Education

Pastor’s degrees

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The students at Taylor Seminary put their faith in education

For some of us there is the Sunday ritual: rise early, dress well, drive in
the snow and cold to listen to the Word of God. Generally a relic of
childhood indoctrination, many more don’t follow the Ritual. Some even
have a Ritual of Avoidance (including lying to Mom), while others exchange
the ritual of church with the ritual of football.

But what if your Sunday ritual was to rise early, dress well, go next door
and preach the Word of God? What kind of person chooses that vocation? What
does it take to become one of them? What exactly do they do, besides preach
on Sundays? And what and where do you have to study to become one?

Edmonton’s Taylor University College and Seminary is one location.
Opened in 1940, Taylor was named after a missionary to China who figures
prominently in evangelical history. It offers both university classes and
Divinity training. Concentrations such as intercultural training, pastoral
counselling and youth ministry are available to the 110 students in the
program, most registered part-time as they work or serve elsewhere. Courses
include leadership, church administration, Bible studies, history and, of
course, preaching. This year, Taylor will turn out between 15 and 20
graduates from their theological studies program. Ranging from Diplomas in
Christian Studies to Masters of Divinity, Taylor’s predominantly
Baptist and Alliance alumni will most likely seek work as pastors or as
missionaries in developing countries.

“As I was impacted by Jesus’s love for humanity, I desired to
follow His teachings to guide my life,” says Dan Schroth, a full-time
student in his last year at Taylor. He also serves part-time at McKernan
Baptist Church. “Though not very effective, the many avenues society
sells as providing happiness—consumerism, career, et cetera—are
difficult to walk away from. I was essentially living life for myself. In
Jesus, I found a radical message that involved giving of myself through
serving others. I started at the local church, and people there encouraged me
towards full-time ministry. In time, I left a secure career in
Winnipeg’s civic government to serve as a youth pastor.”

Within a few years, Schroth felt the need to devote intense study to the Word
of God and enrolled at Taylor. “We gain direction and understanding of
the Bible in a variety of preaching courses,” says Schroth. “We
interpret the culture it was written in and our present culture. Being a good
student of each is imperative for good preaching skills.”

“Because I believe that preaching will be the central focus of my
vocational life, those classes especially interested me.” says Brent
Dunbar, who grew up in Edmonton, studied jazz in Toronto and returned as a
drummer to the local professional music scene. “I came to a point in my
late 20s where I had no choice but to embrace the call to be a Christian
pastor. My choice was the by-product of God’s choosing me for it. The
greatest fulfilment and satisfaction I could imagine is in carrying out the
call. He has put on my life to be a leader in His church.”

Also in his final year of theological study, Dunbar practised in front of
professors and fellow students for their input on his skills, theology and
demeanour. His time at Taylor will suit him and his family well in his
vocation. “My wife and I conceive of ourselves as a ‘ministry
couple,’ her sharing her precious gift of singing as I preach,”
he says.

As a graduate school, Taylor Seminary accepts students who have finished a
previous degree or have sufficient life experience to waive this
prerequisite. Most students are between 30 and 50 years old; most have spent
unfulfilling time in another career. Taylor attracts both students and staff
strong in their faith. Dr. Jim Leverette, the seminary’s academic
vice-president, served for 20 years as a local pastor in Calgary, Winnipeg
and Edmonton before embracing his role at Taylor. “We’re
dedicated to preparing leaders who will make a difference in the
world,” says Leverette. He teaches a number of leadership and church
administration courses after having served on the board of trustees. Though
Canadians make up the majority, students come from as far as Zimbabwe to
study. Upon graduation, Taylor works with students to find placements for
them. Up to four times a year, a director from the North American Baptist
Conference visits for formal interviews and informal meetings. Through this
process, as well as through contact with churches and other denominational
groups, the seminary tries to forge the right connection between opportunity
and alumnus.

Brian Munro ministers to a small community outside Regina. After selling
electronics for 20 years, he enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at
Taylor with no undergraduate degree. “Over a period of years, God
worked through circumstances, people and my relationship with Him to direct
me towards serving in ministry,” Munro says. “As I opened up to
Him, I found more opportunities to serve. I discovered more joy, satisfaction
and a sense of meaning from those ministry experiences as a layperson than in
any other facet of my life.”

Although his parents are also preachers, Munro resisted following in their
footsteps and fought his calling for a long time. However, his skill with
language suggested his way to serve God. Some of the most powerful imagery in
popular culture features the holy man thundering forth from the pulpit,
denouncing a litany of sins and encouraging the congregation to godly ways.
This imagery belies the amount of preparation that goes into a sermon, and
even then the outcome is far from certain. “Preaching is a spiritual
gift,” says Munro. “God decides who has this gift. What I can do
is study God’s word and make myself available to let His truth speak
through me. I don’t believe I create powerful imagery: God does that
every day. My calling is to point to it and say, ‘Here is the hand of
God. Come let us follow Him as He leads us.’” On a good Sunday,
prayer, study and an awareness of God both within himself and in the larger
world can coalesce into a magnificent sermon that he has little if any
control over.

Somewhat disappointingly, these sermons are generally delivered in little
more than a suit and tie. Munro explains that Baptists, like many evangelical
Protestants, have jettisoned most of the church’s dress, including
vestments. “I feel that more was lost than gained in this
choice,” Munro explains, “but churchgoers wouldn’t have any
connection with the significance of seasonal colours in the church year. I
wish my tradition would do more with this. Vestments and even simple clerical
collars can be seen as being ‘in the livery of the King’ and a
sign of my vocation.” He wears his father’s black robes for
multi-denominational events where the clergy must be easily identified and is
considering donning a clerical collar for hospital visits. For special
occasions, he chooses an embroidered white stole. Otherwise, besides a carved
wooden cross on a woven cord, a pastor’s garb is as formal as an
accountant’s.

Choosing a lifetime of service is a religious calling, which can include a
degree and some optional vestments. However, it really does involve walking
away from the secular concerns of society. Embracing ministry in many
denominations means surrendering much of your earning potential and possibly
your financial stability, but the reward seems to be paid in a more spiritual
coin. “Obviously, you don’t enter ministry if making money is
what you want,” confides Dunbar. “And I am completely at peace
with that. My joy comes in benefiting others by pointing them to the Glorious
One.”

Schroth agrees. “I’ll never make the money I did in my previous
career,” he says. “I’ll likely never own the toys that I
once thought were so important. But we all have the opportunity to live life
with meaning and I have found there is no greater significance than serving
others with the message of Jesus.” V

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