What do you do?
I’m pastor of the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Los Angeles, and I’m also completing an doctoral program in education (Ed.D.) at the University of Southern California. I’m writing my dissertation now and expect to graduate in May 2015. So I’m a pastor, educator, and spiritual leader in the community. My doctoral program is a great opportunity to examine the challenges and resources for pastoral leadership in the twenty-first century. In particular, I’m investigating the skills needed for pastors in a changing cultural context. The general trend is that congregations are losing members and financial giving is down. At the same time, pastors are working hard (on average 57 hours per week) and showing signs of stress and fatigue. But are they working smarter? Yes, pastors show a high level of job satisfaction, but they have multiple demands on them and don’t always manage to lead effectively. My dissertation is a qualitative study based on my in-depth interviews with five pastors, and I’m hoping this can be a useful resource for other pastors and for seminaries as they train spiritual leaders. Both Union and USC are remarkable institutions. If I had to choose a seminary all over again, I would choose Union. And that’s true for me about USC, as well.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The very best thing is being able to share God’s love, teach people about the gospel, and help them tap into their purpose, their passion, and then encourage them to go for it. I love preaching. And I really enjoy helping people discover and walk in the love of God. Even when ministry becomes challenging and hard, God is in the whole thing.
How did Union prepare you for this?
Union did well in preparing me for my vocation, especially in teaching biblical scholarship and exegetical tools, which I use week in and week out when I prepare to preach. Everyone needs a resource toolbox. Union also provided me with theological grounding, helped me to articulate my own theology, and encouraged me to find my own voice. At Union I also came to value even more deeply the power of community, which I try to emulate here at Zion Hill. It’s a small thing, but emblematic of Union: in the laundry room in McGiffert Hall, people would leave out clothes and books for the taking. Sometimes you left things; other times you picked things up. The Union community is all about sharing, tolerance, and activism. That can come at a price, but it needs to come. Bob Seaver taught me practical things about how to speak publicly. Chung Hyun Kyung, Professor of EcumenicalStudies, taught me meditation. That was my first course in my first semester at Union, and I carry it with me. It’s part of my Sunday preparation. I sit and meditate. And I draw on that course when I work with young people who are struggling. I teach them chanting and walking meditation. It can have such a positive effect.
How have you stayed connected to Union?
I co-chair Union’s Alumni/ae Council. Staying connected was much easier when we still lived in New York, and I could more easily attend events on campus like Trailblazers and Union Days. Here on the West Coast, I read my Union email. A February lecture coming up by Hal Taussig jumped out at me. I’m glad Union is live- streaming more events and making podcasts available online. I’m also very excited about the Union Alumni/ae Network chapter in Los Angeles. I’ve already made good personal and professional contacts because of that network. And, of course, there’s the call to give back financially, especially for a good cause like the Eunice Jackson and Ella Mitchell Endowment Fund for a chair in Womanist theology. I love the energy around that effort.
What would you say to someone considering going to Union?
Definitely go visit. See if Union is a good fit. And count the cost. Arguably, Union provides the best theological education that you can buy, so if you value quality, then Union is the right place. And you also get New York! Union is the right place if you want to lead the church for the next generations. Come see for yourself what all the fuss is about.