As I get to know the Central Baptist Theological Seminary community, I want you to hear some of the amazing stories that I am hearing. To share those stories with you, I am “interviewing” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters and sharing an interview on my blog, THIS IS CENTRAL. I invite you to join me on the journey of meeting members of our Central community.
Today’s interview is with Adam Cooper, youth pastor at Jacob's Well Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and a Central alum.
Adam, tell me a bit about your Central origin story. How did you come to be a student at Central? What led you to Central?
First of all, thanks for letting me share a bit of my story with you all! It's a joy to call myself a Central Seminary alum. I'm extremely grateful for my time at Central and to the many, many folks there and from the surrounding community who have invested in me and my work in a myriad of ways.
I found my way to Central in 2012. I had finished up my undergrad (BS in Sociology, Kansas State University) and had been working in youth ministry for a handful of years. Ever since deciding on working in youth ministry, I'd always planned on eventually pursuing an MDiv, but I loved the church I found myself in and knew if I wanted to pursue theological studies I’d have to take classes on the side while working full time. So I began feeling out some local programs and online options around the country.
I got a phone call, actually, after my initial inquiry email encouraging me to apply for the Create program. Not gonna lie, it sounded too good to be true and throughout the application and interview process I kept expecting there to be some catch, some hiccup, but it never happened. I was able to (somewhat) balance my studies and ministry work, and four years later I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 2016.
Tell me about your call to ministry and your ministry journey—where you have served and where you are now serving.
I began feeling called to ministry as a college student in the summer of 2005. I’d taken a position as an intern at the church where I grew up. Those summer months transformed my interest in working with teenagers beyond fun and games into a hopeful passion. I grew to see middle schoolers especially as the richest of soil for ministry, and an obvious skill set in connecting with that age group.
That summer I realized that the world chews you up and spits you out. Life can be a whirlwind and can be chaotic. And in that chaos, we can find ourselves flailing, desperately searching for something to ground us, something to build a foundation upon, something to center us and bring meaning and purpose. Developmentally, middle schoolers exist in that whirlwind all the time. Everything is always changing in the life of a middle schooler, and the every morning they are being formed and, in a sense, breaking ground on what the foundation of their life will be into adulthood. And I get to be someone who leads them toward building a foundation upon Christ. The life of a middle schooler is such good soil for planting seeds, pouring a foundation - whichever metaphor you want to go with - and started to feel God asking me to start digging in there.
I've been working in youth ministry fifteen years now. I currently serve as youth pastor at Jacob’s Well Church in Kansas City, Missouri, overseeing fifth grade all the way into the twenties. I’ve been at JW since 2011 and was previously part of the youth ministry leadership for seven years at Hillcrest Covenant Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, the church where I grew up and was a teenager myself.
What have been the best resources and experiences you had in your time at Central? What were your key take-aways from seminary?
More than anything else, seminary woke me up to the story of God in Scripture and throughout history. I found myself most captivated in Interpretation and Hebrew Bible class with Dr. Wallace Hartsfield. Scripture evolved in my mind beyond a fixed unit of beliefs into a beautifully complex story written by countless individuals over centuries of time and space. I am fascinated by the process of making meaning out of an ancient and mysterious text. It’s part theology, part archeology, sociology, ideology, and part work of literary genius, out of which comes Truth for not only my life but everybody else's too? Fascinating book, the Bible.
Additionally, I think four years of seminary classes trained me to think theologically and approach life with creativity. God creates and we get to be co-creators with the divine. When we lean into the creative process in whatever form it takes, we’re choosing to participate with God’s ongoing work in our world. I learned to take risks, try new things, and that there wasn't just one way to be a pastor or do ministry. I was thankful for that outlook on ministry from Central.
What is bringing you joy in this hard season of COVID? What hobbies, activities, adventures, family connections are keeping you healthy?
Every year I set the same reading goal for myself, and every year I come up just a bit short. Until 2020. I have absolutely crushed my goal this year because, honestly, what else is there to do? Reading has long been a passion of mine and perhaps for the first time in my life my “to read” pile isn’t growing out of control. Reading is extremely important to me - my book club is coming up on 10 years together and 100 books read very soon! - and having extra space to learn, explore, and grow with so many writers and teachers has been very life-giving.
Authors I’ve been sitting with in 2020: Walter Brueggemann, Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Ursula K. Le Guin, Rowan Willams, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, Robert Alter and C.L. Seow. Those last two (Seow and Alter) are indicative of some post-seminary work I’ve been doing learning biblical Hebrew. The best book I’ve read in 2020 is either This is How You Lose the Time War (El-Mohtar & Gladstone) or The Name of the Wind (Rothfuss).
My wife, Karlie, and I are always chasing our kids around too. Jackson is four. Lainey is two. They keep us very busy. We spent ten days on Lake Michigan this summer, and for those of you from the Midwest: quit spending crazy money and energy trying to jet to the coasts to sit on a beach. Michigan is the beach vacation you didn’t know you were looking for, but - shh! - it’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone else, ok?
No, 2020 has not been an easy year. Joy and hope have felt vaporous at times. Expectations for life and for myself have repeatedly come up short. The opportunity for me has been to allow life to slow down enough to be present to what God has for me each day, each moment. 2020 has revealed to me what's truly valuable in my life and has reminded me of my true identity as a child of God. We forget that, or at least I do, fairly regularly. Reading and time with my family have helped me stay healthy/sane this year.