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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Reframing and repairing the mental disconnect

Written by: on February 21, 2019

“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”[1]  This quote opens the text of Mark Noll’s nearly twenty-year old assessment of evangelicals on their disinterest in and distance from influencing the wider culture with a distinctively Christ-centric intellect.  Though there has been much debate about the content of the scandal and who is included in the scandal (as it’s much broader than evangelicals), the scandal is largely agreed upon. This is especially validated when considering the cultural, institutional and theological dimensions of intellectual disengagement from the church from a historical and experiential perspective.

The whole idea that evangelicals do not have much depth in their thought life is quite troubling.  Why? There are many reasons but two stand out based on the commands of Jesus.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for Christians to have a rich intellectual side is because of the command originally given in Deuteronomy 6 and spoken again by Jesus in the New Testament: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Loving God includes growing and challenging our mind, filling it with thoughts and activities that edify God. As Noll notes, “For Christian scholarship to mean anything, it must mean intellectual labor rooted in Christ, with both the rooting and the laboring essential.[2] To not love God with our whole being is to disobey God’s commands. For this reason alone, evangelicals should seek to enrich their mind, regardless of vocation.

Second, and related to the first command is the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” from Matthew 28. Those who love God and follow as disciples, literally those being apprenticed by Jesus, are expected to do the same. It is obvious that not all people will be pastors or missionaries, and so all people who are disciples of Jesus need to be educated toward how to live the love of God and continue to grow in the whole of themselves as they go and make disciples in their communities. In addition, if disciples are being unfaithful in the first command, there will be a direct effect on the way disciples are made. This is part of Noll’s argument for why generations of evangelicals in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have grown more and more shallow in intellectual endeavors.

Sadly, many institutions beginning with intellectual giants, such as John Wesley, have shrunk over time due to over-simplistic thinking and cultural values not in alignment with Christ or the founders. The holiness movement is one cited by Noll as having “special difficulties when putting the mind to use.”[3] My own participations in the holiness movement has shown there is a minority of people who are interested in continued depth in Scripture and application across disciplines, with only about half of the minority or less being those in ministerial leadership.

In Noll’s more recent text, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, he is much more hopeful. Here he concludes with progress he’s seen since the publication of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll includes ten areas where Christians are growing in learning. Of the ten, two areas I have seen direct positive effects in recent years are that of the growth in maturity of the seminary, particularly Portland Seminary, and partnership of philanthropic organizations with the church.

In the last few years Portland Seminary has weathered some major changes that have been challenging for faculty, staff and students. Yet, in that time there has emerged a strong center on honoring the Christ centered values of the university which has extended to hiring well-qualified and diverse scholars who are evangelical in the classical (Bebbington) framework. In addition, the seminary has received two different grants from the Lilly Endowment. These funds are to enrich the scholarship and partnership between the church and the academy.

As part of the Lilly team for Pastor’s Thriving in Ministry, I have the honor of connecting pastors with faculty, mentors and enriching experiences toward pastor’s ability to love God with their whole selves and make disciples. In particular, over the past week I have been studying the research around pastoral flourishing by Notre Dame’s business school and have seen that the Lilly Endowment has utilized Craig Dykstra and Matt Bloom’s research to disperse more than $100 million in grants over the last year. These funds are all about caring for pastors to then help them care for their congregations, and finally for congregations to best impact their communities. It all began with research. Research says a healthy pastor creates a healthy congregation and community.

Unfortunately, most evangelical denominations, (mine included), are focusing on typical external quick fix church growth methods, while not dealing with the long and slow work of the interior life of the mind and well-being of pastors to best serve their communities. What if we continued to begin every church growth seminar with the interior formation before the exterior?

My doctoral research and artifact will utilize the research and experience through our Lilly grant to best equip ministers for their work from the inside out. In particular, women and people of color who are often judged by their exterior, will support one another’s personal development before focusing on external skillsets while continually learning how to navigate the terrain of ministry to best flourish.

To encourage the interior life and give a glimpse of my work, here is a link to the Flourishing in Ministry content from Notre Dame. https://wellbeing.nd.edu/flourishing-in-ministry/

 

[1] Noll, Mark A. 1994. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3.

[2] Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013, 147.

[3] Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013, 152.

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

20 responses to “Reframing and repairing the mental disconnect”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Trish,
    Hi again. Nice opening and good use of the Deut. 6 command to love the Lord “with all your mind” to introduce the “why” we need to listen to Noll’s urging to advance our knowledge. And who can argue against the Great Commission? No one.
    I think much of our shallowness in intellectual endeavors is somehow related to the advancement of the information age. Knowledge, and the acquisition of knowledge is just so different now. Instead of knowing a subject matter and becoming an expert in a field of study all that is required today is to know how to “find the link” and get the data dump into short term memory. It is not quite like the Matrix where the data is permanently downloaded into your mind, but close. As such, the Holy Spirit only has so much real knowledge in the minds of believers to call attention to when He wants to convict, inspire, and move someone in a direction. Nevertheless, He always finds a way to fulfill God’s sovereign plan, despite all of our shortcomings.
    There is no going back, so we must adapt to the new ways to gain and retain knowledge and I’m glad we are sharing that experience with you and the LGP8 cohort.
    I like the connection to your dissertation research and good glimpse of the “interior life” ministry.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Yes Mike, I agree that the acquisition of knowledge is different now. The challenging thing with classical education and even seminary is that with all of the tech resources at our finger tips we still have to take the time to hone in and focus on content that goes deeper than the link and begins to reform/transform our minds. I am glad the HS can work through all the tech bubbles though!

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish,

    Thanks for connecting the reading so well with your dissertation topic. And thanks for your good work on the grant.

    Like Mike, I was thankful for your highlight of the “Love God” verses, including with all your mind.

    You and I both being in the Holiness Movement, we have some intellectual work to do, don’t we? Let’s stick together as we raise the bar and help leaders FLOURISH in ministry, including intellectualism.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jay, we do indeed. I was so convicted as I read. I am not immune to the unthinking and I understood exactly what Noll was talking about. Sometimes I think there is a pride among us that we know all we need to know because we read the bible and then go and serve but there’s more the Spirit wants to teach us. I have to remember this as much as I speak about it.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great work Trish. I think you are certainly on track here. YOur highlighting of two of those areas was perfect for the work you are doing. And Im glad you are part of the solution the Noll challenges us to go for.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Kyle! I haven’t read your blog yet but am curious what solutions you are seeking with your work at the church and in the university?

  4. Great post, Trisha!

    You assert, “Loving God includes growing and challenging our mind, filling it with thoughts and activities that edify God.” I absolutely agree! Loving God is so much more than a one-dimensional homage that we pay Him on Sunday mornings. It’s a lifestyle that demands all facets of us to be engaged – including our mind.

    Noll suggests, “Scholarship that is keyed expressly to the person and work of Christ will not be disoriented by confronting the paradoxical or the mysterious…” (Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 64). Noll seems to believe that intellectualism will not serve as a threat to our theological framework, but an asset. What are some ways that you’re encouraging those in your program to question and contemplate? How has their need for quick fix ministry caused spiritual damage?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Hi Colleen, Thanks for your great thoughts and questions. To answer your question about contemplation and going deeper, we take pastors away on a four day retreat for dialogue, soul care, and teaching by our faculty (not as much of this but enough to go deeper and be enriching). We don’t dig into the quick fixes unless they want to go there as we are tending to them and what they share with us.

  5. Trisha,

    I’m so excited by your work and focus. As you know, I love it when strategic philanthropy and effective ministry merge, and you are doing it with the Thriving in Ministry project. I agree that there are some bright spots where one perceives a commitment to intellectual development which is a slow, rigorous process. Our temptation to adopt the quick fixes is the sad way our culture has infected the church.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mark, I though of you as I wrote my post and wondered if you work with granting orgs in your philanthropic work or if it was more around private families.

  6. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    Great connection on loving God with our whole being. This is a central problem with many Christians, their thought life is shallow as you said. I am excited to see your work with the Lilly Foundation and helping pastors to flourish, the hope is this will be passed down to those they lead.

    Thanks

    Jason

  7. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trisha,

    Fantastic post. Yes, the internal development and support of the pastor is the long game for sure but also the one most likely to benefit all concerned. I believe that researched based information like this is just what Noll was talking about and those of us in this program should be leading in this regard. I am glad you are part of this journey because you have so much to offer.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thank Dan. I am grateful to be part of one of the grants that gets to connect research on thriving to pastors and helps them to go deeper. Just reading the research from Notre Dame has been so insightful.

  8. Greg says:

    Trisha,
    Americans do love a scandal but we as a church should be embarrassed
    At the notion that this scandal includes us and our lack of desire to think. I do wonder if our “freedom” has caused us to be lazy as we just coast through our Christian walk.
    Your focus on the holiness movements hits home. I have heard people say that seminary helps pastors think but not makes them useless in faith. This thought that faith and study are seen as juxtaposed positions saddens me because it makes Noll point. The difficulty that I have seen is that when churches are located near seminaries, the churches are healthier and not always opposed to deeper learning. As one gets farther away there becomes a fear of education and its potential for change within a congregation. This is just my observation. I think the challenge for us will be to find those that might are living outside the academic circle and encourage growth in them.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Greg, that’s an interesting perspective about seminary/church distance. I am going to have to think more on that. I don’t disagree and can see the possibilities but want to observe more from my own vantage point with seminaries and churches. I’d like to see those that live near seminaries utilize the resources we have even more.

  9. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Trisha,
    Great post! I appreciated so many different points you make. I can completely relate to this statement – “Unfortunately, most evangelical denominations, (mine included), are focusing on typical external quick fix church growth methods, while not dealing with the long and slow work of the interior life of the mind and well-being of pastors to best serve their communities. What if we continued to begin every church growth seminar with the interior formation before the exterior?” The United Methodist Church has gotten into the habit of filling part-time positions with “local pastors” – individuals without any formal seminary degree, and with little to no formal training for the position. Sometimes there’s an amazing outcome, but I certainly feel there’s a different level of preaching and teaching as a result. Does the Lilly funding address this issue at all?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jean, that is so fascinating about the local pastors filling posts. I know there are many seminary trained pastors from the FMC and other Wesleyan denominations that are not in officially paid positions and could probably serve in those local pastor roles. If only we all collaborated more. Hmmm.

      Our Lilly funding is not particularly to remedy lack of training but there are several different funds and partner orgs that do offer further training/funds.

  10. Dave Watermulder says:

    Trisha,
    Thanks for this post. I always enjoy reading your work: you are so fluent with this material and have interesting hooks/information that you weave throughout. I imagine that your speaking/preaching/teaching would be similarly engaging. I’ll look forward to seeing more of your research as we go!

  11. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha, one of these days I would love to learn more about that grant you keep talking about; it sounds fascinating. I appreciate how well you articulated the message Noll was attempting to make; though you tied it beautifully to your own dissertation and ministry.

    I am curious if you shared the views of Noll in regard to the shortcomings and strengths of modern-day evangelicals; from the university perspective, you may have a better birds-eye view than those of us working solely in churches may have.

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