Seminary Spotlight: Sioux Falls Seminary

By Philip Thompson, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.

The Oikonomia Network’s student outcome goals include desired outcomes for “pastors, Christian leaders and local churches.” Sioux Falls Seminary wholeheartedly endorses these outcomes and has worked to integrate them thoroughly as we develop “servants for their participation in the kingdom mission,” regardless of the context of their ministry. To give but one very recent example, the day before finalizing this article, I and two other mentors conducted a “master assessment” for a student. We assessed him on this outcome: “Articulate and engage their vocation in a mentored life, intentional Christian community and whole-life stewardship.” We focused the conversation to a great extent on faith and work. In particular, vigorous and wide-ranging discussion arose from a question from his vocational mentor: “Does work have to advance the kingdom to have intrinsic value? Is it legitimate for the mayor to serve the common good of developing a safe, civil and just city (common grace) without having to serve the redemptive purposes of God (special grace)?” The student’s answer and conversation that followed explored theology, scripture, ethics, the practice of ministry and even worship. The student’s preparation included ON resources built into the standard assignments for that outcome, and we had him draw upon and reflect on additional resources available from ON and Karam Forum.

Yet there is more. It should be clear from our previous updates that we believe these goals reflect our guiding convictions about how theological schools operate, not just in the convictions and principles we commend, but “at full stretch” – to borrow a favored phrase of liturgical theologian Don Saliers.

In our last update, we introduced the intentional way in which we are developing and cultivating partnerships through the Kairos Network. The third ON outcome goal commends “systems and practices that promote value creation while challenging systems and practices that extract value from others or borrow it from the future instead of creating it.” This is deeply resonant with our resolve, stated in our Statement of Strategic Direction, “efficiently [to] develop people, and empower fresh and collaborative expressions of theological education and integrated counseling,” and to do so in such a way that reflects the abundance of God’s kingdom economy rather than the competition for scarce resources that characterize the economies of a world still awaiting redemption. A stated institutional value of Sioux Falls Seminary declares: “Trusting in the triune God, we joyfully share with others in embodying the economy of God in the world today.” Indeed, it is a vision embodied in the Kairos Network that has, as Annie Dillard put it, “draw[n] us out to where we can never return” (Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 40).

Kairos currently includes thirty-five partners. Not all partnerships, however, are engaged in precisely the same way. Rather, just as our curriculum forms students faithfully to answer God’s call in their particular contexts, our partnerships proceed in awareness of the particularity of each institution or organization’s corporate vocation. There are two types of partnership within Kairos: Legacy Partners and Collaborating Partners.

Legacy Partners are unique among the various forms of collaboration pursued by Sioux Falls Seminary. These are institutions that have chosen to integrate their programs, faculty, staff, assets and liabilities fully into the Kairos Network, thus sharing in the innovative learning model and operational practice. Alumni, donors and other stakeholders of each Legacy Partner typically see little external change in the institution through this process. This is because the Partner’s name, campus, key administrators and faculty remain unchanged even once the full integration into the broader team supporting the growing work of Kairos has taken place. The original mission of each Legacy Partner continues to be supported in their respective regions and with their respective constituencies. Learning continues to be contextualized for those regions and those constituencies.

One of the Legacy Partners is Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, Pa. Evangelical’s roots lie in the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition of the Evangelical Congregational Church. The school was founded in 1953. In 2018, Sioux Falls Seminary began conversations with Evangelical, exploring whether there might be a way for the two seminaries to work together. SFS had already developed a partnership with Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Ab., and believed the two schools could work together with Evangelical in new ways. Evangelical responded to this invitation, choosing to become a Legacy Partner within the Kairos Network. The decision was rooted in the idea of “mission acceleration,” to use a phrase from Evangelical’s board chair. It became clear to all that working together would have a multiplying, rather than simply an additive, impact. The official launch date for the legacy partnership was July 1, 2020. By fall 2020, there was record enrollment in the Th.D. and M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy degrees offered by Evangelical. There was also significant expansion in the theological and geographic diversity of the student body. Finally, the Legacy Partners launched a new iteration of the Kairos Network that leverages technical capabilities made possible by the combination of staff and faculty.

While there are currently only a few Legacy Partners, a much larger number are part of Kairos as Collaborating Partners. Collaborating Partners work with the Kairos Network by building programs that utilize the Network’s educational platform or by creating pathways for participants eventually to engage in the Kairos Network through Sioux Falls Seminary or another Legacy Partner. 

Emmanuel Academies, a ministry of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in southwest Florida, is an example of the first type of Collaborating Partner. It was formed with the goal of preparing leaders who could serve faithfully and effectively in the cultural and demographic diversity of the southern US and also in Central and South America. The school was looking to develop a highly innovative five-year pastoral leadership degree program when it learned about Kairos. Rather than starting “from scratch,” Emmanuel Academies realized the possibility to leverage the Kairos Network in order to create a customized, contextualized, confessionally Lutheran journey of theological education. In doing so, they have been able to launch a new program without the traditional startup costs of launching an entire school.

Through our partners, Sioux Falls Seminary shares in the formation of persons called to serve God and steward flourishing life around the world. Currently we share in God’s Kingdom work with sisters and brothers in seventy denominations, in forty-eight states and six provinces, twenty-eight countries and in four languages. We are grateful that God has drawn us out, and we hope never to return.

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