They thought they might have to close its doors due to low attendance and a slim budget, but Drexel, Missouri’s Church of the Nazarene was not ready to give up. Now they are experiencing a resurgence and the spirit of enthusiasm is palpable. The difference? Ministry students from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas are reenergizing this church with their presence and passion. Every Sunday they travel to Drexel to sing, preach and teach this small group of believers and they love every minute of it.
Dr. Jeren Rowell’s supervises the Nazarene churches on the denomination’s Kansas City district. In talks with the little church he learned they “weren’t done.” So this fall District Superintendent Rowell approached professors in the Department of Christian Ministry and Formation at MNU with an idea. What would they think about a partnership between students in the Introduction to Ministry course and the Drexel church? As Rowell and Drs. Don Dunn and Randy Cloud, professors at MNU talked, they liked the idea of immersing students in what Rowell called a ‘live laboratory.” A real church that needed help provided by student ministers that needed experience. Rowell had paved the way with the people of Drexel who were open to the idea.
“They said come practice on us,” Dunn said of the congregants. “They know it is not going to be perfect and they are good with that. It’s such good practice for our students, too.”
The students are able to practice all the skills needed to hold church services. They preach, lead worship, conduct communion, teach Sunday School, handle outreach and communicate with the congregation. The professors say the opportunity is unique not only due to the breadth of the experience, but also because these students are freshmen and sophomores.
“Our junior and senior ministry majors already have places of service that are required in their major, so these are first and second year students,” Cloud says. “They are getting experience that can’t be matched and is great preparation for the rest of their training.”
Freshmen ministry majors Div Tosingilo, from Iowa City, Iowa and Jillian Mariani, from Cincinnati, Ohio, are the two point people on the Drexel team. Working together they recruit students from their class to preach, lead worship, teach Sunday School and handle all Sunday responsibilities. They take it seriously, understanding that the people of Drexel depend on them each week. They took care to schedule local student ministers during the university’s Christmas break so the church experienced no lapse in services over the holidays.
Eight to ten students meet on the Olathe campus on every Sunday morning to carpool to Drexel. Sometimes they have a pianist, a guitarist and a couple of vocalists to lead worship. Other times two guitarists and a vocalist. Always there are students who see this not only as a learning experience, but also as the opportunity to minister to others long before they complete their training.
“It’s awesome to get this experience; this has confirmed my calling to pastoral ministry,” says Mariani. “I said, ‘if there is fruit to my preaching, then I will know my calling is true.’ People have come to me after I preached and told me they needed to hear what I said. That let me know its [calling] real.”
Tosingilo echoes her thoughts.
“Whatever I was going through that week when I preached, I had a lady pull me aside afterwards and say, ‘you really impacted my life.’ That’s what really matters to me,” he says.
Cloud related a story about one Drexel young person who reached out to a MNU ministry student during the week.
“Our student recognized this person’s need and was texting back and forth, following up with them,” Cloud says. “They thought enough of the student to contact him when they needed help. That says our students are really taking over the pastoral responsibilities, not just the Sunday morning service.”
Everyone involved agrees that it takes all parties to make this unusual partnership work. Cloud and the students agree that the Drexel congregation is just as enthusiastic as the students are. At Thanksgiving season the congregation held the first potluck the church has had in years. There just weren’t enough people to have a potluck before.
Tosingilo says “you should have seen the food.” Cloud added that the potluck made the people feel like things were back to normal.
“They want to do a potluck for us every month,” said Dunn.
Rowell is pleased with the partnership as a solution to the Drexel church’s difficult situation.
“The church was in a different season, trying to determine what ministry should look like for them,” he says about the time before MNU students started ministry there. “It is tremendous how this is working given the willingness and ability of Dr. Cloud and Dr. Dunn to mentor the students in this setting. That’s what is making it work.”
He also credits the church people themselves. “They are extremely positive and excited about the energy there now,” he says.
Drexel laymen are interested in taking the partnership with MNU further by utilizing the student ministers to have youth events and start a calling program.
Dunn has taken the idea a step further and along with MNU Church Relations Director Rev. Kevin Borger has created a new program as a result. Calling it Apostolos, which is Greek for Apostle, one who is sent with a message, the program will provide ministry students for churches that need to fill a pulpit for one Sunday or longer. Students must complete the Introduction to Preaching course to be eligible. Then they will be trained by Church Relations staff to be placed in a temporary position.
MNU offers four majors in the Department of Christian Ministry and Formation. Students can major in Bible and Theology, Ministry, Intercultural Studies, Children & Family Ministry and Youth & Family Ministry. For more information visit www.mnu.edu.