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Saturday, July 02, 2011

intentional residence communities: a new model for theological education

I was in conversation with some seminary professor friends who were talking about a shift from what I experienced in the 90s - two required "field education" classes that included some supervision - to a more long-term pairing of seminary students with a local pastor.  Rather than serving in a church for one semester or year to get a class credit, trying to match up a student with a church for the duration of seminary, to have not only a church "home" in the seminary context, but also a pastor/mentor for the duration.

I think this is a good direction for seminary education, as it not only grounds the education in the setting of ministry, but can provide an experienced practitioner of ministry as a mentor, coach, and guide, along with some hands-on experience of ministry.

But here's the thing: that's a great step, toward the old attractional model of church ministry happening in the church.  I started pondering how I would want to train, equip, mentor a seminary student who chose Good Shepherd as a seminary church home and me as mentor/coach/trainer during that season of life.

Here's what I came up with, and am floating to a couple of seminary folks I know at different institutions.

A New Model for Theological Training for Ministry

Envisioning new models for theological training and preparation for ministry in the 21st century, the IRC model builds on traditional theological education and newer paradigms of mentored ministry:
  • Theological Education: top-caliber academic training in the Reformed tradition
  • Mentored Ministry: direct participation and ministry in a local Presbyterian congregation, regular accountability and discipleship by a teaching or ruling elder of that congregation, and sustained fellowship and accountability to that local congregation; for the duration of the degree program
To those building blocks, the IRC model adds the following:
  • Intentional Residence Communities: combines the fellowship and encouragement of living with or near a group of seminary students and families with the real-world opportunity of living in a secular apartment or housing complex; the local residence ministry community will meet regularly for accountability, fellowship, and support as well as work with the local church pastor to develop and implement ministry and mission in the apartment or housing complex

To help flesh out what this model would look like, I created a sample application form for a student entering seminary, including the following narrative questions in addition to basic contact info.  The seminary would use this form in conjunction with a corresponding church application form to help match students and congregations.

Student Application - narrative questions
  1. Narrative Description of Background, Testimony, Sense of Call 
  2. Vision for Intentional Residence Ministry: How can you envision engaging in ministry in a housing complex? You don’t have to have all the answers – just brainstorm with us a bit!
  3. Areas of Desired Ministry Experience: note that ministry opportunities will not be limited to those named; rather this will help place students in the optimum environment
  4. Housing Needs: family size, # of bedrooms, budget for housing
  5. Host Church Preference: please list in order after reviewing host church applications on file; if no order of preference, so note

And here is a sample church application, filled in with narrative as if I were answering...

Host Church/Pastor Application
  1. Narrative Description of Church (denominational affiliation, size, location, demographic, mission, vision, etc…)

    Good Shepherd is an evangelical and Reformed congregation of the PC(USA). It is located in the Old Providence neighborhood in South Charlotte. The congregation has an intentional and developed mission strategy to the approximately 2000 households in the Old Providence area, which include a surprisingly wide range of economic and racial diversity. In addition to the missional opportunity to love and witness to these neighbors, the session of Good Shepherd has identified several key mission opportunities in a local public elementary school, a medium-sized contemporary shopping complex, several group homes, and the Swan’s Run/Brighton Place housing complexes (see housing below). Mission partners in the area include a predominantly African-American PC(USA), Southern Baptist, United Methodist, and Moravian congregation. Good Shepherd has a unique and very intentional theology of worship and creative arts. We are a confessing church in the PC(USA), and the pastor is active in denominational renewal and witness as well as leadership in the local presbytery. Explore our website at www.gspc.net.

  2. Pastor Narrative (describe training, mission/vision, availability, and anything else deemed pertinent to mentored ministry)

    I am an alumnus of Davidson College (music composition), Gordon-Conwell (M.Div., pt. 1), Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div., pt. 2), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min. biblical theology of worship and music). I have been pastor of Good Shepherd since 2002, am married and have three daughters. I am a life-long musician and enjoy leading worship through music as well as preaching and pastoring. Since 2006, we have been actively engaged in a missional model of ministry in our local context. I blog and explain this in much greater detail at my “Lighthouse-Searchlight Church” blog at http://robertaustell.blogspot.com. I have also mentored seminary students most of the years I have been at Good Shepherd and enjoy those ministry relationships.

  3. Ministry Experience Opportunities

    Good Shepherd offers a broad range of ministry experiences for pastoral interns, including preaching, teaching, youth ministry, music/worship, drama and creative arts, missional development, discipleship, home and hospital visitation, and more. Interns will also be encouraged to identify and develop new ministries in areas of gifting and calling.

  4. Description of Housing Available

    Swan’s Run Apartments is an approximately 140-unit apartment complex immediately behind Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. Rent is modest ($500-700) and housing configurations include duplexes, quad apartments, and a large multi-unit building. 1BR, 2BR, and 3BR units are available.

  5. Number of Students Desired (min. 3; indicate any other parameters)

    To launch the first intentional residence community at Good Shepherd, it is recommended that 3-4 family units seek housing at Swan’s Run Apartments. Once the program is up and running, as many as 6-8 family units might live at Swan’s Run and be engaged at Good Shepherd, but the intent would be to have families rotating in and out as they enter and exit the degree program rather than as one large block. Each family unit is invited to become an active part of the worshiping community at Good Shepherd and Pastor Austell will work with each student to match learning goals with ministry experiences on an individual basis. Each student will meet regularly with either Pastor Austell or one of the elders of the church.

If you've read this far, I would love to hear some feedback, either in the comments or at robert{at}gspc{dot}net.

1 comment:

robert austell said...

From a conversation on this post elsewhere...

Noting that a motivated student can get out something related to what they put into it, and create these opportunities for him or herself...

Currently, I think there are two models out there:

1) Residential (like my experience at GCTS-Hamilton), where it is entirely possible for a student to go 3-4 years without interaction with any non-Christians, perhaps even few non-seminarians. Field ed. is typically one or two semesters, and other than that, involvement with a local church is left up to the student. It can foster great Christian community (at the seminary), but a real disconnect from the "real world" which will later be the context for ministry.

2) Non-residential (like GCTS-Charlotte and each of the 5 seminaries in Charlotte), where many students are 2nd career, or currently working while attending seminary. They have lots of crossover between studies and the "real world" but miss out on the community-building that can happen at a residential seminary. Field ed. is still typically one or two semesters, and other than that, involvement with a local church is left up to the student.

The intent of my model is to provide, for the duration of the degree: 1) a congregational home; 2) supervision/mentoring/accountability; 3) a residential (albeit smaller than full-campus) experience; 4) applied ministry context in addition to parish work.

I don't see that combination, or even two of those things being done purposefully in any of the seminaries I am familiar with.

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