Ten Questions with Nell Becker Sweeden

Ten Questions with Nell Becker Sweeden

Take a glimpse into the work of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

Recently, Holiness Today (HT) sat down with Nell Becker Sweeden (NS), director of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM). Dr. Becker Sweeden was appointed to this role in 2016 after serving in various other roles in the organization for over 12 years. She holds degrees in Spanish and theology from Point Loma Nazarene University, a Master of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in practical theology from Boston University. In addition to her scholarship, she is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, author of Church on the Way: Hospitality and Migration, is a mother of two, and is a theology instructor at various universities and seminaries.

HT: One of the core tenets of the Nazarene Church is “We are missional.” How does the work of NCM fulfill that core belief?

NS: I think our calling as Christians in the Church is to live out the gospel in our communities and with the neighbors we encounter. I really sense in our world today that there is a need for people to go outside the doors of the church and be present incarnationally with their communities. When I think about what NCM is about, that is its very essence: living missionally and incarnationally in communities all over the world and being moved by compassion for people who are particularly neglected or marginalized.

So much of our world is plagued by suffering, injustice, and poverty.

What gives me great hope is that we are a global church, and if we’re all thinking about how we can serve someone else and reveal the hope we have in Jesus, then we’re fulfilling our calling.

HT: You are a teacher, an author, an ordained elder, and a scholar. How do these different functions work together in your current role as director of NCM?

NS: In some ways, I am still figuring that out! I have been pleasantly surprised at the ways my different training and experiences have informed my role currently. I get to continue to learn in incredible ways through compassionate ministry work: learning from the communities we serve, the church around the world, and from my incredible team. My passion in academia has always been driven by service and a desire to help the church understand theologically our Christian concern for the poor and responsibility to serve others. This fits in well with the mission of at* NCM.

We, as a Church, have to constantly reevaluate how to respond to new crises. I love asking “What is the best response now, and how do we prepare ourselves to be adaptable in the future?” That takes critical theological reflection and practical action.

HT: What is the most exciting or rewarding part of your job?

NS: In this day and age, a lot of people work remotely. I am thankful for tools that connect us virtually; it is much easier to be connected now. But when I have the opportunity to see people face-to-face, I have noticed that any cultural barriers and challenges seem to break down in a new way. I have enjoyed connecting with people all over the world and the learning together that happens as a result.

HT: What is one of the biggest challenges facing NCM today?

NS: As an organization, the biggest challenge we face is leadership development—continually making the time to connect with new emerging leaders and providing opportunities for exposure, training, and learning together.

I started working with NCM in 2004, and I have noticed over the years that many of our leaders—myself included—have many responsibilities and often don’t have time to connect with emerging leaders. It is a tragedy to miss those opportunities, but I think this will soon be our greatest reward.

We are working on a stronger leadership development strategy for NCM, including resourcing the different world regions. We have brought people in for global training, but because we’ve grown so much as a church, we really need to start resourcing the regions through regional events and trainings. This will help expose emerging leaders to new skills and connections that empower them to have ownership in their contextual ministries. If we have been trained, we need to turn and train the next generation.  

HT: How can people get involved in the ministries of NCM?

NS: Another big challenge for NCM is helping people understand that NCM doesn’t “own” compassion: we don’t have all the answers or solutions. Congregations around the world are doing so much to serve their communities and live out compassion. We are learning from them!

So, asking how people can get involved really comes down to the responsibility of each of us to go out and care for our neighbors.

The way to get involved is to embody compassion and live it out locally, and partner as much as you can with others.

HT: What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

NS: I love the outdoors—camping, hiking, biking, swimming, etc. So, anytime we can be outside, that’s what we do. My kids are pretty young, but they are growing into that lifestyle as well.

HT: Have you had the opportunity to travel? If so, what is your favorite place you’ve visited?

NS: Much of my missions experience and studies were in Central and South America, so I have a deep passion for Latin American cultures. But, over the years, I have found that I am a lover of cultures in general. Every time I travel to a new place, I am struck by its intricacies and beauty and the people who reveal their passions and way of life.  These visits are such a unique gift because it is amazing to see such vast differences in culture and be introduced to them by the followers of Jesus who welcome me there.

HT: What is something in your life right now that brings you joy?

NS: My kids do. They help me maintain balance and joy outside of work. They are at really fun and demanding ages. They just bring me a lot of laughter with the funny things that they do. And, at times, they have taught me more about patience and compassion than anyone else.

I’m also discovering after many years of school and assigned books that I’m starting to enjoy reading fiction again!

HT: What is one personal goal you hope to accomplish within the next year?

NS: I would really like to pick French back up. I studied some in college and in my doctoral program, but I’ve gotten rusty.

HT: Who are some of your heroes?

NS: I’ve always loved the stories of women of the early American Holiness Movement with the challenges they faced and the sacrifices they made to lead a movement. Also, some of my heroes are so many of our global NCM leaders, who also are our pastors and district superintendents. They do so much to come alongside people and empower the church to serve others.

Nell Becker Sweeden is director of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

Holiness Today, Sept/Oct 2018