Reimagining Theological Education for a Different World

I attended Winebrenner Seminary in the 1990’s. I don’t recall the tuition rate at that time, but I do remember and appreciate the support I received to make my education possible. The Illinois Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference supplied one-half of my tuition costs. My home congregation, the East Harrison Street Church of God, generously supplied $100 a month through my years at Winebrenner. With these two generous gifts combined with the financial aid and grants I received each year, my costs for tuition, fees and books were covered. I worked part-time to cover my living expenses and I graduated seminary without incurring debt. This was an enormous blessing and over the years I’ve encountered many colleagues in ministry who did not enjoy the same kind of financial support and, as a result, have had to navigate the difficult burden of student loan debt as they serve in ministry.

I’m grateful for Winebrenner’s commitment to make theological education more financially accessible for students. Given the average costs of theological education today in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $25,000 per year, the idea of local congregations or judicatories assisting with meaningful levels of the cost are just not realistic in most situations. Winebrenner is removing obstacles in order for people to get the training they need at a cost that is affordable and manageable.

Over the years I’ve heard Winebrenner referred to as a “pastor factory.” In my time as a student, that was a good description. Men and women came to be trained with the expectation that they would go on to serve local congregations by teaching, preaching, and shepherding communities of faith. While there are still many students who are preparing for congregational leadership, we also recognize that the world has undergone dramatic shifts and changes that will require a host of new efforts to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Men and women are being rooted in God’s Word, trained to think well and theologically about the challenges ahead, and challenged to live as Christ’s ambassadors to the world. Some will flesh out their unique calling in the ministry efforts of established congregations, others will bring God’s healing and wholeness through the ministry of counseling, others will launch new and innovative non-profit ventures with the aim of seeing people reconciled to God and to one another, while still others will engage in God’s mission in the marketplace in new and creative ways – bringing the Good News of Jesus to people not likely to darken the doors of our local church buildings.

We are entering one of the most exciting and daunting times to be a follower of Jesus. I’m grateful for Winebrenner’s commitment to prepare leaders for service in God’s kingdom – in the local church, in the marketplace, in the counselor’s office and in the new and exciting ways in which God is calling His people to serve Him and His mission in the world.

– Pastor Lance Finley, Executive Director of the Churches of God, General Conference and member of Winebrenner’s Board of Trustees

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