Archives For Graduate School

What’s Next?

May 4, 2010 — 2 Comments

I am 29 years old…

I am married…

I have 4 kids…

I am graduating Saturday with my Master’s of Divinity…

I have been a Youth Minister for almost 6 years…

What’s next?  If you have been a Christian for longer than a morning service then you probably are aware of the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what is next in your walk with God.  It is a very weird time in my life right now because for the first time in 24 years I do not have plans for education.  I do not have a class to sign-up for or a syllabus to read.  I am not purchasing books for a class and I am not making preparations for the next stage in academia.  Heather and I also (barring any physiological catastrophes) plan on not having any more children (we may adopt).  I am not as young as I once was and so I wonder what is next?  What does God have in store for me as His child and can I be open to His will in a way that allows me to change? 

We need to be open to what God is doing and the next chapter of our lives happens so fast.  So what is next?  What happens now?  What do I do?  Where do I go?  What will happen?  I don’t have the answers to these questions but I am not afraid because God will be with me no matter what happens.  Use me god and grant me the courage to go through the doors that you open. 

Psalm 67:1-7 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, Selah 2 that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. 3 May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. 4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. Selah 5 May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. 6 Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. 7 God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.


Systems Theory – Part 1

October 20, 2009 — 5 Comments

I am taking a graduate class at Lipscomb and the professor introduced something to me that I have still not been able to get out of my mind.  Dr. Edwin Friedman is noted for discussing systems theories in congregations and synagogues.  He discusses these systems which I learned in class. 

  1. Homeostasis – The tendency to resist change.  He notes that if you yell at a system screaming at them for not changing then it is like you are beating your head against a wall.  He notes that the only way to change a system is to do one of two things: 1) Blow the system up or, 2) nudge a system ever so gently.  What implications does this have for the church and its leaders?  Some scream at churches because they are so homeostatic and refuse to change thus the church (i.e. system) becomes even more resistent.  Or, we can nudge a system gently noticing how the churches change for the better. 
  2. Differentiation –  The ability to remain connected to others while remaining true to our convictions.  Envision a line: on one side you have people who get enmeshed and care too much about the system.  On the other side you have people who are disengaged and do not care about the system at all.  The ability to self-differentiate is the ability to let people struggle in their pain.  True, we care about them but real leadership means they have to deal with the issues themselves.  It allows pain.  What do churches normally do when there is chaos and nothing seems to work?  Fire the preacher!  Get new elders.  The problem is not with the people or the performance but the problem is with the processes we choose. 
  3. Identified Patient – The person who acts out as the problem is the person least equipped to handle the stress of being in that system.  The IP is that person in the system (church) who acts out and speaks the loudest and usually cannot deal with the concept of change. 
  4. Anxiety– All living systems are anxious.  There is acute anxiety which is time-based and situational and there is chronic anxiety which are those systems that can only exist in an atmosphere of chaos and sabotage.  Have you ever met a church that was a chronic anxiety church and they were never a non-anxious church? 
  5. Triangles– This is the base structure for all living systems.  Say two people get in an argument and we call those people B and C (envision a triangle with A at the top and B and C at the bottom).  They ask you to mitigate their issues so you become A in this triangle relationship.  The problem is that we must be invited into these triangle relationships.  With these triangle relationships there comes other triangles that are brought with them.  In our relationships as ministers with those we minister to we note that when we talk with them we are not with them in a vacuum yet there are other relationships involved that affect you as a minister. 

All of this is fascinating and a little mind-bogging but it is clear that some questions arise.  For example, Dr. Friedman says that for a system to be successful a leader will have to remain connected to those he or she fundamentally disagrees with.  Whats does that say to ministers, elders and deacons?  Do we have to be with people we agree on every point, issue or iota of the Law?  What are your thoughts?  Tomorrow I will post about “Characteristics of an Effective Leader!”

Lesson #7 – Graduating is a Community Effort

If it is true that “It takes a village to raise a child” then the same could be said about graduating from grad school.  There has been only two semesters since I have been at Main Street where I have not been involved in some type of graduate school.  The elders, parents, teens and members have all embraced me as I continue my education.  To say, “I could not have done this without you,” is more than a simple cliche…it is a FACT!!!  Sharing ideas, thoughts, prayers, sermons all have made Main Street my, should I say, laboratory sort-of-speak.  It allows me to see what works, what fails and what we may never know about.  Anyone taking theology should be involved in a local church somewhere. 

Lesson #8 – Laugh, Cry and Drink Plenty of Coffee

There are moments in my tenure as grad student where I have fallen on my knees in prayer and, as the case may be, in tears.  When our church went through a split in the Fall of 2006 I remember preaching a sermon in Preaching and Teaching Biblical Genres with Dr. York.  The sermon came from Colossians 1:24-29 and I remember saying that I felt like I was filling what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings.  I felt like I was being afflicted by something greater than myself.  I remember trying to hold it together before the sermon and breaking down into tears afterwards.  I also remember the time in a class when someone shared deep, personal hurt that came from a family member and all we could do was cry.  Then there are the many moments when we can simply just laugh.  In one class I remember a student said that the Westcott-Hort text was a joke yet he had not taken a single class in Textual Criticism or even Greek…the professor nailed him for that and I laughed.  I remember the time two friends of mine were in a class and we got called out on for chuckling and snickering.  The professor said, “Guys, this really hurts my feelings.”  The only time I have gotten in trouble in graduate school.  All experience should be prefaced with an appropriate amount of coffee.  I estimate that I have spent roughly $350.00 on coffee in the 6 years I have been in graduate school.  What a waste but I can say that I have never fallen asleep in class. 

Lesson #9 – Grades are Not Everything!!!

I used to get mad at people when they would flip out learning that they received a B when they should have received an A.  They complain about all of the hours they put in and all of the time they spent mulling over their notes and thumbing through their note cards.  One students was particularly mad at me when he learned I received an A on an exam that I only studied 2 hours on whereas he studied 8 hours on it and received a C.  I looked at him and said, “Does it really matter?”  He had no response.  My friend Nathan Lewis use to make me mad at how he could sleep through hours of class and never study yet still make a B in the class.  He looked at me one time and said, “Sometimes you just got it!”  Grades are not everything.  Some teachers could care less about what grade you make while others are strictly concerned about the grading process as it relates to ATS/SACS accreditation.  Who cares?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn about God?  How are you going to help others?  If you can’t answer those questions from the class you took then you wasted your time, the professor’s time and somebody’s money!!!

Lesson #10 – Grad School Helped Me Love My Wife and Family Better

It is embarrassing if I were to tell you the number of hours I have spent away from my gorgeous wife and three beautiful children because of graduate school.  The number of hours they have sacrificed for me to get this degree is absolutely astonishing.  If I could, I would request that on my degree they put Heather, Kaleb, Amelia and Madelyn Mackenzie instead of my name.  My wife has put up with so much these 6 years it is ridiculous.  She has stayed up for me to make sure that she could kiss me good night before she went to sleep.  She has cooked me meals (she does not cook by the way) after I got home from a class after a long day of babysitting kids.  She would text me in the middle of a week long class with three simple words, “I love you,” just to get me through the day.  She would send me pictures of the kids when they had spaghetti on their face or when they wanted to say, “I love you daddy!”  My wife would listen to me when I was so enthralled about a class and she would also hold me when I was an emotional wreck.  All of the times when I thought, “Is it worth it,” when I would leave and my son would say, “Don’t leave me daddy!”  Then I would get to class and the teacher would let us out early.  I have learned to love more, love harder and hate less. 

Proverbs 5:18 says, “Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth.”  Heather has been the fountain of blessing to me and that is why I can heed the Proverb writer who says, “May you always be captivated by her love” (5:19c; side note:  I would quote the entire verse but I will let you look it up to see why I left part of it off…not that I do not agree with it ;)).  I am captivated by my family’s love for me! 

Hope you enjoyed these two posts.  Have a blessed Wednesday!!!

Lessons from Grad School

September 29, 2009 — 2 Comments

So I have decided to compile my graduate experiences into one post and try to apply spiritual application to it and it seems that I have begun a most daunting task.  I will begin with what this post is not about?  I am not writing a post to bash different schools or different programs or even different professors.  That is not acceptable and you will not find that in this post.  I am not writing this post to post “brotherhood gossip” about what Dr. So-and-so believes or teachers or who he “fellowships” or what conference he attended that had you-know-who to speak.  All of that, quite frankly, is absurd and people need to grow up and worry about themselves rather than someone else.  Also, please realize that some of the lessons are personal and might not be accurate for graduate students as a whole.  Meaning, these lessons are seen through my lens and interpreted differently than even another graduate student in the same class.  Finally, some of the lessons are meant to be tongue-in-cheek so please understand that I am a very sarcastic/cynical person and that each situation needs to be contextualized.  Having said that….shall we begin? 

Lesson #1:  God Blesses Your Footsteps

I know that sounds a little too “Sunday schoolish” but it is true.  This past semester a teacher required us to read a lot of pages and then he was going to evaluate our reading by giving us a comprehension test.  To be honest, with a full-time youth ministry job, a pregnant wife and three kids, I simply was not ready for the quiz.  I walked into the classroom and the professor said that he was not going to quiz us on the reading.  I did my best not to jump out of my seat and shout “HALLELUJAH!”  This does not always happen though but it was needed at this time.  God blesses my footsteps even during the periods of rough time when I am studying 20-30 hours a week for graduate school.   Somehow he is forming me into the spiritual person I must be for my family.  Which brings me to my next point…

Lesson #2:  Graduate School is About Spiritual Formation…nothing else!!!

That is such a bold statement!  I know!  I have had people at Main Street ask me, “Why in the world are you STILL in college after all of these years?”  My response is easy, “It helps me to grow spiritually and find new ways to help others do the same.”  One of my spiritual disciplines is to communicate the gospel in a unique way each day and graduate school has helped me do that!  Spiritual Formation is not all about attaining knowledge about the Word.  Too many of my colleagues (with good intentions) began graduate school with the desire to get a PhD because they wanted to know the Word and be able to communicate the Word.  Great, but how does this translate into your ministry?  How does this help you spiritually?

Lesson #3:  Be Prepared to Erase Faulty Stereotypes!!!

When I was an undergraduate I was quick to stereotype certain people based on who they associated with and what they taught or believed.  I avoided these people like the Swine Flu because I did not want to associated with those who were engulfed in “false doctrine.”  That is all changing now in that it is sinful for me to judge people without engaging them in humble dialogue.  It is not that I agree with them (or even they agree with me) but I approach them in a humble manner learning that maybe I don’t have it all figured out and I am willing to learn something new from God. 

Lesson #4: Graduate School Has Some Interesting Characters!!!

If you want a taste of culture then go into a graduate course with 20 other individuals and sit and observe.  There was this one guy (there always is) in class who responded to the professor’s question with a lengthy response and tried to explain his position but it was clear to the professor (and to the rest of the class) that he was rambling.  The professor answered, “I don’t think I understand what you are saying.”  The student responded, “I don’t know what I am talking about I just wanted to make it sound like I read the material.”  The class erupted in laughter as did the professor and it was a really funny moment in my graduate career. 

Lesson #5: Graduate School is about Humility

People in my congregation believe that I am one of the smartest people they know when in point-of-fact I really am not.  The more I attend graduate school the more it becomes painfully obvious to me that I do not know that much.  It is the old adage: “The more you study, the less you know.”  There is so much out there for me to learn and graduate school only confirms how much  Ireally do not know or understand.  I also tell people in my congregation that I am no expert and should never be thought of as an expert.  Some of the thoughts of my fellow graduate students during class absolutely captivate me and I say to myself, “They are so much more advanced than I am!”  This is good though!!!  Maybe I am more humble than they are…wait a minute did I just say that 😉 

Lesson #6:  God Reveals Himself Differently

One of my greatest experiences in graduate school was when I learned Hebrew and was able to do some translating of the text.  As I approached the text there was something about reading ancient script that was closest to God chronologically that just gave me chill bumps.  I also felt a deep sense of responsibility to accurately translate what was written (accuracy sometimes is impossible).  I also saw god differently in a genogram that was done for a class at Lipscomb.  I learned, from my family background, some things about myself that I never knew.  It has helped my ministry tremendously and has given me hope for a better man. 

There are so many more lessons that I want to write and so I need to continue this maybe tomorrow.  I hope these have blessed you today.  Before I leave…I want to recommend a book to anyone who wants to attend Theological Graduate School or currently is in a theology program.  It is Finding Your Way by Dr. Phillip Camp who was my Hebrew professor at Lipscomb University.  It is an excellent primer for those interested in seminary education.