Sterling Lynk combines being a residential student with the flexibility of taking online classes as a Distributed Learning student.
Sterling Lynk, 36, says he has “felt called [to ministry] as long as I can remember, but I had not faithfully responded. On my best days, it felt like a thing you have forgotten but you know was important to remember. Sometimes my call felt like God giving me a gentle nudge and other times, it felt like a violent shove.”
Lynk, who lives in the Madison, Wis., area with his daughter, a high school freshman, and his son, a third-grader, took a somewhat circuitous career route before arriving at Luther Seminary a year and a half ago.
He graduated with a B.A. in philosophy and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and served first as chief operating officer at the Urban League of Greater Madison and then as executive director of the Madison Area Down Syndrome Society. He currently works as an independent executive coach and strategic consultant to small-shop nonprofits around the country.
Even through all that, Lynk says his call, which he first felt at the age of six, stayed with him. He was finally able to answer it with the benefit of the Richard Wallace Scholarship, created in honor of Dr. Richard Wallace, a faculty member at Luther Seminary known as a “champion for peace and justice.” The renewable scholarship is for students of color or students from new immigrant communities of faith in the M.A. or M.Div. programs.
With that financial help, Lynk is currently pursuing an M.Div. degree in Congregational Mission and Leadership.
“For the first time in a very, very long time, to be a Christian in this country is to be a minority, and I’m not looking back to the 50s and 60s and saying, ‘Weren’t those the glory days’ in terms of religion,” Lynk says. “Right now in the worldwide church of all Christian peoples, we’re dealing with something new, particularly in the United States. We are really on mission ground right now, and we need to behave like that because I think it really matters.”
Lynk believes his call will eventually lead him to help the church reframe what it looks like to be both a Christian and the church in today’s world.
“Forever ago, God told Francis of Assisi when he was sitting in some crumbled chapel, ‘Francis, rebuild my church,’” Lynk says. “And Francis took the vision literally and rebuilt that chapel. And that’s probably not what God meant, but Francis was a vehicle by which the church did a little reformation. I think the question today is really, ‘What does it look like to rebuild a church today?’ The gifts I think I can bring to ministry are really around these sort of organizational management and strategic kind of pieces, along with some stewardship and fundraising, all those kinds of skills.”
Although he continues to live and work in the Madison area, Lynk has combined aspects of both being a residential student at the seminary with the flexibility of being able to take online classes as a Distributed Learning (DL) student. One day each week, he makes the four-plus-hour one-way drive to St. Paul and then back to Madison in order to attend classes on campus.
“By the middle of my first semester, I don’t think anyone thought I was going to keep driving up to St. Paul,” Lynk says, chuckling. “They said, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ but I said I like coming up here and I’m not going to stop! I’m technically residential, I’m certainly commuting and I behave like a DL student.”
During the relatively short time Lynk has been attending classes at the seminary, he says the lessons he’s learned have been both enormous and profound.
“I’m not sure that I ever really heard the gospel until I got to Luther Seminary, and probably not until that first January ‘J’ term,” Lynk says. “I’m not saying people didn’t tell me or didn’t communicate it to me and it’s not that the gospel wasn’t working on me, but I don’t think I heard it. Now I’ve come to believe that when you deliver the gospel to somebody, it really does work.”