Jennifer Sheridan works at Princeton Alliance Church as Assimilation and Women’s Ministry Director. The following interview was conducted at Alliance Theological Seminary in Rockland County while student cohorts were gathered to take classes for the Doctor of Ministry degree.
Can you tell me about your role at Princeton Alliance Church?
Well, I pretty much connect all the new people that walk through the church doors and help them get assimilated into the greater body of the church. So my role, pretty much, is reaching out to new people, getting them into small groups, and really helping people belong. So pretty much what I do is help people get connected into the greater body of the church. One of the ways I do that is by helping them belong before they believe. Because if they can get a sense of belonging in the church, their beliefs might change if they’re non-Christian, but it really helps them feel at home—gives them a sense that this is home.
What first got you thinking about pursuing your Doctor of Ministry degree?
Wow, that’s kind of a long story, but actually I came here actually looking for a job at Alliance Theological Seminary. Then I ended up working at Princeton Alliance Church. During my visit here, I was talking about my passion for ministry and an organization that I’d started, and some of the passions that I had, and they said I’d be a good candidate for the Doctor of Ministry program. It took me about four years before I actually said: yes, now is the time to do it. I did my ordination consecration during that time.
Did you have any expectations when you began the Doctor of Ministry program of what it would be or what you would gain from it?
It’s funny, because I knew I wanted to do the Doctor of Ministry program because I’d had a prior conversation before, but I had no idea what it would be like. I just thought I was going to come in and sort of start with this whole doctoral program and start writing and figuring out what my dissertation was and then just do it. But, actually, I was really surprised at the first class. I was like: Oh, I’m going to do soul care? I’ve got to look at myself? Like, that was a bit of a shock; I wasn’t expecting that. But, ironically, getting into who I am as a person and my own personal issues and the things that have affected me from my upbringing until now has really been, I believe, critical in what I’m going to do next in ministry and what I plan to do with my dissertation. Because I believe if I can’t actually look at myself and look at some of the things that are or could be pitfalls or family sin patterns and different things in my own life that have been trigger points or roadblocks, then I can’t move forward in what God wants me to do as a doctor of the Church to help others to walk in the fullness and knowledge of who Christ is.
Has there been anything else about the Doctor of Ministry program that surprised you? Have there been any benefits that you didn’t necessarily expect?
I think the cohort. I think that this idea of having a group of people—we’ve kind of hashtagged ourself. We are #MyTen. I think it’s the cohort, this camaraderie that we have. I mean, even when we left here after nine days of intensives, we email each other, we pray for each other. We all know everything that’s going on in each other’s lives even after leaving here. There is a sense of having a new community that’s not a part of my regular community, like my work community or my family community. This is my Alliance Theological Seminary community, and it feels good. You’ve got this additional family that’s walking alongside with you on this program, and you know that you can pick up the phone any time, you can send an email, you can make a phone call and explain some of the stuff that you’re going through and know that they walk with you.
When you think about some of the people you’ve encountered at Alliance Theological Seminary, whether they’re your cohorts or professors, what words and images come to mind?
Wow. From the cohort, one word that comes to mind is greatness. I don’t think that we’ve seen the greatness of what’s going to come out of this as yet. There’s a lot of greatness in the room. There’s a lot of potential in the room. There are brilliant ideas in the room. From the professors, there’s just this sense of excellence and caring and this intense wanting to make sure that we are whole as individuals and that we won’t fail as leaders because they’ve done everything that they can to make sure they pour into us and give us everything that we need for the journey that’s ahead. I hope I answered that right.
Absolutely. So you’re not finished with your Doctor of Ministry program yet?
No. I’m in my second module.
Looking forward, what are some of the hopes you have for the rest of your time at Alliance Theological Seminary?
I think I’m really looking forward to jumping into my dissertation and the preparation and the research. You know, sometimes you can go into something and you think you know, but I’m actually going to learn a lot in the process. I had an idea of what I wanted to do when I first walked in the door, so I think that was the motivating factor that really brought me here. But there’s also this idea that there’s still more to learn. And as it unfolds, I realize that, having completed the first module, and now being in the second module, I’m still drawing on things that I learned from the first module. There is a continual building from one module to the next module and so on. There’s still a lot more to learn.
Thinking about some of those things that you’ve learned and gained so far as part of the Doctor of Ministry program, can you think of any specific ways it’s impacted you in other areas of your life, whether it’s in ministry, your personal life, your family life, or your relationships? Do you see a change in the way you approach any of those areas of your life?
I think I’m more empathetic. I can look at a situation or person and see—I feel like I’m able to see culturally through different lenses because of what I’ve learned. I have my own lens and my own view and my own perspective, but as I’ve studied here and taken in some of the stuff, I don’t necessarily see things always through my lens. I try to look through the other person’s lens. With family, I’m more patient, more loving. I take the stance of really wanting to just love on family more, knowing what I know, and even just pray for family more. I’m praying that they will be enlightened, that they’ll get the freedom that’s needed and opportunities. And I think for co-workers, I just want to share all this knowledge. I want to take it back and say, “Hey we need to read this book,” or “I want to implement this program.” So there’s an excitement, I think, that’s come out of it, because there is just so much to learn. I think what’s exciting is when I’m in a class and one of the books that we’re reading is a book my staff is reading—perhaps on cross-cultural ministry. It’s cool that we’re moving along the same line. And then in another sense, I look at another class and some of the authors and I’m like: Oh man, that was a professor at my other school. So there’s this sense of it all fitting into the big picture that I’m just a little piece of. And I don’t necessarily know what God’s doing, but it’s exciting to be a part of His picture.
If someone were to come to you asking about this Doctor of Ministry program, what would your pitch be?
I think I would tell them it’s a journey like no other. It’s a journey of transformation. It’s a journey of unfolding. It’s a journey of liberation. It’s a journey of introspection. It’s a journey of denying self and letting go of everything we perceive as being important and meaningful and allowing God to do what God wants to do in our lives. I think for that reason, he or she would want to do this. Because I mean, if you say to yourself you’re a Christian and you want to do God’s will and you want to be obedient to God, then why wouldn’t you want to do a program that is going to literally help you do that? And at the same time, you become a doctor of the church at the end of it all. I mean, it’s a pretty sweet deal.
You mentioned your anxiety over your dissertation. Do you have your topic?
Can you share a little bit about it?
Yeah, I can share a little bit. I recently moved to Trenton, New Jersey. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for moving to Trenton, New Jersey, but I just recently moved there, and I have a heart for inner-city kids. I started a program that will work with orphanages in Africa to partner these two together. My dissertation will be to look at the examples of cross-cultural leadership in the sense of social responsibility with at-risk youth in Trenton. I might have worded that a little different to what’s actually going to be on the dissertation, but that’s pretty much where it’s at.
Just one more thing: You talked a bit about empathy. If you were to compare yourself now versus what you were like before you started this program, are there any things you can point to in terms of how you’ve changed or what you’ve gained?
I think I’m definitely more loving and caring. I’m not so quick to judge, I think. I really put myself, I think, in the other person’s place or the other person’s shoes before I’m too quick to judge. The first module really just—to use my own expression, I have this box, and the whole box was just thrown up into the air. All my stuff was thrown up into the air, and now I can’t put it all back in the box anymore because God’s not in a box. It’s a little painful. It’s a little challenging, but that’s the liberation. That’s the freedom that comes in knowing about all this junk and all this stuff. I can walk boldly and freely now. I’m not saying it’s going to be perfect and easy, but as long as I keep my eyes on Him, I stay in perfect peace. So there’s just that sense of letting go and letting God do what He needs to do in me—and surrendering.
Why do you think that happens here at Alliance Theological Seminary? Why is it such a good place to have those types of experiences?
I think trust. There’s a trust that is established right from the get-go. That trust allows you to be vulnerable. It’s a trust that allows you to speak the truth in love to your cohorts, and they know nothing is being said to hurt or to harm them, but because you love them. That kind of trust allows us to get deep into things in our pasts and our history. We explore things that, in some cases, we may never have spoken to anybody about before. But it allows you to uncover those things. And I love how Dr. Reimer put it. He always says, “You put the light on it, you shine the light in it.” Dr. Lingenfelter says that when you put the light on it, it exposes the termites. There’s this idea that the light is focusing and shining on that thing, and darkness can’t hide in the light.