Alumna Recognized as Top Theologian Has Advice for Those Seeking a Ministry Role (Especially Women)

December 4, 2018

Serving in a church or in any ministry is often a challenging experience.

There are many people who make demands about how to approach ministry, right down to the best personality for the job and how to act in social situations. Parishioners and ministry partners might prefer a more cerebral approach, or someone who is more extroverted.

Yet even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals many different personalities interacted with each other and served in the early church. The Apostle Paul wrote some of his letters to the church while chained to a wall. He was obviously someone who took risks! Barnabas had an encouraging personality; Luke was a doctor. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were part of the church in Philippi and labored for the Gospel.


Dr. Haley Goranson Jacob has a good handle on how this all worked. The Crown alumna (‘05) is quick to correct the thinking that everyone in ministry has to think the same.

“Never let your church tradition or any human define who you are, what gifts you have, and who you are to become. Only God has a right to define who you are,” she says.

Dr. Jacob is certainly someone who is well-versed.

As a New Testament scholar, she has poured over the epistles, dissected the Gospels, and uncovered the deeper truths. This past summer, she published a book under the supervision of scholar N.T. Wright about Romans 8:29 and what it means to conform to the image of Christ. She is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.

But Dr. Jacob didn’t come to see the rich fabric of the New Testament and correlate the theological precepts from the second half of the Bible overnight.

Recently, Christianity Today named her as one of the top 10 New or Lesser-Known Female Theologians Worth Knowing. The Crown alumna was honored by the distinction, but was quick to point out that she credits her educational background as providing the foundation for her scholarship.

One epiphany came while she was an undergrad at Crown. In a Galatians course taught by Dr. George Gianoulis (since retired), she noted how the Bible has an overarching narrative.

“When I understood the connection between the story of Abraham in Genesis 15 and Paul’s reference to Abraham in Galatians 3, the Bible came alive to me. It was like I was reading it for the first time, and it was exciting enough for me to declare a Bible major, eventually pursue a Masters and Ph.D., and now teach enthusiastically the role of Abraham in Paul’s letters.”

In another class called the History of Modern Western Thought and taught by Dr. Wilbert Ratledge (also since retired), she first learned about forming a worldview.

“I was introduced to epistemology (how one knows what they know) and the major philosophers who have contributed to our modern western worldview,” she says. “Dr. Rateledge taught me to wrestle with the big ideas that have, for good or for ill, shaped our western society today.”

She also learned, through Dr. Arnold Hustad (who retired last year), about what many of the modern theologians have to say about why suffering exists in the world, and through Dr. Sydney Park about what it means for women to use the gifts God has given us.

After Crown, Dr. Jacob taught English at a college in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She obtained a Master’s degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, then served as a Senior Pastor of Mount Republic Chapel of Peace in Cooke City, Montana. She then obtained a Doctorate of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Looking back, she says her formative years as a theologian took place at Crown.

“It’s at Crown that I learned to love exegesis, that I was encouraged to ask questions, to grow as a leader, and to have confidence in the gifts God has given me,” she says.

Her passion as a professor today is to help young people find their purpose.

“Today’s students seem more riddled with anxiety and fear of public failure than I remember experiencing while in undergrad,” she says. “They worry about how their spirituality will be judged by peers and professors if they ask a stupid question or if they answer a seemingly easy question incorrectly. My advice to them is this: Stop worrying about what the world around you thinks. You will only learn by asking questions, challenging your presuppositions, and by examining every theological doctrine or interpretation you are taught.”

Specifically for women, she advises: “Listen only to the voices in your life that encourage you to be who God himself has made you to be. And have confidence that God knew what he was doing when he gave you your gifts.”