As an assistant professor of religion at Southern Wesleyan University (SWU), Andrea Summers walks a delicate balance of supporting and challenging each student who enters her classroom.
Summers enjoys teaching students and having informed dialogue. But her favorite aspect of teaching is seeing “students push past the pat answers and see how their learning works in real life and the real world.”
Some of this formative learning includes helping men and women who are involved in ministry face the obstacles that await them outside the classroom. Some of these challenges are universal to those entering into ministry; others are particular to women in church leadership. While The Wesleyan Church (TWC) supports women in all levels of church leadership, many women face obstacles that keep them from realizing TWC’s vision. These challenges can be daunting to a freshly graduated minister, but Summers encourages students to have experiences during college that help them develop churches that empower women in leadership.
“Change takes leaning in and intentionality,” Summers said. She encourages her students to think through these questions: “What are the ways we can push the conversation forward? How can we push the boundaries in a healthy way? What is the balance to support both genders?”
Students are aided in processing these questions by resources on campus that address mental, academic and spiritual health. Free counseling on campus, mental health wellness checks, chaplains and professors are available to help create or resolve hard conversations. These conversations are rooted in a community at SWU that is committed to a robust culture of spiritual formation, some of which emerges through chapel services, accountability groups and classroom curriculum. Of her own role, Summers said, “I see my job as coming alongside the students to help see what the Holy Spirit is working on.”
But even with all these resources, parents and prospective students often wonder how someone in ministry can make a living, especially considering the thousands of dollars in school debt many students incur during their time at a university. In addition, many students express a call to ministry without feeling directly led to be a local church pastor. To address this wave of ministerial students, SWU has developed the ministry major to be compatible as a minor alongside another major. This way, when students want to develop in both traditional pastoral ministry and another vocational skill set, they can achieve both.
“This way they are set up well financially after graduation,” Summers said.
The students coming through SWU are “not formed to be cookie cutter ministerial students,” said Summers. Each student has different callings, gifts and talents; SWU is helping each student to be exactly who God has called them to be. The community of SWU is like a family and each person is invested in.
To learn more about SWU and Professor Summers, visit https://www.swu.edu.