Thursday, December 17, 2009

Responding to the Spirit

Economic downturn, midlife crisis, or work of the Holy Spirit? Whatever the reason, seminaries are welcoming a new type of student to campus. This student comes with life experience, a background in a profession (such as business, education, law, or medicine), and a desire to make a difference in the world.

Many of the students that I relate to at the Murfreesboro center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary fall into this category. They have families, jobs, and church responsibilities, but they are seeking something new for themselves and for the Kingdom of God. They have a vision that may not fit into the usual parameters of church-related ministry. Some want to be part of a ministry that does not exist already. This is a work of God's Spirit.

This is happening at other seminaries as well.

In a Religious News Service article, David Worley, director of admissions at Iliff School Theology in Denver says, “Our big push is recruiting folks who want to be social entrepreneurs and advocate for social change.”

In the same article, Arthur Holder, dean of the Graduate Theological Union in the San Francisco Bay Area observes, “More people see this [seminary study] as an entrepreneurial venture. They’re saying, `I want to start something. I want to start a new kind of church, a virtual religious community that meets online, or an urban retreat center...’ They’re not expecting the denomination or church organization to do this for them. They want to get the training, the skills and the knowledge (so that) they can create it as they go along.”

Many seminaries are responding to this opportunity with alternative delivery systems for the Master of Divinity program or new degrees. The Shawnee campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary has inaugurated a new Master of Divinity program called CREATE designed especially for ministry entrepreneurs. The seminary also offers a Master of Arts in Missional Church Studies with an emphasis in urban ministry.

I think we will see more such innovations as seminaries and theological schools provide for this new type of student. The wind of the Spirit is blowing and calling us to respond in creative, responsible ways.

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