Ministry and Study are Melded through New Program at Northern Seminary

by Julie-Allyson leron

“A younger pastor serving one of our churches had to give up seminary studies when marriage and children made education impossible to continue. This pastor thought it would never be possible to return to seminary,” says Soozi Ford, Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky (ABC IN/KY).

Enter Northern Seminary’s pilot Teaching Church Initiative (TCI), designed to offer an alternative to would-be ministers/students. The program is a partnership between the seminary and IN/KY. Beginning in the fall of 2018, a maximum of five new students will serve a local church in Indiana or Kentucky while attending Northern via the school’s live streaming technology, Northern Live. They’ll receive up to 100% of tuition costs for a Master of Arts degree from Northern Seminary.

Soozi explains, “IN/KY will provide staff support to each church and pastoral resident as part of the overall team of support offered by the seminary. The tuition costs (not scholarships) will be jointly covered by the church and IN/KY.”

Wade Allen, pastor of First Baptist Church, Muncie, IN, and President of the Regional Board of ABC IN/KY, explains the importance of TCI saying, “Previously, I had students commuting great distances to serve our church. Now we have the advantage of Northern Live where students don’t have to commute—they can just find a computer and attend class. They’re in a church and at the same time they’re going to seminary. The church is a learning ground for them to take what they’re learning and apply it.” He says students will be mentored by seminary faculty and local pastors.

Wade says benefits go both ways. “The students are able to have the experiences of serving a local congregation and interacting with volunteers. Then they’re able to take that back to a group of peers and professors and dialog about it.”

How does the church benefit? “The church is getting fresh ideas. There’s increased passion when someone is in a learning mode,” Wade says.

“This is about everyone—church and pastoral resident—reclaiming the New Testament understanding that all people are called and all people are gifted. It allows churches and residents to use their gifts to empower ministry, and to support those who are exploring their vocational call.”

– Soozi

The support isn’t just for the short run. According to Wade, “It’s a four-year commitment from the church that they will support the student in a ministry position while they’re attending seminary.”

TCI is made possible, in part, by grants from the Gordon and Virginia Palmer Jr. Trust of the American Baptist Foundation.

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