The best stories are the ones we like to hear again and again, the ones we read every year or watch on our DVD players on rainy days. Stories so compelling, so inviting that their familiarity prepares you for surprise, nuance and fresh discovery. Key characters in these stories always seem to face a test of some sort or the other. There are difficulties to overcome, challenges to face, changes to be discovered and embraced. Transformation takes place – the central figure is no longer the same, something within them now becomes an expressed part of who they are.
Stories even have a way of merging to contribute to an overarching story. We have our own stories to tell. Our journey with God, our understanding of God’s word and work in the world.
What makes this story of God compelling is not a fixed mentality of knowing all answers, but the contours and influences of God’s word and work in the world as incarnate. The Leadership and Global Perspectives Doctor of Ministry degree track through George Fox Evangelical Seminary has provided an environment to see God’s work beyond the bounds of my context in the United States. My DMin experience has provided an opportunity to recognize how I have been shaped and influenced in my understanding of God and to see God’s work in the world and God’s people with fresh eyes.
I did not enter the DMin program with a particular ministry problem to solve or a program to develop. I did not come thinking about vocational enhancement. I did, however, come to this program because I simply knew that my educational formation was not complete. I was stuck, amid all I had learned through my deconstruction and reconstruction of faith I was left with a deep desire to contribute to the mission of the Church, what would I do?
The DMin program changes you or rather I changed in response to the guidance and structure of this program. It really does begin in the beginning. Amid the whirlwind of the first few weeks in that first year a shifting begins to happen. A DMin program at George Fox is academically rigorous. It requires much individual effort, but you are not alone (and that matters). Under the instruction of Lead Mentor, Dr. Jason Clark with the administrative staff, the cohort assembles first online by posting a weekly blog based on our reading. Gradually, almost casually at first we read and respond to one another’s posts. We gather for a weekly online chat, some from England, another in Florida, others in Canada, Oregon, Ohio, Washington or wherever our travels take us. In the weeks that follow, through the seasons of the year we got to know one another. As we interacted and discussed the books and ideas expressed in our reading we began to experience community. We came to realize that together we have a fuller understanding of God’s grace in ourselves and the work of grace in the lives of those around us and in the world.
This program took me beyond any tendency to attribute Christianity’s concerns to a modernistic or post-modern application amid a consumeristic fascination. Together we explored public and contextual theology, delved into the roots of capitalism (and it wasn’t where I thought it was). Mark Noll, Charles Taylor, Zygmunt Bauman, Charlene Li, Stephen Bevans, James Davidson Hunter and MaryKate Morse are among the authors whose books are now on my shelf. We wrestled with ethics, explored the changing dynamic of leadership and the kind of leader we need to be to lead and care within a rapidly changing world environment.
I did not expect this DMin to be formational, but it is and it has. Each person in the program develops a Personal Leadership Development Plan. It is an investment in knowing ourselves more clearly, understanding how we respond to challenges and agency for how we will develop our own leadership. This personally tailored “assignment” invited us to consider the Merlin Factor. By naming what is needed for the future investment and planning is brought into the present.
All good stories give individuals space to discover and explore, to find the intersection of passion and need. In each semester’s academic writing I discovered the relevancy of our Lead Mentor’s reading list. The context of research and study across disciplines provided a climate of learning. I came to value the research model. Given the space and time my research topic came into focus. My initial question of why baby boomers leave Church led me to consider the characteristics of a resilient faith. My Advisor listened, hemmed me in when I needed it and provided crucial questions when clarity was required. The sense of being for us permeates this program as the DMin team encouraged us by recognizing and affirming our strengths.
The cornerstone of this program is the annual Advances. Traveling to London and Cape Town in previous years and to Hong Kong in 2015 I see the world differently. Experiencing the adaptive leadership of Reverend Jeremy Crossley in London’s financial district, hearing Mary Burton describe the days of apartheid and her role as a Commissioner for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings are just two (of many) that have left a lasting impact. Learning alongside international Advisors provides insight into their contextual leadership. It was during these weeks that community was profoundly experienced across diverse faith backgrounds. My colleagues became my friends.
During our first Advance I was asked what I hoped for at the end of the program. I responded with my desire to improve my footprint in the world, to continue to be conformed to the image of Christ, to walk with greater awareness for the sake of others. As I have learned from and alongside my international colleagues seeing the other has changed my posture. The DMin in Leadership and Global Perspectives has drawn me in to the greater story God is writing in the world.