For almost 30 years, Ashland Theological Seminary has woven itself into the fabric of Dr. Jakki Nelson’s life. “I came and never left,” she says. “No part of my life has been left untouched.”
In her desire to become a better Christian educator, Dr. Nelson began her Ashland journey by pursuing an MA in biblical studies. After earning her degree in 1994, she proceeded to complete an M.Div in theology in 1998 and then a doctorate in spiritual formation in 2007, with an emphasis in Christian education.
Dr. Nelson paid for both of her master's degrees out of pocket while working full time as a cytotechnologist—one who studies cells at the microscopic level. She continues to work as a hospital cytotechnologist today while teaching and ministering in a dizzying array of capacities.
At Ashland, Dr. Nelson teaches as an adjunct, leads a cohort in the Thriving Pastoral Ministry certificate program, and directs the Advisory Board. At her home church of Third New Hope Baptist, she serves as assistant to the pastor in the area of pastoral care and holds a professor position at the Heritage Center for Religious Studies. She serves at other churches as well, including Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, where she’s a ministry advisor, and People’s Community Church, where she preaches every fourth Sunday. She also heads Unleashing the Laity, a ministry she founded that helps “people in the pews” discover and nurture their gifts. Dr. Nelson performs all these roles with grace, gratitude, and an unquenchable energy from the Holy Spirit.
An ongoing highlight of Dr. Nelson’s career has been her impact on ministry. In the late 90s, Dr. Ron Emptage asked her to teach a homiletics class: “On the first day, I walked in the room, and it was all men and one woman. All these guys looked at me like, ‘I know you’re not the one teaching.’ I said, ‘Let’s get this out there right now: I am where all of you want to get to. We have ten weeks together. It can be a wonderful experience or a bad experience. It’s your choice.’”
“By the end of those ten weeks,” Dr. Nelson explains, “they presented me with flowers. For many of them it was a turning point.”
Dr. Nelson also holds the distinction of being the first woman ever licensed to preach in her church, which was groundbreaking—even controversial—almost thirty years ago. “Some churches even stopped associating with my pastor,” she says, “but I was determined [to press on], since my church and pastor had such confidence about what God was doing in my life. I couldn’t afford to be mediocre.”
Although Dr. Nelson believes her generation may not experience the full participation of women in ministry, she is honored to make her mark at such a critical junction. “God has used me to make a clearance for those women coming behind me,” she states with confidence. “There might still be some stones in the road but not because I haven’t laid a path.”
For Dr. Nelson, changed lives is what keeps her coming back to Ashland year after year, particularly the experience of lining the hallways with other faculty to celebrate graduating classes. “When you see the students’ faces and think you may have had a small part in this walk they are taking... that energizes me to keep going back. You can see transformation happen in people. You can really see it. If you allow yourself to be engulfed by what Ashland has to offer, you will receive the transformation God has for you.”
Ashland Theological Seminary integrates theological education with Christ-centered transformation as it equips men and women for ministry in the church and the world. The seminary offers certificate, master’s and doctoral level programs in Ashland, Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit. Learn more at seminary.ashland.edu.