Bethel Seminary: Partnering with Converge to develop leaders
Bethel Seminary dean
At Bethel Seminary, we believe the church must serve the already-convinced and people far from God. As a seminary, this means partnering with Converge — our family of churches — to recruit, develop and send out spiritually alive, biblically grounded, 21st-century leaders.
This is why we exist.
Central to honoring God’s glory is aligning with God’s heart, both for his church and for the world. So we love and serve the church by equipping leaders who will guide the church toward spiritual growth for the sake of a needy world.
We believe leadership is influence. Leaders achieve results by the Spirit. The point isn’t the activitiesof ministry: preaching, counseling, teaching God’s Word, going on mission trips. The point is the results God achieves: new believers following Jesus, stronger disciples trusting God more, young people owning an adult faith, families finding healing and whole communities changing through the gospel.
Stereotypes paint seminaries as overly academic. Bethel is different. While we believe in the benefits of godly scholarship, we also view all aspects of learning (preaching, New Testament, spiritual formation, missional studies or counseling) through the lens of ministry effectiveness. It’s not about information, but about personal and community transformation.
This isn’t seminary as it once was. This is seminary as the church and the world need it to be.
How we think differently about seminary.
We develop leaders by educating students to become not just thoughtful scholars, but well-rounded influencers. They must trust God deeply, understand God’s Word and our postmodern world and lead effectively to experience God’s grace and favor in their calling. We challenge each student to grow in character, wisdom and leadership skill.
Character: Obviously, Christian leaders should exhibit godly character, but it’s not always a reality. A Bethel education teaches students to listen to the Spirit, sacrifice instinctively for others, face their dark side and lead first as servants.
Wisdom: We all know God’s Word at one level, but that doesn’t guarantee that we grasp it deeply. God spoke into a culture that’s unlike our postmodern world. We believe the church needs leaders who are deeply rooted in the Bible and skilled in connecting its message to a skeptical, 21st-century world.
Leadership: People often emphasize the ministry activities that leaders do. Leaders focus more on the purpose and impact of these functions—to build the church and reach the world. Effective leaders make sure their ministry doesn’t create dependent sheep but builds strong shepherds (other leaders) who will, in turn, lead other sheep.
We think the kinds of graduates seminaries produce should look less like Einstein and more like Jesus.
How this kind of leadership preparation looks
As we listen to pastors, we keep designing the seminary experience, so it works for this season. We believe the best way to prepare leaders today is a Residency Model, a seminary-church partnership.
Streamlined education: In a Residency Model, future leaders learn in their church setting. They don’t uproot from their community, plug into the seminary community, only to uproot again. Future leaders stay connected to their church as they learn, so they remain aligned with its vision and culture.
Richer, more practical learning: In a Residency Model, future leaders alternate between leadership practice (either paid or volunteer) and leadership thinking (in their classes). They bring ministry experience to class and seminary learning to church. This back-and-forth dynamic creates rich, practical learning.
Wider funnel for potential leaders: This is key. In the past, 22-year old college grads volunteered themselves for ministry. Today, the most effective pattern is for seniorleaders to recruit, develop and send out individuals with leadership potential. Today, leaders can recruit people from all walks of life: a 22-year old college grad, a 34-year old volunteer or a 45-year old vet. Through a Residency Model, anyone can stay where they live and prepare for ministry, which widens the funnel. Senior leaders can expand their influence by recruiting high potential leaders in their current church who already share their vision, philosophy and values.
The Residency Model also has several practical advantages:
Convenience: Bethel’s online educational model lets future leaders stay in their jobs as they study. Twenty-five years ago, Bethel delivered the world’s first accredited seminary programs online. Today, every school is going online. But online teaching is a different animal. Experience matters. (And for students who prefer face-to-face learning, that option is available.)
Accessibility: A Bethel education is cost-effective. Bethel has squeezed out many costs (e.g., no staff to run intramural sports). Plus, Bethel partners with churches to support students with residency scholarships. A Bethel masters degree today can cost less than a used Chevy.
Strategicrecruitment: Bethel is partnering creatively to increase the number of future leaders. Wooddale Church (Eden Prairie, Minnesota) is recruiting a cohort of leaders, including board members, to improve leadership capacity. Calvary Church (State College, Pennsylvania) is developing a process to recruit Penn State students into ministry. Like Westwood Community Church (Chanhassen, Minnesota) and Chapelstreet Church (Geneva, Illinois), several churches developed endowments to support residents. And Converge North Central is working with Bethel to develop a district-wide strategy to increase the flow of new leaders into the district.
We’re not living in the 1950s. Our society is increasingly hostile to the gospel, both culturally and intellectually. Humanly speaking, ministry today is ever more challenging. The kingdom desperately needs senior leaders to get involved in recruiting and launching emerging leaders. At Bethel Seminary, we have redesigned our processes to partner with churches in leadership multiplication for God’s glory.