Educating Future Pastors
MINNEAPOLIS — D. Allen Tennison concedes he’s never been as peppy as his mom, Martha. His feisty octogenarian mother is widely known in AG circles, the recipient of the Smith Wigglesworth Evangelist Legacy Award in 2022 at the AG National Evangelist Summit. But Tennison says the family connection isn’t the reason he is her booster.
“I am a champion for women preaching because that is what Scripture teaches,” says Tennison, who is chair of the AG’s Commission on Doctrines and Practices. “As Pentecostals, we follow the Scripture in all its fullness and interpret biblical passages in context.”
The jovial yet scholarly thinker with a baritone voice is the only child of Martha and the late Don Tennison.
“I grew up in a household with two genuine pastors,” says Tennison, 50. “It became easy for me to believe because I saw no hypocrisy.”
At the age of 15, Tennison told his father he felt a call from God to be a minister. His father immediately put him in the pulpit that Wednesday night.
Tennison describes his father as kind, gracious, patient, and the most loving man he ever knew — which he finds amazing because his father grew up in an abusive home.
“I never heard my dad yell,” Tennison says. “He had a way of correcting without anger.”
The ministry of the Tennison family faced no greater crucible than in May 1988: the deadliest bus wreck in U.S. history. A drunk driver crashed head-on into a church bus from Radcliff First Assembly of God in Kentucky. The bus burst into flames and 27 people — two dozen of them youth from the church — perished.
Don preached funerals for 16 people in 48 hours. Allen, 15 years old when he escaped the fireball through the rear emergency exit, spent years dealing with survivor guilt. In all, 40 people survived the tragedy.
Don and Martha, who had been pastoring the church for a decade, during the next couple of years focused on trying to help parents who had lost children navigate their grief.
“Much of ministry is presence — not so much saying the right words, but just being with people,” Tennison says.
PASTORAL TRAINING GROUND
These days, Allen Tennison is dean of the College of Church Leadership at North Central University in Minneapolis. Students have an array of options how deep they can go with their ministerial education. Enrollees may earn a two-year associate arts degree, a bachelor’s degree in three or four years, and a master’s degree in four or five years.
The College of Church Leadership is comprised of a trio of schools concentrating on global studies, pastoral studies, plus biblical and theological studies. The schools, each with tailored majors, are designed to prepare students for full-time vocational ministry at church or on the mission field. A third of North Central students enroll in vocational ministry majors (including majors in other NCU colleges), and two-thirds of those students come from an AG background. New programs include an associate of arts degree in global studies and a master of arts in biblical theology.
“By the time full-time vocational ministers graduate, they will be competent in how to model godly character, communicate God’s Word, disciple individuals, lead a community, and how to reach culture,” says Tennison, who continues to teach as professor of theology, as he’s done since 2011. “They have scholarship, knowledge, and practical experience.”
Adam C. Sikorski, director of pastoral studies, says students come to North Central because of the blend of academics and real-world involvement.
“We provide students with a holistic approach to ministry,” says Sikorski, 48. “There are a number of initiatives where students can gain experience at church. It’s not just learning the theoretical side of things.”
Those efforts include a recently launched ministry residency program in which students can serve in depth, particularly in a small church without the means to hire a youth or children’s pastor. Sikorski provides oversight to the program, coaching students through unforeseen circumstances.
“Students aren’t just sitting in the classroom,” says Sikorski, an ordained AG minister. “They live out their faith in ministry and their personal life as well.”
Sikorski, who leads Monday morning Scripture devotions on campus, served in pastoral ministry for 24 years. He has been educated at three AG schools, earning a bachelor’s degree in urban ministries at North Central, a master of divinity as well as a master’s in theological studies from Southwestern Assemblies of God University, and a doctor of ministry from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
It’s not just professional clergy who receive religious instruction at North Central. Every student must take 18 Bible and theology credits, including Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, and missions. In addition, as has been the case since the school opened in 1930, North Central students are required to attend chapel five times a week. A recently renovated student-organized prayer center on campus called the Upper Room is open around the clock. A gathering of prayer and worship is held every Wednesday from 10 p.m. to midnight. Various Bible study and accountability groups exist on campus.
HOLY SPIRIT EMPHASIS
The Holy Spirit is front and center in the College of Church Leadership. Tennison, who holds a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary, concedes that some students, even those from AG congregations, come with a limited understanding of the Holy Spirit. They may have encountered the Holy Spirit in a church camp experience, but that didn’t translate into daily living. Tennison notes some churches stress that the Holy Spirit is primarily about speaking in tongues or strictly for certain spiritual gifts.
“We want to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in everything, not just one thing,” says Tennison. “We want to see the presence of the Holy Spirit’s work in everything we do.”
Tennison’s ordained wife, Rhonda Vanbeber Tennison, formerly served as a missionary associate with AG World Missions in Romania, helping care for abandoned babies. Rhonda then became a U.S. missionary and worked with at-risk youth in an afterschool program in Los Angeles inner-city churches. The Tennisons, who have an 8-year-old son, Steele, also provide respite care as foster parents.