Sharing An Authentic Gospel in Wrigleyville

Melissa Pillman’s journey to Northern was “an inkling” that grew into an MA in New Testament. Holding egalitarian values while serving at her complementarian church, Melissa encountered some of the difficulties inherent to those circumstances. However, starting in 2014, Melissa’s church encouraged her to preach and disciple others. Melissa remembers that “the inkling kept growing.”

Gradually, a series of conversations began to tweak her curiosity about pursuing a seminary degree. With her husband’s encouragement, she researched programs. “The MANT was attractive because I wanted to teach the Bible well.”

Although her church had transitioned to being egalitarian before she began applying to schools, the lingering impact of her experiences informed her choice of Northern. She was given forthright counsel, “You’ve lived long enough in hard spaces. You need to be where your presence is assumed without the need to explain, excuse, or defend it.” Rather, a seminary where women and men were expected to be equipped together was a criterion that Northern satisfied with excellence.

During her studies, Melissa embarked on an assignment that impacted her personally and pastorally in unexpected ways. As a concluding project in theology class, Melissa was instructed to describe her theology as a reconstructed house, what it used to be and what it is now.  The exercise of naming the poor, sloppy, and wrong theology that she had been exposed to and believed, coupled with the expectation of articulating her now robust theology guided her into “rebuilding something more beautiful and more true.” Sparking a passion for people going through deconstruction work, Melissa is dedicated to sticking with them through reconstruction, like a general contractor of the heart.

Studying Revelation with Dr. Scot McKnight was a highlight of her seminary studies. Featuring “mind-blowing material,” her lasting impression is the subversive witness of the gospel. Timely for piquing Melissa’s awareness of Christian nationalism, it was also exactly what she wanted from seminary: a deep dive into the New Testament.

“Incredibly valuable to me as a Christ follower was the unexpected gift of community.” Although Melissa had eagerly anticipated the classroom experience as a Chicago resident, it was the rich tapestry of her cohort spread across the globe that struck her as most beneficial. While living in the midst of alarming headlines and personal hardships, her cohort was a safe place for processing together. Additionally, developing relationships far outside her ministry context without leaving home allowed Melissa to maintain and further develop her neighborhood-shaped Missio Dei congregation.

The accessibility and connection with professors is a well-known strength of Northern Seminary. Melissa’s experience speaks to their willingness to be involved in their student’s formation outside of the classroom. Scot McKnight’s pastoral care extended beyond the classroom and helped guide her through decisions and circumstances. Additionally, the professors modeled the art of learning by sharing what they were reading and how it was challenging them. Melissa observed that “the posture to learn from a breadth of voices is insatiable and goes beyond the classroom.”

Melissa Pillman currently serves as Lead Pastor at Missio Dei Wrigleyville in Chicago. Deeply rooted in her community for over 20 years, she values the authentic gospel being expressed in contextualized ministry. As a member of the Class of 2022, she gained friendships beyond her borders who have enriched her local ministry, just as she has impacted theirs.

Written by Kelly Dippolito

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