Thursday, February 12, 2015

4. Innovation involves some trial and error. (1)

Previously on Seminary take-aways:
1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

The first year of the Seminary was "Launch Year."

1. The first course in the Seminary curriculum is Missional Church. Long before Dr. Charles Arn became the first new faculty member, Russ Gunsalus, as Director of Graduate Ministry, was getting the band back together to work on the first course.

In February of 2008, Russ got Norm Wilson, Keith Drury, Dave Smith and me together at a retreat center in northern Indiana to brainstorm what this course would look like in concrete form. Bob Whitesel, who lived in the area at that time, also dropped by. At that time he was the only full-time faculty person in the Department of Graduate Ministry.

The team saw four main content items in this course: 1) evangelism, 2) service, 3) church planting and multiplication, and 4) global missions.

It was obvious that evangelism needed to be in this course, but we did not want it to be a narrowly defined evangelism. There is some internal Seminary joking about the church growth movement. Bob Whitesel of course was a student of Don McGavran, so any dismissive comment about the church growth movement being shallow immediately meets with strong push back from Bob about the real church growth movement and the depth of McGavran's theology.

But there were worries expressed in the creation of Wesley that it not become a "church growth seminary," in a pejorative sense. So in designing the Missional Church course, we did not want the course to have a narrow definition of evangelism as something along the line of Evangelism Explosion back in the 70s or a superficial sense of evangelism as leading people to pray the sinner's prayer.

(I might add that in the Summer of 2010, Wayne Schmidt and the faculty read through The Next Evangelicalism and had a lively discussion about the "homogeneous principle" that was so well known as part of the church growth movement. It's the idea that like is attracted to like and thus that churches grow more the less diverse they are.)

We chose the word missional not only because it was a buzz word at the time but because the Wesleyan tradition has always been concerned with aspects of the gospel that today we would call "social justice." The Wesleyan tradition does not pit service to the needs of others against spiritual needs. The good news extends beyond salvation of the soul to salvation of the whole person in every domain, indeed to the redemption of the structures of society and even the creation.

BTW, Bob Whitesel wrote Waypoints about the time this course was being created, which has missional written all over it. He repeatedly emphasizes that a missional church contrasts with an attractional church. An attractional church is focused on how to bring people to itself. A missional church asks what God is doing in one's community and jumps on board with his mission.

Church Planting and Multiplication
When we were just proposing an MDIV in the summer of 2007, I met with all three General Superintendents in Indy to see if the Wesleyan denomination was in support of our Seminary venture. In fact, in a move that seemed unprecedented, all three later came to one of the Seminary Task Force meetings to show their support (Earle Wilson, Tom Arminger, Jerry Pence). Clearly they emphatically supported the venture. Somewhat reminiscent of Paul in Galatians 2:10--they only wanted us to remember church planting and multiplication.

The multiplication piece was also central on their minds because, as I understand it, the survival rate of plants that are part of a parent church (what Bob calls "internal plants") is much higher than plants that are out on their own.

Global Mission
We felt like there should be something on traditional missions in this course. Norm always kept us mindful of the global church in all our designing.

2. If everything went according to plan, the Missional Church course would first be offered in August of 2009. That was over a year later. On the retreat, we had come up with an outline for the course, and Norm Wilson was asked to take a first shot at filling in the concrete blanks. I'm sure Keith Drury was sitting back shaking his head while I fumbled around in the dark about this whole curriculum design piece. We knew what we wanted the general characteristics of the classes to be. But getting a real course into a form we were happy with was another thing.

For example, Norm had never taught an online class at that time, so inevitably his first drafts had a very onsite feel. Ironically, by the time the Seminary was going, we would end up with the opposite problem: our courses ended up so oriented around the online that we had trouble figuring out how to do them onsite at first.

I apologize to that first cohort for the pain I caused them. :-) Here were the initial features of that first template that now seem obviously way too complex and just too much:
  • Many weeks had five assignments--way too much. Chip and I ended up pulling out at least one assignment every week even before the first offering of the class was over.
  • The first offering of Missional Church had four professors--Chip as the praxis professor, me as Bible, Chris Bounds for theology, Bud Bence for history, and me as "Integration Professor."
  • The student had at least two of the above professors each week, which means that there was frequently confusion over who was teaching what.
  • Each week had an "Application Paper" assignment in which the learning of the week was applied to the student's local church ministry and captured at the end of the course in an uber-strategic Application Paper. 
  • The course had running throughout it an "Integration Paper" (IP). In this paper, students pick a pastoral issue and then explore it in relation to the Bible, theology, and church history in order to formulate a pastoral response. 
  • The student could pick any topic relating to mission for this IP, which means everyone was doing something different. Every student had to pick their own passages, find their own theologians and historians, etc. 
The idea for the IP, which embodied the goal of integration the most, came near the end of the retreat, as I recall. I had the idea, I think, after we had already sketched out most of the content of the Missional course. That meant that, at least initially, it was added on to an already full course. It was too much.

3. So let me back up a bit. Norm had created many pieces, but the craziness above (more on complexity later) required a particular kind of crazy to put together into concrete form. I know when Dr. Charles Arn came on as our first faculty hire, July 1, 2009, he must have felt like nothing yet had been done on the course. Little did he know how much water had already flowed under the bridge.

As was his right as a full-time faculty person, we began to join what had been before with his own expertise in the area. This is a natural aspect to any joining of new to old. We had to negotiate what stayed from before, what was modified, what would be new, and what order it would now go in. Chip was, as always, the consummate team player. Bob was going to teach the onsite Missional course in the Fall, so he was also part of the discussion.

This is one of the features of a start-up organization. When you start with such a small number of people, each new person changes the mix much more dramatically than when you are adding someone to an existing organization with an established core and ethos. In the case of the Seminary, the dream was so unlike the prior experience of any new person, that joining must have been something like jumping into ice cold water for each new faculty person. It was like learning a whole new language.

Through no fault of Chip's (indeed, he would have had it done lickity split), the course was only mostly finished by the time the semester began. I was trying to jockey between the voices (not to mention the other aspects of the Dean's job) and be an instructional designer in Blackboard all at the same time.

That leads to another aspect of my stubbornness that I know many questioned especially in the second year of the Seminary. Why doesn't the Seminary just go along with the way the rest of the online programs operate at IWU? My goal was to take the best of both CAS and CAPS. This inevitably led to tensions in the early stages. Online CAPS was designed for 10,000. We were trying to customize for 30.

With regard to Blackboard, for example, I wanted the buttons to be organized by week rather than by type of assignment (you'll notice that all of IWU now does this and other things I changed for the Seminary ;-) We had sixteen week courses, so going under one button for assignments, then having to click out to go to another for discussions, then click out to go to another for submissions, and another for groups seemed insane. Why not just collect all the assignments for each week in one place?

There were other areas where I wanted to customize Blackboard. For example, we wanted students and professors to be able to subscribe to forums (remember that old function in Blackboard when you could get an email when someone posted something? ;-), which wasn't the default format at that time.

Mind you, this was even before the Center for Learning Innovation was created. I remember when Dave Leitzel showed me how to do what I wanted to do in Blackboard. But I would have to create it if I wanted it a customized way.

4. So there was a quick feedback loop back then, with just as quick revisions made. The first cohort knew they were guinea pigs, but there was a certain excitement at being the first cohort that I think made up for it. Everyone had the sense that they were part of something very exciting and innovative. Do you all agree?

The first convocation service was packed in the commons of the student center for that August 2009 start. Keith Drury preached the sermon, "From Great to Good." Chip led us through a litany I had created that stitched together different Bible verses. We took communion by intinction. We tried to come up with a song that might become the Seminary song, something like "And Can It Be" is at Asbury.

The fact that I can't remember what it was indicates that it didn't stick. :-)


Paul Tillman said...

"The first cohort knew they were guinea pigs, but there was a certain excitement at being the first cohort that I think made up for it. Everyone had the sense that they were part of something very exciting and innovative. Do you all agree?"

Yes. After I was made cohort rep. I received the brunt of the student frustration, instead of it going directly to your inbox. However, there was also a strong sense that as the first cohort we were guinea pigs with a voice, and had more of an ability than any other cohort would to shape our own seminary experience and help define how the later cohorts would experience Wesley. Sure we had to smooth the path, but we also got to trail blaze. Despite some of the rough patches, we all felt and still feel the honor of being the first.

Ken Schenck said...

Feel free to make notes on these. Remember, this is for posterity. :-) You can even email thoughts to me for private recording for posterity.