I've never enrolled as a student in a seminary. But this past weekend, I was given an incredible sneak peek into that life.
What I learned opened my eyes on many levels.
On Saturday, I was invited to speak at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis at their "Complete in Him: Reflections for ALL Christians on Singleness" conference, organized by their Life Team.
I was so surprised to receive such an invitation simply because: (1) I didn't grow up in the church; (2) I never attended college; (3) I'm divorced; and (4) I'm a woman (significant because women are not ordained in my denomination).
But those were PRECISELY some of the reasons I had been invited.
The conference's overarching goal was to hold a series of conversations about the "single" -- whether never married, widowed or divorced -- life in order to provide a sensitivity and real-time glimpse into that demographic that seminarians will face in their future congregations.
Confession time: I approached the event with a preconceived notion that I would face a room full of stoic men in clerical collars who were only there to fulfill some academic requirement. I realize that's a stereotype, but I'm just keeping it real. Part of my trepidation stemmed from my own insecurities (see reasons #1-4, above).
Instead, what I discovered was a friendly gathering of jeans-clad seminarians, along with knowledgeable and friendly seminary professors, with ready smiles who voluntarily sacrificed a Saturday to gain practical insight into effective ministry. A third of the attendees were women (a fact I never even considered) comprised of seminary wives, local lay people, and deaconesses studying for church ministry.
My purpose was not to conduct a Bible study about what Scripture says about divorce, or even provide a demographic study of the divorce rates or where the most concentrated clusters reside.
My job was to put a face to those just like me and lend experiential insight that cannot be learned from a book.
I talked about how it felt being divorced. How it felt to walk back into my church for the first time after my marriage blew up four years ago. How it felt being half of a statistic I never wanted. How my pastors reached out to me AND my ex-husband to attempt reconciliation. I shared with them the practical ways that my pastors walked our congregation through a high profile divorce without taking sides or allowing camps to form. I told them how my church and pastors best ministered to me in that time of brokenness.
In a nutshell, God allowed me to share how those future pastors and church workers can create a culture of grace instead of culture of judgmentalism in their future congregations.
Their questions during the panel discussion and Q&A time reflected their desire to effectively shepherd their flocks from a heart of compassion -- not just head knowledge. Their questions provided such a beautiful picture of Jesus' love for people.
Statistics prove that they will deal with 42%-50% of divorced people in their churches. So I left them with this thought:
One day they will be sitting in their church's office when a broken person walks in -- perhaps a personal friend from the congregation or even a staff member -- who reveals that the enemy just lobbed a grenade in the middle of their marriage. In that moment, it won't matter how well the pastor can translate Greek and Hebrew. What matters most in that moment is how they will be able to translate the love and grace of God into that brokenness.
I pray that God planted a seed in their hearts and minds this weekend. I pray that God will nurture and grow those seeds to benefit their future ministries for God's glory. I prayed for them individually and as a group over the rest of the weekend.
I left the seminary on Saturday with a renewed sense of hope for the Church.
I'm so thankful to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis for recognizing the importance of holding such conversations. And I'm so very thankful for those enthusiastic, bright, compassionate men who are the future leaders of our Church.