Companions on the Journey
by Mick Boersma, Mick and Rolane Boersma
In this issue
- Companions on the Journey
- Mentoring Leaders Through Seminary
- Talbot Authors
- Dean's Column
- Alumni Focus
- Campus Focus
We had been serving in our new pastorate for three weeks when the journey turned dangerous. Fresh out of Biola and Talbot, we were eager to embrace the calling of God to lead a thriving congregation into the future. But the road would not be without some serious potholes, and we’d need a good road crew to help us handle the hazards. Without going into the details, our first crisis could have easily ended our tenure. The shortest pastorate in the history of Talbot seminary graduates. Not a title we were eager to win.
What to do? Where to turn? A phone call to Dr. O’Neal, a professor of pastoral ministry at Talbot, was our first response. Somehow hearing his assuring voice, the creak of his office chair, and the recounting of a few dangerous curves he and his wife Phoebe had faced in their years in the pastorate encouraged our souls. The crisis passed. The road opened up. Our years serving in that church remain one of the most joyous and fulfilling chapters of our 40 years together. And we really don’t know what we would have done without the wonderful support of our former professors, especially Doc O’Neal. We determined that should the Lord ever grant us a platform from which to lend help to ministers of the gospel, it would be an incredible privilege and honor to do so.
In 1991, after six years on the Talbot faculty, God opened that door and enabled us to establish Talbot Support Ministries (TSM). Through an initial generous gift from a woman we never met, and the ongoing loving financial support of family, friends, faculty, and alumni, we have enjoyed serving our alumni around the world for these last 22 years.
One of those special alums, Dr. Gary Manning, editor of this publication, has asked us to describe what it is we do for the approximately 1200 alumni we currently serve. That number probably raises a question: Aren’t there more than 1200 Talbot alums? Answer: Yes, many more. But we have specifically committed to working with students we have come to know through our years of teaching here, especially those headed for ministries in the local church and missions. So, the majority of our ‘family’ is M.Div. grads, yet many are also from various MA programs. A relationship developed during student years is the common denominator.
Of course, some of our alumni are not serving in paid ministry positions. That’s fine with us. Our heart is to support our alumni, regardless of how they are using their gifts and education to serve the kingdom.
Here’s what we attempt to provide in our ministry together.
Just this week 60 new M.Div. students started their field education curriculum. While I’m sure a few of the experienced pastors in the room wondered why they had to take a one unit class on the basics of life and ministry, I let them know that a big piece of it is helping us begin to establish a relationship that can last a lifetime. Rolane and I purposefully seek ways to nurture more than a passing association with our students (and their families).
The Talbot Wives program helps Rolane walk closely with these sisters whose spouses are pursuing a Talbot degree. Additionally, we co-teach a course entitled The Family of the Christian Leader that affords learning and relationship building between couples and ourselves. We have students in our home, involve ourselves in seminary activities, and take students (whether single or married) out for meals or caffeine shots at Starbucks. Many of our fellow professors here do the same.
Relationship is really a primary focus of our ministry, as we know in times of trouble our alumni will most likely not turn to someone they don’t know or trust. We called Doc O’Neal because we were friends. We had dined in his home; even double dated with him and Phoebe, and spent many hours musing and praying about life and ministry together.
As I write this, the 55-year-old plumbing in our house is going down the drain (sorry, couldn’t resist). Who do you call? A guy who went to plumbers’ school but has yet to lay hand to wrench and pipe? Of course not! We’ve contracted with an experienced company that knows the ‘flow’ of the business, backwards and forwards (the word at our house is ‘backwards’ these days – sorry, I’ll stop).
Rolane and I were wired to be encouragers long before we met. Even when we were graduating with our degrees, we were thinking about a future where we could lift up those in Christian ministry. But we knew there had to be some hands-on experience before we would have anything to offer. I figured a few years in a pastorate would do the trick. God felt differently. Eleven years later, plus an ensuing year as a day laborer for a building contractor and six more years getting established at Talbot, he gave us the nod.
When we counsel with our graduates about life and ministry issues, they know we’ve been there. Not everywhere, of course. But there is a realization that Mick & Rolane have felt pain before, made mistakes, lived through circumstances that were hard for them, and have seen the good hand of God faithfully hold them close to his heart. While our experiences are unique, we have learned a few things about leadership, conflict, and the sometimes- brutal pressure of shepherding precious souls. And through the years we’ve also learned from the experiences of countless alumni who have shared their own journeys with us. We’ve known great joy, deep sorrow, invigorating support, and heartbreaking betrayal.
In our marriage, Rolane is the one with the amazing memory. Me, I tell my students I have the gift of forgetfulness. If I ever develop some form of dementia, it will take a while for anyone to notice. But seriously, there are often few places to which a pastor, missionary, or anyone in a spiritual leadership position can turn without being concerned about confidentiality. In our TSM efforts, we have committed ourselves to being a one-way conduit for our colleagues’ secrets and concerns.
Since we’re both teachers, we’ve had to work hard at becoming good listeners, asking the right questions, and resisting the urge to pummel our alumni with verses, principles, and ‘to do’ lists. We believe one of the most loving provisions Christian leaders give their people is a safe environment. King David reveled in the realization that his God made him ‘lie down in green pastures’ (Ps. 23:2). The imagery is of sheep splayed out in complete abandon, vulnerable to predators, but not one bit worried in light of the protective hand of the shepherd.
For us, there are no stupid questions, no situations that shouldn’t concern one, or confessions that cannot be shared. We desire to be there for our alums, come what may, and let them know we love them, seek to help them, and never betray a confidence – the same environment we have sought to create for our immediate family since being blessed with our daughters 37 years ago. And while we know there are many denominations and ministry organizations that provide excellent member care, sometimes it is very difficult to confide in those whose relationship with you is complicated by authority and career influence. As we used to say on the farm, ‘we don’t have a dog in this hunt’. We’re a safe place to come – no strings - no quid pro quo – just wanting to help.
Since 1991, as students we know graduate, Rolane has been developing and maintaining a confidential database on these alumni. We have files full of newsletters, stories, pictures, and brochures explaining ministries and missions of all kinds. A constant steam of emails and calls from our TSM family help us stay connected and informed about their lives.
Most graduating seniors can’t wait to leave campus and establish their futures. They typically don’t look back. We understand this, and have taken it upon ourselves to make the first move in staying connected. As a result, we send out newsletters to our growing family, most by snail mail, and many others by email. Every four months Rolane creates a letter full of updates received from around the globe. An article designed to encourage and inform is included. This is also a time to catch our alumni up on what’s happening with our family. We even shamelessly include pictures of grand kids from time to time.
It must be noted that the generous support of Dr. Rick Bee, Senior Director of Alumni and Friends here at Biola pays for the costs incurred by our TSM newsletter. Over these many years he has encouraged us in our mission. So, too, have Talbot Deans Dr. Dennis Dirks and Dr. Clint Arnold. While this ministry is one we voluntarily pursue, these brothers have embraced our cause and continue to support our Talbot alumni alongside us.
Approximately twice a year we take trips to visit alumni in their natural habitat. We’ve journeyed as far to the east as Rome (still have pleasant memories of dining with five alums just blocks from the Coliseum), as far to the west as Hawaii (we seem to go there a lot), south to Texas, and north to Vancouver B.C. This November I’ll have the privilege of spending two weeks in Korea with Dr. Sunny Song, my colleague in the department of Christian Ministry & Leadership. We’ll be encouraging alumni and speaking in various churches, universities and seminaries.
Rolane and I thoroughly enjoy our alumni trips. They multiply our exposure to the work being carried out by those Talbot helped prepare for service, and contextualize subsequent conversations we have with those we visit. In the same manner, we enjoy local engagements such as weddings, pastor gatherings, ordinations and celebrations of all kinds. While we can’t be everywhere, the Lord has enabled us to handle the opportunities and our graduates have been most gracious in recognizing our limitations when we cannot participate.
This goes hand-in-hand with availability. While we enjoy many encounters with our alumni in the context of ‘just plain fun’, we’re often called upon to lend an ear and share some (hopefully) wise counsel. There have been a few pre-marital counseling sessions along the way, more marital counseling sessions, and innumerable personal interactions concerning anything and everything. Transition struggles are often on the agenda, as alumni wrestle with the challenge of leaving one ministry for another. In 2007 Dr. Michael Anthony and I wrote a book on this – Moving On Moving Forward; A Guide for Pastors in Transition. Zondervan recently informed us it is now out of print, but still available as an e-book. Trust me, the royalties are not pouring in, but we want you to know this compendium of counsel is available and may be of some help to you.
Rolane enjoys spending time with local pastor’s wives discussing the opportunities, joys and stresses of living a life in leadership. Up until recently, she has led a group of alumni wives in our home, exploring the Word and applying it to the daily world of work, family and ministry. She and I also enjoy taking our local alumni out for lunch or dinner, a privilege we can afford due to the loving supporters of TSM.
One of the many benefits of being here at Talbot for 28 years is the extensive network Rolane and I have built up. We have been privileged to rub shoulders with hundreds of wonderful students and alumni, scores of godly Christian leaders from around the world, and a dizzying array of ministries that are being used by God to bring hope to our darkened planet.
These connections are still accumulating, and enable us to link our alumni to one another and various ministries we have come
to appreciate. Even though we have for the time being chosen to be ‘Facebook-free’, we enjoy tying people together through other conventional means of communication. Emails and phone calls abound (yes, we use our phone to actually talk to people). We enjoy connecting people who share a common challenge, need a certain resource, or can bring perspective due to experience and/or training.
In the hallways and classrooms there are impromptu introductions that can lead to ministry cooperation and even life-long friendships. As I get to know our incoming students and they share their aspirations and fears concerning ministry, it is a delight to be able to introduce them to former students who can relate to their concerns or provide a knowledgeable perspective concerning the type of calling they have received from the Lord. All this brings a special kinship to our students and alumni where brothers and sisters enjoy the blessing of serving Jesus, something we love to witness.
Talbot is an educational institution, and our TSM ministry seeks to provide some ‘after-market’ accessories. Over the years we’ve hosted many retreats in the southern California area. For a time we had sufficient funding for this, and are open to convening others in the future should funds become available once again.
These retreats were led by faculty and other experts and covered a wide array of subjects related to ministry service. They were open to all alumni in our TSM family, regardless of their level of involvement in ministerial work.
Over the years we have offered on-campus seminars addressing family life in ministry, marriage health, and legal issues for churches. Many other conferences are held here at Biola, and we enjoy encountering the Talbot alumni that come back to attend these. But perhaps the most enjoyable teaching experience for us happens when alumni, armed with more perspective and experience on pastoral life, engage us in Q & A time over a quiet lunch or dinner. We all know that some of the best learning happens outside the classroom in the laboratory of everyday living. Over the years we have grappled with all kinds of issues, heard stories that are stranger than fiction, and gained much wisdom from our wonderful alumni.
Rolane and I are very aware of the possibilities in this aspect of our ministry. We could work fulltime providing on-going educational opportunities for pastors, missionaries, and many of our alumni who serve Jesus in the marketplace. Several of you out there (and you know who you are) have suggested all kinds of creative and exciting ideas for us to pursue. But alas, my full time teaching position here at Talbot, the 20 hours per week Rolane can invest in this cause, and the ever- expanding schedules of our five grandchildren keep us living in the realm of the finite. So many dreams, so little time :).