michael christensen

Director of Shalom Initiative
for Prophetic Leadership and Community Development
Drew University


Personal Narrative

Michael J. Christensen is Director of the Shalom Initiatve for Prophetic Leadership and Community Development at Drew University where he teaches spirituality and religious studies. His B.A. in English Literature is from Point Loma Nazarene University (1977),  M.A. in Religion from Yale University Divinity School (1981), and M.Phil and Ph.D. from Drew University (1997).

He was appointed Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Drew Theological School in 1995 and was responsible for six doctoral concentrations. Dr. Christensen is an ordained United Methodist minister in the California-Nevada Annual Conference with a professional background in urban ministry and international relief and development.

Since 1988, he has taught college, seminary and graduate courses in religious studies at Point Loma College and Drew University. Working at the intersection of psychology and religion, his academic and professional interests are in spiritual formation, mental health and social transformation.

A relief and development specialist, program consultant, and mental health trainer since 1990, Dr. Christensen is founder of Laird/Christensen Associates. His training specialty is field traumatology, family coping skills, and community mental health promotion utilizing indigenous leaders, organizational volunteers and paraprofessionals. Currently, he is director of the Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) program in Malawi, Africa, sponsored by CitiHope International.

Dr. Christensen is author or editor of nine books:
C. S. Lewis on Scripture
City Streets, City People: A Call to Compassion
The Samaritan's Imperative: Compassionate Ministry to People Living With AIDS
Children of Chernobyl: Raising Hope from the Ashes
The World After Chernobyl
Equipping the Saints: Mobilizing Laity for Ministry
The Heart of Henri Nouwen 
Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of the Faith by Henri Nouwen
Partakers of the Divine Nature:  Deification in the Christian Traditions
He is also an associate editor of and contributor to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Millennialism and contributor to the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Community, the Encyclopedia of Homelessness and the Encyclopedia of Religion and Social Justice.

Dr. Christensen's professional development has informed his current assignment at Drew University.
From 1973-1981, while attending college and seminary, Christensen served as an urban ministry intern, Director of Communications, Associate Pastor and Interim Pastor at the Lamb's Center in New York's Times Square.  After graduating "with distinction" from Point Loma College in 1977, his Honors Thesis was published as his first book: C. S. Lewis on Scripture (Word, 1979), which sold over 30,000 copies.  His mentor at Yale Divinity School, Henri Nouwen, advised him to check into a Trappist monastery after graduating, which Michael did for a month at New Melleray Abbey. There he embraced solitude and contemplative spirituality as a basis for active social ministry.

From 1981-1990, Christensen was Founding Pastor and Executive Director of Golden Gate Community in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco--a Nazarene urban mission and church congregation specializing in compassionate ministries with the homeless, persons with AIDS, and people in recovery. During this time, he also founded or co-founded five social service agencies, including: the Oak Street House for people in transition, the Bridge for Kids living with HIV, and the Hamilton Family Center--San Francisco's first emergency family shelter. The story of how these neighborhood ministries began is told in City Streets City People: A Call to Compassion (Abingdon, 1988).

In 1988, during a sabbatical from Golden Gate Community, he was Visiting Instructor in Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry at Point Loma Nazarene University, and also traveled to India to work with Mother Teresa, and to Tibet to visit monasteries.

 From 1990-92, Michael was Associate Pastor of Hamilton United Methodist Church and Executive Director of the United Methodist AIDS Project of the California Nevada Annual Conference. He also served as a chaplain on the AIDS unit at San Francisco General Hospital under the Episcopal Chaplaincy Office. His experience and insights from training religious professionals as caregivers were published as The Samaritan's Imperative: Compassionate Ministry to People Living with AIDS (Abingdon, 1991). 

From 1992-1995, Christensen has served as a community development consultant for World Vision and CitiHope International, primarily in support for the children of Chernobyl in Belarus and Ukraine. After seventeen missions to the contaminated region, he has witnessed what he calls the "apocalyptic dimension of Chernobyl"-- the extensive, pervasive, adverse, public health effects and community trauma from the world's worst nuclear accident.  Among the various Chernobyl-related projects he has initiated and coordinated are these: recruitment and supervision of 80 American volunteers in the humanitarian distribution of USDA food products in the contaminated regions (1990-1992); recruitment and facilitation of visiting psychologists, mental health educators and psychiatric social workers who conducted mental health training workshops in Belarus (1992-94); and the acquisition, sponsorship and distribution of medical assistance through CitiHope International (1994-95).  His award-winning book, Children of Chernobyl, co-authored by journalist Michelle Carter, documents the plight of some 800,000 children at risk for cancer from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (Augsburg Fortress, 1993). 

During the 8th anniversary of Chernobyl (1994), he was invited to testify before the Human Rights Caucus of the United States Congress, which eventually resulted in a Congressional mandate and USAID funding to screen adolescents for thyroid cancer and train para-professionals in mental health services for children and youth in Ukraine. Christensen served as Senior Consultant and Program Manager of the psychosocial component of the Chernobyl Childhood Illness Program--a four million dollar USAID cooperative agreement to support medical treatment and mental health training in Ukraine (1998-2001). During the NATO war over Kosovo (1999), he assessed and helped coordinate refugee relief efforts for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Macedonia. After the September 11 terrorist attack on New York, he assisted in setting up a "Prayer Tent" at the NJ Command Center at Liberty State Park for rescue workers.  Within days of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, he represented CitiHope International in an airlift to deliver 1.6 million dollars worth of needed medicines and essential medical supplies (2005).  Currently, he is program consultant for the PACCT Program (Pastoral and Congregational Care Training)-- HIV/AIDS educational program in Malawi, Africa , co-sponsored by CitiHope and the Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia.

Christensen came to Drew to study theology in the Graduate School in 1993 on a full Will Herberg Merit Scholarship.  In 1995, he was appointed by Dean Leonard Sweet as Director of the Doctor of Ministry program in the Theological School.  He graduated in 1997 and received the Helen LePage and William Chamberlain Prize "awarded for the dissertation that is singularly distinguished by creative thought and excellent prose style" His Ph.D. dissertation "Chernobyl Apocalypse: A Theological Case Study" focused on religious interpretations of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Belarus.  His public policy monograph, The World After Chernobyl: Social Impact and Christian Response (Crossroads Monograph Series, 1997) was distributed through the Center for Justice in Washington, D.C. 

As a senior administrator at the Theological School, Dr. Christensen has coordinated Drew's Diaconal, Certification, National Conference, Continuing Education and Doctor of Ministry programs.  During his tenure, the regional DMin offerings have been expanded to include an international setting (Korea), and several new program concentrations, including: Hispanic Leadership, Global/Online, Congregational Growth and Development, Worship, Spirituality and Preaching, Pastoral Care and Counseling, and Ecological Ministries.  For ten years, he has designed and facilitated an annual Drew@Ocean Grove Themes in Ministry course that regularly draws large classes.

In addition to directing the DMIN Program at Drew, Dr. Christensen teaches a number of courses in the College, Seminary and Graduate School, including: The Romantic Theology of C. S. Lewis and the Inklings, The Life and Works of Henri J. M. Nouwen, Thomas Merton and Mysticism, Apocalyptic Eschatology, and Religion and Social Justice. 

He is married to writer and editor, Dr. Rebecca Laird, who also is an ordained minister. They have two teenage children and live in Madison, New Jersey.