By Colleen Derr, president; reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.
Wesley’s students serve as basketball coaches, 7-11 managers, junior high teachers, YMCA directors, corporate executives, chaplains and health care providers as well as church planters, pastors, church leaders and missionaries. Our students live in 29 different countries, speak many different languages, and are connected to over 60 different Christian denominations. What they share is a desire to passionately pursue the Great Commission to their Jerusalem, Judea and ends of the earth. Their opportunity for influence is great as they grow in Christ, bearing witness to his message, and seeing lives and communities transformed through the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Wesley Seminary was launched from a desire to offer a different approach to theological education, and to a different audience. It was an approach that focused on providing seminary education “on location” to Christian leaders already serving in vocational and marketplace ministry. And to Christian leaders who were already called to a specific community – individuals already imbedded in a community.
Wesley’s mission is to equip Christian leaders to engage in missional ministry locally and globally. Our desire is to see every man and woman called by the Lord to serve his kingdom equipped for ministry and growing in their own faith. To that end, the courses of study focus on personal spiritual development, the integration of biblical and theological truths with the practice of ministry, and the contextualized application of these biblical and theological understandings to their unique ministry setting.
Wesley’s approach is threefold: to invest in the holistic transformation of every student, to provide foundationally rich application ready content, and to equip students to contextualize content for their unique community that results in transformed lives and communities. This approach is woven into the fabric of every program and across the entirety of the program, rather than residing in a single course.
Wesley is deliberate in providing a holistic approach to transformational education. This includes an academic pursuit that engages the mind, but also experiences that impact the student’s heart and engages their hands. In the MDiv spiritual formation track, every student is placed in a community of students and assigned a pastor/mentor who leads the community throughout the duration of the program (six terms). Courses focus on the student’s personal spiritual formation, gradually deepening the experience, resulting in growth in Christ through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
Todd Leet, financial counselor with Thrivent Financial, speaking of his experience at Wesley, testifies to the impact of this holistic approach:
Taking the classes through Wesley doesn’t just allow me to grow academically, or even in the workplace. The classes challenge the core essence of who I am and my character in Christ. I am being prepared holistically, which makes all the difference in the world. (and my clients see it!). I am challenged by my classes to deepen my roots in Christ, I have a sounding board for my frustrations. I am given practical things to help me grow in my faith and my professional career.
A holistic approach to theological education with an emphasis on personal discipleship is lived out in the day-to-day life of the student as they engage and lead their community.
Wesley provides foundationally rich, application-ready content with students answering the question: “So what for my community, so what for my context?” The impact of this approach is described by current Wesley student Gloria Azikiwe, who serves in Kenya:
Wesley Seminary is intentional to connect theory and practice, so that whatever we are learning is actually applicable to our lives and experiences in ministry. We have been so blessed to also interact across cultures, engage diverse perspectives, build friendships and grow in ways we never had envisioned in our knowledge of God, his work of grace in us and his transforming power through us. The classes have been refreshing and have ignited our passion to serve God with all that is within us.
An intentional approach that calls students to engage their communities, to manifest God’s love through interaction and service, and to lead those they are called to serve to a deeper experience of lived-faith to the “least and lost.”
Wesley equips students to contextualize content for their unique community that results in transformed lives and communities. Abson Joseph, dean of Wesley Seminary, describes the curriculum as “dynamic,” in that it allows every professor to bring to it their experiences and wisdom, and for every student to take from it the ability to synthesize the content in light of their experiences, insights and contextual reality, resulting in a contextualized response for their unique community.
Dynamic curriculum allows the student to see the potential impact for their community and contextualize to it. This approach to curriculum also provides the necessary space for students to apply contextualized insight in real time, and see the fruit of this work as their community flourishes and their people are moved to action.
Alumnus Tom Cochran shares:
A few months ago, I heard Dr. Colleen Derr say the phrase, “We are Wesley.” That statement is powerful when you think about it. Not only does it speak to the community that we feel when we gather for classes or connect with our cohort post-graduation, it also speaks to the global focus that Wesley has in training us for ministry. Thank you, Wesley Seminary, for focusing on principles over models, for teaching us to look globally, for equipping us to carry out the mission of God!