been discerned; and members are eager to go forward.” (p. 12)

-----------

Unfortunately, not all churches have the luxury of hiring a temporary guide (transitional pastor) to help them accomplish these important tasks.  In my current church we were able to hire a seasoned guide to help (yay!) but he got sick (boo!), the tasks we not completed (uh oh!), and the ride got quite bumpy (conflict! it's one of the indicators of a poorly executed transition).  Here's what it looked like:
  • The lead pastor left to take on a denominational role (after 10+ years of ministry at that church) 
  • An intentional interim pastor was hired
  • The intentional interim pastor had a stroke
  • The most senior leader (a trusted and longstanding 15+ year associate pastor) stepped in to fill the gap
  • The longstanding associate pastor retired
  • I stepped in as the interim pastor 
  • Later I was hired as the permanent lead pastor
In retrospect, if you're looking for a healthy church transition, I would highly recommend hiring a specialized transitional pastor who can walk your church through the five tasks (or some form of them) from beginning to end.  I would not recommend my experience.  One day soon I'm hoping to use my experience, reading, and training to help churches make their transitions a healthy and enjoyable experience.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Babies and Bad Teaching

Yesterday I preached on 1 Timothy 2.  If you're not familiar with this portion of Paul's writings, there's a part there that calls women to not speak or have authority over their male counterparts (1 Tim. 2:12).  It's bad teaching to interpret this text literally.

Here's part of the story that's often untold:

1.  Instability between men and women the Ephesian church (as well as other parts of the Roman World like Corinth) created chaos in worship.

2.  That instability had to do with false teachings based on speculations about Old Testament genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-4) that led people to believe and teach deception and lies about marriage, food, and other things (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

3.  Since women's education was not highly valued in the patriarchal society of the New Testament, women were particularly vulnerable to false teachings--like the ones in Ephesus at the time of Timothy's ministry.

4.  The false teachers were going house to house and taking advantage of the uneducated women.  They were "worming" their way into these homes and gaining control over "weak-willed women" (2 Tim. 3:6-7).  In those homes they found women of means (perhaps young widows or married women whose husbands were away on business) that were leading house church gatherings.

5.  Those women embraced the false teachings--likely a radical agenda: to be 'free' from their husbands and children, become sexually liberated (hence the appeal to dress and act modestly in 1 Tim. 3:9-10), and abandon their roles as wives and mothers.

Perhaps that's why Paul calls the Ephesian women to learning in silence rather than teaching.

In a bizarre chapter ending twist Paul adds that women will be saved through childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15).  What was the apostle Paul thinking?  Rather than interpreting this to mean that Paul has given up on the Gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, he is more likely intending to turn the radicalized 'free women' back to their husbands and families.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Coming this Sunday...

An egalitarian perspective on 1 Timothy 2:12.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Efficiency or Freedom?

Last week I listened to a CBC Ideas episode called The Truth about "Post-Truth". As I listened, I thought about church.  The host was interviewing Jason Stanley, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. The whole 54:00 is worth hearing but in case you don't have time, here's what grabbed my attention:

(Around 22:50) "A liberal democratic society values liberty and equal respect. Because if you value liberty you value you fellow citizens' liberty. You want them all to have liberty. So you need to give them all equal respect so they can tell you when their liberty is being impinged upon. And truth is the guarantee for equal respect. Because if you want to give those with less power equal respect. Then you have to listen to them. You have to make sure your views about them aren't false. So truth is the sort of leveller between those with less power and those with more power..."

(Around 23:45) "In an authoritarian society (a monarchy for instance)... the main principle is not truth. But the main principle is power... In an authoritarian society people learn to respect power. So in an authoritarian society an authoritarian leader will demonstrate their power by defining reality. So they will be free to define reality so it accords with the ideology that they want you to have... They have a monopoly on truth..."

(Around 33:44) "No one should be running for president of the United States saying that they are a good businessman. Because a business is not run like a democracy. In a democracy, everyone rules.  And that's going to mean that there are inefficiencies. Efficiency is a virtue. But it's not a democratic virtue. Autonomy is a democratic virtue... Freedom and efficiency are often at odds. Business is run to minimize freedom and maximize efficiency."

So, what about the church? If we take Jason Stanley's comments about 'business' and 'liberal democracy' and place them on a spectrum, with efficiency and freedom at opposite ends, where would you place church? Is it a community that celebrates individual freedom and autonomy or seeks to maximize efficiency? What's your experience?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trust your gut

When I'm functioning at my best I trust my gut. That means having a sense about something that others might not understand.

It's helpful when I'm in places where I have to make choices. By far, the most difficult context of gut-wrenching and gut-testing, is in the wilderness.

I've spent my fair share of time wandering around in the wilderness. The worst part about wandering in the wilderness is when people are following. Why? Because human beings don't like the wilderness.  And, coupled with a distaste for the wilderness, people don't like a wandering leader. When the two are combined, it no fun being out front.

Full disclosure: I've never really struggled with the wilderness part. I'm fine to be led to difficult places by the Spirit. But when I'm led there, and I have people following me. It's downright hard.

The hard part is that people start wondering if I know where I'm leading. It doesn't happen right away. But as time goes by and the wilderness closes in. The voice of the Spirit starts getting drown out by the questions of well meaning people: "why are we still in the wilderness?" "where are we going?" "who can we blame for this?"

And then it starts to happen. My confidence melts. I question my instincts. I second guess my calling. I replace the God who led me into the wilderness with the people that have followed me there. That's when it happens. I stop trusting my gut.

Lately, I've started trusting my gut again.  And I've found peace. And home really.  In the wilderness.




Monday, January 16, 2017

Just Start & Stay Faithful

I listened to a Carey Nieuwhof podcast today.  He interviewed an entrepreneur named Jared Hogue.

Jared uttered five small words that moved me:

Just Start and Stay Faithful.

This blog post is the fruit of that statement.  So, if anyone is out there.  And interested.

This is my start.  Pray that I stay faithful.


Here's a link to the podcast if you're interested (CNLP 120). 
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