By Abson Prédestin Joseph, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.
Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University has had an integrative mission from its founding in 2009. It is against this backdrop that we view our partnership with, and participation in, the Oikonomia Network. There are strong affinities between the way Wesley Seminary fulfills its mission to “prepare Christian leaders to engage in missional ministry locally and globally” and ON’s student outcome goals.
From its inception, Wesley Seminary has focused on creating a learning environment where integration plays a central role. We have an integrated curriculum that aims to produce integrated students who will lead integrated and transformed lives in their ministry and community settings.
The master of divinity curriculum weaves together foundational elements – Bible, church history, theology and cultural competency – with praxis components such as preaching, congregational relations and congregational spiritual formation. Students enroll in a one-hour spiritual formation course each term, and journey with the same cohort and professor in that class for the entirety of their program. This approach is designed to help the students approach their theological study holistically, and to avoid the bifurcations and silos one often encounters in such settings. It also underscores our desire for students to be transformed spiritually as they equip themselves to better serve the people God has placed in their care.
Wesley Seminary students are expected to be in a ministry setting during their time of study. This makes it possible for students to reflect on the practice of ministry during an academic theological discussion, and to appraise critically the implications of an interpretive conclusion for a specific issue that they are currently facing in their local context. This kind of integration is multi-faceted. Conceptually, students are able to view and treat their ministry and their study as one. Contextually, and also spatially, the church and the academy coexist in a beautiful harmony.
Therefore, students and faculty lead integrated lives that demonstrate an acute awareness of the symbiotic relationship between the classroom and the pulpit, and between Sunday and the rest of the week. This reality equips our students to know, among other things, how to encourage their congregation to connect ministry beyond the realities of the first day of the week. It creates an awareness of how to galvanize a congregation to embrace and invest in the community that surrounds it. It provides impetus to invite the congregation to join the pastor on the transformative journey of following Christ.
Examples from the Classroom
In the course Integration of Faith and Work, Kwasi Kena leads students on an examination of Sabbath-keeping as a counterbalance to the detrimental effects of work demands. The course aims to help students create a personal theology of work and design a plan to help individuals and/or local congregations integrate Christian faith into their daily work. Among other things, students wrestle with the challenges of working in a fallen world, and learn to develop strategies for navigating challenging work environments. This course is intentional in exposing students to some of the ON resources that are available.
In Exegesis of Wisdom Literature, Larisa Levicheva guides students as they reflect on the Ancient Near Eastern cultures’ understanding of work and its implication for how one should interpret statements about “work” – its value, its necessity, and how one should approach work. Students spend quality time discussing Ecclesiastes’ perspective how to properly value and appreciate work based on the brevity of life and the uncertainty of death.
In Congregational Spiritual Formation, Tammie Grimm provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their role of pastor as teacher in order to develop a comprehensive strategy of communal spiritual formation for their particular ministry context. A theological understanding of work as vocation and as consistent with a faithful life of Christian discipleship – both for pastors and members of their congregation – is considered. The course reinforces the notion that the rhythms of the work and Sabbath relationship are part of the spiritual formation process that undergirds each and every Christian life.
As we look toward the future, we will continue to make strategic decisions that allow us to live out our mission and commitments. In the previous ON newsletter spotlight on Indiana Wesleyan University, we highlighted the Ron Blue Institute. Thanks to this partnership, Wesley Seminary is in the process of adding the course Modeling and Teaching Personal Finance to the curriculum. There, students will not only learn principles for how to view and use money in a godly way, but also discuss how to introduce these concepts to their congregations, and help the congregations become aware of the wealth of resources available to them through the Ron Blue Institute. Further, Wesley Seminary is currently participating in the Association of Theological Schools’ CORE initiative, Cultivating Educational Capacity. As part of the project, we are focusing on faculty development and on institutional dialog regarding ministry in changing contexts. We will use these avenues to continue to find ways to craft curricula that shape faculty and students who are committed to bearing God’s image, bearing witness and bearing fruit.