A Journey without an App to Guide You

By: William D. Shiell

This summer, I had one of those all-too-familiar rideshare nightmares. Ever since COVID-19, more people have been using Uber or Lyft and complaining about the process of getting from one place to another. In our case, we were leaving a baseball game and needed to make two stops: one at our hotel, the other to drop off my friend at his house. But when we tried to program the app to make two stops, Uber blocked us. Since the route to my friend’s house passed right by the hotel, we asked the Uber driver to drop us off on the way. Reluctantly yet honestly, the driver said, “I can only do what the app said.” And then he muttered the consequences for him if he violated the rules. He felt helpless and afraid because Uber did not have regulations about the customer relationship. “Just help the customer get where they want to go” is not in the manual.  

The experience with the Uber drive is a parable of people’s experiences with each other throughout the pandemic. Everyone is trying to get to a new place of healing, health, togetherness, and hope. Rarely do organizations focus as much on what a person needs rather than what “the app says.” Even in the church, we struggle to surrender what we want for the greater good and health of the community. Just ask how many pastors continue to explain to their congregants: the mask and vaccine protect other people from getting the virus as much as it prevents you from getting it. Thinking of others is not our strong suit, but it is our calling.  

When Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi, he sent an epistle that warned and encouraged. “Beware of the dogs” (Philippians 3:2), he wrote, because fundamentalists were intimidating the budding citizens of Christ’s kingdom into thinking that knowing Christ was just not quite enough. He warned them to watch out in their own lives for the same symptoms: joy-less Christianity and selfish infighting for control.  

Paul also encouraged them to use a virus against the dogs. He cited a familiar hymn to “Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:11), admonishing them to think of others better than themselves. By doing so, they could establish a Christian colony within the community. They could demonstrate how “sharing in Christ’s sufferings and becoming like him in his death” could be the path to resurrection (Philippians 3:11). 

If you want to see what resurrection people are learning, look at Northern Seminary’s students. In August and September, over 100 pastoral leaders have returned here for in-person summer intensives. They come with warnings and encouragement. They tell the stories of dealing with the dogs and delivering the good news to the hurting and helpless. Those who are not able to travel domestically and our international students join via Northern Live. Even before the fall term begins, these pastors have spent a week together face to face, masks on, vaccinated, and learning what it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. They aren’t perfect, but they know how to listen deeply to their congregations, love their communities, and mobilize people for the gospel. Unlike my Uber driver, they put their phones down, delete the app, and pay attention. They learn to help people get from one place to another because not even a phone app could have planned for what we’re experiencing now.  

We eventually returned to our hotel, and my friend made it home– but not without some creative work with the “app” and additional charges from Uber. At Northern, we make it much more straightforward. Just contact our enrollment office if you want the kind of knowledge and wisdom for the journey. We’d love to welcome you for the ride together to help you get where you’re going, even if there are multiple stops along the way. 



September 20, 2021

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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