Five reasons I'm glad to serve at Northern Seminary
Updated: Mar 24
It's my first spring break since I began teaching at Northern Seminary, and I'm reflecting on mission, ministry, and why I'm glad to serve at Northern.
After 13 years teaching primarily undergrads at Wheaton College, last summer I made a move to Northern. I'll always love my students and colleagues from Wheaton, but I was feeling a call to serve the church more directly through teaching seminarians.
I'm grateful that Northern is the place I'm answering that call.
reason #5 - nimbleness for the gospel
Northern is committed to being nimble for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the church, for the sake of our mission in training leaders for ministry. I'm delighted by a sense of openness and expectation at Northern, a sense that God is on the move, and we too, need to be ready to move with the leading of the Spirit.
In the last few years, you may have noticed a number of exciting new initiatives the seminary is pursuing: from Seminary now, which provides outstanding and accessible video courses for both ministers and lay people, to our new Master of Arts in Women and Theology and the Center for Women in Leadership, to the hiring of new faculty members, to the recently announced launch of the Center for Theological Integrity.
It's so easy for institutions to let fear and a sense of scarcity become roadblocks to change, but Northern is acting out of kingdom abundance to serve the church. These are initiatives I'm proud to be a part of. They're mission focused, and they show a commitment to action--not just words--in pursuing that mission.
The seminary has given me the freedom to launch a new doctoral program born of my own sense of calling. The DMin in doctrine, theology, & practice may not sound like a sensible initiative. (Doctrine? Really? It's not a very sexy word). But Northern is bold enough to let me risk something non-flashy but kingdom focused. I'm praying that God will use the program to strengthen the church. (If you're a pastor-theologian or other ministry professional with the conviction that the church needs theology, please get in touch with me so we can talk about how your gifts and calling might be strengthened by pursuing this doctorate!)
reason #4 - support for faculty
This one may sound selfish. It's no big surprise that a professor would want institutional support. But the idea that such is just selfishness is both theologically and practically wrong.
Theologically, human beings are precious image bearers, sons and daughters of the King, and as such, human workplaces are in sync with the kingdom when they care for their employees. All people deserve to thrive at work, to have the resources they need to do their work well. Asking people to make bricks without straw is Pharaoh's move, and Christian institutions ought not emulate Pharaoh.
But support for faculty is also practically important for institutions of higher education. When faculty have the resources they need to do their jobs well, students benefit.
So, I'm grateful that Northern makes a commitment to support faculty with reasonable teaching loads. But why would someone who cares about teaching want to teach less? Because that gives the teacher more time and attention to devote to her students. When faculty are weighed down with unworkable numbers of courses and students, the students and the quality of education they receive suffer. Less teaching also means more time for writing, and I can absolutely testify that having space for writing makes me a better teacher, even as I hope it also lets me be more faithful to my calling by serving a wider audience.
reason #3 - colleagues
At Northern, I have amazing colleagues. The faculty at Northern are an extraordinary team of teacher/scholars, people who are committed to theological education for the sake of the church of Jesus Christ. When my colleagues tell me about the books they're working on, the churches they're ministering in, and the teaching strategies they're using in their classrooms, I am interested and inspired.
With colleagues Scot McKnight, Lynn Cohick, and Ingrid Faro.
reason #2 - students
The sense of call that led me to seek a seminary position was about teaching seminary students, and my first terms at Northern have brought joy in that call. I've found my students at Northern serious about the church, ministry, and Jesus. They are devoted to their work in theological education because of that seriousness. But they're also lots of fun. I see students in my classroom building one another up as they come together to form communities for learning. As a teacher, I can introduce and explain theological concepts, but the real magic happens when students relate that to their experiences in church and as disciples, when they encourage each other to embrace the Spirit's power in their lives.
I couldn't resist snapping this photo of a student chat. We were doing end of term presentations in class, and it warmed my heart to see the students using the chat for call and response and mutual encouragement.
And what comment would a theology prof like more than "theology pointing us to worship"?
reason #1 - mission
Finally, I'm glad to be at Northern because the mission is my mission.
We affirm our evangelical heritage through our commitments to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to the authority of scripture. Northern offers an educational context that is international, interracial, and intercultural for the preparation of women and men who are called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the mission of Christ in the world. Our strategic role is to educate leaders who will be personally whole and spiritually mature, Biblically grounded and theologically competent, pastoral, evangelistic, and prophetic.
Northern occupies a unique space in the seminary landscape, one that is solidly evangelical and fully committed to justice, diversity, and the flourishing of women in ministry and in the church. I want to be in a space like that, a space that refuses the lie that justice is separable from the gospel or that theology and practice are somehow in competition with one another. As a woman in theological education, many institutions talk about helping women thrive in ministry, but there is a difference between lip service and the real thing, and at Northern, the commitment is a real thing. Check out this tidbit from Northern's website:
"Did you know that the first student to enroll at Northern Seminary was a woman? Amy Lee Stockton enrolled in 1913, graduated, and went on to become one of the nation’s leading evangelists–reaching thousands for Christ. Today, that tradition continues in the hundreds of women that have attended and graduated from Northern, and lead ministries in growing and vibrant churches."