God’s call to ministry is a beautiful, burdensome, glorious thing. To live fully into God’s call, seminarians and ministers in the field need not only tools of the trade but also sustenance for the journey.
The Center for Faith and Imagination is Memphis Theological Seminary’s recently-launched initiative to provide resources and opportunities to help faith leaders–within the seminary and beyond the seminary–live fully and healthily into their call.
In 2017-18, through the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry program, MTS professors Dr. Carmichael Crutchfield and Reverend Billy Vaughan met with over 70 pastoral leaders from a wide variety of ministry settings and denominations across the mid-south. Leaders were asked what they needed in order to thrive, to lead the church, and help the church become “the repairer of the breech and the restorers of the streets to live in’ (Isaiah 58).”
One of those pastors responded, “We need Christian formation that keeps the bar high.” She insisted, and other pastoral leaders agreed, that they needed to be challenged to keep growing in their lives as Children of God and Christians. They needed colleagues who asked more of them than whether the church was growing in numbers. They needed a depth of imagination and accountability rarely asked of them as Christians or pastoral leaders.
These responses affirmed Vaughan’s and Crutchfield’s intuition and experience. They knew that 3-5 years of seminary education is simply not enough for pastoral leaders dealing with the clash of Gospel and culture, the struggle to be faithful within the parish and the difficulty of nudging churches to do outward ministry other than charity.
The leaders with whom they met, and no doubt a great many others, are clamoring for more spiritual formation, deeper theological reflection, and honest accountability so that they feel—and are—up to the task of leading congregations. Many of them are hungry for what the pastor and writer Eugene Peterson calls “subversive imagination” – imagination that will help guide them and their congregations through uncertain and uncharted territory with theological depth and imaginative faithfulness.
Based on this research, MTS submitted a successful proposal to the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry grant program to establish the Center for Faith and Imagination. CFI, launched August 1, will offer a variety of resources and opportunities designed to help faith leaders live and lead with vitality and imagination for the long-haul.
Martha Lyle Ford and Rev. Billy Vaughan are co-directors of the Center, and Martha Park is Program Coordinator. The trio, with the assistance of many others, are spending 2018 building-out CFI’s programs and resources. However, here are some of the opportunities to be offered:
- Faith Formation Groups of 4-8 faith leaders who covenant to meet together face-to-face at least once-a-month across the MTS region. These groups will come together for spiritual encouragement, theological challenge, and mutual accountability. Faith Formation Groups will be guided by a CFI-trained and compensated facilitator and will use a CFI-created curriculum, similar to that used in MTS’s Formation for Ministry classes.
- Scholarships for clergy coaching, spiritual direction or mentoring will be provided for ministers who would benefit from these opportunities but whose church or personal budgets do not include.
- Immersive Retreats will provide opportunities for experiencing imaginative ministry, led by partner organizations which have created and are implementing successful models. Topics will include both the inward-looking–i.e. Sabbath-keeping, personal finances, mental and physical health–and the outward-looking–i.e. conflict transformation, justice, community building.
- Fellowships will extend financial and collegial support to selected recent MTS graduates who are serving in challenging situations, either within or outside the church, to assist their development of new, imaginative ministry models.
- Renewal Experiences in Nature will be opportunities for participants to connect with God’s creation for recreation, renewal and rest, through day trips to natural areas and gardening opportunities.
The mission of Memphis Theological Seminary is to educate and sustain men and women for ordained and lay Christian ministry in the church and the world through shaping and inspiring lives devoted to scholarship, piety, and justice. The Center for Faith and Imagination will greatly enhance MTS fulfilling this mission, supplementing the good work within the walls of the seminary and reaching beyond, providing both tools for the trade and sustenance for the journey.