By Mary Baker-Boudissa
To attend the In-Service Training Institute (ISTI) in Anderson, Indiana, is to be truly enriched. If you’re an alum, you are in good company with other dedicated church leaders from across the Church of God movement. ISTI, sponsored by the Leadership Development Board of the National Association of the Church of God, has been a place “where leaders are inspired, affirmed, and equipped.” The 56th annual ISTI session ran from July 7 through July 11, 2013, and included more than eighty classes on topics ranging from sermon preparation and arts in worship to effective Christian counseling and working with children. But ISTI is about more than just lectures and classwork. An atmosphere of worship and fun is key, says ISTI Dean Elsa Johnson Bass, because this is meant to provide a place of renewal for those who labor in service to the Lord. “We’ve been bombarded on so many levels by things that are happening nationally and locally, and ISTI is our oasis—a refreshing and an encouragement. We can go back armed and inspired.”
What makes ISTI work is the synergy between the students and those who come to teach. The faculty is made up of longtime pastors, university professors, and lay leaders who have expertise in church ministry. As Bass describes them, “The teachers are so stunningly prepared and enthusiastic. For them, it’s a labor of love.”
Among the faculty this year were Dr. James Lewis, of Anderson University, who led a study on the book of Jeremiah, and Dr. Jeff Frymire, of Asbury Theological Seminary, who provided a look at our Church of God theology. Minister Zuline Wilkinson, who taught a class on hymnology, retired from social work and is now in her second year at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. “Our teachers are passionate about Christians living and ministering in the real world,” says Bass.
This year’s ISTI graduation celebration was Spirit-filled, with worship led by Jonathan Jackson and a message from Wilkinson. Wilkinson encouraged the graduates to answer God’s call, no matter what the challenge, and he will equip them for ministry. The graduation service is meant to be a beginning rather than an ending. ISTI leadership tells graduates that upon completing the week of courses, they begin “365 days of ISTI,” as they apply and share what they’ve learned throughout the year.
ISTI is growing, and planning for the next session, which will take place July 6–10, 2014, is already underway. During NACOG campmeeting this week, ISTI on Zion’s Hill will offer classes Monday through Thursday, and ISTI will also be offered on the West Coast again this year.
So, who is ISTI for? Bass says, quite simply, “ISTI is open to everyone in the body of Christ. We welcome anyone who is seeking to advance the kingdom of God.” For more information about ISTI, visit www.isti.org.