friend recently pointed out to me, with all kindness and gentleness, that I am a nerd. I had never really considered myself to be a nerd before, but the truth was there, staring me in the face. Not everyone likes to read books. Not everyone likes sitting in class listening to a lecture on the finer points of church history. Not everyone gets a sublime joy from correctly identifying a Greek participle. The fact that I do places me squarely in the societal category of “nerd.”
I think a few friends who heard I was headed to seminary assumed this decision came mainly because I carry this “nerd” gene, and that gives me a strange compulsion toward school. They would not be entirely wrong. If I go for too long without learning something new, without thought-provoking conversation and study, and without fresh teaching to stimulate my mind, I start to feel thirsty for new depths of imagination.
But those dear friends would not be entirely right, either. Coming to seminary is, in fact, more than just a “nerd thing.” It was something bigger that has propelled me out of my beloved sunny California and into a quirky pocket of the Midwest called Kansas City.
I began to first identify God’s call to ministry while I was in college. All my life I had loved serving alongside my parents in our small, inner-city church in San Diego. I loved going with my dad on pastoral visits to homes and hospitals, loved discussing sermon material with him, loved singing on the worship team with my mom, and loved helping with our outreach events. I also loved learning about “why,” whether it was a theological claim or the decision to give a parishioner opportunity to lead. This was the work of my family, and as much as I loved it, I didn’t think of it in terms of a calling from God.
When I left home and attended Olivet Nazarene University, the same passions remained. I still loved cross-cultural ministry, still loved leading worship through song, still loved opportunities to disciple and teach others. At some point, I finally began
to acknowledge that this passion for ministry and for serving the church was actually a gift and call from God. Somehow, I knew God wanted me to use these passions and gifts for the sake of His kingdom.
This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Apparently, others weren’t too surprised. I remember timidly writing a couple of
my former youth leaders from home about the possibility of doing an internship with them and explaining that I was starting to wonder if I was called to pastoral ministry.
Shawna’s response was, “Part of you thinks you'd be a good pastor? Rebecca, have you met yourself?" Also, for the record, my sister slipped NTS brochures under my pillow since before I had finished my first year of college.
God continued to cultivate in me a deep love for the church, a deep love for the Word, and a deep love for journeying with others along the way of Jesus.
I finished a B.A. in intercultural studies and a M.A. in religion at Olivet before venturing into my first ministry assignment as the worship pastor at a lovely church in Bakersfield, California. Before long, God stirred in me a desire to better understand and articulate the Christian faith. My professors at Olivet had prepared me well, but as I encountered the life of the church in fresh ways and discovered more about the truths I had learned at the university, I knew I wanted to learn more. I enrolled as a distance student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, and it was a great experience. I eagerly looked forward to Skyping into class every week. Yes, the nerd part of me was ecstatic to be learning and dialoging again, but there was also a sense that this was the best step I could take to continue preparing for a life of ministry.
Two semesters later, God opened the doors for me to move to Kansas City and become part of the community of students and professors on the seminary campus. It was hard to leave my family again, but every one of them whole-heartedly affirmed that this was where God was leading me. I tearfully hugged my brother goodbye and he just grinned, his eyes twinkling as he shook his head, saying, “You’re going to do great!”
When our new seminary president, Dr. Jaren Rowell, was inaugurated, the words of his address resonated deeply in my heart, confirming the very reasons I had come. He said, “The work of the seminary is not only about gaining knowledge, but about Christian nurture that deepens the spiritual life of students and forms them in the way of Jesus. . . . The task of academic research at seminary is not to foster innovation for its own sake, but to help us keep clarity on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Rowell also pointed us all to the NTS statement of purpose, which I want to adopt for my life: “[We] are committed to these common purposes: to know and love the Lord, to speak about the Lord, and to walk with the Lord.”
More than anything else, I want to know Christ, to honor and love him, and to faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. I’m thankful for the ways my theological education at NTS is helping me to do that, now and for a lifetime.