Religion

Religion

The department of religion seeks to prepare its students for a lifetime of relevant, effective Christian ministry and service. In small classes and by interacting with engaging professors, students will receive theological and practical information in their religion courses along with spiritual inspiration.

Fast Facts

1

Our graduates have gone on to serve the church and society through careers in pastoral ministry, church administration, missions, medicine, teaching, allied health, music, law, and many others, and have had a significant impact on the church and society.

2

Theology majors spend their junior year in an extern program, serving as a student pastor to familiarize themselves with the variety of pastoral ministry experiences.

3

The Summer in Ministry program allows theology majors to spend the summer ministering in a church as a student pastor.

4

The department has pre-vespers programs, social events, and an annual spiritual retreat to the Pacific coast.

5

During autumn and winter, the weekly Ministry Colloquium class is a time of spiritual refreshment for all theology majors and religion department faculty.

6

The Adventist Mission Scholarship offers $3,000 in annually renewable scholarship funds for theology students as they pursue their ministry calling.

Brad Gienger’s South Dakota Calling

“The religion department, the theology classes, the openness that the teachers allowed for discussions and sharing of opinions were all so valuable, especially because the students in those classes were from every major. It really enhanced the experience and gave a wide breadth of thought.”

It was during winter quarter of Bradley Gienger’s junior year at Pacific Union College that he was struck by a life-changing thought so clear, so powerful, so completely foreign to him that he knew it just had to be a message from God. Gienger was two and half years into college, and a degree in physical education, but up until that point, he felt apathetic towards nearly everything except the power of worship. The moment that would change so much more than his class schedule came during a morning spent driving in his car in the Napa Valley and listening to praise music.

“I was feeling especially down and I pulled over beside a vineyard in disgust with my life,” he recalled.

“I was fed up and in that moment I prayed, ‘God I am doing an awful job of running my life, so from now on I just want whatever you want.’”

When he turned the car engine back on, a song came on the radio by Aaron Shust called “Give Me Words to Speak.” It was in that musical moment that the thought hit Gienger as clear as day:

“‘You need to be a pastor,’” which was nothing I had ever considered seriously before,” he explained, “but I didn’t think twice about it. I drove back to PUC and changed my major that day. Five years later I think God knew what he was doing.”

Today, Pastor Bradley Gienger leads three churches in South Dakota, where he lives with his wife Kristen (née Feldbush, class of 2009), and two children, a two-year old daughter, Peyton, and a four-month old son, Lincoln. The joy and hilarity of having two young children is clearly seen in their church life as well as their home. In Peyton, Brad and Kristen definitely have at least one church attendee willing to challenge the preacher each week. 

“One Sabbath,” Gienger began, “I asked from the pulpit, ‘Does Jesus really love sinners?’ In the silence that followed Peyton, who was just over a year old, shouted ‘No!’”

“She also shouts ‘No!’ almost every time someone invites the congregation to pray.”

Their expanding family has brought a lot of happiness, but the cold expanses of farmland and prairie surrounding Pierre, South Dakota, where the Giengers live, is many hundreds from either of the places Kristen or Brad used to call home. Kristen grew up in Colorado, a state that shares the Dakotas’ proclivity for snow, but perhaps little else; whereas Bradley was born and raised in sunny Santa Rosa, California, graduating from Redwood Academy, less than an hour from PUC. Moving to work in the Dakota Conference was a massive shift, culturally and geographically.

“It has been a great experience living in Pierre,” assured Gienger. “It’s safe for the kids, people are kind and generous, but it was a shock moving to South Dakota. The culture, in the church and in the state, is a major shift compared to where I grew up in Northern California.”

In South Dakota, Gienger has faced challenges ministering to especially impoverished Native Americans families, struggled with evangelism and outreach efforts in communities where nearly everyone already belongs to a church, and has encountered low attendance levels unlike anything he has ever seen. Growing up, Gienger attended Santa Rosa Seventh-day Adventist Church where the average attendance was several hundred each week, and he preached during PUC’s graduation weekend as the student pastor to a crowd of a couple thousand. Now, in Mobridge, South Dakota, at the Mobridge SDA Church, he preaches to a group of about five or six.

“It was a big shift,” he said. “You can’t come to church with the same expectations, trying the same strategies when you have five people compared to when you have a thousand. I’ve found it’s best to embrace it. If you have five people you have the opportunity to be so much more about the relationships, it becomes more of a family than a church service.”

Gienger explained that Mobridge is an older church, where even the youngest member, 78 years old, has belonged to the SDA church for twice as long as he and Kristen have been alive. Since he’s been the pastor there he’s already had three funerals. Recently, however, the tiny church near the banks of the Missouri River, has seen an influx of youthful energy, and not just because Gienger drives a 220 mile round trip every other Sabbath to pastor there. 

“A family of ten have started showing up,” he explained, “Two parents and eight kids. It’s the craziest thing. God has an immense sense of humor. The average age is now feels like fourteen.”

“This family literally started reading the Bible and decided to keep Sabbath and started attending. We’ve also had a mother and two kids who will come every once in a while and that helped overcome the deaths in the church.”

An ability to laugh at the unusual and bizarre elements of life has been invaluable for Gienger and his family as they seek to make it through the tough winters and long commutes. They’ve come to develop a deep and abiding friendship with Super Walmart, the average Dakotan is unfazed by regular 180 mile trips to buy groceries, and last year, he explained, it snowed on Thanksgiving Day and the drifts didn’t melt until March. There was so much snow that Gienger had to dig a trench around his backyard so that the dogs wouldn’t walk over the fence.

While the snow may seem to be attempting to bury him alive at times, Pastor Bradley Gienger knows that at the moment, rural South Dakota is exactly where God wants him to be. It was a state they moved to because they knew it was what God wanted. The timing of his call to serve in the Dakota Conference is an astounding story in and of itself: During a spring where Gienger had no other job prospects, he received a phone call from a conference elder literally ten minutes before he would walk onto the stage to receive his diploma and graduate from PUC with his bachelor’s degree in religion.

Looking back to his final few months at PUC, Brad praised the PUC’s Religion and Theology Department for having given him the tools he needed for such a demanding, but rewarding profession.

“The religion department, the theology classes, the openness that the teachers allowed for discussions and sharing of opinions were all so valuable,” Gienger said, “especially because the students in those classes were from every major. It really enhanced the experience and gave a wide breadth of thought.”

Being exposed to that breadth of view prepared Gienger for his new life far away from home. He said that if it hadn’t been for those conversations and debates, those moments of growth and intellectual honesty in the classroom, he wouldn’t have made it as a pastor in South Dakota.

“Honestly, if I hadn’t had that experience, I’d be so lost,” he admitted. “When you start doing ministry and talking about God, you have to be prepared for different opinions.”

Gienger confessed that while he may officially be the pastor of the Mobridge SDA Church, in actuality, the elderly, conservative members of the congregation end up teaching him more than he teaches them. He credits PUC for that receptivity to and abiding respect for such a different way of thinking.

“It was those classes at PUC that taught me how to understand that people view things differently and how to express my views to people who think differently.”

Now with those congregation members, a group of five or six seniors, Gienger said excitedly that, “I might be the one preaching, but I can use their stories, because this is about us as a church.”

Q&A: Samantha’s Summer in Ministry

“I want to be a pastor like these pastors: people who love and are dedicated to their congregations, to wholeness, to excellence, and people who serve with a commitment to their church and to those outside of the church.”

Samantha Angeles

Samantha Angeles, a senior Honors student double majoring in communication and theology, talks about her “Summer in Ministry” internship at La Sierra University Church:

Tell us about your internship:

For 10 weeks this summer, I have the privilege of interning at the La Sierra University Church in the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SECC) under Pastor Chris Oberg’s supervision. My role is essentially to learn the ins and outs of how she pastors the 2700-member church – and trust me, there are an infinite number of facets. There are the expected Bible and baptismal studies; sermon and service preparation; staff, board and conference committee meetings; home and hospital visitations; and other things one would expect a pastor to do. But in a church this size, the planning and preparation necessary for all these elements is on a scale requiring a mind-blowing level of precision and forethought. It’s incredible to witness. The programs include children’s, young adult and youth ministries, the community services program which assists 150 to 200 families per week, campus vespers, and myriad other areas!

How did you hear about it?

PUC highly recommends a “Summer in Ministry” internship for theology majors before their senior year. I knew from my freshman year that my number one choice would be to work with Pastor Chris because she has a reputation of being a powerful preacher, a very effective leader, and a genuine Christ-follower. I had zero connections at La Sierra University Church—and many churches won’t hire an intern they don’t know. But when I did my junior interviews with the SECC, they encouraged me to contact her. After a couple phone interviews and some thorough reference checking, Pastor Chris brought my name to the church board, where they approved me “sight-unseen,” in their words. In my eyes, God opened the doors to make this internship possible, and if what I’ve learned so far is any indication, it was truly for a purpose.

What does an average day at your internship consist of?

An average day is anywhere from eight to 18 hours long somewhere in the huge church campus, the SECC conference building, a members’ home, or off-site. It can involve anything from grungy work clothes to casual office attire, to skirt suits. At various times, one can see the church staff, diverse teams of church members, or over 350 screaming children and 200 volunteers for a Vacation Bible School. There’s the intentional and precise sermon preparation reading that the pastors share with me each week, Bible studies, visitations, and—until this week—crazy VBS all-nighters. I’m learning to run in heels and lean on God more than ever before. I’m not sure how to add this all up to find the average, but it has truly been an incredible experience!

What makes this internship fun or interesting?

When I walked into the church office the first day, I received my @lsuchurch.org e-mail address, business cards with “assistant pastor” next to my name, and became “Pastor Samantha.” And what’s made this internship fun, interesting, and rewarding is that they’ve taken that title seriously. They’ve made me a volunteer coordinator for the 200-member volunteer staff for Vacation Bible School, involved me in literally everything they could think of, and given me leadership roles, responsibility, mentoring and support. It has been so fun to work with this phenomenal pastoral team, learn many realities of ministry, and do what I am passionate about in a high-quality environment.

What's the most challenging part of this internship?

I think the most challenging part of this internship is the reality that in order to be able to truly lead and function as a pastor, interpersonal trust is vital – yet as a new intern, I don’t have the necessary background with the congregation to have developed that trust. Thus, my challenge for the summer is to build trust and relationships with the people I work with and encounter every day. And it’s funny how it comes about: things like washing communion cups in the back room, making a real effort to remember names and names and names, and pulling all-nighters at the church to prepare for VBS. Then there are those God-appointments, when you happen to ask someone how they are right when they need to talk. These are a few of the small ways that that trust is beginning to develop. And the same thing that makes it fun is also the challenge – carrying a measure of responsibility to myself, to God, and to others that I have never truly known before.

What knowledge and skills are you learning from the internship?

Pastor Chris has asked me to keep a journal to process and record the things of value that I’m seeing and learning, and you’d be shocked at how full those pages already are. But one thing that really stands out that I’m learning is how to set boundaries in ministry. The pastoral team works incredibly hard, but they also don’t believe that “lone wolves” that do everything themselves can survive in ministry. A team approach and a sense of personal balance are things that I’ve observed with a lot of interest. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. I’m also learning how to come into a new environment effectively, how to get into the habit of planning way, way ahead of time, and the importance of sharing a vision and getting people on the same page. Now the challenge is making these lessons a part of my life, and integrating them into ministry – a challenge I’m definitely up for!

How does the internship relate to your career goals?

Finally, a simple question! It’s a pastoral internship, and I want to be a pastor! But I don’t want to just be a pastor – I want to be a pastor like these pastors: people who love and are dedicated to their congregations, to wholeness, to excellence, and people who serve with a commitment to their church and to those outside of the church.