As a new teacher at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, I have been asked often as of late “How do you like it?”
My answer is simple. “I’m having a blast!” To be honest, that has been a big surprise to me.
Transitioning from pastoral ministry to an academic setting was not easy heart-wise. Having just visited Indiana this past weekend, I was reminded again of how I miss greatly the congregation I left, the personal interactions with the people we love, and regularly ministering God’s Word to a dear flock of His people. God’s heart, Christ’s blood, and the Spirit’s presence are with the local church in a particular way. The man who is set apart to administer God’s care to the church has a very special assignment.
Truly feeling that way, to be honest I just did not think I could be as joyful about ministry coming to a seminary. I knew I would enjoy being around the godly and talented faculty and staff at RPTS. I looked forward to interaction with the students in and outside the classroom. Yet I was unsure I would be able to enjoy fully this ministry context.
However, I have been simply overwhelmed with gratitude and astonishment over the way the Lord is working here at RPTS. To be a part of the seminary community at this unique and opportune time is to see the mighty workings of God. Let me highlight three of those.
The transformation of the seminary community. When I came as a student here two and a half decades ago, the beautiful seminary building, on the edge of Wilkinsburg, seemed to be a lonely sentinel in a battle-scarred neighborhood. A bar across the street had shootings and murders. Many of the houses were neglected and rundown. Graffiti was everywhere. Almost every student lived at a distance and drove in.
Now when I come into work, I see homes that are nicely kept. Students with their families, many from foreign lands, live in nearby homes now owned by those in the seminary community. Children are playing in the yards. Mothers are visiting one another. The ever-smiling Paul Martin, who supervises the care of the facilities, always seems to have a team of student workers close by taking care of the grounds and building. Amazingly, the old bar across the street is now the Willson Counseling Center, so now the Lord is transforming drunkards and the murderous through the Biblical counseling of George Scipione and his assistants. Though those ministering in Wilkinsburg will be quick to point out rightly there is still much work to be done here, still it is true that in the immediate neighborhood of the seminary, like the story of the Ugly Duckling, the change is dramatic.
The incredible students the Lord is bringing. I included this picture my friend Mark Sampson took after my first class not because I am in it, but because of the students who are not in the picture. You see, two of my students could not be in the picture because they will soon be returning to a nation whose government is hostile to the gospel, so their identity must be protected. How humbling it is to be teaching men who will be making sacrifices for the gospel I have only heard or read about, especially knowing some of these men are university professors already more educated than I.
Think of these further things and marvel:
- Currently, we have more Reformed Presbyterian students from one country across the ocean than we do from the USA!
- As one friend pointed out to me, we have more students from India than we do Indiana!
- RPTS continues to enjoy good relationships with the African American community here in Pittsburgh, and doors appear to be opening to experience the blessing of having some of these men minister more fully in our midst.
Now, I need to quickly say the students who are in the picture are great guys and godly men also! But I should add one or two of them also hearken from other lands!
The opening of doors through the internet. For years, the board and administration of RPTS have wrestled with whether to try and provide distance education or not. The tidal change in education the internet has brought, the increasing desire expressed to RPTS for this venue, and, perhaps most importantly, the provision by the Lord of those knowledgeable of the field have now turned those wrestlings into a blessing. The Lord has brought Aaron Sams to RPTS, and his experience and expertise in this field are resulting in classes now being offered over the internet. Students will be able to get up to one year of their education online. Potential students can take a class or two to see what seminary education is like and what a blessing it would be to learn from men like Rick Gamble or C.J. Williams.
Yet it appears the potential here is much greater than even imagined. Inquiries from a number of developing reformed communities in other nations are being processed and explored. Making certain content available for Sunday School classes or personal use is being strongly considered. Partnering with other ministries to distribute this material is being pursued.
With all of this swirling about, I like hearing the concrete, individual stories. With my office next to his, the other day I heard Aaron moan in agony then later shout in triumph as he hit a snag in putting videos on the internet for a student in a nation very hostile to Christianity. The country the student is in had a popular video venue blocked, thus the moan. But later Aaron found another site willing to host it that had access to that nation. Hearing gospel battles in cyberspace taking place in the next office is pretty exciting! Who needs video games?
It is a great time to come virtually or in person to RPTS! If you are thinking about theological education for pastoral ministry or other areas of service, you should consider attending. To find out more, visit the website or send an email to apply@RPTS.edu.