Seminary Spotlight: Biola University

By Scott Rae, Helen Mitchell and Matt Williams, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.

Note: Appropriately for the new pandemic reality, this spotlight update comes to you via Zoom video. A transcript, with links to the resources discussed in the video, is provided below.

Scott Rae: We’re happy to bring you this update from Talbot School of Theology and Biola University in the area of faith, work and economics. We’ve got some very exciting things that we want to tell you about here in the next couple of minutes. I’m here with my colleagues, Helen Mitchell, who is the head of Talbot Center for Faith Work and Economics, and Professor Matt Williams, who is the head of all of our five-year programs on the campus. So we’ve had a lot of good things go on in the last six to nine months that we’d like to tell you about. We don’t have time for everything, but Matt and Helen are going to highlight a couple of things.

But what I thinks really important to know about what’s going on in Biola, is that the material on faith, work and economics has been slowly but surely working its way, not only through Talbot School of Theology, but also through the school of business and other parts of the university. We have buy-in from our top-level leadership all the way from the president on down to our deans at the school of theology for why this material matters, why it’s important that we get it right when we talk about work and vocation. And so we’re very, very pleased with the groundwork we’ve been able to lay over the years, and are poised for some really exciting things to take place in the future.

So, Helen, tell us a little bit about what’s going on with the center. And I’ll ask Matt to say a bit about what’s going on with our five-year plans.

Helen Mitchell: Great. Thank you very much. I’d like to share with you two projects that I’ve been working on in conjunction with other parties and individuals and organizations. The first one is a church diagnostic assessment. I’ve been working in partnership with my friend, and someone you may be familiar with, Chuck Proudfit, who leads the At Work on Purpose ministry, the citywide movement in Cincinnati, Ohio. And Chuck and I have been working in conjunction and under the leadership of Dr. Jason Wilson at Biola University. Now, Dr. Wilson is the chair of the mathematics department, as well as leading the new Biola quantitative consulting center. So Dr. Wilson has been consulting with us to develop this assessment that we want to bring and make available for the churches, and ultimately the product that we want to bring out as a fully validated assessment that is a good diagnostic tool.

And well, what do I mean by that? What’s the purpose? Well, we’re looking for why are some churches not getting traction even after they go to a learning community. So they go through a learning community. They write a plan, they write a program, but are they really effecting change, and is that really getting into the DNA of the church? Are lives really being changed and carrying that out on the street? Or what if it’s a church who is wanting to just do a checkup as to where they’re at, how are they doing? Where are the areas of strength and areas of development in the area of faith, work, economics as a church organization, as we bring this into their culture? We’re looking at areas of leadership, organizational, congregational and operational. We’re looking for such things as culture, theology, capacity, alignment with the congregation, ability to execute. What are the constraining factors as it relates to a church implementing and bringing out faith work, economics? Is what they’re doing enough? What does change look like? What should change be? What areas of strength?

So this diagnostic, anticipated to be a fully validated diagnostic assessment tool, is almost in its first phase of rolling out. So in the fourth quarter here, we will be looking for churches who would like to be part of our beta trial. If that is you, let us know.

Second thing is, I’m working on a curriculum project with an organization called Convene Corporation. Now, if you’re not familiar with Convene Corporation, it’s been around for more than 25 years. And they are an organization of CEOs, business leaders, nonprofit leaders and pastors who come together in a forum meeting every month to grow their business with an eternal perspective, and making an impact here as well as for eternity.

So this curriculum project that I’ve been working on with Convene, the title is, The Truth About Your Work: Six Lies Holding You Back From Living Out Your Faith at Work. Now this is a project that’s been underway for probably 18 months now. We have trialed it with hundreds of groups at Irving Bible Church in Texas, where this originally developed out of where I partnered with the gentlemen there out of that church. We have trialed at different churches and different pastoral and church and marketplace groups from the east coast to the west coast, to the Midwest. And each time we have received very, very high marks. So we’re in our finishing touches of this. It’s a synthesis of voices. Not only video, but also written material that we are bringing together that really is going to take this idea of faith, work, economics and disciple people in their work life. And one thing that we have found and we consistently hear is: “I get it now. My life has changed. I know how to walk this out.”

[Note: Scott Rae did a podcast with Convene on The Restorative Power of Work and Helen Mitchell did one on An Integrated Life.]

So we’re looking to make this curriculum available online for free. We’re targeting fourth quarter for launch. And if you or your seminary are interested, let me know about that as well. They’d be great teaching tools in the classroom as well as small group curriculum. Matt.

Matt Williams: All right, thanks. Yeah, I’m the director of the preaching and pastoral program at Biola. It started about six years ago, and our main goal is to give a solid biblical knowledge to our students, and then some practical ministry skills, all in the realm of growing in their spiritual formation. And we do it in community. We have two retreats a year, which is just a blast. We go off to a hotel and discuss important topics and get to know one another. We have weekly classes where we discuss what it means to be a pastor, what it means to grow. We have coffees and smoothies and dinners. We try to have a family atmosphere.

But there’s a lot of exciting things coming up now pretty soon. In fall 2021, so a year from now, we’re launching four new four-plus-one programs. Bachelor/master programs. In Christian education, in Bible exposition, which is our English Bible degree, and then Old Testament and New Testament. So those four, along with preaching and pastoral ministries, will have five programs that students can come, and in five years they can do a bachelor’s and master’s program. So it’s pretty cool. And we’re growing every semester. We’re growing. This fall we have ten new students. I’m pretty excited about one of our new students. He’s a Marine vet. He finished 20 years in the Marine Corps, and now he’s working with vets who have PTSD. So he’s coming to Biola and Talbot to get some more ministry training and knowledge so that he can serve those vets even better.

We’ve started a new relationship with what’s called a national school project. It’s a group of people who are training high-schoolers in secular, public high schools to reach their campuses. Over 95,000 high-school kids have heard the gospel in the last 10 years through this group, and we’re bringing them onto campus, and we’re part of their training. So that relationship is pretty cool for our students. Talbot, as you know from Scott and Helen, has been highly involved in faith, work and economics for a number of years. Starting this summer, we are taking those principles and bringing them down into the undergraduate level in every Bible class, so that not only our Bible majors, but every student at Biola, because every student Biola takes ten Bible classes. All of them will be trained in faith, work and economics. So that’s a big change and really an exciting change when we think about impacting the church.

One quick story from one of our graduates. He just graduated. He got hired by Saddleback Church and one of their satellite campuses in Yorba Linda, California. And he said, how do you do ministry during COVID? And so Saddleback started doing these food banks where people would drive up, and I’ve seen a lot of pictures of them. My own church does this. And usually the car pulls up, you hand them the food, and they take off. But we are interested in both physical and spiritual growth. So our graduate A.J., the first Saturday afternoon that he did this, he passed out food, and then he started sharing the gospel with these people. The first afternoon, he led 15 people to the Lord. In one afternoon. He went back the next Saturday afternoon, handed out food, led 15 more people to the Lord. And they figured out, A.J. has got something here.

So the third time that he went, he started training the lay people in the church to not just hand out food, but to share the gospel and to pray for healing. And he came over to my house that next day and he said, “Matt, these lay people are leading people to the Lord. They’re praying for healing. We saw a guy get healed from back pain. He was really excited. So that’s where this is all going. It’s going into the church, we’re training the lay people. The future is really, really bright to Biola and Talbot. I’m so excited to be a part of this ministry.

Scott Rae: I hope you find that encouraging. It’s all good stuff that God’s doing on our campus. So keep us in your prayers for the development of these programs. And we look forward to providing further updates the future.

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