GRTS “Bridging Worlds” Conference Brings Grand Rapids Community Together
by Meredith Sweet (B.S. '17)
On March 14, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary hosted its spring Talking Points Conference, titled "Bridging Worlds." The conference focused on teaching pastors and counselors how to bridge the different cultural context between when the Bible was written and and where we are today.
Darrell Yoder, director of the Pirsig Fellowship and the Talking Points Conference at GRTS, thinks of these events as a way to reach out not only to the students, but also to the pastors, counselors and ministry leaders of Grand Rapids.
"It's really our effort to give back to the community, to serve," Yoder said. "Most of what a seminary does is bring students in for programs. Talking Points is an important way for us to reach out and serve the community."
The conference featured seven unique speakers, including four GRTS faculty members: Rev. Dr. Royce Evans, Dr. Timothy Gombis, Dr. Jonathan Greer and adjunct professor of Bible Jennifer Greer. Other speakers included local pastors Dr. Howard Earle, Jeff Manion and Rod Vansolkema.
GRTS student Andrew Kischner noted how the conference used its speakers to impact the effectiveness and relatability of the topic.
"The way that it was designed, and then showcasing their ability to take complex passages that are hard to interpret and preach them well, I think that was a highlight for me," Kischner said.
Yoder cited how inviting local pastors, both as speakers and attendees, creates unique opportunities for GRTS students looking to go into the ministry.
"You feel the weightiness of the role, what you're doing, and it can even be a lonely process for a lot of pastors," Yoder said. "So, I think it was really encouraging for a lot of people to be among peers and hear some very successful, in terms of church size and longevity of ministry, pastors, just talking about the struggle and how they think through it."
Kischner mentioned Manion's final portion of the conference to be specifically encouraging.
"It really hit home on a lot of key points for pastors who are in the trenches every week, preaching and teaching, who are potentially burned out and don't know what they're going to do next," Kischner said. "For [Manion] to provide a needed word of encouragement was really powerful."
While the seminary featured four faculty members at the conference, Yoder spoke to the importance of using the people and pastors of Grand Rapids as resources for these sorts of events.
"Depending on the topic, we don't have experts in everything, so I don't want to limit us to just what we can speak to," Yoder said. "Then we're going to be less culturally engaged, because we can't talk about everything, and we're not all experts on everything. So it's like, okay, let's bring in some outside people, when needed, who can really help the church. So, the end goal is to help ministry leaders, pastors, counselors and the church with what they are needing. If our people can speak to it, we’ll do that. If we need to get outside people to speak to it, we'll do that, too. A lot of times, it's going to be a combination of both."
Using the theme of "Bridging Worlds," Yoder designed the conference not only to build a bridge across the cultures of history, but also across the cultures of the universal church.
"GRTS as a student body is rather diverse and especially with the Urban Cohort program, we've been serving a lot of urban ministry leaders, which is more recent within the last ten years," Yoder said. "That's a growth area, but that's one that we hope is happening and that will continue to happen."
In terms of biblical perspective, Kischner restated the importance of studying the Bible in its original context.
"Without proper training in how to interpret what the scriptures are actually saying before you try to creatively or artistically communicate them, you're doing a disservice to the word of God," Kischner said. "It does require a lot of study and a lot of work to see the intent that the author had when writing a letter or writing a narrative, and get behind what that intent was, using all sorts of tools like Dr. Greer or Dr. Gombis talked about, whether it's the Old or New Testament, that, to be honest, are typically very foreign to us."
The next Talking Points conference is scheduled for Oct. 17, 2017, relating to the topic of loving LGBT+ people with the gospel. Scheduled speakers include Dr. Preston Sprinkle and GRTS alumni Matt and Laurie Krieg.
Yoder defined the upcoming conference in terms of practical biblical responses that Christian leaders can take in regard to sexuality.
"There's pressures on the church in certain ways, and there's pressures not to respond in other ways, pressures from the outside, pressures from the inside," Yoder said. "How does a pastor, the elders, the deacons of a church think through policies? How does a counselor think through, 'what do I do with people who came with needs that I haven't had myself, and don't know anybody who has?'"
Yoder acknowledged that this topic, while sensitive, requires necessary and thoughtful reflection as ministry leaders determine how they can help those around them, as they are image-bearers of God.
"This time, the question won't be, 'which view is right?'" Yoder said. "That would be a valuable conference that could be useful, but this time, the question is going to be, 'if you have a traditional view, how do you serve people and serve people well, and not be an unsafe place. How do you be a safe place for people to come, wrestle honestly with the journey they're on, be loved, be honored with the dignity that they have as a human being and be guided.' Our belief is that you can do that, we must do that, within a traditional view of sexuality and marriage and gender."