World-class expert Dr. Heath Thomas taught School of Ministry graduate students about the lost art of lament during a week-long intensive to start the semester.
He was joined by a cast of local ministers who spoke about how to incorporate the spiritual discipline in counseling, worship, proclamation and community engagement.
The graduate School of Ministry offers a weeklong intensive every year, said Dr. Justin K. Hardin, assistant dean and professor of biblical and theological studies. It is taught by the foremost religious scholars.
Hardin cast the vision for unconventional course, which usually has only one guest lecturer.
“Despite the ubiquitous human experience of suffering and loss, our culture often avoids the topic of lament,” Hardin said. “God’s Word, however, encourages us to cry out to our loving Father in times of pain. We therefore offered this important course to help prepare our students for living out and sharing this message of hope in Jesus Christ."
Faculty select the topic of each year’s intensive based on the specialty of the visiting scholar. There are only a handful of Lamentations experts in the world, and Thomas is one of them, said Dr. Brittany Melton, the professor of record for the course.
Thomas, the newly-installed president of Oklahoma Baptist University, co-edited “Great Is Thy Faithfulness? Reading Lamentations as Sacred Scripture,” which was among the assigned reading.
As current or future ministers, students need to learn how to express their grief so that they can help people in their churches and communities do the same, Melton said. Pastors and ministry leaders who haven’t done the work have great potential to harm other people by ministering out of their own need
“There’s a disconnect between people’s theology and experience,” she said. “We can’t help people lament until we’ve lamented ourselves.”
Hunter Wheatcraft ’18, a Master of Divinity student, said the intensive “has been the most helpful combination of pastoral and academic growth that a course could offer.” Wheatcraft is the children’s and young adult pastor at Covenant Fellowship Baptist Church in Stuart, Florida.
“If the church is going to minister to the hurting, then we have to understand hurt and how the Bible understands hurt,” he said.
Master of Divinity student Kerwin Santiago, pastor of the Spanish church Tabernáculo Internacional, said he benefited from learning prayer language.
“You can express complaint and even protest to God and still be faithful,” Santiago said. “If I practice it, it will change me. I can help lead others in that process.”
Guest lecturers included Rev. Shawn Allen, senior pastor of Church in the Palms; Rev. Keith Case and Sarah Claire Smith, soul care ministry director at Providencia Church; Rev. Dr. Jovan T. Davis, senior pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church and Rev. Kevin L. Jones, assistant pastor of Tabernacle Church.
The course touched on racial justice, a topic that will carry into the Jess Moody Faith & Culture Forum Feb. 13, Melton said. Tabernacle Church will host a panel discussion for the public 7:30 p.m. Guest speakers are Jemar Tisby, author of “The Color of Compromise” and national speaker; Rev. Dr. John Nunes, president of Concordia College-New York and Dr. Oscar García-Johnson, assistant provost for the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community at Fuller Seminary.
Grace Postorino ’16, a Master of Arts in Christian Studies student, plans to write curriculum for Bible studies and Christian schools. To that end, she is completing an apprenticeship with Family Church Village this semester. The course was an important reminder that the Bible studies she writes should point people to hope while still giving them space to mourn, she said.
Jake Graybill ’19, another Master of Arts in Christian Studies student, said the course equipped him to experience life more wholeheartedly with people around him who are hurting. In the future, he aspires to do ministry through a restaurant or other business.
Photo 1: Kerwin Santiago, Dr. Justin Hardin (back), Megan Alsene, Grace Postorino, Dr. Brittany Melton, Hunter Wheatcraft (back), Dr. Heath Thomas, Jake Graybill, Korey Schaffer and Rev. Dr. Jovan T. Davis pause for a photo in the courtyard of Memorial Presbyterian Church during a break from the graduate School of Ministry intensive on lament. Dr. Heath Thomas, one of the few experts on lament, taught the morning sessions, and guest lecturers such as Davis taught the afternoon sessions.
Photo 2: Rev. Dr. Jovan T. Davis introduces himself and the topic of lament and proclamation during the graduate School of Ministry intensive at the start of the semester. Davis and other guest lecturers taught about lament in various aspects of ministry during afternoon sessions.
Photo 3: Rev. Dr. Javon T. Davis and Master of Arts in Christian Studies student Jake Graybill listen as another student shares about lament during a graduate School of Ministry intensive on the same subject. Davis taught about lament and proclamation.