By: Erin Colago
Erin is the Admissions Coordinator at Northpoint|GR, Professor and contributes to the Northpoint Press as a reporter and editor.
The fall semester is quickly coming to a close, which caused me to reflect a bit about the changes that occur throughout the year. As a staff member and professor, I see freshmen arrive, and seniors graduate, and these students are not the same when they leave. A transformation occurs; an incredible, beautiful, messy transformation happens, and I am both awed by the metamorphosis and proud of the students who persevere through the process. These reflections led me to wonder about where students will go, and who they will be, and what must they absolutely hear before they leave Bible College? I ran this question by Dr. Dennis Moles recently in conversation because of his various ministerial experiences. Dr. Moles serves as a pastor and brings academic insight to our community as a professor of Philosophy, Apologetics, and Homiletics.
I asked Dr. Moles to describe and share a bit about himself before discussing the three things Bible college students need to hear before they graduate. I hope his thoughts encourage you wherever you are in life and ministry.
Dr. Dennis Moles:
You could use all kinds of monikers to describe me: Reverend Dennis Moles is something that is true of me. I am an ordained minister with the Christian Alliance, and I am the lead teaching pastor at Bella Vista Church in Rockford, a non-denominational or inter-denominational church might be a better way to say it. Dr. Dennis Moles is true of me as well; I have my doctorate from Talbot School of Theology. I am also a son; my folks are just phenomenal people, I have a younger brother, I married my college sweetheart who definitely keeps me grounded. Amy is hilarious! I am a dad, I’ve got three pretty spectacular kids, two working on their undergraduate degrees now and one in high school.
1. Ministry is about people.
The first thing I want students to hear is that people, not information, are our business. In my experience, and this is from my years as an undergraduate student, as well as experiences in my first master’s degree, second master's degree, and doctorate, there needs to be somebody to translate and bridge the gap between the two worlds of academia and pastoring. For instance, the machinist at the Ford plant isn’t necessarily going to care about your theory of atonement. My philosophical and theological professors would give me all these reasons why evil and suffering exist in the world, but you can't carry those arguments into the room with you when you're going to see grieving parents after they've delivered a stillborn baby. Hear my heart, I'm an education guy, but our job isn't actually information.
We don’t teach the Bible; we teach people. The Bible is not the subject and the gospel is not a subject matter, the gospel is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. We are walking with people through their own transformation, while we are in our own process of being transformed. That’s why I think it’s so crucial for Bible college students to know their identity; students need to be who they are, not anybody else. All I can do is be who God has made me to be. So, continue to learn who you are, be the best you, and live into that. God providentially has created you for right now. You are not you by accident; embrace that; every part; even the parts that are painful.
In fact, we can actually find redemption in the retelling of the painful parts of our story. It’s transforming for the people we minister to and for us. So don't just learn from your mistakes, allow other people to learn from your mistakes too. You're not always going to be right, you're not always going to be perfect, you're going to hurt people even when you don’t mean to. But when you hurt people, you lose nothing by saying you're sorry, and you lose nothing by saying that you're wrong. So, be you and grow into what that means and remember that people are what is most important.
2. Prepare for and embrace hardship of sharing the gospel.
Another thing students need to hear, and I wish someone would have told me, is that pastoral ministry is going to be harder than I could ever have imagined. Let me unpack that statement a bit: I tell my preaching classes to preach the word. As pastors, we’re trying to preach the word, which includes: correcting, rebuking, and encouraging with great patience and careful instruction. You’re going to face the difficulty of preaching the truth of the gospel and not acquiescing to the prevailing culture.
The other difficulty of preaching the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus is the risk of offending people. So when the Apostle Paul says people won't put up with the sound Doctrine part of preaching, remember part of what we do is prophetic and being prophetic chafes with
culture. This is where the hardship comes in. It is not just you as a pastor being prophetic and making all these declarations; Jesus showed us what leadership was like in the Kingdom, it's upside down, we serve. So often we want to point out to others that they’ve got something on their metaphorical shoe, and maybe instead of pointing out those things to the world, what would it be like if we simply say, “I want to wash your feet.” Which brings me to my final point.
3. Look for opportunities to serve people; reach the lost.
The last thing I want Bible college students to remember is 2 Timothy 4:5, which reminds us to do the work of an evangelist. You can't do the work on evangelist if you don't have unsaved friends. You have got to get out of your Christian bubble, and doing that can make people uncomfortable. That means walk across the street and befriend the same-sex couple who might live in your neighborhood, and in those moments, you don't have to point out that there's “mud” on their shoe, we befriend and love, and we invite the Holy Spirit into this process. Sometimes people look at me, and this is one of the hard things that I've had to deal with is folks will say, “but you're complicit in their sin if you don't confront them.” But, we must look to Jesus as our example. What I mean by looking to Jesus is that recently, I had a very dear friend preach for me on this very topic from Isaiah 53. He was talking about how Jesus was bruised for our transgressions, and he was crushed for our iniquities, and the humble nature of Christ coming down and bearing our sin for us, he said, “you know some will say that if we come and we help someone carry their sinful load that we're giving tacit approval to that sin.” My friend said, “no more than Jesus was approving of adultery when he stood between the woman and the stones, no more than Jesus was approving death when he submitted to it for our sakes.”
That’s what it’s all about; that's what we do, and these are the things I hope Bible college students know before they graduate.