Is an M.Div. Worth it?

David Neel was born in Wilmore, KY, when his dad was studying at Asbury Seminary. As a young child, he sang, “Jesus loves you” to his babysitters and considered this his first sermon. 

David felt called into ministry since before he could remember. His challenge over the years was “fine-tuning” his sense of calling. As a high school and college student, David worked at a church camp in northern Indiana. He says he thought to himself, “Man, I just want more of this. I love being used by God to help these young people experience the love of Christ – His grace and His truth – in real ways.” 

David got a Missions degree from Taylor University, a Christian college in north central Indiana, where he met his wife Kaitlin. Upon graduating from Taylor, it is no surprise that David chose Asbury Seminary for an M.Div. “A lot of the pastors and leaders I really looked up to were Asbury alumni,” he says. 

David says he “can’t speak highly enough of Asbury,” whether of the deep friendships he made, the spiritual formation he experienced, or (referring to his professors) the “world-class theologians who also care deeply for you.” He recommends the M.Div. degree to those entering into any kind of pastoral care. “I honestly would get the M.Div. again. It gave me so many things I didn’t know I would need.” David attributes his ability to understand and communicate his faith to his broad coursework in Greek, Hebrew, church polity, church history, Christian philosophy, Inductive Bible Study, and preaching, among other subjects. He graduated in 2018.

A Bus Ride to the Asbury Outpouring

David gained several years of experience as a pastor. After working with various age groups, the “fine-tuning” of his calling was his realization that God had uniquely gifted him to minister to young people. He noticed in particular that young adults in the 16-24 year-old range were his ministry strength. 

David and Kaitlin were working at an elementary school, and David was also pastoring a congregation in the country outside of Noblesville, Indiana, when the Outpouring began at Asbury University, leading to an unexpected pivot in his career. It started when David saw on Instagram that his friend and fellow alumnus Zach would be preaching at Asbury University. David sensed he needed to pray for him and later learned on the news that the chapel service Zach preached at was still going on after 24 hours. Later that week, David and Cailtin were invited to take the last two seats on a bus of university students headed for the Outpouring in Wilmore.

As they sat in the balcony of Hughes Auditorium for many hours watching young adults worship, they prayed and reflected on why God brought them there. They discerned they were called to be part of it in some way. After returning to Indiana, they spent a day at Taylor University – their alma mater – during its Spiritual Renewal Week. As worship kept going past the hour, they could feel that the students knew what was going on at Asbury University and wanted the same fire.

The Legacy of Samuel Kaboo Morris

That day, the campus pastor of Taylor told David, “If you really want to disciple young men, you need to be a hall director. There’s where the work is done. There just so happens to be a hall looking for a director, and I’m on the search committee.”

David wasn’t yet sold on the idea of coming back to Taylor. He and Kaitlin had just bought a house in Cicero near their job, almost an hour away from Taylor, and he was happy with his job. It was only after a month of Kaitlin’s prayers, a job setback, and uncanny connections with Taylor folks that David sensed God “hitting him over the head.” David sent in his application and was speedily accepted. 

David is now Residence Hall Director of Samuel (“Sammy”) Morris Hall, an all-male hall at Taylor University. He and Kaitlin moved out of the home they had just purchased and into an apartment in the hall. “I’m a pastor of 293 young men,” David says. He also continues to pastor his congregation in the country. 

Sammy Morris Hall is named for a Liberian prince who converted to Christianity through missionaries in Africa. As he traveled to America and then to Taylor University to study in the late 1800s, his gift as an evangelist was evident. “He studies at Taylor, and revivals break out. Everywhere Sammy goes, countless people come to the altar,” David says. David believes that Taylor University’s spiritual environment is undoubtedly connected to Samuel Morris’ legacy. “It’s a really special school. They don’t require students to go to chapel, but you can’t find a seat in the chapel, which is so cool.”

Some Core Values of Gen Z

At Sammy Morris Hall, David spends a lot of one-on-one time with student hall assistants, and he meets a lot with his residents who come to him with questions and struggles about coursework, relationships, family, and faith. It’s “a lot of coffee dates, a lot of lunch dates. Then I also, like, go and play frisbee with them. Honestly, it’s the ministry of presence – just being able to be there to help them process what they’re going through, because 18-25 is such a pivotal time in their lives.” 

Between being stopped in the lobby and asked about his theological stances, to doing unintentional premarital counseling, to talking to guys who get into trouble, David is in his element and says it is “so great to be there with them.” The males in his hall belong to Gen Z, and David loves ministering to the age group he believes God has called him to during this stage. 

“Honestly, I am kind of jealous. I wish I was Gen Z. I see this crazy shift in this reckless pursuit of Christ,” David says. “They crave authentic religion and relationship.” David introduced some of his student hall assistants to liturgical worship practices, such as singing the doxology nightly. “They loved it… there’s this deep, insatiable desire for the real, for something real, and it’s contagious.” According to David, Gen Z doesn’t need passion – they already have it. (Ask David about a large group of Sammy Morris Hall residents getting baptized at midnight… He just might tell you the story.) 

According to David, what Gen Z needs from older generations is mentoring and direction. “The big thing I’m running into [with Gen Z] is a distrust in authority; there’s a distrust in the establishment. They really want to be brought into the decision, right? Like, that’s a huge thing. Help them, at least, understand why a decision was made. There’s a lot of trust you’re given if you don’t just say, ‘Because I said so.’”

As David and Kaitlin reside with their dog in a residence hall of 293 men, they use their home in Cicero, Indiana, as a respite and a place for group retreats.

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