Pathways to Seminary Education: A Foundation for Moving Forward

This entry follows immediately from “Pathways to Seminary Education: Introduction.”

Three specific assumptions guided our team as we prepared for our Pathways event.

Assumption #1: Organizational language and culture matter.

There were 36 participants at the event (including Winebrenner staff) and many more who couldn’t be present for various reasons. Of the many seminaries and seminary leaders who were unable to attend some sent questions for us to consider.  I received the following question from someone who was interested in this topic, but unable to attend: What is the range of responses seminaries are taking to address underqualified students?  It’s the word “underqualified” that stands out to me in that question.

When thinking about something like bachelor equivalency, we are assuming that students who qualify for bachelor equivalency and advanced standing are equally qualified as those who have a completed bachelor’s degree. This is a basic illustration that reminds us that how we talk about current and prospective students matter. One of our goals is to help us, at Winebrenner, and you to identify lingering assumptions about prospective students.

Another example that some seminaries immediately place students who qualify for bachelor equivalency on academic probation.  This reminds me a bit of Animal Farm in which the pigs write “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

Part of the reason there is still a need to embrace students who qualify through bachelor equivalency is that our organizational language and culture is not ready to embrace them. We are hoping to move all of is in that direction.

Assumption #2: We are driven by a desire to prioritize God’s kingdom, not marketplace competition.

We had representatives from:

Six states, seven seminaries,

three undergraduate institutions,

three non-degree institutes, both denominationally affiliated and local church-based,

three marketplace leaders,

two denominational leaders,

leaders from two Christian high schools,

and one administrator for a state department of rehabilitation and corrections

Our goal was to provide a forum in which we could exchange ideas and help move us toward collaborative partnerships. It’s quite possible that someone could listen to everything, return to his or her home location, and implement what we talked about independent of anyone else in the room. If that were the case, then we were ineffective in persuading them to join the spirit of the day.

There were clear moments, especially when we began talking about partnership opportunities during the afternoon session that someone was likely saying to themselves, “from a business perspective this doesn’t make any sense.”

Our desire is to cut across denominational and seminary boundaries to work together. This is both a theological conviction and acknowledgement of the realities of theological higher education – it’s becoming more and more of a challenge for free standing, autonomous seminaries to exist in our current higher education climate. Intentionally working together by forming collaborative relationships is both an expression of God’s kingdom and one possible pathway to sustainability.

Assumption #3: The credit hour provides opportunities for creative pathways forward.

Of the many creative ideas emerging from seminary conversations, why are we committed to the credit hour? We want to discuss the credit hour because it is still nearly universal and transferable. However, we acknowledge that there are alternatives to the credit hour and we are not advocating for this due to nostalgia or because we think we have the only option.

Within higher education, much energy is focused on what is considered Competency Based Theological Education (CBTE). We had several schools with us who are either using that model for education or considering that option.

Our proposals are built upon the foundation that learning can still be measured by the credit hour and we want to maximize its value and continue to find ways to address the meaning of the credit hour. There are many ways to evaluate learning, whether by competencies or by credit hour. We are open to conversations about many ideas, but felt it may be helpful to identify how we conceived of that event.

– Dr. Brent Sleasman, President

– Image by Johannes Plenio accessed via Adobe Spark