Bethany has received $20,000 from The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion for assessment and refinement of its Ministry Formation program.
Entitled “Exploring Incarnational Ministry Formation through Contextual Pedagogy,” the project will help Bethany develop the best educational strategies to encourage personal, professional, and spiritual growth in both current and future ministerial leadership. The project’s timeframe extends from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2014.
For Bethany students earning a master of divinity degree, Ministry Formation is at the center of their course of study, incorporating traditional classes, spiritual formation groups, field placements, and group reflection and collaboration. As enrollment of distance-learning students has continued to grow since the establishment of the Connections program in 2003, alternate course formats have been incorporated, combining online sessions with onsite classes and discussion.
Grant writer Tara Hornbacker, professor of Ministry Formation, says, “We are constantly improving the ways in which we lead the Ministry Formation process at Bethany. Ministry Formation is the most natural place to expand learning beyond the classroom because our area is the place where classroom and context integrate in the most intentional manner.”
One question to be addressed by the project is how the online vs. the onsite pedagogical approaches used in Ministry Formation are preparing students for ministry in the twenty-first century. Hornbacker notes that Bethany’s experience in online education puts the Seminary in a good position to examine how the context of Ministry Formation preparation impacts the practice of ministry, specifically in contemporary settings.
A second question is how to define and shape Ministry Formation in light of the Seminary’s current mission statement: “To equip spiritual and intellectual leaders with an Incarnational education for ministering, proclaiming, and living out God's shalom and Christ's peace.” As the grant proposal states, “What signifies a well-formed ministering person embodying shalom-centered leadership?”
A primary objective in addressing these questions will be to ask those in leadership at current and prospective student placement sites to describe the qualities desired in those who minister. “This grant allows us to travel, observe, and ask questions of a variety of ministry settings so that the settings themselves have influence on the pedagogical strategies and shape of Ministry Formation for theological education,” explains Hornbacker.
The data gathered from site visits will be used to develop models for effective ministry in today’s contexts. It may also inform the work toward the additional project goals: crafting a definition of Ministry Formation that reflects the language of Bethany’s current mission statement and determining the best methods for teaching Ministry Formation in the distance-learning setting.
Led by Hornbacker, the project team includes Dan Poole, coordinator for Ministry Formation; Amy Ritchie, director of student development; and Enten Eller, director of electronic communication. According to Poole, the team has begun by examining how their work could set a new course for the program, specifically the distance-learning component; by addressing the logistics for collecting data from ministry sites; and by strengthening their own working relationships. “We’ve given deeper expression to our hopes for how this process will benefit not only the Ministry Formation program but the Seminary as a whole.” The next steps will be to invite participation from selected sites and to arrange for visits.
Ultimately the team will present their methods and conclusions to the Association of Theological Field Educators. “Bethany has been in the forefront of Ministry Formation in an online format, and other theological field educators look to our experience to guide their process. They are interested in how we involve the teaching settings in Ministry Formation as a context for learning and the appropriate use of technology to reflect upon the practice of ministry and spiritual formation for leadership,” says Hornbacker.
The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion is located on the Wabash College campus in Crawfordsville, Indiana. It offers a variety of programs and resources for teachers of theology and religion in higher education, all of which are funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.