President’s April Newsletter

Dear Northern Friends,

As we live through COVID-19, students, pastors, and alumni are dealing with a new reality. They’re ministering to people with and without the internet and discipling people through zoom. The Northern community is mourning with people hurting from COVID-19 and grieving the loss of life. We still don’t know the full impact of this virus, and we do know the church will be different when the virus passes. Each week, I’ve been meeting with pastors and church leaders to solve problems. What I’ve discovered is amazing creativity, humble service, and caring ministry around the world.

Our seminary continues to thrive and grow. Spring Term classes began on time through Northern Live, and we enrolled several new students. Because of your generosity, our technology was already in place to deliver all of our classes via Zoom. We have already begun helping students with emergency relief funds. Our largest gift came from a student who wanted to help other students. Thank you for heeding the call to help during COVID-19.

You are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors who lived through another similar pandemic. If you have not seen this story, you will want to take a few minutes to read it now.



Due to travel restrictions, Spring Commencement will be held on October 10 at 10:00 a.m. at Christ Church of Oak Brook. Mark your calendar for a full week of activities.

  • Thursday, October 8 at 11:30 a.m., Founders Day
  • Friday evening, October 9, Fall Convocation at the Lisle Center
  • Saturday, October 10, 10:00 a.m., Fall Commencement

You can read a complete update on our response to COVID-19 on our website.



We know there are many people who are isolated, vulnerable, and scared, prone to being lonely and depressed. Online services are good but not enough for these people. Indeed, they are not enough for me. So, I encourage myself and all pastors during this time, no matter how big or small your congregation, to put the bulk of your time into multiplying as many micro-social interactive spaces as is safely possible. Read how pastors are adapting to this challenge.



Our friends in Lawndale are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read how these eight lessons apply to the work pastors and church leaders can do across the world today.



Each Thursday I am hosting free sessions via Northern Live to help address issues and solve ministry challenges during COVID-19. You may register for these sessions here. These are peer learning experiences. Each week, I’ll be joined by co-hosts who will be sharing their insights. We’ll also share our COVID-19 ministry issues, discuss solutions, and seek wisdom to problem solve.

This week, our co-hosts are:

  • Aaron Keyes– 10,000 Fathers Worship School and Worship Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Snellville, GA
  • Gerald Dew– Pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Englewood
  • Lara Escoffre– Pastor of First Baptist Church of Midland, Michigan


Reuters News Service released a report that the virus will have infected more than 3 million globally, killing 200,000 as of this past weekend (April 25, 2020). More than half of the fatalities have been reported by the United States, Spain and Italy. Since the first death of pandemic was linked to Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10. It took 91 days for the death toll to pass 100,000 which exploded to 200,000 in 16 days, Reuters says.

The death toll in the USA has especially hit hard the African American community where more than 60 percent of people infected with the Covid-19 disease have died. Pray especially for churches and parishioners representing Northern Seminary as faculty, staff and congregants in those devastated communities of faith.

U.S. News and World Reports: 1 in 3 Americans Can’t Pay Their Bills

Workers and volunteers help load cars with food at a San Antonio Food Bank drive-through distribution in San Antonio, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Closures of nonessential businesses and widespread stay-at-home orders sent unemployment soaring since mid-March. Last month, more than 22 million Americans filed jobless, nearly half of American households – and 52% of lower-income households – have suffered a job loss or pay cut as a result of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, according to a new poll.

Pew reports from recent polling:

  • Out of 5,000 U.S. adults polled earlier this month, 43% had either taken a pay cut or a job loss themselves in recent weeks or lived in a household with someone who did.
  • Nearly a third of upper-income households that bring in more than $112,600 per year are experiencing some sort of employment or salary setback.
  • Half, or 53%, of lower-income households, earning less than $37,500 annually, say they will not be able to pay all their bills in full this month.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 Americans of all income levels said the same.
  • Millions more with jobs have been forced to take pay cuts.

Changing Church Opens New Doors of Ministry

God was already changing his church in 2020 … perhaps in preparation for today’s global pandemic. No one knows that better than Hugh Halter who, with his wife Cheryl, have planted several churches across America. The couple has taken what they have learned, packed their bags and moved to Alton, IL. There within a year of their move, Hugh and Cheryl were given a 12,000 square foot federal post office. With the help of family and friends, they have transformed the space into “Post Commons,” which the locals call the “living room for Alton.” Keep reading here to learn how Hugh and Cheryl are helping churches engage their communities in a pandemic.


Hugh Halter

Hugh has been a leading voice in the missional church movement for the last two decades. He has served as a church planter, pastor, and consultant across the United States. His books include The Tangible Kingdom, Flesh, BiVo, and Sacrilege. He specializes in developing content for marketplace ministries with V3 and is also the U.S. Director of FORGE America.

The gospel is needed now more than ever. With the coronavirus already affecting employment, pastors and church planters will need to be trained and prepared to address the spiritual needs of workers and to start innovative ministries in Jesus’ name. To help train more pastors, entrepreneurs, and church planters, Northern is pleased to announce the addition of Hugh Halter to our team. Read more about Hugh and the work of the church planting institute at Northern.


Worship & Preaching Faculty Long to Serve Changing Church

A new Northern Seminary faculty member, Tracey Bianchi, is looking forward to bringing her church leadership experience in worship, writing and preaching to seminary students.
“I love the local church,” Tracey says. “I find it super-exciting to help people become healthier leaders.”

Tracey admits she is an optimist during these tough times for church leaders. “We live in increasingly divided and politically charged time. The new pandemic poses even more challenging circumstances, for sure,” she says.

“We have never considered how do we preach, teach, share community and Jesus’ love without looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand and offering a comforting hug to those grieving the loss of so much lives … of our moms, dads, brothers, sisters and children. How to preach in that climate is an audacious task,” Tracey concludes.

Tracey who is a published author, speaker who serves as an associate preaching staff member at Christ Church of Oakbrook, IL, recognizes church leaders’ challenges in today’s culture. Those include:

  • The first pandemic in the USA in a century.
  • Rapid advancements in technology for worship leaders.
  • Many of today’s Christian leaders are recognized more for the number of social media followers and books sold than for the depth of growth by people in their churches.
  • The de-churching of America with fewer people attending church. People who once attended church faithfully have dropped to attending perhaps once a month related to the tyranny of youth sports and other life challenges (aging and sickness).

“The one good thing about the pandemic is that has produced a hunger among Americans – and people around the globe – to connect with their Creator. I pray that we can respond adequately to communicate the fullness of God’s grace to people in this time of crisis – utilizing new technologies combined with old-fashioned knee time seeking His mercy on us all.”

Tracey finds Northern Seminary’s approach unique in equipping leaders in today’s culture: “I have been impressed that Northern is a forward-thinking, nimble organization … they have great people, great faculty who are world class. I am excited to be at an institution like Northern where there is clear thinking and capacity to reach this contemporary world that can be wildly complicated and divisive.”

Tracey will be directing the New Kind of Preacher program which has grown over the past few years to over 18 different groups from across the country who explore how to make their preaching more powerful for congregations. The Lilly Endowment has helped make that program possible at Northern Seminary.

She also will direct the Master of Arts.

Any questions please contact Tracey Bianchi at:

After 30 Days Church Leaders Ask: What’s the New Normal?

Families have sheltered in place for more than a month. In millions of home, college students shake their heads at their parents in wonderment as they return to a family startled by their presence. In turn, parents whisper together at night, declaring in hushes, “This self-quarantine better end soon, or we are moving out!”

What’s Next for the Church

After a month of sheltering in place for most of the nation, pastors are discovering that church looks different today. It’s not just the long hair everyone is sporting, Church is changing. Today we are experiencing arguably the single biggest disruption in the Church since Martin Luther, a German monk forever changed Christianity when he nailed his 95 theses to a church door in 1517, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

The pandemic has forced people to connect with each other from a distance. Covid-19 has required church leaders to discover more intimate, creative ways of engaging with congregants. Keep reading for this month’s stories of change as people encounter Christ in our churches.

And click here if you want to go to seminary and live and minister anywhere around the globe. We currently have students from 44 states and 10 countries enrolled.

For details, please email

Please Help the New Northern Students Today

Northern Seminary students and innovative faculty continue to address challenges in the church. Please help us raise $250,000 to help scholarship students who may have lost jobs that sustained their lives and studies. If you can help these students at this time, we are grateful for your support for the students and our faculty and staff as we discover the “New Normal” at Northern in the days to come.

You can sponsor a student who has financial need by going to our website, and clicking on the “sponsor a student” page. Your gifts will provide a needed safety net to students and Northern Seminary during this time.

Support the New Northern

By giving to Northern Seminary you are able to invest directly into the Kingdom of God through our students.




Your friend,

William D. Shiell
President, Northern Seminary

Ready to start your seminary Experience?

Apply Now