BACKGROUND OF NEED
The programs of New York Divinity School have been created to serve the pastoral and lay ministry training purposes of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church—of the City, in the City and for the City. These programs also have been designed to meet the quality assurance standards of the New York State Education Department as well as the standards of the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, the leading professional association for ministry-training institutions.
1. Measurable Needs of Classic Christian Leadership in New York City and in the Metropolitan Area
In a July 7, 2000 article in the Wall Street Journal, staff writer Susan Lee estimated that more than 4.5 million people in the metropolitan area believe that the Bible is the final authority for behavior and belief. Our own estimations agree, as does the research of New York metropolitan area Christian radio stations WMCA and WWDJ. Without more effective Word-based leadership, most of these people will remain alienated from God and the Church.
Pew Charitable Trusts and the Henry Luce Foundation funded a research project on “What do evangelical Churches in the City need?” The term “evangelical” was defined in terms of believing the Bible is the final authority for behavior and belief, and believing in Jesus’ literal resurrection from death—regardless of ethnicity, political orientation, or denomination. We now call these “classic Christians,” for want of a better term.
Paul de Vries, Ph.D., who led the project, hired two sociologists with the Interntional Research Institute, whose careful research revealed that a shocking 94% of the City’s entire “classic Christian” ministry base (of more than 7,000 pastors and ministry leaders in the five boroughs) have not completed an accredited seminary training. A full 80% of these ministers in the City have not completed even one seminary course! For years there has been plenty of anecdotal evidence for this appalling dearth of excellent training. This timely research provided the measurable data that confirmed what people had known within their own active networks.
Becoming fully equipped for Godly leadership is the real goal—not seminary courses or certificates, but this data helps explain the wide-spread lack of effective lay and pastoral leadership, the seeming powerlessness of most Churches, and the urgent leadership crises of the Christian community outlined below on the next pages.
The Pew-Luce research also revealed that the classic Christian ministers’ greatest priority for Christian impact is a City-based seminary program rooted in holistic Biblical teaching. A surprising 68% of these ministers said the first priority for the Churches in the area of training was to establish an accredited City-based seminary that is committed to the authority of the Bible for behavior and belief.
In addition, the Pew-Luce researchers examined over one hundred (100) “Bible institutes”–all of them unaccredited—that have attempted to fill the some of the training vacuum. However, for a variety of reasons, New York’s Bible institutes have not been up to the task even for the thousands of students that they draw in the City. Their training remains on a beginning college level, at best, even though 27% of their students already have an undergraduate degree and would qualify for seminary-level training.
The question of the day: Why has such a small proportion of classic Christian ministers in the five boroughs of the City received any seminary training? The available City-based seminaries do not serve their needs. Only four seminaries based in the City are accredited: General Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary. While all fine institutions in their own right, none of these four accredited seminaries of the City affirm the historic Christian faith, nor the classic Christian affirmation of the Bible as the final authority for behavior and belief; most of their professors, for example, do not even believe Jesus rose from the dead. Surprisingly, in the 304-mile stretch between Philadelphia and Boston, only one accredited seminary is in this classic Christian tradition: the Alliance Theological Seminary, 30 miles north of Times Square and with an extension in the City. NYDS is unique, being based in the City, while attending to the City’s holistic leadership-training needs under the authority of the Bible for behavior and belief.
Now, there are data far more critical than the fact that 94% of classic Christian ministers do not have complete seminary training. It is the present dramatic dangerous deterioration of Church leadership and participation. New York City is now in a Church leadership crisis—that cries out for the assistance of Godly people in the City and elsewhere:
Þ In immigrant populations the crisis is seen in the behavioral differences between immigrant parents and their adult children, the so-called “1.5 and 2nd generation.” Of the Hispanic immigrant families who participate in Church, only 20% of their adult children participate. Even more tragic, of the Korean immigrant families who attend Church, about 10% of their adult children attend. They are generally not attracted either to Churches led by non-English speaking pastors unprepared for urban ministry, or to other Churches that do not honor their cultural sensitivities.
Þ Many Bible-based Churches are almost empty, even though they may have attractive sanctuaries in prime locations. For example, 70% of African-Americans went to Church at least once a month thirty years ago; in 2002 it was only 27% in the City – and an even lower percentage of young adult African-Americans who are well-educated and in the professions attend Church. There are a few great exceptions, but a pastor without professional training will be challenged to minister to the present, more educated, African-American and ethnic populations.
Þ Classic Christians are grossly underrepresented in positions of government, business and professional leadership. The full applications of the Word’s light to all the paths and streets of life have not been explored or developed. Most pastors and lay people are not engaged either in transformational leadership or in holistic ministry. The Biblical teachings on strategic Gospel leadership for individual, social and structural transformation remain mostly ignored. Only a tiny minority know and understand the Christian worldview.
Þ New York City is the education capital of the USA, with more than 450,000 students in colleges and universities within the five boroughs. How very sad that the City has the least prepared classic Christian clergy of any major American city.
Þ In a related fact, the City’s non-white ethnic populations increasingly include well-trained lawyers, physicians, teachers, nurses, engineers, MBAs and people with other professional training. Meanwhile, opportunities for pastors’ professional training in classic Christian ministry have not been available, even though non-white pastors still generally have the honored roles of community leaders. These pastors choose not to attend an accredited seminary for ministry training that is inconsistent with their own classic Christian commitments—at least their commitments to the authority of the Bible for behavior and belief and to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, of tragic necessity, these pastors have avoided professional training and generally have turned only to the Bible institutes for training instead.
Þ After 9/11, most of the classic Christian ministry at the attack site and grieving centers was provided by out-of-town ministers. Most New York area protestant pastors did not have professional training, and they were explicitly excluded from this trauma-response ministry, although these under-trained pastors are the ones still ministering in the City long after the trained visiting ministers have left. Perhaps this tragic crisis alone would be reason enough to recognize the need for a quality seminary program under the authority of the Bible for behavior and belief. It would certainly be naïve to think that there will be no more attempted terrorist attacks on New York City, and thus no more need for quality ministry training. And next time there might not be such a huge wave of skilled ministers coming to New York from out of state as there was in 2001.
2. The Mission of NYDS in Answer to the Church’s Needs
The purpose of New York Divinity School, as selected by a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational team of fifty pastors, is to equip both clergy and lay people with an exceptional educational experience in the holistic values and practice taught in the Bible, in order to prepare them for leadership in their Church, their workplace, their profession or vocation, and their community.
All faculty members have years of fruitful experience in front-line ministry, and all affirm the Bible as the final source of guidance in behavior and belief, not just in theology. Utilizing the faculty’s academic preparation and experience, students learning with them should be able then to make significant contributions and effect sustainable changes in their relationships, their quality of life, and their ethical leadership wherever they are. The strategies by which they will achieve these goals will include engaging their own lives with the divine perspectives of the Bible, and cogently demonstrate these perspectives in responsible commitment, conduct, consciousness and character. The working assumption is that God’s Word provides the purposes, the framework for work, the value system, the qualities for personal relationships, and all the other aspects that make effective leaders successful at worthy goals. Bob Buford quotes the famed leadership authority Peter Drucker as saying: “There’s a strong correlation between high achievement and the ability to come to terms with life’s basic questions… I think the most successful people are those who have a strong faith.”
The five distinctives and the mission of the New York Divinity School were selected by a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational team of fifty (50) pastors who met for 3-hours of prayer and discussion once a month. They were drawn together by the idea of a City-based seminary that was also Bible-based, Christ-centered and Spirit-led—in words affirmed at the very first meeting of the ministers’ group.
A. The Five Distinctives: The five distinctives the fifty pastors are the effective “birth certificate” of God’s new seminary, the New York Divinity School:
Devoted to Biblical standards of justice, love, accountability, holiness and righteousness. In individual, social, and structural issues, Biblical teaching is upheld, taught and exemplified, including God’s standards of racial and ethnic justice, economic engagement and fairness, care for the poor, and sexual abstinence outside of marriage. I Timothy 1:5: “The purpose of our instruction is love – from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Committed to Biblical doctrine and mission. All teachers and leaders both profess and articulate, sincerely and cogently, within the marketplace of ideas the classic Christian doctrines, undiluted by any factors, including rationalism, empiricism, skepticism, liberalism, or conservatism—including the key doctrines of the authority of the Bible, the Trinity, the humanity and deity of Jesus, His death for our sins, His bodily resurrection, the filling of the Spirit and His gifts. II Timothy 1:13,14: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the treasure that has been entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”
Excellent in personal and professional practice. For God’s glory, excellence is the standard in the classroom, library, family, Church and ministry service. Both in labor and in results, the LORD is honored as our minds and hearts are marked by a life of excellence devoted to Him and His Word. II Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved unto God, a worker that does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”
Church-based in accountability and support. Students must be sent by Churches that affirm their calling to ministry and that participate in their nurturing and training in ministry. All faculty and staff are engaged in the ministry of their Churches as well. I Timothy 3:15: “…The Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
Engaged in mentored ministry. Every student is intentionally mentored in spiritual development and in ministry skills, while they are resolutely engaged in evangelism and other ministry. II Timothy 2:2:“The things which you have heard me teach in public, hand them on to reliable people, who are competent to teach others also.”
Especially important to the pastors and for the new divinity school are the first two distinctives, with their focus on the authority of Scripture—for both behavior and belief. Here Jesus Himself is the primary model, living, teaching and speaking from the authority of Scripture at various points in His life—as a child, through temptation, when teaching and preaching, when crucified, and in His ministry after He arose from the dead. Reflecting the very core of classic Christian perspective, the leaders for NYDS acknowledge that the Bible is trustworthy in revealing God’s perspectives and purposes—it is the true lamp for each person’s feet, and light for each person’s path.
The tone was set by the first comment at the very first meeting. Rev. V. Simpson Turner from Brooklyn, a seasoned African-American Baptist pastor, said, “This new divinity school project must be evangelical in behavior—and belief.” Gospel excellence must define the policies and practices of the program, with respect to love, justice and accountability in individual life and community.