Reimagining Theological Education: Academics

There are a variety of ways to innovate theological education. The desired outcome for all such innovation is the same across the landscape of most seminaries and universities. Innovation seeks to bring a greater educational impact to an increasing number of future ministers in a way that expands God’s kingdom. While there may be more desired outcomes, it is never less than expanding workers in God’s kingdom. For Winebrenner Theological Seminary’s part, the mechanism has been finding ways to increase flexibility.

Several years ago, Winebrenner started asking questions about entrance requirements. Previously, Winebrenner had allowed a small percentage of the student body to enter without an earned baccalaureate degree. As that method was reexamined, it seemed that greater flexibility could be included in the process of entrance requirements. There are now several years of results that can be examined. We have not found an appreciable change in outcome achievements, GPA, quest for discovery, nor zest for learning. In short, the flexibility in entrance requirements has expanded our ability to equip leaders for service in God’s kingdom without reducing the rigor of the program.

A second domain of flexibility involves collaborative relationships. Winebrenner Seminary has embraced working with partners as previously detailed in this blog. It required the academic department to become more flexible. We are working with ministries who have defined needs they want met through collaboration. That has led to some specific academic requests. While it has not exceeded the boundaries of courses in the Catalog, the sequence may be quite different. While the flexibility of sequence may create a little more administrative chaos, the end result is an increased number of leaders being equipped for service.

A third area of flexibility is at the heart of academia, the assignments. Over the course of several years, we have conducted multiple experiments with assignments in an attempt to ascertain positive means of contextualization while attempting to increase outcome achievement. It first required a renewed articulation of course outcomes. Then the student was allowed to customize broad assignments goals for their ministry context, in conjunction with a local mentor, so that each outcome was achieved. Students reported an invigorating process. Instructors noticed greater passion to fulfill assignments because it was immediately relevant to their circumstances. We have found it works better in applied theology courses, though it is certainly possible in other disciplines common to seminaries. Students appreciated the ability to make the course their own and have control over how they learned, with assignments becoming an opportunity to learn rather than just an assessment of learning.

– Dr. Bruce Coats, Academic Dean

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