The Thistle

The Covenant Seminary Family Tree: Why Context is Important for Ministry Preparation

Chapel today was great: Rev. Mark Davis (MDiv ’97) preached. The sermon was encouraging–I’d recommend you listen to it at the alumni portal (it’ll be up next week)–but more than that, I loved how he brought together the spanning generations of Covenant Theological Seminary.

In one powerful statement—that was part humor and part seriousness–Davis poked fun at Ed Dunnington (MDiv ’98) and remembered the Commencement address by J. Render Caines (DMin ’87), all while commending us to love Jerram Barrs even more (if that’s even possible).

What struck me most was how seminary is more than information or knowledge; more than academics and assignments; more than tests and textbooks. It was all of that and more embedded in the intricacies of human relationship–friendship and mentoring.

With more and more “instruction” being done through technological vehicles, there are more barriers between author and audience, instructor and student. Where once language and culture (and perhaps time) were the only barriers, now it may be a screen, comprehension, and the human-trust element necessary to compel our belief or commend our acceptance of truth.

I was actually struck by that idea another time this week. A current student, Jenilyn Swett (pictured above), posted on her FB wall her “Covenant Family Tree.” What’s that? It’s the series of people who got her to Covenant Seminary. In one post, she expressed how thankful she was to have met Chris Curtis (MDiv ’04) who recommended she come to Covenant Seminary. Chris chimed in with thanks and appreciation forDoug Seven (MDiv ’00) who encouraged him to come. And Doug, in turn, weighed in with appreciation for Brad Anderson (MDiv ’99) who encouraged him to come. Who encouraged Brad? Maybe it was Hugh Barlett (MDiv ’90)–with whom Brad worked and served before and after seminary. And if Hugh was on FB (maybe he is), he could name the person who sent him. It’s a family tree…of encouragement of grace toward minstry preparation, predicated on trust.

The point is, the training, the information, the knowledge and assignments and classes make up the mold into which we are being shaped. But it is the relationships which fill the negative space of existence with the intricacy of significance, unfolding the place where there was nothing and then–wham!–life! It’s the mutual sharing of common experiences along the road until the paths diverge—this is what it means to prepare for ministry. It’s Jesus walking with his disciples. It’s Jerram talking to students in his office. It’s Mark Davis laughing about times shared with Ed Dunnington. You just can’t get that online.

In fact, content was never enough. In the words of Jay Sklar, “Context is king.” Well, in this case, Jesus is King–but the context in which we learn to proclaim Him is certainly of much greater value than internet-based instruction acknowledges.