Paul Olson is the Pastor of Burnett Fellowship Baptist Church in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. He served as the ministry mentor for Glory Destura, one of the first students in Northwest Baptist’s CBTE program, Immerse.
In the Immerse program, each student is taken on by a church in a long-term leadership development role, and assigned a 3-person mentor team comprised of academic, ministry (practitioner) and network (denomination) mentors. We asked Paul to reflect on his experience as a ministry mentor.
How did you come to be involved with the Immerse program?
I received a phone call from [NBS President] Kent Anderson telling me the school was trying a new type of church-based education program and had a student who would be a great fit in our church. Our church board was keen for us to to participate, as we believed mentorship was an important way to multiply leaders.
I already knew Glory from when I had served in another church, and could never have pictured her in a traditional masters program. I don’t think that would have been something interesting to her at all. But Immerse crossed our paths and we began a journey we wouldn’t trade for anything. It was hard but it was good.
You say, “It was hard but it was good.” That’s from your perspective. What about for the rest of the church?
It was great. Her involvement came at a perfect time for us. I was transitioning out of family ministry and starting a lead staff role, so Glory stepped into my former role. Glory is very capable and the church took her under their wing and loved her immensely. She did a great job. She loves kids and has a heart for children. That made it easy for us.
The program was hard for Glory. She didn’t see herself as a student. She didn’t love to read. She didn’t love to write. But she loved to do the ministry. So that’s what enabled her to keep going. She got a better balance in ministry and was challenged in many areas. She tried to quit many times but I always responded, “I’m not letting you quit. I’ve invested too much into you and you’re going to carry on.” And rightfully so. I think for her to finish was very important – even though the degree was less important to her than what she was learning.
You talked about the investment you made into Glory and the program. Was it worth it?
I think it was worth it because now we have someone (on staff) we have invested in. The culture of our church is very much part of her life, and we had no hesitation to hire her after graduation. Absolutely no hesitation. We invested in her and now we are reaping the dividends. Her education is deeper. She has an M.Div., and learned a lot in that process. We got more than our money’s worth in the end, and all the way through, to be perfectly frank.
Glory had skills, even at the beginning, so we actually got a lot of value from her right from the start. The financial cost wasn’t really a burden for us, but the cost in time-–that was a lot. We were deeply committed and willing to work through every aspect. And she did it. She pulled it out. Her debrief at the end was powerful. She gave illustration after illustration of how the experience had changed her and improved her ministry capacity.
Why didn’t you as a church just bring on an intern and train her in the church? What did you gain from partnership with the seminary and the denomination?
We had done that before with others. I had also led a mentorship program with some of the young adults. There was some value in it, but the challenge was it needed more structure. We needed input from outside our church to provide a well-rounded view.
I don’t know how many times (academic mentor) Brian Rapske pushed back on Glory and say, “Well what about this? Have you thought about this?” I wouldn’t have pushed back on those things. We needed that. We needed someone with those skills on the team. And I needed (network mentor) April Christenson to bring the larger denominational perspective. The (academic) structure of learning units and assignments was very helpful, as well as having different voices challenge her. I think the partnership helped her have a better, well-rounded curriculum.
How would you compare Glory’s education to yours?
I came out of Bible College with about 80% theological knowledge and 20% practical knowledge– if that. I got eaten alive – as did my fellow graduates. I’m actually one of the few that actually survived in ministry. I found my education irrelevant in so many ways because it didn’t prepare me for what church ministry was like.
That would have been true for Glory. But the practical aspects of Immerse helped her to understand, balance, and learn as she went along. I do think we are serving our churches a lot better by preparing students who are well-rounded and know what it is to do relational ministry and theological ministry.
Glory has learned a lot of that. She has been forced to learn a lot of theology that she didn’t necessarily seek out. But it was important. Theological grounding is important. But she learned it in the context of children’s ministry. She learned why she needed to know – and to teach – the whole process of sanctification and the role of the Holy Spirit. She was able to see what it could look like in children’s ministry. And it made far more sense to her because she saw it in practice. That is what I wish I had far more of when I was a student. We did field education but it was nothing compared to this kind of stuff. This has a great edge to it that resonates with a lot of people … and a lot of churches as well.
Glory has graduated and you have a second student about half-way through. Do you expect your church will bring on another Immerse student?
Absolutely! We are planning to bring on another student. I’m thrilled with the program. It’s really grown well and I know it is always under revision, which it needs to be, but I’m thrilled with it. We are in–hook, line and sinker–because I think the program has huge potential for helping us grow our church, as well as others.