Friday, July 18, 2014

Wesley Seminary - ATS Accredited!

Although we have known unofficially for about a month now, we received the official letter in the mail yesterday announcing that Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University is now fully and officially accredited by the Association of Theological Schools! How incredible it is to think that it was only five years ago next month that our first MDIV cohort arrived on campus for its first class!

We are incredibly grateful to all those who have had a hand in making this possible, from former President Smith and the countless minds who played a role in the design of the seminary to Wayne Schmidt and all the faculty who daily give their best to its future. But most of all, we have to thank the students!  They are the seminary.

I figure some 600 students, maybe more, have come through Wesley's halls, electronic and otherwise, these last five years. We're expecting our August enrollment snapshot to be somewhere around 450, surely making us the fastest growing seminary in the world right now! Hard to believe! The average seminary size is about 155.

There's no guarantee of the future. And while we are ever thankful to God, there is no sure correlation between spiritual worthiness and growth. So if you were to ask me, practically, the causes of this growth, here's my analysis:

1. An enthusiastic launching pad
Let's face it, if Indiana Wesleyan University and The Wesleyan Church had not put their full and enthusiastic weight behind the start of the seminary, including some significant financial resources, Wesley wouldn't have happened. While being embedded in a broader institution is not without its own challenges, we simply would not exist without those resources.

What genius minds had a role to play in the start of Wesley, including the likes of Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, Ed Hoover... so many sharp cookies!  Enthusiasm about a place is not to be underrated. It creates and maintains momentum. I believe that enthusiasm has been a key element in the growth of Wesley.

2. Accessible, affordable, practical
Former President Smith used to summarize Wesley with these three words, and there's no question in my mind that these are also essential components of Wesley's growth. The financial incentives that were put in place almost make it insane for a Wesleyan pastor to go to any other seminary unless they're just perverse. :-)

The demand for online education at a distance is so overwhelming it boggles my mind. If we had to rely on onsite cohorts, we would close our doors tomorrow. The initial floodgates of our enrollment have primarily been individuals who would not normally have gone to seminary in the traditional days of moving somewhere.

Our curriculum is overwhelmingly practical. How it warms the heart to hear students say, "I saw changes in my congregation before the eight week class was even over"! And it is "faith-friendly." Let's face it, a lot of Bible classes at traditional seminaries are professors doing therapy over their ex-fundamentalism. It's like the main goal is to show you how stupid you are about the Bible. None of that at Wesley.

3. A "yes," "can do" attitude
Wesley was started with a "can do" attitude that has always been biased toward saying, "Yes." It's not that there aren't standards. It's just that, if it is reasonable to get to point B but the path from A to B is not straightforward, we will do everything we can to get you to point B anyway. Sometimes there isn't a way, but we spend a good deal of our energy trying to get individual students where they have every reason to go.

This is a problem-solving, possibility-seeing spirit that is student-oriented. It majors on the major and is more focused on getting to the destination than on a prescribed path to get there. Function must always trump form.

4. A quality, sacrificial, gap-filling faculty
We have a tireless faculty. I vividly remember a meeting just after John Drury and Lenny Luchetti were hired where I physically sighed with relief to realize that they were revving their engines to start filling in the gaps and to "go on unto perfection" (in the words of Heb. 6:1 in the KJV). Each faculty member brings their own superpowers:
  • Bob Whitesel - a true genius who as I write has a group of students in England on a Wesley's Leadership tour. They're reading Wesley and about Wesley in the most significant places of Wesley's ministry. I'm not even 50 and I'm wondering where he got the energy to do everything he does. He's become a Wesley scholar in his own right, just getting ready for these trips.
  • Charles Arn - This guy has the gift of online teaching. What a great way to begin the program for students. He is full of a can-do spirit, meets students when he's just passing through town, is always coming up with some resource he found that is relevant to whomever. A true servant's heart who is always volunteering to serve, even though he lives in California.
  • John Drury - Dr. Drury is a genius beyond question. He's the kind of mind that could be locked up at Harvard or Oxford writing the next step in theology. But get this, he's a tremendous teacher as well, who loves to meet with students one-on-one, not just for the mind but for the spirit as well.
  • Lenny Luchetti - Dr. Luchetti is a work horse. It seems like every time I see him he is in an all out sprint. Did anyone seriously ever suggest that this was going to be a "lite" seminary? Insert condescending guffaw. They obviously haven't compared their courses to Lenny's! He has a pastor's heart and a heart for pastors. 
  • Colleen Derr - Dr. Derr has stepped into the gap repeatedly. She has pinch hit for me countless times to see projects through. Our adjuncts are now more than adequately served with her as advisor, and it was she who completely revamped our dwindling youth ministry MA into a children, youth, and family concentration that is so much in demand that we're going to have to split the new group starting next month.
  • Safiyah Fosua - When I heard Dr. Fosua doing a devotional last year, I wondered why in the world I was the official Bible person in the seminary. What power in the spoken word!  And she's not even the preaching prof! Dr. Fosua took over the worship component at Wesley when it was barely keeping its head above the water and made it excellent.
  • Kwasi Kena - Dr. K, as the Bishop Benjamin cohort calls him, brings a level of excellence and perfection to bear on everything he does that is mind-numbing to me. He's tireless and the consummate professional with an eye for detail. He and Dr. Fosua have sacrificed to make a contextualized, urban cohort in Indy an amazing and growing success. (A real treat are the jam sessions he, Dr. Fosua, and Dr. Drury bring to bear on our convocation and consecration services.)
  • Joanne Solis-Walker - She's not faculty but has sacrificially and almost single-handedly erected a Spanish MDIV program, with a quality team of gifted and dedicated adjuncts. Her half-time has been more like double time. She dreams big and works tirelessly to make it happen.
  • As of July 1 we have two more full-time faculty to add to the mix. Brannon Hancock and Luigi Peñaranda are going to be two more amazing contributors to the momentum. Dr. Hancock is an extroverted practical theologian whose bow ties amaze the Nazarene eye. He can teach just about anything and is another musician. Dr. Peñaranda will finally bring a full time faculty eye to the Spanish MDIV, while bringing an intersection of leadership and Bible expertise to the table of all the students in the seminary. He has the innovative DNA with which the seminary was founded.
  • Educational institutions these days couldn't survive without a significant pool of competent, faithful adjuncts. Here's to all the brilliant professors who have been willing to bring their expertise to our students' table in the first five years of the seminary!
5. A networking leader
In my opinion, the seminary would be stable but not growing if it weren't for its connection-making leader, Dr. Wayne Schmidt. Hardly a day seems to go by when he is not meeting with some new possible partner to serve and walk on a common journey. In the business of education, it seems like to stand still is to move backwards. Atlanta, multiple groups in Indy, Colombia, and who knows where next. You don't need to come for him to build it. He'll come to you!

6. A great team
Dare I say that the seminary has a knock-out admissions team led by Aaron Wilkinson. It's hard to imagine how you could beat him, Dianne Clark, Kami Mauldin, and Moses Avila as an optimistic welcome sign to the seminary. Long before our students hit their first class, they are pumped and ready to go because of the enthusiasm of this team.

And it goes without saying that the real machine at the heart of the seminary is Karen Clark, Tenley Horner, Allison Horner, Becky Perry, and Tera Teitjens? They are the ones that keep things going. What a sad state things would be in if they were not cranking the wheels and feeding the monster.

I've done a dangerous thing, mentioning specific names. Beyond the walls is the team of the broader university, countless faces that make things happen and lend their enthusiastic support--not least President David Wright, whose years of experience are a constant source of wisdom and insight. Beyond IWU are the Wesleyan leaders who share in the dream. We now have seminary alumni who are out there spreading the word, feeding the lore, creating a culture.

Happy Birthday, Wesley Seminary! Happy Accreditation! The LORD bless you for years to come!


Matt Brady said...

As a Wesley Seminary student, it makes me happy to hear the good news of ATS accreditation. Now, I'm just hoping we MDiv students can move seamlessly into the DMin when our opportunity comes. I'm proud to be a part of what God is doing through IWU and Wesley Seminary!

Ken Schenck said...

The DMIN proposal is already through three academic hoops and is on its way to the university faculty Senate. However, it is now not targeted to start until the summer of 2016 (so that the slow wheels of accreditation can play out). Normally, you're supposed to have 3 years of full-time ministerial experience between the MDIV and DMIN.

It's going to be a tight funnel at first, only about 20 in the first cohort in leadership, if all goes according to plans.

Rob Henderson said...

Congratulations, Dr. Schenk. I have seen your musings for years prior to the inception IWU Seminary and now to see this milestone is a thrill for me as a Wesleyan. Thank you for your tireless endeavors as well as the other team members who worked very hard to see this vision fulfilled.