Thirty years ago, God challenged Dr. Timothy Tennent to attempt something big for Him. During Dr. Tennent’s life and ministry as pastor, professor and president, he has lived those three words, learning not to place boundaries on God’s call. Now, he shares that vision with the entire Seminary community.
“Our mission is about the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and joining the living God in His mission in the world,” Dr. Tennent said. “We are living into a challenge which God put into my heart many years ago: ‘Attempt something so big, that unless God intervenes, it is bound to fail.’”
Dr. Tennent was first introduced to the idea of attempting something big in 1979. He and some friends stayed in the home of well-known author Jamie Buckingham while attending a wedding. Upon arrival, Dr. Tennent noticed Jamie Buckingham’s study and peaked inside. He saw these words taped to the typewriter: “Attempt something so big, that unless God intervenes, it’s bound to fail.”
“This quote has always served as a reminder not to place limits on God’s call on my life,” Dr. Tennent said. “I have always been open to serving anywhere in the world and doing whatever God asked me to do. This quote has kept me open, not to my capacities, but to the amazing grace of God to do whatever He wants to do through His servants.”
Dr. Tennent first answered that call while a student at Young Harris College in Georgia. At the time, he envisioned himself as a pastor. While he did lead several United Methodist churches in Georgia, New England and Nigeria, God had additional tasks in store for him. He taught at Toccoa Falls College and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
While at Gordon Conwell, friend and fellow colleague, Robert Colemen, invited Dr. Tennent to preach the gospel in Harvard Square on Easter Sunday. Harvard Square is the Cambridge stop of the Massachusetts Transit Authority subway where dozens of people emerge every 10 minutes.
“I had never just put a box down on the sidewalk and started preaching,” Dr. Tennent said. “I felt scared, apprehensive, and, to be honest, a little foolish. But, I thought to myself, if I can’t preach the gospel in the streets, then the power of the gospel has become domesticated in me, so I must say yes.”
He did, and the two men took turns sharing short messages, interspersed with music from the Salvation Army band.
“It was an amazing and memorable experience for me and put me in touch with the gospel and our own Wesleyan heritage in a powerful way,” Dr. Tennent said. “For few things mark the distinctiveness of the 18th century Wesleyan revivals than this strange practice of open-air preaching.”