Please Forgive Me
Let me take a moment to ask forgiveness for a statement that I cannot verify. In my first post I said, “No matter how they try to change the subject…” It infers that the timing of the social justice series is a diversion from the WASC report. It’s an unnecessary and unverifiable leap. I wish I had never used that phrase. It has caused some to dismiss the entire post, which is unfortunate. I ask forgiveness from Dr. MacArthur, Grace to You, and all others who may have been offended by that assertion.
Grateful, But Wrestling Heart
How do I even begin to summarize the impact TMUS has had on my life. I remember when Dr. MacArthur was asked at a Q&A, “What is the one thing you want students to have when they leave?” Without hesitation the answer was, “I want [the students] to believe the Bible is true and can be trusted.” I do believe that with all my heart! Mission accomplished! I will never forget the humility of Dr. Irv Busenitz, the prayer life of Dr. Jim Rosscup, the servant-hood of Marcia Griffin, the empathy of Ray Mehringer when any student faced a trial, the joy of Dana Waller, the preaching and pastoral wisdom of Dr. Alex Montoya, the vision and love of Dr. Mark Tatlock, the winsome leadership of Hollie Jackson, the friendship, discipleship, and work ethic of Dr. Paul Felix. Space does not permit me to name everyone, but I’m blessed to have met them.
Yet if you have read Part 1, you know that cloaked within these many positives were some undeniable negatives. It was quite the juxtaposition. It was like two worlds colliding. One world gave me life and hope. The other caused myself and others to doubt who we were, to question helpful things we learned before seminary, our gifts, and the validity/relevance of the community from which we came and were determined to one day return. If these sentences make you tired, imagine navigating it. The storm raged between these worlds with intensity in the areas of placement, preaching, and worship.
You Can Come, But We Can’t Place You
Placement is a unique hallmark of The Master’s Seminary. Not only do they train you to be a pastor, they also serve as a bridge between graduates and churches/ministries around the world. Churches can upload their information and available positions, while students can upload their résumé as they near graduation. When I was a student, the seminary boasted of having a 90% placement rate. This meant that within 6 months of graduating a student could expect to find a staff position within a church/ministry somewhere or enroll in another degree program. What wasn’t discussed with African American students was that we were a part of the 10% that could not be placed in a ministry position. I put my head together with faculty and admissions staff members to figure out the numbers. We determined that by the time I graduated in 2011 the school had only facilitated the placement of approximately 3 African American students in 25 years. According to people connected to TMS since 2011, not much has changed.
The rationale given to me as to why this problem existed was, “black churches don’t want sound doctrine.” What??? Black people do not have a monopoly on bad theology. I can think of several heretics of different ethnicities. Furthermore, I have preached theologically sound and convicting sermons in a variety of predominantly African American settings from Georgia to California since 2005. Not once have they rejected what “Thus saith the Lord.” On the contrary, they were drawn towards God’s word. Might I suggest that this is not a new phenomena. There have been people of African descent since long before I was born who have craved the word of God.
I relentlessly recruited potential minority students while enrolled. In an attempt to help draw them, I once traveled on behalf of TMS to a conference where Dr. MacArthur was preaching to an audience that was largely African American. This was in spite of the fact that I didn’t even work for admissions. When I pushed for more placement solutions, our admissions department started telling African American students that there was little hope of them being placed through the current system into a ministry position upon graduation. On initial visits my recruits would hear, “You can come, but we can’t place you.” I cringed every time I heard it.
“You can come, but we can’t place you” is not a solution. I appreciate the honesty. It was certainly better than finding out later. However, what should have happened were meetings, strategies and measurable action steps to give African American brothers the same fighting chance as other students. If color doesn’t matter, why were there only a couple of placements of African American students in 25 years, while the rest of the student body enjoyed a much higher placement rate?
When I was a student, this was the perfect time for an Acts 6:1-7 type of moment. A 25-year-old social concern of fellow students and brothers in Christ had been identified. How beautiful it would have been if our seminary would have appointed a group of men with good character who were connected with the culture (i.e. the men chosen in Acts 6 all had Greek names signifying their connectivity with the neglected Hellenistic widows) and empowered them to remedy a very fixable problem, as the school continued its focus with their primary mission of “training men as if lives depend on it.” Others may interpret this passage differently. However, it’s not about redistribution or even provision, but signifies impartial inclusion into the Covenant community and membership of God’s household (Eph 2:11-22).
Does the placement disparity speak to the quality of African American students who graduated from TMS? Certainly not! Were we not equally deserving of ministry opportunities based on performance alone? Of course we were qualified! The reality was the color of my skin meant three things. First, my school had no strategy to help me obtain a ministry position to be the pastor I was trained to be. We were like soldiers with no beach front to attack. We were like trained Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots with no one willing to trust that we could lead them into battle. Secondly, none of the churches calling the school were looking for a person with my skin color. This has to be the case when African Americans I recruited were told to “come, but we can’t place you” before they ever took a class. Thirdly, African American churches were not calling TMS looking for pastors either. I can give several thoughts as to why that is the case, at a later time.
Jesus is my résumé
Lest I be accused of whining again over a lack of ministry opportunities, let me state my strange personal conviction. I didn’t attend TMS with future employment in mind. I personally think résumés for ministry are unnecessary. The lives God has touched through me are my letter and I believe the gifts God gives will make room for me. If those two things cannot convince a ministry that I’m the person they are looking for, then I’m not their guy. However, many students eagerly anticipated a system that would facilitate future opportunities. That’s why the placement system was created. It was to be a blessing to students and to churches. I simply believe that blessing should also extend to African Americans, and up to this point it hasn’t happened. I offered several ideas to help change this reality, but they weren’t taken seriously. Unfortunately, if expressing concerns is perceived as playing the victim card by the highest level of leadership, which Dr. MacArthur says here, then there isn’t room for real improvements.
Many have accused me of making too big a deal of skin color. Most of them know full well that the average (I hate to even use the terms) predominantly “white church” would not seriously consider my application for a senior pastor position as soon as they see my family photo. Nor would the average “black church” consider the application of a white brother. Similarly the English speaking “Asian churches” often desire a pastor with their specific heritage. We fail to realize that while we desire to convince others and ourselves that the church operates without seeing color, the facts prove otherwise. Pause, and consider this article from a very credible author. In the movie “Remember the Titans” there is a scene where Coach Boone is given Coach Yoast’s head coach position. Boone tries to convince coach Yoast to come work under him by saying “the best player will play! Color won’t matter!” However, coach Yoast looks at coach Boone and replies, “from the looks of things I’d say it’s about the only thing that does.” I wish churches in diverse locations were diverse but they are not. I’m hopeful we will apply the gospel better in the near future.
I promise to address the topics of preaching and worship at the beginning of the next post. If my words open wounds due to the things you have endured, know that I speak up with you in my heart (Prov. 31:8-9). I challenge you not to become bitter in your approach to people who don’t get it. God hears the cries of the voiceless and he fights for us (Isa 10:1-3, 30:12-13; Psa 146:7-9). Go ahead and be all God desires you to be. The world needs you. If you have read my posts and feel convicted and heartbroken over the things described, do not be discouraged to the point of despair. Even if you have facilitated the continuation of such activities knowingly or unknowingly, your listening ear and brokenness give me great hope. Become a learner and an even more attentive listener. God’s grace is sufficient for you. I certainly hold no animosity towards you. Speak up graciously where you are and insist on change. Insist because God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39). If my words upset you or throw you into fits of anger and frustration, know that my eyes are focused on the real enemy, Satan himself (Eph 6:10-20). I graciously ask you to open your eyes and reconsider. Christ died to reconcile us to God and each other (Eph 2:11-22). Christ died that we would be one as He and His Father are one (John 17). What’s the hold up?
Terrence Jones is the pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park in Montgomery, Alabama. Originally from Norman Park, GA, he attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship and The Master’s Seminary (M.Div. 2011). Terrance is married to Thais and they are the proud parents of 6 children.