I’ve always felt like I had two homes in ministry. A part of me loves pastoral work in a congregational setting. The preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and yes, even administration of that kind of ministry is deeply gratifying to me. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of pastoral ministry in a variety of settings: as a campus minister, as an associate pastor on a large church staff, and as a pastor of a small rural congregation.
Then there’s another part of me that is drawn to more academic work. It is my vocation as a teacher that I’ve followed primarily the past few years, as I have pursued a doctorate in theology and joined the faculty of Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee. Everyday, I get to work with seminary students who are preparing for ordination and a lifetime of service in Christ’s church. That is a rare gift, and it is one that I relish. I am also profoundly drawn to the study of the Christian tradition, and I love to research and write in the area of my specialty, Wesleyan theology and Methodist history.
When my family and I moved back to Arkansas from North Carolina in 2011, my bishop asked that I serve as the Wesley Scholar for the Arkansas Annual Conference. This is a kind of “canon theologian” position, where I am called upon to consult, write, and speak in a variety of venues as a way to help resource the work of the conference through my expertise in the Wesleyan tradition. It has been fascinating work, which has caused me to have to think hard every single week about why and how the work I do as an academic is really vital to the church and its practical ministry.
Now I am moving into a new position that is going to plant me even more firmly with one foot in the academy and one in the church. I have accepted a position as minister of discipleship at Marion United Methodist Church in Marion, AR, where my family and I have been active since the fall of 2011. This is very “part time,” and I will continue to work primarily as a seminary professor. But the congregation and its pastor, the Rev. Tom Letchworth, have seen a need that they think I can fill: namely, to help the church think programmatically about how to form committed Christian disciples who love God and neighbor in all that they do. I will be able to help develop curriculum materials and ministry initiatives, in addition to teaching within the congregation. Marion is a growing church with a lot of great stuff going on, and I am very excited to be joining the staff.
John Wesley himself used to say that he was interested in “practical divinity,” which meant the kind of theological work aimed at the practice of faith, that would intersect with the real lives of men and women. I am going to be able to commit myself fully to that kind of work at our church in Marion, which is very exciting!