Weaving Together the Stories of God, People, and City
When Ryan Bell (DMin '11), senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church, felt drawn to Fuller's Doctor of Ministry program, he "was looking not so much for a school, but for mentors," he says, "who could help me think in a new way about the mission challenge I was facing." For Bell, this challenge included his passion to help people who may not view themselves as religious or spiritual to discover that God is at work in their lives and in the world--a task that required equipping "well beyond the church growth tools and marketing strategies" Bell had previously been taught.
"In my ministry, I find my greatest reward in weaving together the stories we inhabit," says Bell, describing how satisfying it is when a member of his congregation "makes the connection between their 'spiritual life' and the rest of their life." Bell sees a divide caused by American culture, which has "cordoned God off from the affairs of our daily life" so that God is "irrelevant or unknown" to many people. For Bell, then, "spiritual leadership is about helping people weave together God's story in Scripture, their personal story, and the story of our neighborhood and city." It is at the intersection of these stories, Bell believes, that one can find what God most wants to do.
The DMin program in Missional Leadership was integral to Bell's process of creating his unique approach to ministry. "What I needed," he says, "was a framework in thinking theologically about our contemporary mission challenge." While the Master of Divinity he earned in 2000 was helpful in giving him solid skills in biblical languages, as well as exegetical and theological methods, it was the DMin program that met Bell's present need for his ministry.
"It combined rigorous theological and philosophical work that I didn't get in my MDiv with innovative cultural and leadership studies," he explains, describing the way that the leadership component was integrated into his DMin courses instead of merely added on, as he was accustomed to in the past. While this model kept the program from being about "techniques to make the church more relevant to our culture," Bell points out, that also means it focused on "something infinitely more difficult--and more rewarding." Pressing on through the program, Bell experienced that reward as he learned how to integrate the many disconnected pieces he already had for ministry--theology from his MDiv courses and personal reading, "an innate curiosity about the cultural moment we inhabit" and the way it affects local churches, and ten years of urban ministry and leadership experience.
Today, this integrated model of ministry equips Bell not only to lead his congregation in Hollywood, but also to step out with them doing interfaith work with Muslim and Jewish friends in the city and to partner with LA Voice, an affiliate of PICO, a faith-based community organizing national network. Through these and other efforts, Bell and his congregation actively seek God's peace and justice enacted in their community, as they weave their stories together with God's and those of their neighbors.
Bell says that "the timing couldn't have been better" when he moved to the Hollywood Adventist Church one year into his DMin studies. "Fuller's DMin program quite literally transformed my ministry," he states, recalling how he was able to begin his work in Hollywood with a "different kind of leadership--more in harmony with my theology and better able to address the world I actually inhabit."