By Meagan Smith
“Education should be contextualized in the church.”
Jack Bodenhamer, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Elm Mott, began the TB Maston Foundation Retreat for CBF Leadership Scholars by naming that education matters, the Church matters and how we integrate the two matters.
As a seminary student beginning my final year of divinity school, this message is relevant and convicting. It is not hard to get lost in the academic rhetoric of Theology or Old Testament or Church History. The Maston Retreat was a timely reminder of just how important my upcoming “Contextual Ministry” course is.
As we sat around the table, Bodenhamer specifically offered perspectives on how our education in ethics can shape how we minister. He referenced Robert Greenleaf’s ideas on servant leadership by naming that we go out into the world and into the church with what we have and what we know. The first session of the retreat was devoted to expanding what we know about a Christian Ethic.
Bodenhamer set the foundation for our discussion by asserting, “the Christian ethic could be properly described as an ethic of perfection” which includes the will of God, the love of the cross, and the Holy Spirit. We considered how this ethical framework can and should intersect with our call to and practice of ministry.
Bodenhamer discussed four specific ways we can apply this ethic. This ethic can help us lean into and intertwine our call to be both prophet and pastor, it can empower us to consider how we use our time: both our time at work and our time at Sabbath, it reminds us to make our family our priority and to set appropriate boundaries which honor our relationships and it allows us to prioritize our own spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health.
Before we moved into the second session of the retreat, William Tillman, an editor of Both And: A Maston Reader, shared with us the history of the TB Maston foundation. He expressed that we have each been gifted something by the legacy of TB Maston; because of the professors we have had, the schools we attend and the opportunities we have been given, like attending the Maston Retreat, we are getting some of the Mastonian Legacy. I know this is true for me; I learned that William Tillman – who knew and studied with TB Maston – taught one of my professors!
The second session provided us an opportunity to engage in an applied theology activity, which helped us to consider how what we know and the resources we have can shape the way we practice ethics. We were each given a scenario, and we were asked to consider how we would respond to that scenario. This activity fostered lively discussion and provided an opportunity for us to hear and learn from the experiences of one another. It was also a reminder that there are many gray areas in ethics.
After Bodenhamer revealed each scenario was a situation from his own ministry, we considered the reality that we will always be learning, growing and evolving in how we practice ethics. The Maston Retreat has left me considering how I can better allow my education to inform my work in the church and how my work in the church might encourage me to continually seek out opportunities for further education and development.
Meagan Smith is a CBF Leadership Scholar at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga. She currently serves as a Ministries Assistant at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.