Shifting Sands: Navigating change in a disruptive context

It is amazing what happens to a beach after a hurricane has gone through. The shifting of the sand is impressive. The hurricane force winds impacting the waves moves tons of sand from the ocean floor on shore, leveling everything in its path until its final resting place. It is a dramatic difference. But if you look closely and watch carefully you will notice that it doesn’t take just hurricane force winds to shift the sand, in the ebb and flow of the tides the sand is always shifting and the beach landscape is forever changing.

This is how it feels to be in ministry today. I think, like the sand, the landscape was always shifting and changing but subtlety. The pandemic and cultural challenges we have experienced in the past year are more like the impact of a hurricane on our ministry shoreline – drastic, significant, and demanding attention.

How do we navigate these shifting sands and continue to serve well, continue to build the Kingdom, continue to reach our culture and our communities, continue to disciple our people, continue to minister as we have been called to do? The kind of drastic changes we have seen require more than minor adjustments and tweaks, they call for a significant response and one that many of us are not equipped to tackle on our own.

In light of the shifting sands of ministry, theological education is more valuable than ever. We must know how to interpret culture in light of scripture and theology. We must be able to anticipate in light of history the needs of society and the opportunities for the church’s response. This requires theological education that is not just focused on ministry we are preparing to do tomorrow, but in light of the ministry we are immersed in today. Theological education that too is responsive to the shifting sands with the desire to work in partnership with the local church.

There are a few seminaries, like Wesley Seminary where I serve, that have successfully pivoted in response to these shifting sands. Seminaries that provide: Fully online degree programs including the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry that are dynamic and responsive to the changing needs. Courses that are integrated bringing together a biblical, theological, and historical understandings in light of contemporary theory and voices and in focus for your church and ministry. Knowledge and skills that are contextualized and applied in the moment giving you tools and resources today to respond to your ministry needs as they arise. And fellow sojourners who are also living out their call of ministry in other settings and situations who are conversation partners and collaborators guided by ministry-experienced faculty and in an ethos that cares for you as a person and values your spiritual health.

Shifting sand is our cultural reality. We are all called to take adjust and adapt in order to respond, to lead, to serve, to minister.


This article was extracted from Issue 4 (Winter 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.



This article was written by Colleen Derr



Dr. Colleen Derr serves as President of Wesley Seminary. Before becoming President, Dr. Derr served as a faculty member at Wesley teaching courses in congregational formation, transformational teaching, spiritual formation, as well as children, youth, and family ministry. President Derr is an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church. Dr. Derr's most recent publication, Renewing Communication: Spirit-Shaped Approaches for Children, Youth, and Families was published by IVP Academic in 2020.


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