With the arrival last summer of several new Yellowstone Theological Institute team members, my job has gotten simpler. Rachel Toombs has now taken over Old Testament classes while I focus on the New Testament and Ministerial Studies, my specialty. But I am most relieved by the fact that Scott Hamilton is our new Provost (chief academic officer). It was a hat that I never thought fit me well. Having passed it on, I can give more energy and time to my other job at YTI, Church Relations!
Toward a Confident Constituency
Obviously, a new seminary with no denominational ties has a lot of work to do in developing an aware, appreciative, and affirming constituency. Pastors and their churches in Montana and across the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest need to know that we are here, share a sense of the vision we espouse, believe in what we are doing, and stand ready to support us. We need their prayers, their recommendations to prospective students, their readiness to receive our graduates as co-laborers, and their blessing in a general sense to thrive in this setting.
Building awareness and trust that lead to endorsement and support is a lengthy process. It takes a significant amount of face-to-face, heart-to-heart, personal interaction. Strong relationships must be forged over time. This is the challenge that I now face as Director of Church Relations for YTI. For the broader Rocky Mountain region, the task is daunting. Fortunately, in the Bozeman area I am able to make appointments, drop by, take pastors to coffee, meet in prayer, provide pulpit supply, host an informational luncheon, show up for worship, or participate in a community service project. But it is still demanding. Pastors are busy people with many competing voices vying for their attention. Serving their congregations faithfully, they can find it hard to work one more appointment into their schedules. Sometimes there is little room for me. I get that. But I believe that YTI exists for the Kingdom of God, the support of churches, and for our broken world. God has birthed YTI as a blessing, not a burden.
Fortunately, I have discovered broad bands of curiosity, receptivity, and genuine excitement towards YTI in the Christian community of the Gallatin Valley…and it is growing outward! Most importantly, I have experienced a unique “fellowship” with leaders of a vast variety of churches. While our perspectives might differ on matters such as the significance of the eucharist, style of worship, means of baptism, practice of spiritual gifts, church polity, the place of tradition in biblical interpretation, or priorities for social action, I have discovered that our passions are similar—we love the Father who created us, we love the Son who gave his life for us, we love the Spirit who stirs and empowers us, and we love the broken world in which we live that desperately needs us to work together in the Lord to see it healed. We share a sense of God calling us to lay down our lives for the sake of sharing His love for our world. I celebrate so much in common with Christians across the wide spectrum of diversity that is Christianity.
My work to build strong relationships with churches who will someday see themselves as “partners” with Yellowstone Theological Institute is laid out before me. It will take time and effort. It will require frequent communication and personal connection. We will need to “prove” ourselves. But I have tasted a “communion” between brother and brother, or brother and sister, that convinces me that there is a bright future ahead in drawing churches, para-church organizations, and YTI close together as partners to serve the Lord and to bless our world. Where we sense God at work among us, we will “endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” I love my job as the Church Relations point person for YTI!