Flourishing in Black Churches and Communities: The Jubilee Summit
Bruce Fields, associate professor and department chair of biblical and systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
A gathering called “The Jubilee Summit” took place at The King’s College in New York City in January. African-American theological scholars and pastors gathered to discuss the economic challenges we face and how churches can address these challenges. Attendees included Christopher Brooks, senior pastor of Evangel Ministries in Detroit; Charlie Dates, senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago; Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College; Anthony Bradley of The King’s College; Craig Mitchell of Criswell College; and me.
The title of the gathering is drawn from a set of three ideas that provide a conceptual framework for topical discussions of flourishing in the black church and the black community: “God, Image-Flourishing, and Jubilee.” We began by revisiting the meaning of this framework. I had an opportunity to expand upon elements of the doctrine of God and his relationship and intent for image bearers, individually and corporately. Jubilee is connected not only to forgiveness and reconciliation, but also to awareness of the downward pull of sin, which we see in human relationships at both the individual and institutional levels. Pastors Brooks and Dates shared amazing testimonies to the grace of God in their churches. Both reported instances of life-transforming conversions to the Lord Jesus Christ, and shared the needs in their churches and communities that must be remedied by responsible decision-making and opportunities for economic development. Jobs must be generated along with other support systems in the church and community. Bacote and Bradley shared similar concerns, providing insights on how the Christian academic community can be a more informed servant to the Church. Future leaders in the church and community need a reminder of the spiritual dimensions of economic and community life.
We are presently deciding what our next step will be. A possible goal is the have a larger gathering of African-American pastors and scholars to pray and talk about similar issues. May the Lord grant us wisdom and power all along the way.
Seminary Faculty and Staff – Called to Serve
Justin Irving, professor of Ministry Leadership, Bethel Seminary
Erin Rupe, manager, Work with Purpose Initiative, Bethel Seminary
A call to serve through both the instrumental and intrinsic nature of our everyday work was the theme of a day-and-a-half faculty and staff retreat at Bethel Seminary-St. Paul in January. Scott Rae of Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology joined us. Together, we explored the foundations of a theology of work and how it broadens our understanding of ministry and the nobility of all work. We allotted much of the agenda to discussion of the practical implications of this understanding on our individual job roles as we serve one another, our seminary students, and the church at large. For some, the discussion was an affirmation of what they already knew and have been practicing in the areas of faith, vocation, and work. For others, it presented new insights that began to transform their understanding of work.
It was particularly helpful to have staff and faculty engage in this conversation together. While faculty engage students in the explicit curriculum, staff provide our students with an implicit yet very formative “curriculum.” We want to see a holistic and integrated understanding of faith and work in every corner of our seminary community. Having staff and faculty united in their understanding of the integration of faith, work, and economics allows us to invest in students in a unified manner on these vital themes.
We concluded by brainstorming practical next steps in individual staff and faculty roles, for departments, and for the seminary community as a whole, as well as reflections on applications as members of families, communities, and churches. The retreat fostered significant individual ownership of faith, work, and economic themes as staff and faculty engaged in reflection on their own vocational stewardship and how this translates into effective service of students. We trust that this investment of time and intentional community reflection will further transform the Bethel Seminary community and the churches we serve. This retreat model will be repeated with our Bethel Seminary-San Diego faculty and staff at the end of February.