The relationship between a faculty member and student is a vital component of the discipleship journey at Winebrenner; in fact, I’ve previously written about this as a “core interaction” of the overall student experience. The previous post in this series explored some of the challenges for a faculty member; today’s post takes a closer look at challenges facing students.
One of the commitments of Winebrenner is that the educational aspect of the student experience fits within the rhythm of life and ministry. In order to fulfill this commitment Winebrenner provides an accessible and creative curriculum that shows awareness of the challenges facing students as well as an affordable tuition model that permits students to pursue theological education without taking on additional student debt.
I’ll be the first to admit, making this commitment is easy. Fulfilling this commitment is a challenge. I always enjoy teaching because it provides opportunities to learn more about Winebrenner’s students and hear their celebrations and challenges. Recently, a student was sharing in class that a friend of theirs commented that it seemed like their spiritual life was struggling. As they discussed this more it became apparent that the time required for family, ministry, and course work was very close to having a negative affect upon their own spiritual growth.
One of my personal commitments at Winebrenner is to “organizational truth telling” so I’m going to restate the last few sentences more bluntly so the point is not lost: there is at least one student at Winebrenner who is at risk of growing distant from God while they are enrolled at a theological seminary, and the direct cause of this distance is the seminary!
I share this story for a few reasons. First, the challenges students face are real. Most students have some combination of ministry, family, jobs inside and/or outside the church, along with many other obligations. Prayer for faithful endurance is always needed. Second, I share this as a challenge to Winebrenner to make sure we are collectively sensitive to the actual needs of students and simply don’t dismiss concerns like this. Third, we need to take action so that we a catalyst for discipleship and not an obstacle or detriment to the workers in the kingdom.
Within the academy we are good at “explaining away” concerns raised by students like this one. I’ve heard many comments – and, if I’m honest, I’ve probably been guilty of some of these myself in the past – such as “he just needs better time management” or “this process will help her spiritual maturity” or, less generous, “students just don’t work as hard as they used to.”
Yes, there is a cost in any discipleship journey. Yes, following Jesus can require tough choices and challenging moments. However, there is a fundamental flaw in our system when a student identifies us as an obstacle to their own spiritual growth!
We have taken many steps over the past few years to better align the student experience with the rhythms of life and ministry. More work remains to make sure we are developing fully devoted followers of Jesus.
- Brent Sleasman, President