The Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education, a research arm of Auburn Seminary, invited representatives from select seminaries identified as “bright spots” to think about constructive trends in ministry preparation. I was only too happy to represent Central, hoping not to case a dim shadow in the room of luminaries.
Rather than focusing on the doom and gloom about the prospects of theological education in our time, this study located bright spots of innovation and compelling mission. In our brief time together, we covered topics as varied as outcome-based curricula, how to educate the church for the world, and how seminaries can equip ministers for public leadership.
The most interesting conversation for me was how we might prepare faithful, creative, and wise leaders. This constellation of attributes is imperative for courageous leadership in churches and communities, and we must attend to processes of formation all the more.
Being the faithful Baptist that I am, I visited Judson Memorial Church for worship while in New York City. Like the Magi, I was filled with exceeding joy at the epiphanic creativity of this urban congregation in the heart of Greenwich Village. The worship service was filled with stunning music, warm hospitality, perceptive preaching, and the celebration of the Agape Feast. Judson is a teaching church, and they welcome seminarians to be formed as community ministers by sharing the life of this congregation and its many initiatives in social justice and community development. This kind of partnership is essential; churches and seminaries must collaborate in leadership development.
While in the city, I was struck by the real contrast between the narratives of Wall Street and the gospel. Life is about so much more than our net worth, and the child whom the Magi sought out challenges systems of domination. Their “bright spot” guided them beyond self-interest, and their joy is evidence of finding the one whom they could worship. As Matthew’s gospel recounts:
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother; and they
knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they
offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As we enter 2016, I plan to be on the watch for bright spots in churches and other seminaries. These can encourage faithful work here. I am pleased that Auburn included Central in its study, but there is little time for self-congratulation when there is a mission as urgent as ours. Our work is to bear witness to the life-changing promise of grace, which is the true light of the world.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.