Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wesley Seminary: FAQ

Wesley Seminary at IWU is about to graduate its first cohort of MDIV students. A lot has happened in these first three years. I'm drafting a quick FAQ sheet not so much for potential students--you have your own set of questions--but for other seminaries.  Here are some questions I think some other institutions might be asking.

1. What is unique about your program?
In this first stage of our existence as a seminary, we are offering two degrees.  The first is an MA in Ministry that we have offered for several decades, with concentrations in Leadership and Youth Ministry.  The second is of course the MDIV.

Following the trend of several seminaries, Wesley's MDIV is a 75 hour degree with the possibility of doing two-thirds of the degree online. The curriculum has been carefully and collaboratively designed down to the level of every week to avoid accidental repetition and to ensure that all the desired outcomes of the degree are achieved. Students proceed through the degree together in a cohort and take a (1 credit hour) spiritual formation course every semester alongside a (6 credit hour) course on a key area of ministry. Meanwhile, they take core courses in Bible, theology, and church history, as well as many electives, in an intensive, one week format.

2. What kind of student are you attracting?
While we also attract the usual gamut of typical seminary students, our passion is to bring theological education to the silent majority of ministers in the world who will never darken the door of the traditional seminary. When you consider the tens of thousands of Christian denominations in the world, not to mention the rising dominance of two-thirds world Christianity, it is clear that the traditional model of seminary education is only serving the smallest portion of ministers in the world. In addition, since most denominations do not require seminary education, there are numerous ministers in North America who want to get into ministry immediately and, while not opposed to seminary education, will never move somewhere to study for three years.

Wesley is attracting this silent majority of Christian ministers. We come alongside them in their ministry setting and "learn by doing." On most weeks they do assignments that involve both research on their local ministry setting and strategies for improving their ministries there. Each "praxis" course on a key topic in ministry culminates with an "Application Paper" in which the students set out a multi-year strategy for their ministry in that area, and in the Capstone course they evaluate how well they are doing up to that point.

3. Where's the Bible, theology, church history in your curriculum?
Approximately 24 credit hours of the core requirements, about a third of the MDIV degree, is dedicated to the "foundational" disciplines of Bible, theology, and church history. This fact is often missed because we have woven half of these hours into the 6 large (6 credit hour) ministry courses in mission, leadership, worship, proclamation, congregational formation, and congregational relationships. However, these courses are team taught with a practitioner and an expert in one of the foundational disciplines (Bible, theology, church history). A third of the course (2 credit hours) is devoted to foundational assignments that in some way relate to the ministerial topic of the course.

With the degree now fully designed, it is satisfying to see how these assignments engage students across the whole canon, the whole gamut of systematic theology, and the whole of Christian history. Another key assignment in each of these six courses is what we call the "Integration Paper."  In this sequence of assignments throughout the course, students pick a relevant pastoral issue and examine it from the standpoint of biblical theology, theological sources, and church historical precedents. The culmination of the project is a position paper in which they formulate a pastoral response to that issue.

4. Can you do spiritual formation online?
There is a prevailing intuition that spiritual formation cannot be done online. However, these intuitions often are based on a certain picture of online education that would not be true of our program.  For example, the cohort model means that students get to know each other over the course of three years incredibly well.  Because they start and end their program together onsite--and also come together once a year for two weeks of intensive classes--these cohorts develop close-knit community and take their face-to-face experience of each other with them into the intervening time online.

The courses themselves are sequenced in such a way as to lead students both individually and corporately through a process of change and development. Every other week involves an act of worship of some sort, so that they are growing affectively and spiritually in addition to the usual cognitive fare. If student testimony is any indication, spiritual formation can take place online.

5. How does Asbury feel about you?
The Wesleyan Church has and continues to enjoy a close relationship with Asbury Theological Seminary, which prior to the founding of Wesley was the primary place for Wesleyan ministers to get a seminary education. Asbury continues to serve Wesleyan students faithfully and indeed has a number of Wesleyan professors among its faculty. We anticipate that Asbury will continue to be the favorite seminary for Wesleyan students looking for a strongly residential program in the traditional model.

Accordingly, both Asbury and Wesley have come to recognize that we each focus on a different segment of the ministerial population. Wesley focuses primarily on those who are already in ministry or who want to learn how to do ministry "on the job." Asbury's program targets those who want to prepare for ministry in a setting where they can focus entirely on that preparation in a residential community.

Asbury also favors those who want to approach the foundational disciplines of Bible, theology, and church history for their own sake.  While Wesley hopes to serve this group as well, our MDIV favors those who primarily want to study these disciplines with a view to their relevance for ministry. The two institutions thus serve complimentary roles for Wesleyan ministerial students.


Dick Norton said...

Does that mean that Ben Witherington has changed his mind about Wesley Seminary offering "MDiv Lite?" How has the curriculum changed from what he criticized a couple of years ago?

Ken Schenck said...

I doubt it, although I hope he at least has a more accurate sense of what he's disagreeing with than when he first wrote that piece.

I'd love to have anyone from Asbury weigh in but I wrote this in the spirit of making peace. I don't think the president of Asbury likes our model but I think he surely would agree that we are largely serving a different audience than he is aiming to serve.

But I hope someone forwards this post to him in the spirit of an olive branch between our institutions.