Many of you know that I have always felt a tension and tugging in my soul between my desires and gifts for academic study and writing on the one hand, and my commitment to leading real people to experience the life of the Kingdom in the church today. I am a pastor-scholar at heart in a world that wants to pull these two apart: scholars should teach in the seminary and pastors should spend their time running the organizational side of the church (but give us one good sermon a week).
I’m thrilled to announce that today I was accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program in New Testament Context at Northern Seminary under the supervision of world world-class New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight. (Don’t worry, I will complete these studies from home while continuing to pastor MainStreet!)
Before telling you more about the program, let me anchor this news in my larger vocational story.
Early witnesses to the power of the gospel as it rumbled across the Roman Empire declared, “These [Christians] are turning the world upside down…proclaiming another King—Jesus” (Acts 17:6). My own life was turned upside down as I read the Book of Acts for the first time in college nearly 20 years ago! The adventure-filled life of the early Jesus movement lit a fire in my belly, swept me up into a bigger Story, and I surrendered my life and vocational path to serving King Jesus.
I spent the next several years indulging an insatiable appetite for biblical and theological studies (1999-2005). I discovered a love for learning and an aptitude for academic achievement foreign to my first 18 years of life. In college I set my heart on a future of academic studies as I finished college (2002). However, as I neared the completion of my Master’s degree at Bethel Seminary 3 years later (2005), I was sensing a nagging conviction deep down—I believe it was from God—urging me to begin living out in real-life the exciting faith I was experiencing in my studies and begin helping others experience this Kingdom life for themselves.
In 2005 I graduated from Seminary and instead of continuing my original course of doctoral studies, I found myself launching a new youth ministry—the Revolution—in my hometown of Mound, MN, where I experienced firsthand many of the exciting faith-adventures I had read and wrote essays about in my studies of the Gospels and Acts. Being an “apostle” to Mound was my new obsession and my plans for further studies were put on hold indefinitely.
In 2007 my seminary prof. David Clark heard of the exciting ministry work I was doing in Mound and offered me a full time youth pastor job at Faith Covenant in Burnsville, MN. Keri and I enjoyed 3 years of meaningful high school ministry, but my heart still beat for the local mission field back home in Mound and I was not wired to be a long term youth pastor.
In 2010, we took another bold step toward living out the New Testament life of mission by accepting the call to plant a new church (again in Mound) with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). MainStreet was launched in 2012 and has been an experiment in 21st century mission and community, and given me a blank canvass for trying new ways to see King Jesus turn other people’s worlds upside down, and then right side up again.
So, I have now spent the past 12 years of pastoral ministry (2005-2017) implementing the learnings of the previous seven years of college and seminary education (1998-2005). My burning passion has been trying to unleash the original New Testament kingdom vision and gospel message for greater impact in real 21st century church life.
Now, this Doctor of Ministry in New Testament Context program with Dr. McKnight will bring these two exciting worlds—rigorous New Testament backgrounds study and practical 21st century church ministry—together in a dynamic and ministry-enhancing way! Words cannot describe how excited I am to do doctoral studies under Scot McKnight. He brings the unique combination of being both a top expert in the field of New Testament studies AND being passionately committed to the work of local church and training pastors to be more effective in doing 21st century ministry.
I first started interacting with McKnight about 10 years ago when I became a regular reader (and sometime contributor) to his Jesus Creed blog — one of the most popular and influential Christian blogs on the internet. I can’t count how many times I have pointed people to his blog — especially people who are exploring the faith, looking for some sanity in the midst of the circus of both the evangelical world and secular culture.
I have gobbled up many of his books (he has authored or edited over 50), and his voice has been a guiding light for me all these years of navigating questions of Christianity and culture, church and politics, Jesus and the gospel, and how to make the message of the Kingdom ring aloud afresh in the ears of 21st culture. He’s gracious and feisty, humble and bold, approachable and an authority in the field. And, finally, we both have pasts filled with fading basketball glory. :) His Kingdom Roots podcast is my latest lawn mowing entertainment.
Read more about Scot McKnight here.
What will I be studying? A main focus of the 4-year program in New Testament Context is exploring the Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament, and how a deeper understanding of Jesus’ world, can open up new insights for teaching and leading in churches today. The program includes a trip to Israel along the way to study beyond the classroom! Read Scot’s description of the program here.
I hope to apply my studies to three areas in particular: (1) missional church, (2) spiritual formation/discipleship, and (3) ecclesiology.
First, want to bring the best New Testament scholarship to bear on the practical task of doing 21st century mission and evangelism—i.e., church planting—in our increasingly post-Christian world. I’m a church planter who has faced head-on the challenges to reaching and connecting with increasingly distracted and/or disinterested people. We need next generation leaders to pave new ways of engaging the culture with the gospel—but ways that are rooted in a firm grasp of the New Testament. One specific focus might be re-examining the evangelistic strategies in the Book of Acts to see what tactics might be recovered and retooled for our 21st century mission.
Second, I want to explore the latest contributions of the Spiritual Formation Movement— especially the writings of Dallas Willard—in light of the best New Testament investigations into the way Jesus, Paul and the other NT writers approached discipleship and formation. In particular, how can we anchor aspects of Willard’s Jesus-as-Rabbi model into the more robust communal context of Paul’s churches? I would like to explore, for example, Jesus’ emphasis on “seeing” and “abiding” in John’s Gospel as possible avenues for deeper spiritual formation ministries in our churches.
Third, I want to continue exploring new and fresh ways to do and be church (ecclesiology) in our ever-changing world by recovering aspects of our common “life together” as informed by our Jewish heritage with its sacred time, sacred space, ancient customs and life-giving practices (e.g. David Fitch’s Faithful Presence; R. Webber’s Ancient-Future works). We need new soul-grounding, life-giving liturgies for a world that is spinning out of control, losing our souls and our minds in society “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” As the megachurch’s heyday ends (slowly) with the boomer generation and the trendy hipster churches lose momentum for lack of real substance, I believe the churches of the future will rise out of a dynamic recovery of the ancient ways, the sacred rhythms and storied-practices found in our Hebraic roots. I want to be on the forefront of recovering and implementing these ancient treasures.
Personally speaking, there’s a part of my soul that’s been withering these past years as the all-consuming demands of church planting have placed too many odd administrative duties on my plate. The Leadership of MainStreet and myself are both committed to making the changes necessary to free me up to function more in my gift areas so that I don’t merely “survive” as a pastor, but rather thrive for many long, satisfying years doing the work God has called and gifted me for in the church.
Well, that’s probably more detail than most of you wanted. But I am pumped to flex my brain muscles again, dust off my works of Josephus and Philo, dive back into my Greek New Testament, and, best of all, let all my learning feed and fuel my everyday ministry as a pastor leading real people deeper into the Kingdom life Jesus announced and inaugurated 2,000 years ago.
Read, set, LEARN!