by Dave Hughes
What You Have to Offer
As a student at Southeastern Seminary, I’m in my second go-around with graduate school. I’ve learned important lessons to make academic life easier, such as knowing which courses can be condensed into a summer session and which are better not. Other lessons though, are less about the academic process and more about the person going through it.
A professor in a previous graduate school once said something I’ll never forget: “More than any theory or technique, who you are is the most important thing you have to offer your clients.” His point was that for the counselor, personal development is professional development. His words have proven true, and I would argue that they are even truer for those of us entering ministry.
For those of us whose lives are being offered up to advance the kingdom of God and fulfill the Great Commission, it is who we become not just what we know that will ultimately serve Jesus’ church in ways that honor him. We need mentorship, the life-on-life stewarding of the person who is emerging through this academic season. While there may be other opportunities to receive mentorship while you’re at Southeastern, and you should take advantage of them as well, the Center for Faith and Culture (CFC) deserves a place in your personal and professional development while you’re here.
We need Christian thinkers in every corner of the public square who can intelligently and boldly contend for the faith.
The CFC Mentorship helps you speak to the average person in the pew.
Early when I was being discipled for ministry, I was part of a church plant. I had read through systematic theologies and Spurgeon. I could discuss the finer points soteriology or ecclesiology. We were finally moving our church from a Crossfit Gym into a real building, and I was discussing with my mentor how I might serve as our church entered this new season. “I want you in kid’s ministry, Dave.” I was confused. I wasn’t married at the time, didn’t have kids, and there were plenty of people better suited for the job. He said, “You know all the important intellectual stuff, now for the application. If you can convey the gospel to an 11 year old in the eight and a half seconds that you have their attention, you can preach it to their parents in the pews.”
What my mentor understood is that all those book I’d been reading were pure gold to people like us. Joe in the seat, however, just wants to make it through the week. The people in the pews want to know what to make of the news, how to answer hard questions or have hard conversations Monday through Saturday. It’s our job to help them see how the gospel applies to their lives. Since we know that this is where we’re headed, regardless of how our individual ministry assignments flesh out, we might as well start practicing it now. Connecting our seminary education to our cultural contexts isn’t just a good aspiration, it’s the reality we’re headed for and need to prepare for now. Mentorship programs like the one hosted by the Center for Faith and Culture are one way to begin that process now.
The CFC Mentorship helps you think intelligently and boldly.
One of the most biting critiques of American Christianity in our cultural moment is that it endorses anti-intellectualism. There’s a measure of truth to the critique. Often in our churches we present the Christian faith as the answer to every question rather than the framework through which every question may be explored. It’s as though there is a fear that if one reads and engages with non-Christian thinkers that one may end up wandering from the faith. It makes me wonder if what we need isn’t a more intellectually robust faith to begin with.
Possibly the most helpful class I took in my counselor education was a philosophy class on ethics. I got to hear relativism argued for by Mackie and Harmon. I read Ayer and Stevenson argue for emotivism. You know what happened? I ended up with a better articulation of my disagreement with them. More than that, I can get from those philosophies to the gospel with a lot more clarity.
Each year, we tackle a different area of the intersection of faith and culture like the arts or science. This year the theme is Christianity and the public square. So far in the first half of the mentorship program this year we’ve tackled topics like faith and politics, religious liberty, race, just war and how to engage the contemporary (and often polarized) culture. We’ve heard from professors at Southeastern and discussed the various ways that our faith and culture intersect.
There was a time in America when it was socially beneficial to identify as a follower of Christ. That time is over. Our culture will not see us favorably based on our faith; in fact, the opposite is becoming more and more true. To be sure, this is no threat to Jesus’ church, but it is the challenge laid before us and we need to be equipped for it. That’s what the mentorship program at the Center for Faith and Culture is for.
We need Christian thinkers in every corner of the public square who can intelligently and boldly contend for the faith. We are not entering a season as a convention or as a culture where we can retreat to comfortable church bubbles. For those of us in seminary, we have to be equipped to engage our often hostile culture with the gospel well. If that task sounds daunting, it is; but I’ve been told that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Dave Hughes is a member of the CFC Mentorship Program. This year’s theme is faith and the public square.