Pastoral Endurance in 2022

December 13, 2022

Dr. William D. Shiell

When we look back on 2022, we will mark it as the year that many pastors chose to endure as faithful witnesses of the gospel. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God has put us, apostles, on display…. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure” (1 Cor. 4:9, 12). This year, Northern Seminary students and alums are living examples of endurance. Our seminary has accompanied them on this journey with relationships, resources, and research.

Resilience Through Struggles

We began 2022 by examining a fascinating trend. Pastoral leaders in North America were exiting church ministry, but Northern students were enrolling and graduating at the highest rate in over 60 years. We discovered a persevering spirit in our community. Pastors were willing to think deeply, reflect personally, and engage our culture. God called them to their communities, and as one pastor remarked, “I’m not leaving until God removes this call from me.” These students have made Northern one of only seven seminaries to grow annually over seven years, and our enrollment grew again this year.

Many of our doctoral students marked this new era—and re-commitment—in a baptismal ceremony in the Jordan River. On our 2022 Israel trip, we experienced God’s presence in profound ways that reminded us that we are in this work together—and most importantly—God is with us, too.

Resources to Persevere

Our students’ attitudes to persevere are contagious and we responded by launched the Center for Theological Integrity to provide training, conversation, and community to help pastors address the real issues. We learned that Northern is a trusted space to share the deep needs of life. I hosted student forums where many shared deeply personal issues.

Women had the opportunity to carry one another’s burdens through the Center for Women in Leadership. The Grow Center for Church and Mission trained leaders through the inaugural “Ray Bakke Certificate for Entrepreneurial Leadership.” Our scholarship team and supportive friends, families, and churches provided over $500,000 to help students afford seminary education.

When we see others who have been through much worse and are willing to “hang in there,” we reflect on our circumstances and say, “If they can endure, so can I.”  Our endurance is a living witness to them.

Research for the Church

Finally, we did not work alone. In fact, in addition to their regular teaching load, our faculty published biblically based guides to help pastors and congregational leaders navigate these times. In 2022, we produced 16 new courses on Seminary Now. Scot McKnight released more books in his series in The Everyday Study Bible and offered a personal reflection on the importance of peacemaking in The Audacity of Peace. Nijay Gupta published Fifteen Words of Life and The Writer: A Guide to Research Writing and Publishing.

Faculty also met privately with students to provide additional time to process struggles spiritually and mentally. This kind of behind-the-scenes work makes Northern a special place to serve. Our faculty are not alone in this work. In this edition of our newsletter, you’ll see two new publications from our alums: Gospel Portraits by Dr. Rex Butts and Light as Air by Dr. Jonny Morrison. Their work is a direct result of their time at Northern and an example of the kind of gospel-focused evangelistic ministry happening across North America.

Response from Board and Friends

As we have persevered, we have learned we are not alone—and we can’t do this alone. We are “One Northern working together toward a common mission.” We already knew God was with us, but we have also experienced confirmation that our model for theological education is bearing fruit.

We have graduated our largest back-to-back classes in over 60 years. A previous generation might call this a “Northern awakening.” We “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Our friends at Lilly Endowment, Inc. are sharing nearly $6 million with us this year to help grow the Seminary Now platform so that many seminaries may train more students.

Our Board of Trustees and I have prioritized staff well-being. We have increased the size of our staff so that our co-laborers have more team members to carry the burden. We have continued to provide even greater flexibility in work schedules. In 2022, we were able to do again what we have done five times over the last six years because: we were able to provide another cost of living raise to every staff and faculty member to keep pace with inflation.

When we remember 2022, we will think of our relationships with you that made it possible to endure. Merry Christmas and may God’s favor be upon you in 2023.

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