Saturday, July 10, 2010

Churches that Teach

Churches and seminaries continue to seek new models to prepare men and women for ministry in the life of the church. Both are acknowledging the necessity to adapt to a changing situation. Many churches are calling out their own members to leadership roles but recognize the need for quality theological education. Seminaries realize that fewer students are willing to relocate to pursue preparation for ministry, especially those already involved in church leadership and those who have experienced a call to ministry at mid-life. The situation calls for new delivery models.

A new example is The Potter's House, the Dallas megachurch led by Bishop T.D. Jakes. The church is expanding its mission statement to include collaboration with Palmer Theological Seminary. The Pennsylvania seminary has started a Master of Theological Studies program that will be mostly online, but will have students spending a week every other term at the Potter's House, getting practical experience under Jakes and other pastors.

In an article in the Dallas News, Jakes added that other seminaries have approached him about a partnership. He went with Palmer, he said, because its program is based on the Openseminary model that began in South Africa and seeks to give a seminary education to laity and church workers who can't relocate to a seminary campus.

Central Baptist Theological Seminary recognized the need for new models of theological education several years ago, establishing centers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Wisconsin site is supported by the regional American Baptist organization. The Tennessee site is a partnership involving First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro; Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; and the seminary. Both programs have already produced graduates with the Master of Divinity degree. Central is also increasing its online offerings to provide students both on the Shawnee campus and the centers flexibility in their degree programs.  Central offers innovative programs such as the Master of Arts in Missional Church Studies in an urban setting and a cohort-based approach to the M.Div. called "create."

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Partnerships such as these are productive both for the seminaries and the churches and will strengthen both in coming days.

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