Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

8/1 2014

Ministry: At the Heart of Administration

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Sunset over the open road

Traveling from Pittsburgh, Helen Blier returned to her first love in ministry – teaching.

In late June, I packed my car with favorite books like old friends, my laptop, and a suitcase, and set the GPS to take me from Pittsburgh to Chicago. For a week, I get to revisit the good work that was my first call to ministry. For the past couple of years, a Midwestern seminary has invited me to teach religious education in their summer intensive program.

I wasn’t always an administrator. In 2006, I joined the staff of an accrediting agency, Association of Theological Schools. Last year I was invited to be part of the team at PTS, where I oversee Continuing Education. I happened into the work after a happy career in teaching—first high school, then grad school, ending up with a degree in religion and education. Those who knew me well were disappointed that I wasn’t teaching anymore. “Administration?” they thought. Really? Surely this was a placeholder until I could return to the classroom, where everyone—including me—knew I had been happiest professionally. Education wasn’t what I did. It was who I was. And these people thought I’d left my vocation behind.

I hadn’t. It didn’t happen right away, but I began to see that administration has a rich etymology that is often forgotten—administer, to ‘serve, carry out, to act as a servant, attend to the needs of.’ The heart of administration is ministry. I had always seen the ministerial aspects of good teaching. And at its core, how I did my work as an administrator didn’t end up differing from how I engaged my work as an educator.

What is that core? Animating the imagination of people as they learn to live the Gospel. Whether we are doing urban ministry, serving the homeless, church planting by day and serving coffee by night, overseeing committees, or teaching Sunday school, we are contributing to the places and opportunities that allow people to learn and live the good news—that God is already here, at work in the world, and is just waiting for us to use our gifts, whatever they are, for the sake of God’s reign.

When people ask me if I am an educator or a minister, I catch them off-guard by saying “Yes!” I am an administrator, directing Continuing Education at the Seminary. I might not be in a classroom anymore, but I have the joy of providing opportunities for those who are in classrooms—and pulpits, and hospital wards, and community gardens, and cafes—to reflect, celebrate, and live into their vocations too, wherever they might be.

Helen Blier is the director of continuing education at the Seminary. In this role she provides programs for pastors and laity to grow in their ministry.


7/18 2014

Bivocational Ministry: Barista, MDiv

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Chris Brown and Mike Gehrling, Church Planters for The Upper Room in Pittsburgh

I came to Pittsburgh from Colorado to get a Master of Divinity. I wanted to be a pastor. But three months after graduation, I was serving espresso in a local café. For the next five years, the 61C Café in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh would be my employer, my community, and my mission field. This wasn’t a mistake. It was exactly where God had called me to be.

Thus I was baptized into the world of bivocational ministry and church planting. Bivocational ministry is often called “tentmaking,” following the example of the Apostle Paul at times supported his ministry through the trade of making tents (Acts 18:3). Paul’s trade provided an income for him, but it also put him in touch with a diverse group of travelers and traders every day, giving him many opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When my friend and fellow alum Mike Gehrling and I answered God’s call to plant a new church in Squirrel Hill, we chose to follow Paul’s example and pursue bivocational ministry for the same reasons. We wanted not only to lighten the financial burden on a newly emerging congregation, but also to work in places that put us in relationship with the people to whom God was sending us.

So Mike took a part-time job with InterVarsity doing campus ministry at Carnegie Mellon University, building community with graduate students and faculty. And I took a job at a neighborhood café, where I became intimately acquainted with Squirrel Hill’s eclectic and eccentric population.

I didn’t need an MDiv to serve espresso or bake muffins, but I did need theological education to prepare me for the conversations that took place every day at the café. What was I to say when a regular customer told me about her struggles to care for her aging mother? Or when another customer asked for help fighting an addiction? Or when a college student plopped a book about Wicca on the counter while I make her drink? Or when coworker told me he couldn’t accept the idea that there is only one Truth?

These were real people, with real struggles, in need of real Gospel. And that’s precisely why I wanted to be there, rather than inside the walls of a church office. Over five years, our congregation, The Upper Room, has grown slowly from a small group to a house church to a chartered congregation, but I know without a doubt that some of the most important ministry I’ve done was in the café.

In February of 2014, I left the café to serve at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary as the coordinator of our Church Planting Initiative. Here I have the joy of supporting students in our Church Planting Emphasis MDiv. I’m still bivocational – serving part-time at PTS and part-time at The Upper Room – but now I have the joy of encouraging and supporting church planters as they embark on similar journeys.

In fact, two of our Church Planting Emphasis students now work at the same café where I served. There they encounter real people, with real struggles, in need of real Gospel. As students, they’re engaged in bivocational education, practicing ministry both in and outside the Church. In so doing, they’re both being formed for the future of the Church and following in ancient apostolic footsteps.

Written by the Rev. Christopher Brown (MDiv, 2008), Church Planting Initiative coordinator at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and co-pastor of The Upper Room Presbyterian Church.


7/17 2014

Ministry: God Qualifies the Called

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youth ministry in Pittsburgh

Joy Pedrow (second from right) felt called to ministry in her youth. She now interns with the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute.

What do you want to do when you grow up?”

This is most common asked question to a teenager or young adult, and the most hated. In high school, kids are 14-18 years old. At such a young age, it is challenging to completely know the answer to this question.

During my 10th grade year of high school in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, I started to get the call that God wanted me to go into ministry. What ministry has meant to me has changed over the years, but I knew two things: that I wanted to help people and that God was pretty cool. Combining those two things seemed perfect.

When I was asked that question, I felt embarrassed to share with others my heart’s desire for my career, so I would always reply, “Orthodontist.”

This was the safest way to go. If I would say, “I don’t know.” Then, I would get additional questions, “Well, what is your favorite subject? Did you like math? How about teaching? Etc.…”

These questions never helped me make any decision. Thus, I realized the safest thing to do was reply, “Orthodontist.” There were no follow up questions, just a nod of agreement and maybe an encouraging statement.

For a high schooler, it is extremely difficult to fully trust God with this subject. It is difficult to share with others when you are not 100 percent sure that this is what you will spend the rest of your life doing. Students also worry about what others will think of their choice. I worried people would not understand or they would try and talk me out of it.

The Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Seminary provided a safe place for students to discuss a call into ministry. There were many opportunities to ask questions, talk to peers, and begin to start trusting God with this decision.

When I was thinking about going into ministry, I believed the lie that one had to be perfect. I questioned, “How could I help people in their walks with God when I was not perfect?”

It is common to respond to God’s call for one’s life and say, “I’m not qualified.” My response now is, “Well, what is qualified? Name one person in the Bible who was qualified.”

Abraham lied about Sarah. Moses stuttered. Jonah ran away from God. Peter denied Jesus. The disciples fell asleep while praying. And there are more examples found all through scripture!

As you go through the process of figuring out your call, remember that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Joy Pedrow was born in Monroeville, Pa., and is now pursuing her communications degree at University of South Florida. An alumna of the program and now an intern, Joy is exploring her call to ministry with the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute.

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