Recognizing the need for Christians to be capable intellectually and professionally as well as spiritually, the church built a network of Christian colleges and universities that is a model among evangelical churches.
A Sacred Trust and Partnership
by Carl Leth
It was a time for light-hearted celebration, and Christians gathered in festive fellowship. We enjoyed some good food and congenial conversation. Then the topic turned serious.

What about stem cell research? A mother's anxious concern for a sick child wrestled with her faith, looking for resolution. She wondered how we should think about this dilemma. Another person shared the familiar story of a Christian engaging a coworker. Friendly conversation was leading to dialogue about faith. What a great opportunity to share about Christ. The problem, the man explained, was that his coworker is Muslim. How could he engage in meaningful dialogue about faith without offending? Another woman talked about having children in a public school. Some of the material they read affirmed diversity in ways she was uncertain about. How could she discern between positive affirmation of people and inappropriate values?

The world facing us in this century is overwhelmingly complex. What happened to the friendly familiarity of our neighborhoods or towns? Our world is inescapably global and is not familiar, nor always friendly. How can we prepare Christians to lead the way into this uncertain future? Thankfully, the Church of the Nazarene has prepared for this from its birth.

Recognizing the need for Christians to be capable intellectually and professionally as well as spiritually, the church built a network of Christian colleges and universities that is a model among evangelical churches. These educational facilities are busy producing Christian leaders-both lay and clergy-who can effectively face the challenges of the 21st century.

The Church of the Nazarene has actively and consistently valued higher education, especially for ministry. Of course, the relationship between the local church and the educational institutions is critical. The missional charge of the church calls for a constructive and effective partnership with our educational institutions. This is a sacred trust.

What the church should expect from its educators

The church should be able to depend on some basic expectations from its educators, especially those who are charged with theological education. The first expectation is for educators to faithfully communicate the teachings of the church.

In our educational institutions, theology serves the church. Those entrusted to teach should do so with a commitment to the church and in partnership with the church. While critical reflection is important to the educational process, it should reflect an appreciative and constructive spirit toward the church. Educators must also be sensitive to the personal dynamics and impact of their interaction with students. Students will be drawn to effective teachers as models and mentors. We must be stewards of our influence, and sense how that can affect students' lives. Just as a pastor should not let his or her personal issues shape the agenda of the church, so the educator must use careful stewardship of influence.

Educators also need to actively model Christian character and lifestyle. Often our most effective teaching is done by example. In our personal lives and as we engage in the mission of the Kingdom, we need to act in ways we would like to see our students replicate. This should include our involvement in the church. The final results of our teaching will ultimately depend on the students. But our influence should help students to be better Christians and more active members of the church.

What educators would welcome from the church

Educators are in a ministry role, serving the church. Therefore we welcome and appreciate patterns of partnership with the church. Topping the list would be the gift of grace. In our thoughts and actions toward educators, we should begin with gracious assumptions about their intentions. If a question or problem exists, give the educator the benefit of the doubt. Educators also welcome a sympathetic appreciation of the challenging task of teaching. Sometimes what students hear is not exactly what we have tried to communicate. At times, despite our best efforts, students drift in their disciplines of study or their personal faith.

A Place to Begin

How can we develop a better partnership between educators and the local church? How can the church use the rich resources available in our Nazarene colleges and universities? One possibility is to invite a teacher to your church. You could invite educators to preach, teach, or simply share in fellowship with your congregation. Look for opportunities to create dialogue. Another idea is to include your educators in your prayers. The task they perform merits your prayerful support. Whatever we do, we need to honor each other in Christ and work as partners in the Kingdom.

These are days of imposing challenge and exciting opportunity for the church. We need each other. The challenges ahead will require our combined gifts and best efforts. The world around us longs for new life in Christ. Our best hope to reach that world is in working together.

Carl Leth is dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry at Olivet Nazarene University.

Holiness Today, September/October 2005
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