Justin Racca (MA/CE 09, ThM 12) grew deep roots at DTS
I am currently the Lead Pastor at Heaston Church in El Reno, OK. I have been here since October 2012. In addition, I am a Chaplain in the United States Air Force Reserve, currently serving at McConnell AFB in Wichita, KS.
In both settings I have the privilege to preach, teach, and counsel from the Scripture. Heaston Church is a rural church that has a mixture of farmers, ranchers, and city folk, so I get to share the Word of God each week with a diverse group, which is both a challenge and a joy. As part of this church ministry, loving people can look like riding along in a John Deere while they till the ground and sow the wheat, or traveling around with a rancher as he does his chores and feeds the cows. All in one day I could also be in the city visiting one of our members in hospital, praying with them, bringing them communion or stopping in on them at work to buy them lunch or coffee. It is diverse. And I love that it is still an "old school" pastoral ministry. People in small towns (I think more than in the suburbs or metros) really want their pastor to be in their lives, and to pray with them, visit them and spend time in their world. I love that. It fits who God has made me to be.
With the Air Force, teaching truth comes more in a one-on-one setting as I have the opportunity to ride around with different groups on base, interacting with Airmen, or in a counseling session providing advice, or praying with an Airmen or family member.
I attended the DTS-Houston campus for the majority of my schooling. The fondest memories I have are of those professors who took the time to interact with students on breaks and over lunch when they came in to town. I distinctly remember eating sushi with Dr. Bingham and other classmates, having conversations with Dr. Horell and Dr. Lopez about life and ministry. I also remember in my early days, a coworker and I attended seminary together for the first few years. After we got off work we would stick around to study together, and sometimes late into the night we would get a bit tired and start yelling from one office to another, or singing songs while the other picked up the song where one left off!
One other is with another seminary buddy—we also worked together—and we would check in with one another on studies, life, marriage, work, and sometimes study together. We prayed together many times in my office as we both sought the direction God was leading us both for ministry. These are relationships that grew deep roots during my seminary years.
So many people mention the skills and biblical and theological knowledge that comes from seminary. Certainly that was key, but I think for me I would say the greatest contribution is learning the discipline of study, doing the hard work digging in the Scripture, searching, and praying for the Spirit's direction so that when you stand up on Sunday (or whenever you teach or preach) you come with a humble confidence that you have been diligent to prepare, and now you surrender it all to God to take and use as He pleases. It is the discipline of preparing, but not just preparing to have the right answers, but the right heart in ministry. It was the professors who displayed a balance between being a churchman and scholar that most impacted me and contributed to my ministry practices and perspectives. It was those who were a balance between pastor and professor.