GP: TO BEGIN, TELL US ABOUT THE CURRENT STATE OF SEMINARY EDUCATION AND THE ROLE OF NTS TODAY IN CLERGY PREPARATION.
JR: This is a time of tremendous transition for all seminaries, including NTS. For example, seminary education is no longer a simple matter of who’s called to be a pastor, and how do we get them here to learn how to be a pastor. That is still a key goal of our work. We have always trained pastors, missionaries, teachers, chaplains, and many kinds of ministers. There is also an emerging hunger among other professional people who are followers of Jesus serving in other areas—counselors, for example, and even business people—who have a desire to work from the foundation of theological reflection. So, that interest in graduate theological education, even for people who are not going to be credentialed in terms of vocational ministry, is an important part of the future of all seminaries, including NTS.
GP: HOW DO SEMINARIES CONNECT WITH THIS EMERGING GROUP MORE SPECIFICALLY?
JR: I think this kind of connection happens in a variety of ways. First and foremost, we have to reimagine and expand our existing curriculum. The Master of Divinity (M.Div.) is our core curriculum, but there are ways that we can enhance and expand our professional masters’ programs to provide maximum flexibility for a wider variety of students. Another way to reach out to those interested in non-traditional seminary studies is to expand the conversation with the church in order to accommodate the needs that are out there and to allow the church see that we can meet those needs.
GP: THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE HAS AN INTERESTING HISTORY IN REGARD TO HIGHER EDUCATION. ON THE ONE HAND WE HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF THE NEED FOR HIGHER EDUCATION. ON THE OTHER HAND, AS YOU KNOW FROM YOUR YEARS IN MINISTRY, THERE TENDS TO BE FEAR SURROUNDING SEMINARY EDUCATION IN PARTICULAR. HOW CAN THE SEMINARY AND CHURCH LEADERS HELP ALLAY THESE FEARS?
JR: As you know, this is nothing new. General Superintendent Chapman, in casting the vision for this place, began that work in the 1920s. It took until the 1940s to get the church to say, “Yes, let’s have a seminary.” Even then, this seminary was born out of great tension around that very question. When Hugh Benner was called to be the first president, he got a pushback from certain segments of the church—people who were afraid that seminary education would negatively affect the church. Some feared higher learning would mute passion for revival or for evangelism.
To me, the way forward has always been rooted in the nature of the Wesleyan framework of healthy church practice flowing from sound theology. These two aspects are summed up by Charles Wesley’s phrase “knowledge and vital piety”—education and holiness combined. Keeping both of these at the forefront can help us to move past the narrow assumption that you have to choose one or the other. I believe that you can be both an academically informed minister who is also a sound practitioner. You can choose to be someone who thinks carefully and deeply about the Bible, while still being someone who has a Spirit-anointed passion to win people to Jesus.
Those can and should live together. I think they get expressed differently in different personalities and contexts, but I think there’s no conflict. There is tension, but I think tension can be understood in a positive way: Tension that keeps us balanced, tension that keeps us corrected, and that keeps us talking to each other. This is positive for the mission of the Church.
GP: HOW DOES YOUR OWN JOURNEY AS A STUDENT, PASTOR, AND DISTRICT LEADER INFORM WHAT YOU HOPE TO BE THE MAIN EMPHASES OF NTS MOVING FORWARD?
JR: I come to this role from 25 years as a local church pastor and then twelve years as a superintendent—a pastor to pastors. So, I very much have the local church and the local pastor in view. To this day, regardless of the assignment I’ve had, I’ve always considered myself most essentially a pastor.
Early on, I was given that very quote from Charles Wesley about the importance of both knowledge and vital piety—a living faith. This is the idea of the pastor/theologian, and this is a formative idea for all pastors and for all Christians. I’ve always thought that there’s just nothing worse than a pastor saying something like, “Oh, I’m no theologian.” Every pastor is a theologian! He or she may be a good or a poor theologian, but every pastor is a theologian. So, I want to help pastors be good theologians and not eschew that work, but embrace it at whatever level that they have capacity for and in whatever context makes sense for them.
GP: WHAT CAN PASTORS, ESPECIALLY SEMINARY GRADUATES OR THOSE WHO ARE PURSUING SEMINARY EDUCATION, DO TO HELP BRING ABOUT A POSITIVE VIEW OF SEMINARY EDUCATION TO THEIR CONGREGATIONS?
JR: Part of what I hope to do here is to help our graduates apply what they have learned—not just from a base of knowledge, but from a base of what I would call Christian virtue and pastoral wisdom. I want our graduates to learn how to exercise careful patience and wisdom in the context of the local church. I hope they learn to develop and use what they learn here in the local context in ways that help minister to the life of the people. Part of that involves taking the variety of things learned here from a wide array of deep thinkers and applying that in practical ministry with pastoral wisdom. This kind of pastoral wisdom is developed over time, and it also involves good and consistent mentoring. Something I constantly hear from young and developing ministers is the need for mentors who can be consistent guides for ministerial development.
GP: HOW IS NTS PARTNERING WITH NAZARENE UNIVERSITIES IN THE ONGOING MENTORING AND EDUCATION PROCESS?
JR: We are fortunate to live in a time when our universities have strong scholars contributing to the education of our students. We see ourselves as partnering with our universities in enhancing the work our university professors do in the lives of developing ministers. So, our work is really more of a continuing collaboration as the students continue their formal education.
GP: DISCUSS THE EMERGING ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN CLERGY EDUCATION.
JR: Half of our students at NTS are nonresidential, which means they utilize technology to complete their degree. Most of these non-residential students join their classes through video technology, which is relatively seamless these days. I have taught those courses, and students really are able to have meaningful engagement. Students are also rediscovering the need for face-to-face learning communities, so in addition to enhancing our technological opportunities, we are expanding our residential facilities for those who long for that kind of interaction socially and educationally. I predict that the need for residential learning at the seminary level will experience more growth, but we want to make sure we are prepared for and that we can merge both aspects of education.
GP: WHAT STRUCTURAL CHANGES DO YOU SEE IN THE SEMINARY’S FUTURE?
JR: First of all, within the next decade, we will experience almost a complete turnover among our faculty, many of whom are near retirement age. The faculty cabinet and I are already prayerfully examining what future faculty needs will be, especially in light of the new trends we have already discussed. There will not only be different faces, but also different specialties and approaches as the seminary moves forward.
GP: WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS OF NTS?
JR: I would hope that in ten years it is clear that NTS has responded to the realities of the Church of the Nazarene being a truly global denomination. This means that we will take seriously our connection with all of our world areas, but also our faculty and staff increasingly reflects the diversity of our church in much the same way that our global leadership has in recent years. Also, we would love to see NTS become a seminary of choice of sister denominational groups, especially those who do not have strong seminary programs for their developing clergy. Ultimately, I really want what happens here at NTS every single week to have a positive impact on what happens in the local church every single week.