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by Mark Wenger
A year ago our family said good-bye to the fine folks at Springdale Mennonite Church , Waynesboro , Va. , where my wife Kathy and I had pastored for 10 years. We moved to Lancaster , Pa. , for me to begin the new role of director of pastoral studies for Eastern Mennonite University and Seminary and its Lancaster campus. As with many transitions, the change was both exciting and challenging. Twelve months into the job I’m looking to the future with eagerness.
EMU has made a significant investment to extend pastoral training into Pennsylvania where many Mennonite congregations are located. The commitment is not new; serving the needs of local pastors, congregations and conferences is a long-standing effort for EMU. But there is a new level of investment and commitment. EMU is responding to the changing demands put on ministers and congregational leaders. We want to meet those needs.
People often ask me what I do as director of pastoral studies. I like to think of it as a three-legged stool. The first leg is the new STEP Program which I direct. It is a college-level pastoral training course of study for pastors – or those discerning a call – who don’t have a college degree. This program is jointly owned with Lancaster Mennonite Conference. The second leg includes coordination of graduate-level seminary courses. We offer two to three courses per semester. The third leg of the stool is the Preaching Institute, a nine-month in-service training program for men and women who want to improve their preaching. This fall we will offer the Preaching Institute in Lancaster , Pa. , and in Harrisonburg , Va.
I often think and pray about why people, pastors and congregations choose EMS at Lancaster for pastoral and theological training. There are many aspects of this program that I love. Here are a couple that motivate me:
A Clear Purpose: The words of Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s purpose statement hang on the wall of my office. It says: “Eastern Mennonite Seminary equips men and women to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, prepared to lead the church in mission with passion and integrity. As a community of disciples, we are humbled by God’s call, formed in Christ, transformed by the Holy Spirit, and empowered to serve with knowledge, wisdom and grace.”
Flexible with Various Points of Entry: One size does not fit all for pastoral and theological training. God and the church call people to leadership at many points along life’s pathway. That’s why we offer both college-level and graduate-level pastoral training. Perhaps, for example, a person is discerning a pastoral vocation. The Preaching Institute or the STEP program offers a simple way to test the waters. Non-credit study for the interested lay person is often another option. To meet the needs of the most people, we aim to offer courses in both Lancaster and Souderton regions.
Anabaptist: We exist to assist regional Mennonite and Anabaptist-related congregations and persons to follow and fulfill God’s mission. There are many theological fountains to drink from in this area. We want to make available a course of study that flows from Anabaptist springs to refresh and strengthen this faithful witness for Christ to the world.
Collaborative: We hope to strike agreements with other compatible Christian pastoral training centers for exchanging ideas and resources. This will be necessary in order to achieve a long-term goal: to be approved for students to earn a master of divinity degree from our site in Pennsylvania .
Joy in Service, Support in Adversity: I have been blessed with 19 good years serving as pastor in two different congregations. These years were not without deep struggle and disappointment, but in total they have been a joy, and a gift. I want to share from this experience with other men and women training for pastoral ministry, whether they are just testing the waters or are already fully immersed. Gathering for learning and shop-talk with colleagues who are doing the same thing is the best way there is to catch the Spirit, learn the skills and find support for the hardships.
The apostle Paul’s ancient words to Timothy are ever true, with potential, through God’s grace, for changing me and changing you: “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
That’s the view after one year. I invite you to join the adventure.