Bluffton students explore ministry through Mennonite Church USA program
Two Bluffton University students are spending the summer exploring their faith and leadership skills through the Mennonite Church USA’s Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP).
Chris Tatom, a junior from Greenfield, Ind., who is studying youth ministry, was placed at Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Belleville, Pa. Sam Black, a junior music education major from Deshler, Ohio, is serving at West Clinton Mennonite Church in Wauseon, Ohio.
The MIP enables students from Mennonite institutions to test their calling and gifts for ministry. Supervised by host pastors, they take on various worship, pastoral care and administrative roles during the summer term, including preaching, leading worship, youth ministry and hospital and home visits.
Tatom says even before signing up for the program he knew his ultimate goal was to attend seminary and become ordained in the Methodist Church.
“God led me to this. I know I had a calling to ministry, and it’s showing now,” said Tatom. “I have such a passion for it. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I love working with people and helping others, and it just feels right.”
During the 11 week program, which began Memorial Day Weekend, Tatom is learning from Pastor Alan Kauffman and Associate Pastor Herb Zook.
“I’m shadowing the pastor. I’m right there wherever he goes. I see it all, and I get a good feel for it and my future,” said Tatom.
Tatom is also experiencing all of the behind-the-scenes preparation of being a pastor including, “all of the administrative work that goes into it. I didn’t realize just how much time pastors put into paperwork. The pastor is in the office quite a bit each week.”
Tatom says the program is validating his decision to pursue ministry, and he encourages others to take part in the program.
“If you’re thinking about a career in ministry, this is probably the best way to figure that out. If you want to test it, you’re thrown right into it.”
Testing his gifts is exactly what Black is doing during his placement at West Clinton Mennonite Church.
“Right now I’m exploring. I’m not necessarily pursuing ministry, but I would be open to ministry. This is a way to explore that possible call. I understand that a calling is not always one moment, it’s a development,” said Black. “So, this might be part of the call or just a good experience.”
Black married Bluffton graduate Beth (Ross ’16) Black on May 7, so he is living at home and commuting to Wauseon instead of spending the summer in a new location. He is shadowing husband and wife team, Pastor Jess Engle and Associate Pastor Naomi Engle.
“I’m really getting used to this church,” said Black, who grew up Methodist. “The members are very open to new ideas even though the congregation is made up of mostly two or three giant extended families, but they are so inviting to new people.”
Black is excited to preach in the coming weeks and is leading a Bible study at a nearby retirement home.
“When I started this program I just wanted to find and develop my gifts. Now I’m learning my gifts are a good fit for a pastor.”
Black says he’s also experiencing new approaches to ministry including a creative take on preaching which was shared by the associate pastor when she told the story of Naaman, an Army commander who was healed of leprosy by the prophet Elisha.
“She took a theatrical approach to her sermon. I had never seen that during a Sunday morning service,” said Black. “It opened my eyes to different ways of preaching.”
Each student who participates in the Ministry Inquiry Program receives a $2,000 scholarship to be applied toward college tuition, along with a $500 stipend. Funding comes from Bluffton University, Mennonite Church USA, the participants’ church conferences and the students’ home congregations.
If you’re thinking about a career in ministry, this is probably the best way to figure that out. If you want to test it, you’re thrown right into it.”