This year, the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics, previously a one-day public event, added a new wrinkle: following the Thursday afternoon public lectures, a Friday morning of closer interaction between Howard Payne University students and the lecturers.
Breakfast with Ministerial Alliance officers
The morning began with a breakfast between the presenters - Suzii Paynter, Welton Gaddy, and Stephen Reeves - and the six students who have served this school year as officers of the Howard Payne Ministerial Alliance. It was an informal setting in which the presenters got to know the students and vice-versa. During the discussions, the students shared their own ethical concerns and the particular calling from God that each has sensed. But they also took the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters and gain a better understanding of the paths on which God has led these Baptist leaders.
Following the breakfast, Welton Gaddy spoke to a preaching class. Again, there was an informal atmosphere that made the students feel free to ask questions and interact with the speaker, and they did just that.
Gaddy stressed to the students that "preaching is not an isolated task" and that they should be respectful and attentive when others are making their own "gifts of worship," such as, for example, an organist playing a prelude.
Gaddy also pointed out that preaching must be relevant to the times. He quoted James Cleland, former dean of the Duke University Chapel, as saying, "The Gospel is best diagrammed as an ellipse, with the contemporary situation at one end and the biblical text at the other end."
"There must be interaction," Gaddy said, "between then and now."
He urged the students, when writing a sermon, to know their congregation, envision those who will be hearing the sermon, and be sensitive to how they might hear what is being said. "The preacher," he said, "should ask him or herself, 'what time is it . . . in the Christian year . . . and in the community?'" In other words, he explained, "are there recent events in the community that call for a response from the pulpit?"
On the other hand, Gaddy reminded the students, there would be times when they might find themselves stumped for a word from God in response to a particular issue or situation. "Don't ever be afraid to say, 'I know we need a word from God, but I'm not sure what it is.'"
The congregation, he said, will tend to trust a preacher who admits that she or he doesn't always know what to say. "There are few people who can pastor from a pedestal. You need to be down where the people are."
Ministerial Alliance members
The Lectures ended with a presentation, to the members of the Howard Payne Ministerial Alliance, by Suzii Paynter and Stephen Reeves on the work of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. Students were given an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the presentation.
Paynter emphasized that the Baptist General Convention of Texas, often thought of in terms of its institutions, is truly a relational body, not an institutional body. She emphasized the growing number of Hispanic and African-American churches relating to the BGCT, as well as the 700 chaplains serving in the BGCT's Advocacy and Care Center, which she directs. These chaplains serve a diverse population, including bikers, prison inmates, hospital patients, and members of the military.
Paynter mentioned that, in serving the Christian Life Commission, she and Reeves are registered lobbyists with the Texas Legislature. Then she contrasted the CLC's brand of lobbying with that of other lobbyists and political action groups. Other groups focus on one main issue and maybe two or three side issues, she said, whereas the CLC is involved in 12 different issue areas. Because of this, the CLC "convenes disparate groups, a witness to the whole community."
Paynter urged the ministers-in-training to "connect with elected officials. By virtue of your call, you are already a leader for Christ. Part of your responsibility is to work with civic officials."
Reeves said, "We need to talk with each other, including those who disagree with us; model Christian behavior in how we treat others."
Meeting Baptist leaders can change students' lives
I owe a debt of gratitude to Dean Donnie Auvenshine for inviting me to attend Friday's student-focused events. It gave me an opportunity to speak with some of the students one-on-one, particularly at the breakfast with the Ministerial Alliance officers. But it also let me see, up close, the value of personal interaction between our Texas Baptist students and Baptist leaders.
Dean Auvenshine told about his first meeting with Phil Strickland, the late director of the Texas Baptist CLC. Auvenshine and David Currie were Howard Payne students, and Strickland came to speak on the Howard Payne campus. Auvenshine and Currie went out to dinner with Strickland, and it changed their lives. Getting to speak one-on-one with someone who was making a serious contribution to ministry in Baptist life made an impact on them.
So it is with the opportunities Howard Payne University is now providing students through the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. This lecture series is made possible through the generosity of Gary and Mollie Elliston, and their investment is paying dividends in the lives of students.