Tag Archives: Derek Cooper

Successful Conference, Seminary partnership concludes

IME
Steve Kriss (top right) and Derek Cooper (second row, fourth from the right) have partnered for five years to take seminary students on intercultural learning trips, including this spring’s trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Photo by Dennis Dong.

by John Tyson, Salford congregation

Theological educators believe headfirst immersion into unfamiliar cultural terrain is a requirement for preparing church leaders in the context of the twenty-first century. For students at Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, Pa.), a lifelong commitment to intercultural ministry begins at the second year mark of their LEAD Master of Divinity Program.

To meet the complex and unconventional demands of intercultural education, Biblical Seminary and Franconia Conference have partnered together to create the Intercultural Ministry Experience (IME). For the past five years, Franconia’s director of leadership cultivation, Steve Kriss, and Biblical’s director of the LEAD program, Derek Cooper, have led a total of seventy-five students on journeys far and wide, from Israel/Palestine to Italy to Cambodia and Vietnam.

For Dr. Derek Cooper, the ten-day trips abroad produce formative insights and questions that dwell with students well beyond their time in seminary. “It is my favorite component of the LEAD program, and students receive a very concentrated educational experience,” said Cooper. “Students always come away from the trip changed, challenged, and more culturally aware. It’s completely transformative.”

“We also talk a lot about contextualization, and we learn much about how the local Christian community addresses issues relating to history, culture, politics, and world religions,” Cooper added.

Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation (Telford, Pa.), participated in the 2011 trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Meyer identified practices of learning and listening as the educational core of his experience. “This was not a mission trip where rich, white Americans did a service project and ‘brought Jesus’ to the forgotten corners of the globe,” he said.  “Rather, this was a learning experience where we went as students, not saviors; as listeners, not experts; as those interested in exploring ways in which God was already living and moving and active in the culture, not as those bringing Jesus to a place where, prior to our arrival, God was not present…This approach to cross-cultural study resonated deeply with my own wariness of short-term missions and helped to shape my thinking on how we as people of faith engage with the rest of the world.”

The required IME provided Donna Merow her first opportunity to explore spaces beyond U.S. borders. Now pastor of Ambler (Pa.) congregation, Merow recalled how her trip to Israel/Palestine transformed both her understanding of ancient scripture as well as the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict. “The reality of walking where Jesus did, of visiting his birthplace, the village he called home, the Sea of Galilee, and the site of his death has changed the way I read the Bible,” Merow explained. “Seeing and touching the separation wall, staying in the homes of Palestinian Christians, and visiting one of the multigenerational refugee camps has made me ask hard questions about government policy and church practice.”

For many travelers, encountering weathered, historically nuanced places reveals how tender the balance is between the past and the future. This was one of the major lessons absorbed by KrisAnne Swartley, associate pastor of Doylestown (Pa.) congregation, on her trip to Italy. “I was struck by the history there, and how it is preserved and revered, and how that can be both a strength and a weakness,” Swartley reflected. “The strength is in remembering our story, remembering how the faithful who went before us worked through questions of faithfulness in the midst of change/struggle. The weakness can be that we are so trapped by traditions of the past that we become irrelevant in the present and into the future. I continue to think about this balance, to pray that I remember and learn from the church of the past but also [have courage] to walk into the future bravely, not afraid to let go of what was as the Spirit gives new wisdom.”

While this spring marks the end of the Biblical/Franconia IME partnership, its conclusion is cause for celebration, according to Kriss. “The model proved to be an effective partnership because both the seminary and the Conference benefitted,” he said. The Conference offered resources of intercultural education and global networking, he observed, while the seminary provided students who were positioned to deeply engage.  “The surprising outcome,” Kriss said, “was to build relationships with Anabaptist students on campus which helped Conference congregations to have new connections with potential pastors.   And these new potential pastors had already been shaped somewhat by Anabaptist ways of engaging the world.  It was a fruitful endeavor, not without struggles at times, but one that represents effective and strategic partnering in healthy ways.”

Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus

Derek Cooperby Derek Cooper, Deep Run East

If you are anything like me, you struggle with Jesus’ command to his disciples to “put God’s kingdom first.” I struggle with this because I tend to put my own needs first: to satisfy my own desires and interests before thinking about those of others, let alone God’s. I tend to put others’ needs before mine only occasionally, and not always like I really should.

But this is not the way of the kingdom.

Christians do not go their own way. Instead, they are defined by who they serve and, as such, seek to align their desires and interests according to their master’s desires and interests. God wants people who are totally committed to him. God wants people who worship him “in spirit and truth.” God wants people who serve him day and night, seven days a week, four seasons a year. In fact, we have a term for this deep level of commitment and loyalty: it’s called discipleship, and it’s quite challenging.

Over the past few years, pastors and Christian leaders have begun to rethink the importance of discipleship in the lives of North American churches. Although many churches will continue to obsess about attendance numbers and making their budgets, it’s encouraging to see that some are becoming less focused on things like church membership and more focused on making disciples.

Given the importance of this discussion in North American churches, I have recently co-written a book on discipleship entitled Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. I wrote this book for two main reasons. First, although it is often said, it bears being repeated again: Jesus has entrusted the church with one primary task – to make disciples, not just believers or mere church members. Jesus’ last words, according to the Gospel of Matthew, were not breathed with the intention of his followers sounding good, paying bills, or looking professional; they were breathed to give life to a perpetual generation of Spirit-led, God-loving Jesus-followers (Matthew 28:19). The second reason why I wrote this book is because I have discerned that, despite the growing number of sermons, radio broadcasts, and books that discuss the topic of discipleship, too few spell out the specific costs of discipleship from the perspective of it being a very challenging and demanding enterprise each and every day. In running the risk of oversimplification, it’s far too easy to look upon discipleship like a Disneyworld roller coaster: sure, there are some downs along the way, but the journey is mostly for personal fulfillment and the costs of going on a ride are fairly minimal.

HazardousI agree that there are enjoyable moments on the road to following Jesus, but I think we do a serious disservice to Christians when we paint a picture of discipleship as a joy ride that takes us to our dream job, a bigger house, and a hassle-free existence.

Without denying the jobs and homes many Christians have (and love) and the stress-free lives we enjoy in relation to history and the rest of the world, following Jesus is hard, difficult, and challenging for the very simple reason that the eclipse of God’s kingdom on earth has yet to take place. And to state the obvious in our technology- and comfort-driven society, God is not a vending machine who mechanically and impersonally distributes riches to Christians like a game-show host. On the contrary, if you ask God for patience, you will most likely not be zapped with an abstract attribute; rather, you will be put in challenging circumstances where you will have to demonstrate patience as you rely upon God’s Spirit.

All of this is to say: Discipleship is a hazardous enterprise, and it is a topic that we need to think about with more seriousness and with more biblical and practical depth. If you would like to explore this kind of discipleship for yourself and for your church, I encourage you to read Hazardous and to think anew about what it means to follow Jesus in a culture that constantly competes with relevancy, independence, wealth, busyness, and comfort.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. He and his wife Barb are members at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. His most recent book is entitled Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus.

On World Domination and Global Espionage

Derek Cooperby Derek Cooper, Deep Run East

Growing up in the piney woods and ranch-covered hills of East Texas, I deliberated between two potential careers: world domination, that is to say, being a politicking lawyer, and global espionage, perhaps serving as a CIA officer who worked covertly in some ivy-covered medieval castle in Ghent or Prague.

Now snugly in my thirties, it turns out that I have yet to find a way to control the world. Nor have I yet traveled to Ghent or Prague. Instead, my days are comprised of changing dirty diapers on the youngest of my three children, who laughs mockingly every time I mention that toilets are all the rage; leading and participating in a continual cycle of meetings; having lunch at very German-sounding restaurants with local pastors; teaching and counseling seminary students; and writing Christian books whenever I can snatch the time. When I get home after a busy day of work, my wife and I talk about our day and then I play dolls with my two girls. Almost every night, instead of chasing down international gun-smugglers in a black-and-white tuxedo, I run after my son until I fall down from premature middle-age or until I trip over a Barbie Doll who is taking a joyride on a miniature camouflaged jeep.

My life – and the silly daydreams I had as a child – changed for the better when I was a young college student. Armed with the dual majors of Political Science and Spanish, I stood barrel-chested before the world, ready to take over the reins of political control and international malevolence once I graduated.

In the meantime, I met the love of my life during my second year of college. At the exact moment I saw her, something inside of me came alive and the first moment I got, I boldly declared to this Bucks County native: “I’m going to marry you.”

Repulsed at my forwardness, I spent the next three years convincing this beautiful young lady, named Barb, that God sent her down to Texas so that she could marry me. Little did I know that God had, indeed, led her to Texas – to serve as a missionary with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). But about this more important matter of fetching a husband, she was not amused. Although I still stand by my statement – who knew that Texans were bold and swaggering? – God was pleased to use this young woman to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Within a matter of months, I dropped that world domination and global espionage business, and began to think like a Christian, that is, outwardly and in a Jesus-centered way. I gave my life to Christ, and it has never been the same.

Before I knew it, I was a college graduate and a full-time seminary student. I was now conjugating Greek verbs, preaching at something called a church, reading the Bible (and learning this was far more interesting than political theory), praying, and thinking of a career in missions.

Eventually I learned that God was preparing me for a career in theological education. In the meantime, not only did I convince Barb to marry me, but I even convinced her that God was calling me to get a PhD – which can be translated in the marriage-ese language as: “I will study for the next several years and make no money. Will you support us as I do so?”

While I was earning the last of my three graduate degrees and generating a very meager income-earning power, Barb gave birth to our three wonderful children – currently aged three, four, and five – and also managed to work full-time as an educator.

Did I mention how great my wife is?

Over the years, God has been extraordinarily kind to us. After years of prayer, Barb is now able to stay at home full-time with our kids, just as she has always wanted. And God has provided many wonderful ministry opportunities for me. Most recently, I served on the pastoral teams of two different churches, and I am now a very busy seminary professor and administrator – filling my professional free time with speaking at different churches and writing books.

But the most recent change Barb and I have experienced is joining the Mennonite community. Through the course of key relationships with Mennonite leaders, pastors, and churches, Barb and I have sensed God’s clear leading for us to become Maronites, I mean, Mennonites (I’m still trying to get that down). What can a Southern transplant from gun-slinging and flag-saluting Texas say about being part of the oldest Mennonite community in North America?

In all honesty, I can say that Barb and I clearly sense that God is active in the Mennonite community. God’s Spirit is really alive and poised to do something amazing. We are excited to be a part of this and can’t wait to see how God will bring everything together.

As I think back upon my former dreams, do I have any regrets? Not a one: Christ fashioned my life into something much more than a career in world domination or espionage ever could have given me. Following Jesus has been the most rewarding journey of my life. Of course, if Jesus happened to take a trip and set up shop in Prague or Ghent, I would not complain.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, where he also serves as associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. He and his wife Barb are members at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He can be reached at dcooper@biblical.edu.

Ministerial Update (June 2012)

An update from Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership, on behalf of the Ministerial Committee

Rose Bender Ordination
Rose Bender was ordained at Whitehall on May 27.  Photo Gallery
  • Derek Cooper, assistant professor of Biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield (Pa.) was approved for a two-year license toward ordination. He and his family are members at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.). The seminary, through his congregation, requested a ministerial license for his work in preparing pastors.
  • Joy Sawatzky was approved for a two-year license toward ordination for her ministry as chaplain with Living Branches. She presently has a license for specific ministry. She is a member of the Plains (Hatfield, Pa) congregation.
  • Don McDonough resigned from his associate pastoral role at Spring Mount (Pa.) to give leadership to a missional experiment called Arise in the Harleysville, Pa. area. He is accountable to Chris Nickels and the Spring Mount congregation.
  • Randy Good resigned as pastor at Taftsville (Vt.). He will complete his ministry there at the end of August.
  • Blaine & Connie Detwiler completed their pastoral leadership at Lakeview, (Susquehanna, Pa.) at the end of May. They have accepted pastoral leadership at the Marion Congregation in Franklin Conference.
  • Scott Landes has resigned as pastor at Frederick (Pa.) and completed his ministry there on June 15.
  • Rose Bender was ordained  on May 27 at Whitehall (Pa.). Steve Kriss and Noah Kolb officiated. A large crowd of church community and relatives were present.
  • Ubaldo Rodriguez was appointed to fill an opening on the ministerial committee. Ubaldo is the church planter at  New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza (Baltimore, Md.), a church plant of New Hope Fellowship Iglesia Nueva 
  • Dennis Edwards, pastor of Peace Fellowship (Washington DC) has resigned as pastor. He has accepted a pastoral position in Minneapolis, MN. Dennis has been credentialed with Franconia serving a Partner in Mission congregation.

Global Faith: Local Context Class scheduled for March 2012 at the Mennonite Heritage Center

The Mennonite Heritage Center, 565 Yoder Road, Harleysville, announces a class on “Global Faith: Local Context” scheduled for Thursday evening March 1, 8, 15, and 22, 2012 from 6:30-9:15 pm. The course, sponsored by Eastern Mennonite University Seminary, will be taught by Dr. Derek Cooper, assistant professor of Biblical Studies and Historical Theology at Biblical Seminary, Hatfield, Pa.

The Global Faith class will discuss the four most influential and global non-Christian faiths by focusing on the history, sacred texts, and key events and persons associated with these religions. It also will explore how these religions are not just isolated or in far-away places, but how they are alive and thriving in our local contexts.

Participants can receive a continuing education unit for the course through Eastern Mennonite University.  Pre registration is required and is due by February 24, 2012. The cost of the course, including the continuing education credit, is $65. Those wishing to audit the course may do so for $55.  No refunds are given unless the class is canceled for insufficient enrollment.  The following book: A World Religions Reader by Ian Markham and Christy Lohr (3rd Ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) is required for students taking the class for the 1 CEU credit through EMU and is suggested for those not taking this class for credit.  Due to the book’s expense, participants may want to purchase it used or to share it with another student. For information and to register for the course, contact the Mennonite Heritage Center at: www.mhep.org, email info@mhep.org or call 215-256-3020.