From the Dean
The Dean Recommends: Latimer and Ridley Are Forgotten
Hidden in the northern suburbs of Oxford are the last traces of a path first trodden by multitudes of country folk hurrying to see the burning of the Protestant martyrs Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley on October 16, 1555, and trudging home afterward.
For some years I lived very close to this track, and after dark I would imagine all those figures bustling past in their gray-and-brown homespun, their hands hard as oak from work in the fields, and wonder whether they had gone to cheer or to mourn, and whether they had seen what they expected to see.
They certainly had not seen what the authorities hoped they would see. The monarch who had ordered Latimer and Ridley burned alive, poor unhappy Queen Mary, has a good claim to the title of founder of the Church of England. Without her dogged and stupid persecutions, I doubt very much that this ramshackle, leaky, doctrinally vague old craft would ever have floated at all. It doesn’t work in theory—only in practice, like so many English things. Nothing has ever bound it together half so firmly as these gruesome human bonfires, rather obviously encouraged by Mary’s consort, Philip of Spain.
For about four hundred years, the memory of this era made Englishness and Protestantism almost synonymous. Right down to my father’s Edwardian generation, only recently extinct, many English people equated popery with tyranny and foreign autocracy. Still in my childhood Queen Mary was referred to as “Bloody Mary” in the presence of children—a shocking thing, since “bloody” was also in those days a swear word of some power, taboo in polite society. We were taught to remember Latimer’s last words to his fellow victim: “Play the man, Master Ridley, and by God’s good grace we shall this day light such a candle in England as may never be put out.” I have written that from memory, and if it varies from the Dictionary of Quotations version, I don’t care. The point is, it is lodged in my memory, sixty years after I learned it. See how it embodies the central English Protestant virtues of stoical courage and manly virtue, with a flicker of grim humor at the heart of it. A candle, indeed. These religious barbecues roared fifty feet into the sky, presumably punctuated by screams, and they scorched the woodwork of neighboring buildings. At Balliol College in Oxford, they still keep their old front gate with the burn marks on it from that unforgotten day.
The Dean Recommends: A Woman's Guide to Seminary
Shortly after making my calling public to my local church at age 15, I told my parents I wanted to go to seminary eventually. That’s what my father, a pastor, had done after college, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Once I started college, however, I wasn’t as zealous anymore. I didn’t think I could “do” seminary; I was timid and unsure if I were smart enough. Moreover, I was a Christian studies major at a liberal arts school who thought what I was learning there was sufficient training for ministry. But then my perspective changed.
As I was praying and thinking through whether or not I should go to seminary, my Bible reading led me to 2 Timothy 3:14–15:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
This command—“continue in what you have learned”—propelled me into seminary those years ago, but it has also served me well in the intervening years. Learning is a prerequisite for those who want to be teachers and communicators of God’s Word, but it is also a lifestyle and an attitude that all of God’s children should adopt.
For women who feel called to communicate God’s Word to the people of God, theological training is necessary to prepare you for the work. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will bear the responsibility of speaking on behalf of God by expounding his Word, and also the responsibility of shepherding and protecting his sheep (even if those sheep are exclusively women and children). James’s warning should reverberate in our ears and cause us to proceed cautiously: “Not many of you should become teachers … because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
Likewise, vocational ministry is the serious business of soul care. Like surgeons who feel the life-and-death weight of their work, we, too, should feel the eternal life-and-death weight of our callings just as much and possibly more.
My friend Hayden Walker served as a youth minister at a Baptist church in Birmingham for several years. “Ministry is hard work,” she wrote to me, “and it should be more than just event planning. My theological education reminds me that I have a responsibility to the gospel and to communicate truth, not just coordinate a calendar.”
As 2 Timothy suggests, a serious calling requires serious study of Scripture. With that in mind, I offer here a woman’s guide to pursuing a seminary education.
Preorder your copy of Now That I Am Called here.
The Dean Recommends: The Spiritual Warfare of Potato-Peeling
Are you busy? Are you important? Do you work on a tight schedule? Are your boundaries well-fortified?
Those are not, in and of themselves, bad things.
But they will become idols if you don’t add something: Christian hospitality—the scriptural command to regularly, transparently, and sacrificially come together in homes over a meal, gathering with neighbors and brothers and sisters from the church, and welcoming strangers.
Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, a man with a dark secret moved in across the street. He was visibly fragile. We became friends slowly, by fits and starts. Then, one day, his dog Tank disappeared. My children made posters, I put an announcement on Nextdoor, and we all walked miles, searching for a one-hundred-pound pit bull that ran loose in the neighborhood—to the terror and fury of neighbors. But Tank was gentle and kind and was needed by the man who loved him.
After Tank was found, our friendship was sealed. We started walking our dogs together. He was generous to us, helping us with tasks that we couldn’t do on our own. He cut down dead trees in our woods, being sensitive to preserve the ones with nesting red-shouldered hawks when my son told him about the babies. My children drew him pictures for his refrigerator. He joined us for Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays (Hank and I were born on the same day in the same year). He came shyly and awkwardly at first, but eventually whole-heartedly. For years, we were his one, daily human contact.
And then one day his secret was exposed.
The Dean Recommends: Church Revitalization is Worth the Effort
There is a trend in church culture where you have to declare what type of pastoral work you are going to do and pursue it as a specialty. Either you are a church planter or church revitalizer. Sadly, what can get communicated is this: if you want to do something exciting and quick, you plant; if you want to do something boring and slow, you revitalize.
Instead, the focus should be on being faithful to the call that God has placed upon you to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you (1 Peter 5:2).” So I want to propose that church revitalization should be better understood as church strengthening, that is, encouraging and equipping a local church toward being a healthy, biblical body of believers. I want to contend that church revitalization, as I’ve just defined it, is worth the effort for at least three reasons.
- There are people who need to be shepherded.
When you first enter into a revitalization context, there is a temptation to only look at how far the church has fallen in terms of numbers. It is easy to see where the church was during her heyday and to use that standard to measure the church you inherited. While we certainly need to be aware of where our church has been, we cannot allow that reality to overshadow the needs of the current members. Those who remain are often the ones who have labored week by week for the kingdom, and this can lead to them being weary and tired. Please do not mistake this fatigue for a lack of impact for the kingdom.