Justo Gonzalez is a distinguished theological educator. Over the course of a lengthy career, he has paid particular attention to nurturing a generation of Hispanic church leaders and theological educators.
For many years, he wrote recently, the image motivating his work was that of a pipeline: “This pipeline was intended to carry prospective scholars in religion from high school through college, through seminary, and eventually through a doctoral program and a teaching position.” He’s recently realized a problem with this image: a pipeline has only a single destination in mind. Leaks are a problem.
As a result, he says he is now embracing a new image: the irrigation hose, that is, a hose with lots of holes in it to let water out over the entirety of its length. In an irrigation hose, no drops are wasted. Wherever a drop ends up, there it can water the land. When you apply this to theological education and Christian ministry, the vision of his work changes: “The primary purpose of theological education is to help each believer irrigate the land where she or he happens to be. Those who do not go beyond Sunday school, if they irrigate the land around them, are just as valuable as those who teach in a seminary or school of theology.”
You can imagine how this image speaks to me, with my horticultural bent—particularly as I am actively considering irrigation hoses for the garden this summer. But I find the image of an irrigation hose to be especially arresting at this time of year. Another academic year is drawing to a close and the members of this community—already dispersed geographically—will now disperse in terms of our activities: some to chaplaincy placements, some to summer jobs, others to graduation and the great beyond. The drops of water that comprise this community will be irrigating new communities in new places.
Perhaps as you end up in a new community or a new setting this summer, you may find yourself disoriented, confused, or uncertain. Or—as I suspect—you may thrive and find yourself growing in new ways. Whatever the case, I hope you can remember the image of the irrigation hose. Where you are is not waste. Right where you are, you are called to water the soil of God’s creation and proclaim the good news. Your gifts and calling are leading to ministry in that very place. There is no other place to wait for. You are where ministry can happen.
An irrigation hose is also sometimes called a soaker hose. I hope that this summer you soak the earth around you with the gospel—and find yourself soaked in return by that incredible grace.
This message was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.