Calling, Character and Competency: An Interview with Rev. Dr. Royce EvansBy Darrell Yoder on January 11, 2016
Over the last three years, I have had the privilege of working with and building a friendship with my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Royce Evans. Initially, I was impressed with the breadth of his ministry experience (and that's still true), but as I've gotten to know him and his heart for the Kingdom I've been even more inspired by his openness, humility and courage. I'm excited to say we've invited him to be on the Talking Points blog team, and I'm grateful for his wisdom and collaboration both behind the scenes and in print.
I was recently able to ask him a few questions that, if you don't know Dr. Evans, will give you a glimpse into his ministry and his passion for the Church.
DY: Describe your current role(s) at the seminary and how you came to be in this role.
RE: I currently serve as faculty, assistant professor of pastoral ministry, and staff as the director of the ministry residency and the Urban Cohort programs of GRTS. As a student in 2005 through 2008, I was involved in conversations with Cornerstone in general and the seminary in particular regarding how to make seminary education available to a constituency that was not engaged, that was representative of the Grand Rapids demographic. As efforts were made to recruit and assist these students, primarily from marginalized and bi-vocational contexts, I assisted in donor development to offset costs, administrative concerns for graduate level preparedness and competency and curricular development to offer ministry relevant courses.
DY: How have the Ministry Residency and Urban Cohort programs been impactful in students' preparation for ministry leadership? What opportunities do you see for students in these programs?
RE: There are many assumptions about what a call to ministry consists of, and what is necessary to adequately and competently serve the Kingdom and the universal Church. For traditional students, this is fleshed out not only through the Bible, ministry and theology courses but also in a contextual learning environment through the residency program. Students are able to practice ministry, preaching, teaching, sacramental service, etc., in a mentored environment that allows for a nurturing and supportive atmosphere, where foundational, transformational clarification of call can take place.
This becomes a "safe" place to identify, do and develop in ministry.
Urban Cohort students, who are mostly already engaged in mentored and/or practice-heavy environments of ministry, are afforded access to other ministry leaders where they can compare notes and discuss best methods for serving the Church in a context they have in common. They are also encouraged to develop collaborations and partnerships to maximize resources that are often scarce. This, too, is a place where they can consider ministry as a multi-denominational expression, with a greater awareness of theological thought, along with biblical practice. This is a "safe" place to learn, discuss and develop in their roles as leaders in the very broad context of ministry.
It is the institutional goal of both programs to become inclusive places of learning that provide for formative and reconciling efforts to become a multi-cultural iteration of what the Kingdom is created to reflect.
DY: You recently completed your Doctor of Ministry degree. What was your area of research, and what led you to focus on this area of study?
RE: My area of research was in "Call as Charismas, Character and Competency."
I was called into the ministry 27 years ago, and for me this was at the same time exciting and troubling. I was excited to recognize that God had not only called me, but had instilled gifts that would allow me to serve the Kingdom in a capacity very different from my lay gifts. I was troubled because I did not possess the academic, biblical and theological skill set others had acquired as the result of training at a college or seminary. To me this was an unsettling disconnect. I served successfully, I thought, in ministry for 14 years, but the tension that something greater was required would not go away. As a result, I enrolled in undergraduate work at Cornerstone, matriculated to seminary and have seen what I consider to be a significant difference pre- and post-academy engagement. I wondered how many others struggled with a similar tension, and decided to see not only the difference the academy makes but just how significant it was.
I conducted a focused 6-year study on identifiable pastoral competencies in a specific population both pre- and post-seminary training. We measured for discernable differences in the perception of ministry effectiveness both by the students themselves and by persons who were familiar with the ministry work of these leaders. The results we found were that the minimum improvement of perceived effectiveness was 30% in some areas and as much as 65% in others. This convinced me that the most effective service to the Church is not just a question of call and character, but also a matter of competency.
RE: My prayer is that persons on both sides of the conversation, students and institution, minority and majority, demonstrate a willingness and openness to have the troubling conversations about past and present transgressions and to engage in a redemptive dialogue about Kingdom expectations for God's creation. His desire for justice and advocacy for the marginalized and oppressed is not optional but is a requirement. This is not easy because it involves people and feelings. Our brokenness and fallenness, not to mention our enemy, inhibits this type of activity, but adherence to the biblical mandate to become one people, God's people, "from every tribe and nation," ought to be the aspiration and reality for every believer. The history of the "United" States also imposes a complexity that is not easily forgotten, but the Spirit of God is greater than he that is in the world. No matter how uncomfortable or formidable, this is a necessary priority for believers. I desire Cornerstone and GRTS both to be places where this is not just an expressed value but a demonstrated reality for all, students and staff alike.
DY: You recently took leadership of our mid-week chapel services for students, and they've grown in attendance. What do you see God doing in this context, and what are your hopes for this Spring semester?
RE: More accurately, I have simply taken on the role of coordinator of resources the Lord provides for this time of gathering to worship our God. In my time at seminary, amidst the busyness of note-taking, paper-writing, exegesis and Lord knows how much other stuff, I was always able to find pause and peace. This came in what was at the time a twice-a-week encouragement through the chapel experience. I especially resonated with the chapels that had worship and the Word as central to their theme and nature. I have prayerfully sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit in directing how this takes place and His provision of the speakers, worship leaders and themes has struck a chord with students, regarding the relevance of their academic experience and service to His church.
DY: What do you find to be most enjoyable or fulfilling about your work at GRTS?
RE: I love being among the people of God who have committed to know and serve Him as learners. We also do not shy away from knowing one another. Whether that is in our administrative, faculty or ministerial roles, or through our various genders and cultures, we all share the desire to serve Him with precision, accuracy and the highest level of competence which requires an ongoing transformational experience. I praise Him that He is not through with us yet.
About Royce Evans
Dr. Royce Evans is assistant professor of pastoral ministries and the executive director of ministry residency and the Urban Cohort program at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He has served in pastoral ministry for 28 years and continues to serve the Church through his preaching and teaching ministry. He earned his Doctor of Ministry from Western Seminary and his Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from GRTS. Dr. Evans has been married to Marilyn for 28 years and has four children and eight grandchildren.