After faithfully serving for almost a quarter of a century at Autumn Ridge Church in Rochester, Minnesota, it would have been easy for Julie Smestad to sit back and enjoy the fruit of her labor. For nine years, Julie led in the Bible Study Fellowship; for the next thirteen years, she taught in the Precepts Bible Study Methods ministry. She and her family attended Autumn Ridge Church through seasons of growth and seasons of difficulty—times of joy and times of grief. As a result, Julie faced very few challenges that she had not previous encountered.
While it would have been easy to sit back, Julie seized the moment of transition when her youngest child began college in 2008; she enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary and began her MABS. During her studies, she began to learn the importance of increased relational connections for adult learning. Her Precepts class at Autumn Ridge came alive with refreshments during class, opportunities to chat with others during breaks, monthly lunches, and small groups to discuss applications and pray. Through these ministries, God honed her teaching and leadership gifts; she had the privilege of both learning and implementing practical ministry skills.
However, while attending DTS, she began to see a novel challenge facing the church. Often, there is a gap in traditional churches between Millennials and older generations. Many churches were faithfully developing their older members but not attracting Millennials.
Julie refused to simply sit back and watch this growing chasm.
In May 2020, Julie graduated DTS with a Doctorate of Educational Ministry. Her passion to help traditional churches build attractive, spiritually forming cultures that include Millennials drove her doctoral research. Her dissertation reveals the importance of building common community identity as a relational space in which adults of all ages experience belonging and receive a definition of what it means to follow Christ within their church community. Churches build common community through fostering cross-generational relationships, valuing Millennials and their contributions, and creating intergenerational learning experiences.
Her prayer, however, was that she could share her insights and offer hope and direction to church leaders and Christian educators preparing students to serve in churches. God answered her prayer this fall, when the Society of Professors of Christian Education (SPCE) invited her to present her dissertation at their annual conference on October 23 under the theme Human Dignity and the Mission of Christian Education.
As she reflects on her educational journey, she has seen how DTS gave her a robust biblical and theological education that greatly benefited her ministry. Classes equipped her to think theologically when interacting with others about current issues in the church and in culture. This learning has ignited her passion for helping churches, including Autumn Ridge, provide relevant biblical and theological adult education to equip members to share Christ.