Marlinda Ireland is an associate pastor at Christ Church, a non-denominational, multi-ethnic congregation that meets in Montclair and Rockaway, New Jersey. Primarily, she serves as the church's worship pastor and women's ministry director, but like nearly every other minister working today, Ireland does more. "I regularly provide spiritual and practical guidance to a wide variety of hurting people," she says. A 2009 graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York, Ireland says that her work involves "counseling, establishing support groups, organizing small group Bible studies, developing a mentoring program, assisting with job placement, strategically connecting [people] with community-based social programs, and providing one-on-one accountability."
She believes that her seminary education has served her well. "I considered several institutions, but made Alliance my final choice after seeing the quality of knowledge and skills in several graduates," she says. Ireland also appreciated the school's cultural, ethnic, and denominational diversity. "I felt that this kind of exposure would help foster growth in my ability to contextualize and communicate biblical truth within our increasingly complex society," she says.
At Christ Church, Ireland has become attuned to the way that personal struggles can lead to "see-saw" spirituality. "Jesus' final instructions were to 'go and make disciples.' However, many struggle with becoming disciplined enough to carry out our Savior's most famous last wordsespecially in tough times. As a result, large segments of the Christian community are living for God one moment and at the mercy of our problems the next," she says. "My seminary experience has prepared me to effectively teach the Bible, confidently lead others, and become innovative at cultivating consistent spiritual transformation. In short, ATS is helping me help others become contagious Christians and win the war against spiritual mediocrity."
As a teaching and community pastor at New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York, Rich Villodas teaches regularlyon Sundays and in other settings, oversees small groups that meet throughout New York City, equips small group leaders to give pastoral care to their members, and sometimes walks with congregants through seasons of need. "My heart and passion is to create small group communities with the intention of connecting people to them. This creates much-needed opportunities for people to experience friendship, support, and comfort during challenging times," he says. "I am not a proponent of a ministry model in which the pastor is the sole source of spiritual guidance."
A 2009 graduate of Alliance Seminary, Villodas recalls that he was drawn to the seminary's commitment to spiritual formation. "I was intrigued by the integration of spiritual disciplines, emotional health, and leadership," he says. "I experienced a holistic approach to Christian spirituality which would sustain the work I do for Christ."
Practicing a holistic approach has been immensely helpful as Villodas has faced the isolation and loneliness that often accompanies pastoral leadership. "During my time at Alliance, I was trained to live out the Christian experience in the context of community," he says. "My seminary preparation grounded me in the truth that in order to lead well and live a life that can sustain the pressures of leadership, I must belong to a community."
Kathy Furlong is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA.