As we consider the future direction of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, I want to take a few moments and reflect upon one of our three strategic priorities: our commitment to develop a Community of Learners.
Often, when we hear or read the term “community” within a faith context, we see it as a standalone noun or talk about some abstract idea of community, which is often relationally driven. My belief is that community is most flourishing when it is a community of [something]. For example, at Winebrenner Theological Seminary we are spending much of our time thinking, talking, and creating various communities of learners.
Unfortunately, conversation about “community” is driven strictly by relational proximity lacking any real substance or focus. My proposal is that community is best experienced when it is focused on something specific, which, in Winebrenner’s case, is learning.
However, at Winebrenner we recognize that we serve many groups who can function as a community of learners. For example, and just to name a few, we have our current students, both online and in an on-campus classroom, students in Haiti, students at the Marion Correctional Institution, those within the Churches of God, General Conference, and those with a partially completed bachelors degree. Each group has a unique set of needs and requires our utmost attention to make sure we’re carrying out our mission of equipping leaders for service in God’s Kingdom while recognizing that these leaders are very diverse.
A commitment to developing a Community of Learners is built upon the belief that leadership is no longer defined exclusively in terms of traditional organizational leadership roles. A community of learners provides opportunities for students to encounter others and within that community to develop skills as an influencer or leader. These skills are not simply learned techniques or models, but rather grow as qualities of a person within the framework of spiritual formation. Communities of learners create relational contexts regardless of their setting.
Individualized study is a by-product of the post-printing press era and reflects a specific historical season as opposed to the best method of education. Winebrenner continues to value spiritual formation as an integral part of all seminary experiences, and our belief is that this is best accomplished in community, not alone, while recognizing that advances in technology allow for community to develop despite geographic distance.
Communities of learners are built through the participation of students and instructors in academic conversations, research, publication, academic conferences, informal engagements, co-curricular events, and groups, both within and beyond the seminary setting.
This distinctive is carried by Winebrenner graduates through the demonstration of engagement in God’s work of reconciliation, servant leadership, and skills appropriate to his/her area of study. Winebrenner graduates are equipped to transform the world.
In our next post we’ll ground this conversation in Scripture and focus upon one unique community of learners: the core disciples who followed Jesus.
Dr. Brent Sleasman