Rachel Miller Jacobs, D. Min., is a practical theologian/educator with particular interest in how groups (families, small groups, classrooms and congregations) help form mature Christians. Trained as a high school English teacher, Rachel has taught at both the high school and college levels, though she spent the majority of her early adulthood as an at-home parent to three lively sons and as an active lay congregational leader. Once her children were in school, she served as a pastor of Christian formation, as worship resources coordinator for Leader magazine and as a spiritual director. At AMBS, Rachel teaches in the areas of Christian formation, family spirituality, worship and pedagogy.
How does the Bible shape your vocation as a professor?
I’m blessed to have colleagues in the Bible department who teach Greek and Hebrew as well as rigorous analytical study of the biblical text and its context. This is crucial for right interpretation. Just as crucial is claiming the Bible as authoritative in our individual and collective lives—reading the Bible as if our lives depended on it. Thus I practice, study and teach communal Bible reading practices that are affective, open to readers of various skill and developmental levels, and attentive to the Holy Spirit—in other words, that highlight the ways “ordinary readers” of all ages can read the Bible in life-giving ways.
What can students expect in your classroom?
I understand teaching and learning as a communal effort in which all learners (including the teacher) gather around, and allow themselves to be shaped by, the subject. A class is a container for learning: it helps us to go deep intellectually and spiritually and to refine our practice in conversation with other practitioners. I use a variety of teaching/learning activities and encourage students to experiment and take risks—key dispositions of lifelong learners and leaders who are flexible enough to serve in a variety of contexts. I’m also attentive to the ways the delivery system of a class (face to face, online, hybrid) calls for specific structures, processes and pacing.
How does studying in your discipline prepare students to participate in positive personal, spiritual and social transformation?
The courses that I teach, both in their subject matter and in the ways we inhabit that subject matter, call us to grow in self- and contextual awareness, respect for and engagement with the Christian tradition, and Spirit-led improvisation that claims God’s good news as operative right here and right now. At the heart of the good news is transformation: first our own transformation, and then our capacity to see and join God’s transforming work in the world. There’s plenty to be done—yet God is good, so we are bold to begin where and how we can and to keep listening for where the Spirit wants to take us.
My goal for students
My goal as a professor is to foster classrooms as communities where all grow in Christian practical wisdom. Practical wisdom is the ability to see a situation clearly and to act rightly as a result; it is a kind of knowing that actively fosters a dialogue between analysis and responsive engagement.
I want students to develop this Christian practical wisdom, which is rooted in and emerges from Jesus’ great commandment to love God with our whole selves and love our neighbors (and enemies) as ourselves. It is never an end in itself but is always at the service of God’s will being done and God’s reign coming to be, here on earth as it is in Heaven.
“Uses of Critical Response Process in the training and education of Mennonite clergy,” in Liz Lerman and John Borstel, coauthors/editors, Critique is Creative: Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process in Theory and Action, forthcoming from Wesleyan Press in 2019.
“Congregational Welcome of Immigrants,” in Daniel Schipani, Martin Walton, and Dominiek Lootens, Where are we? Pastoral Environments and Care for Migrants: Intercultural and Interreligious Perspectives (Düsseldorf, Germany: Society for Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counseling, 2018).
“Sabbath” (Spring 2017), and “Broadening Our Worship Practices” and “The Cross-Cultural Invitation of Pentecost” (Spring 2012) in Leader Magazine.
“Reading the Bible with Youth” (Fall 2010), “When My Father Died” (Spring 2004), “Hannah: Her Story” (Spring 2003), and “Transforming the Difficult Sinner” (Fall 2002), in Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology.
Memberships and associations