It is no exaggeration to say that I don’t know how married or how Christian I would have been walking across the stage to receive my diploma were it not for the grace of God in between the lines. The grace I received from these in-between spaces slowly reshaped my fear of seminary as a cemetery for faith into a place of rescue. These in-between spaces made seminary a cemetery for my most precious idols.
The really uncomfortable, too soon, unusually deep experience of a formation retreat in month one was the avenue of grace I wouldn’t have asked for and didn’t know I needed to be the man I am today. In that first month, I had no idea that I would need a community to translate my four-year plan and all the life that happened in between credits into what I actually needed to look more like Jesus.
I researched. I planned. I mapped out each class. But the aspects of my experience at GRTS for which I am most grateful all happened in between the lines, interpreted by my brothers and sisters in Christ. They happened during unplanned moments, about unresearched topics, in uncharted territory, within the slim margins of a calendar too full and yet filled with the life I needed. These were my moments of remembrance.
The story of Joshua 4 and the command of Deuteronomy 11 give us a window into how well God knows us. He knows how easily we forget and how often we need to be reminded. In a physical, earthy, dirt-under-your-fingernails kind of way, the people of Israel are told to set up stones to remind themselves and to serve as provocations for their children to ask, “What was that about?” These moments became opportunities for parents to tell their children of God and His character.
Looking back on my four years at GRTS, the moments I didn’t quite understand at the time have become the markers of remembrance that I can now use to tell of God’s incredible mercy in shaping me, breaking me and building me into a pastor who leads from vulnerability rather than runs from it. From hard conversations where I was challenged about my critical spirit to all the small ways a community showered our firstborn with the depth of love that we thought only we could give her to sitting in the hospital together after unexpected surgery for an unexpected miscarriage. These are the moments that papers and worksheets can’t capture, but papers and worksheets in the community can clarify. In an even more important way, these have become my provocations to remind myself and others of the kind of God we study for almost 100 credits.
And yet, I have to confess that walking across that stage a larger part of me than I would like to admit still believed that it was my transcript alone that determined my readiness for ministry. For all those moments where God used classes and professors and brave friends in hard conversations to make me into a humbler and more gracious person, I still wanted graduation to mark me as “enough.”
Walking into a hospital room and hearing a saint describe the faithfulness of God over decades as they approached death has marked me with a different word: “dependent.” There is something about experiencing God over decades that no diploma or G.P.A. can ever convey.
Thinking back on years of Hebrew flashcards, Greek paradigms, Residency workshops and exegetical papers, I think I finally understand that I will spend the rest of my life catching my experience of God up with my knowledge of God. A diploma that reads “Master of Divinity” is only partly right. What I know does not equal what I’ve experienced. My maturity in Christ is not predicated upon how much I know about Him, but how deeply I know Him. My training matters, but it does not make me mature—it makes me accountable.
For the rest of my life as a Christian, working out my callings both as a believer identified with Christ and a pastor serving the body, I have to consistently cultivate the kind of humility that understands I will never be a master of the divine, that I must live the kind of life that is mastered by the divine. By Jesus. And that is enough work for 10 lifetimes.