By Adam Christian and Bert Downs, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.
In this seminary spotlight, we highlight Western Seminary’s Center for Leadership Development. The CLD is a part of our institution specifically aimed at equipping men and women to thrive as Christians in their workplaces, whether they work in church ministry or elsewhere. A growing library of non-credit resources is available to help train individuals and groups in a variety of areas. The center has experienced remarkable growth in recent months.
Saying this has been an eventful year would be a gross understatement. Early this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a necessary response of social distancing, bringing a sense of isolation and separation. This brought with it changes to the way restaurants, stores and other businesses operate, and churches are no exception. Shortly after, the death of George Floyd touched off responses to racial tensions that have long been hiding just under the surface. Again, this presented a challenge for churches and individual believers as they sought ways to be a voice of justice for people created in God’s image. The year has continued to be challenging, with wildfires sweeping the west coast, displacing thousands and forcing others indoors as smoke and ash have made the air outside harmful to breathe.
Like many educational institutions, Western Seminary has sought to find ways through its various ministries to strengthen the local church as well as individual believers at this strategic moment, and with them, to be a light of Christ in our respective communities. One of the key avenues for addressing these immediate challenges has been Western’s Center for Leadership Development. The CLD mission and format offered available avenues for a timely response to the quickly changing circumstances.
The CLD focuses on non-credit, online training, with the mission to equip God’s people for growth in godly identity, effective service and mission fulfillment. Many churches were already using CLD courses to supplement their efforts to train and equip disciples. As COVID-19 introduced a different set of operational realities, those as well as additional individuals, groups, and congregations found CLD courses and certificates to be a perfect answer to many immediate needs.
A current favorite among CLD offerings is the Foundations Track, a collection of nine courses topically including Bible Overview, Hermeneutics, Christian Worldview, Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. Altogether, these courses comprise about 50 hours of coursework. Through them, students obtain a solid foundation for biblical and theological study that is affordable and accessible for people at all stages in their Christian walk. In addition, a number of groups have created custom tracks and certificates tailored to meet their specific growth and mission needs at this time.
Similarly, as racial tensions increased, the Center for Leadership Development organized a webinar entitled “A Biblical Response to Racial Injustice”. The featured presenter was Western alumnus C.J. Quartlbaum, who has spent six years engaged in inner city ministry in Brooklyn. He has spoken nationally on the topic and has written for the Gospel Coalition, The Witness, and Christ and Pop Culture. In this webinar, Quartlbaum provided a brief background on the history of racial injustice, a review of what the Bible says regarding our role in racial justice, and practical suggestions for engaging systemic issues of racial justice productively. Attendance for the live presentation exceeded expectations, and the recorded session continues to serve as a complimentary resource for churches and individuals seeking ways to engage with this important issue.
Helping individual Christians and congregations to bear God’s image effectively in their contexts forms another central goal for the CLD. To that end, it continues to produce courses with that specific objective at their core. Several courses developed over the past few months speak specifically to the need to be equipped and for the church and God’s people to fulfill their calling in all kinds of contexts during in these difficult times.
For instance, in his recent course entitled “What Is the Gospel?”, Gerry Breshears strips away misconceptions about the gospel, and builds a rich portrait of its message with its implications for believers and nonbelievers today. This is essential in a time filled with crises that can either hone and perfect our faith, or distract us, drawing our attention away from God. Learners in this course encounter a fresh look at the gospel, refocusing them on God and his plan to redeem a fallen world.
Another new course is “Orphan Care” taught by Todd Chipman, author of Until Every Child is Home: Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans. He recently collaborated with the CLD to develop a course on this timely topic. In the course, Chipman explores the biblical foundation for both foster care and adoption. He also proposes practical ways for the local church to create foster care and adoption ministries. Throughout the book and course, he underscores how the power of these ministries not only blesses the children involved, but also brings rich blessing to everyone the ministry touches, including congregants and their larger communities.
Through the events and projects mentioned above, as well as many others, we have seen God at work in the midst of today’s turmoil. We are grateful to join in that work by participating with many churches and individuals to contribute to kingdom thriving in the midst of these diverse challenges and opportunities. Our prayer is that God will continue to use Western Seminary and the CLD as a biblical voice for the marginalized and the oppressed; a valuable resource for the local church when usual ways of operating are not always available; and a touchpoint for lives ready for the changes and opportunities that only God can bring to, and fulfill through, them.