All posts by Kajle Radbourne

CBTE Prospectives: Dustin Laird, Graduate

Dustin Laird is the planting pastor of Redemption Community Church in Surrey, BC, Canada. He was among the second graduating class of Northwest Baptist’s CBTE-based degree Immerse in 2017.

 CBTE News: Why did you enroll in the Immerse program?

The Immerse program came along at just the right time to guide me through what would be a number of years of learning and development. The church planting journey was not one I expected to be on. I was sure the Lord had called me to it but I was up to my neck in it. Immerse was crucial to my ability to carry-on in the role that I have.

The opportunity to be in the midst of ministry at the same time as learning the theological and skillful aspects of ministry was invaluable. I had considered staying at Bible College and carrying on from my bachelors into a masters. But, as I had some classes that overlapped with students in the masters programs, I realized that what they brought to the classroom was an entirely different perspective. They had real-life ministry experience and were able to think critically about the material and how it interacted with what they had actually experienced in ministry. As someone who had no ministry experience, I thought I could just take in the academic information and quickly get it done. I learned I needed experience to push back against the material and think critically about it.

CBTE News: What did you receive from Immerse that you would not have gotten in a conventional seminary program?

Maturity. As someone lacking experience in pastoral ministry, I thought I had a bag of tricks that I could use for a while to endear the people to me. But as I began to serve in ministry, I wanted more than to endear the people to me. I wanted to lead God’s people. I wanted to care for them well, to be theologically responsible in my opportunity to lead them. I realized quite quickly that I would come to the end of myself and need to rely on the Lord, having an ongoing posture of learning. I recognized that with all my shortcomings and faults, the Lord had called me to this task and that I was sufficient for the task as long as He was the One who was leading me step by step. Without Immerse, I don’t think I would have been able to sustain a proper attitude and a real usefulness in ministry – even this beginning stage of ministry. I would have been far too self-reliant and I would have run out of what I had to offer the people.

CBTE News: One of the core elements of Immerse (and many other CBTE programs) is training under the guidance of a mentor team. What was that experience like for you?

Incredible! I had a team of mentors around me that I knew would take my calls and have wisdom to offer. I wasn’t cycling in and out of the lives of professors who didn’t know me particularly well. Instead, I was able to go to leaders who had not only earned my trust and respect but personally knew me. They knew both my strengths and my weaknesses and were able to guide me in light of those things. In one instance we faced difficulties in the life of the church that needed to be tackled head-on. My mentors knew that approach wouldn’t be my tendency and were able to guide me through this situation because they knew me very personally.

CBTE News: What have been some of the lasting effects of the program that have stayed with you even after graduation?

I didn’t have much of an interest in learning prior to the Immerse program. I had done my first degree and was quite content to see where that would take me. But throughout the program, I fell in love with learning. I learned how to direct my own self-development. Even just a few weeks after graduation I made a plan of where I wanted to continue to grow and how I was going to engage with that. I wrote up a plan and gave it to some of my leadership team to help me. The desire for continued growth is definitely a lasting effect.

The program and my involvement in it has been invaluable for me personally and spiritually; for my character growth, for my confidence in ministry, for my sense of calling, for my competency in being able to do what I do, for me as a man of God leading my family. I attribute so much of my growth over the last few years to the program and those who surrounded me in it. I truly think that my longevity in ministry and my sustainability in it is in large part due to what this program has given me as a foundation.

CBTE Perspective: Faculty Mentor

Dr. Brian Rapske (PhD ) serves as Professor of New Testament with Northwest Baptist Seminary and ACTS Seminary. Dr. Rapske’s experience with CBTE programs includes his involvement in shaping NBS’ Immerse program and he has served as an Academic Mentor in that program since its launch in 2012. Dr. Rapske has seen several of his Immerse students graduate and witnessed them step into ministry following their education.

You work with Immerse students, but you also teach in the traditional seminary model as well. How does your thinking change between the two models?
To step into a “mastery for ministry” modality of education calls for a significant difference in how I operate as an educator. It’s quite a culture shift for a person who is well accustomed and formed to seminary theological education. In particular, your access to the student and the modalities of evaluation and assessment are quite different.
Some of the change is adapting the educational culture of the institution.

With this type of program, you can’t think in terms of the classroom and feel as though you’re going to be adequate to the task of mentoring for mastery because the classroom is just too confined and is too narrow for the vision of what is actually supposed to be underway in the educational experience where you’re involved in mentoring people for mastery.

So, for example, I am a New Testament specialist. In my Seminary environment, I teach in New Testament and branch a little bit into hermeneutics and New Testament theology. But in the context of Immerse, I have to be a generalist. My responsibility is far broader than my specialization educationally and that stretches me.

There is also the matter of academy and the pragmatics of ministry. Within the seminary context, you may not necessarily have that overt and engaged ministry focus. In the classroom, we deal more with subject matter. A student submits an assignment, it gets graded and commented a grade is given and then the student is off to the next thing. But within the context of  Immerse, everything relates to ministry practice and integrity in ministry. The student engages the project, but then you talk about that project in a forum along with other mentors in a manner similar to an oral examination. Because the assignment may actually have emerged out of a very pragmatic context, we have the opportunity to debrief with the student. That’s just not a luxury that you have within a seminary context where the learning and the application of learning are not engaged in proximity.

With my classroom context, when you come to the end of the semester you say goodbye to your students and you may see them next semester or you may see them in a different context or a different course. But you never really say goodbye to an Immerse student, in fact, you may actually keep up a relationship with them for an extended period of time well past the education.

What kind of opportunities draw you to be involved as an academician in a CBTE program?
The opportunity to have a deeper interaction with the student and be involved in mentoring is wonderful. This is truly mentoring where you’re actually interacting with a person and they have the opportunity to open up about what they are struggling with. Typically, during the 3-5 years it takes to complete a program like this, a student has ups and downs in their ministry. You don’t get access to that unless somebody is very transparent outside of a classroom context. And that’s an amazing place to be – to be able to listen and to offer thoughts and ideas.

It’s stretching because it does call for more than simply my expertise in my area of discipline. I draw on my past pastoral experience, on my many years of lay ministry and other experience. Obviously, I draw on this framing a normal class in an academic setting as well, but there is a very significant element that goes beyond what I normally have the opportunity to do. And I have the opportunity to draw on this, not only in the lecture but in life. I’m not only being asked to share my life, it’s expected and it’s a big opportunity.

I think earlier we thought in terms of what we were losing and that was the hard part in forming the program. We were aware that, as a faculty, we would have to surrender control of the full academic sequence. I only have a few contact hours in a seminar with the students I don’t mentor as opposed to having them for a full semester. And sometimes in Immerse, I get 3-page assignments on occasion and that seems a little light.

But I’ve learned to realize that cumulatively, holistically, integratively, the program is really actually pushing people to get a very thorough education and to do so with immediate ministry requirements and ministry payoffs.  We don’t just talk rocketry, so to speak, we talk about it and then we take what we have talked about and we put it on a platform and we light it and we see how it goes. And if it blows up, we go back to the drawing board. Even if it flies, we can analyze the telemetry and do some fine tuning here so that the next ministry opportunity (which will come in a multi-year education) will be even more refined. You don’t get that opportunity within a classroom setting. Oftentimes, that kind of application will have to wait for a number of years. So rather than foreclosing that as an option of learning, you’re always in the field as well as in the classroom. I think that’s amazing. Sometimes the temptation is only to look at the downside, the loss of control, and not look on the positive side of the ledger that says these are the amazing things – opportunities that actually don’t even present themselves because of the way a formal academic setting is structured.

The program curriculum was designed in partnership between the seminary and the denomination. How was forming curriculum for this program different than what you are used to for a classroom context?
I loved being able to be a part of framing the competency entitled “Hope.” In it, our students don’t just read books about the hope of the gospel. They ask the question, “How can I be a person of hope in a world that’s filled with hopelessness?” We get to assign them a project to shadow their pastor as they go on a bereavement call and as they involve themselves by bringing comfort and encouragement from the Scriptures and through their own personal experience in the context of a profound loss that’s shattered people. What kind of classroom experience can replicate that? Not only that but on the third time they go out, they have an opportunity to actually speak into the lives of people.

A lot of us involved in the program recognize that the only time we ever got this from our classic education was long after seminary was done. When we set out there was no sense that we even had of the tools to engage in those situations. We just got thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim in our first ministries. I had to do these calls by myself, I had no mentoring, I had no experience. So you can see this has a huge payoff when the projects are actually tuned to the specifics of ministry. They are both an education and an opportunity for ministry at the same time. It builds muscle, it builds spiritual strength and it helps students to put into practice the things that have been read in a book, Surprised by Hope. I think that there are gains. So I’m enthusiastic.

There are different ways of arranging the mentoring in a CBTE program, but Immerse uses a team of three members. You talked about the partnership of the local church, the denomination and the seminary and that partnership is built right into the mentor team with representatives from each. What is that dynamic like, being one of three guiding a student together?
One thing is it creates a deep investment – not only from the seminary but also from the church. There’s a vested interest in educating for success because if it’s a good education, it is going to be a great ministry and if it’s a great ministry, it’s going to be a strong church

I love being on a mentor team with local pastors. That puts me in the church, in several churches actually, and it creates marvelous opportunities to have an impact far beyond the classroom.

You’re hearing from pastoral staff on the ground with your student because they’re on your mentor team and they’re saying if it’s going well or if there are some challenges. And we can discuss how we engage the student in order to make it a learning experience that is going to benefit and advance them in their in their personal growth as well as in their ministry effectiveness.

As far as team mentoring goes, it is so good to know that there are three people that are looking out for one. There are disadvantages in just being one evaluator or in being one of many people who are siloed and not knowing what’s on the other side. How do you ever know that a person is thoroughly furnished unless you have ways and metrics of looking over the silo? And maybe seeing into one or two other silos? Immerse is de-siloed in a number of very significant ways because the church is watching, the on-site mentor is watching, the academic mentor is watching, and the denominational mentor is watching. We have opportunity to see the whole of the student – and where we do not witness directly, we receive the input of the other mentor who do.

What is one story that highlights what is possible in a CBTE program?
One of the assignments is to go on a reflection retreat. As my first student [Glory] approached that assignment she decided to arrange a trip with a friend of hers to the Holy Land and she was going to share some of their reflections via recordings and upload them to our online platform. They had a tour guide that they had arranged. They witnessed to that tour guide. And one of the things that was part of their presentation of these video reflections was to watch Glory baptize the tour guide in the Jordan River!

Watching this I was thinking, “Oh my goodness! How do I grade this?” I was watching ministry live and I just realized that this never happens in a classroom. It’s treasure. Absolutely treasure.

To get to the place where a person does that. And it’s not contrived, it’s not theoretical. A life was changed. Somebody heard the Gospel, somebody responded to the Gospel, somebody was baptized in witness of the fact that they believe. This is not my normal understanding of how a seminary works. And praise God it’s not. It’s more. It’s great.

What I have seen is that over the four years you watch people go through very sad times. And you watch them go through exhilarating times. You see the high-water marks, the very low parts – both in their personal life and their ministry. But as a mentor, you see your student engaged in real ministry.  As a mentor I am able to put my finger on their pulse for their energy in ministry and put my finger on their heart. I listen when they are euphoric and I listen when they’re discouraged and I jump in with them. They experience it. But they don’t experience it alone.

We have times when we meet for coffee and other times that it is more remote and somewhat more formal and less personal, but there are some things that seminary education in the classic way just won’t be able to touch. To me, that is what makes it worthwhile. That is what makes it exciting and keeps me going.



Speaker Profile: Jeromey Martini

Dr. Jeromey Martini (PhD University of Edinburgh) is President and Professor of New Testament at Horizon College & Seminary, Saskatoon, SK. In 2015, under Dr. Martini’s leadership, Horizon became the first accredited undergraduate college in Canada to formally launch CBTE-based programming. You can read more about here.

What excites you about CBTE?

CBTE is an effective way to prepare Christian leaders to advance God’s Kingdom, so it’s exciting to be part of something that’s making a Kingdom impact. At their best, ministerial instructors and institutions have always used aspects of CBTE. It’s just good education. Where CBTE makes a difference is by capturing those best practices and providing a formal framework to deliver them consistently throughout a student’s program.

What excites you about participating in the CBTE 2018 Conference?

When we launched CBTE in 2015, we were the only accredited undergraduate college in Canada formally to do so. We’ve benefited tremendously from secular CBE conferences and resources, but we’ve generally felt isolated in adapting CBE to theological and ministerial training. We were thrilled to find fellow CBE sojourners at NBS, and are really excited to be part of their bringing the CBTE conversation to Canada.

What is your topic at CBTE 2018 and who will benefit from it?

My topic will be of interest to other Christian undergraduate institutions exploring CBTE. As undergraduate CBTE trailblazers, we’ve encountered numerous scrapes and bumps and pitfalls, as well as joys and successes on our journey thus far. And we’ve come far enough along to have gained the benefit of hindsight, learning how we might do certain things differently if we had it all to do over again. But despite any challenges we’ve faced (and continue to face!), we’re more committed than ever to CBTE. If our experiences can help another undergraduate institution implement CBTE, we believe the Kingdom wins.

What’s All the Buzz About Competency-Based Education (Part II)

This is the second installment of an interview series between ABHE president Ralph Enlow and Northwest Baptist Seminaries’ Kent Anderson and Ruth McGillivray (view Part I here). This interview was originally posted on Dr. Enlow’s blog.

Ralph: I’m curious – how did Northwest get started in CBTE, and why?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: They say the first step in change management is realizing you’re on a burning bridge. Honestly, around 2009 we knew our bridge was on fire. The denomination we serve, Fellowship Pacific, was not sending us new students, and its churches weren’t hiring our graduates. This led to some hard, truth-speaking conversations and an acceptance that the traditional higher education model we’d been using to train pastors was no longer working for us. Our graduates didn’t have the skills and competencies our churches needed, and the denomination was looking elsewhere to find pastors.

In response, we undertook a project with the denomination in 2010 to reverse-engineer our MDiv program, by starting with the end in mind. We worked together to identify the competencies we believe pastors need to meet current church needs and re-evaluated the school’s educational approach. In 2012, we launched Immerse, a competency-based, direct assessment, in-context delivery MDiv program run jointly by Northwest and Fellowship Pacific.

The Immerse model was based on core principles of an occupational training model called competency-based education, but adapted significantly for the ministry setting, where character traits, qualities, and dispositions of the heart are as crucial to success as knowledge, skills, and abilities. We called the model Competency-Based Theological Education, or CBTE.

Ralph: Have you had any graduates yet from your CBTE MDiv?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Yes! As of September 2018, we will have 22 graduates from Canada, the United States, and South America.

Ralph: What differences do notice between your CBTE MDiv graduates versus previous graduates from traditional programs?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Our CBTE MDiv graduates are job-ready at graduation. They aren’t trained in classrooms, but rather in full-time ministry under the guidance of a three-person mentor team that includes a Northwest faculty member, network or church leader, and current practitioner. They do traditional assignments like readings, seminars, papers, and projects, but evaluation is focused on application in-context, and timing is determined by the needs of their ministry setting. They learn in real time, on-the-job, and by the time they graduate, they’ve already proven they can be successful in the ministry for which they’ve trained. Our placement rate is 95%.

Also, our graduates are all high performers, since CBTE programs award credit for mastery, not completion. This takes more time for some than others, but that’s the basic premise of CBTE—that learning is constant and time is variable. If a student is not yet meeting the performance standards for a competency—as defined by program rubrics—the mentor team will have them re-do assignments or assign new ones, working with them till mastery standards are met. In conventional terms, it’s like saying a student must achieve minimum 80-85% in every course to graduate, but they have as much time as needed to get there.

The other big differentiator is that Immerse students must demonstrate mastery of affective domain competencies like community, humility, hope, prayer and love in order to graduate, not just knowledge and skill-based competencies like biblical languages, hermeneutics, and exegesis. This is hard to do with rigor or authenticity in a traditional program but works for Immerse because of the way the program is designed, and the fact that mentor teams work with the same student over a period of years, guiding, observing, and assessing all aspects of their development, not just academics.

Read the rest of the interview here.

ATS Peer-Group Report on CBTE

This report was compiled by the individuals and institutions that comprised the ATS Peer-Group report on Competency-Based Theological Education and was originally published by ATS as part of their innovations in theological education initiative. To see the full list of participants and the complete report see here.

Competency-based theological education (CBTE) is an educational model that emphasizes: (1) learning more than “seat time,” (2) the mastery of professionally-oriented competencies, (3) well-planned learning activities or assessments (class-based or not, online or onsite) that students may complete at their own paces, and (4) a community of learning where regular and substantive interaction occurs between qualified faculty and students. CBTE programs may be course/credit-based or non-course/credit-based or both. One way to compare and contrast CBTE with more traditional educational models is that the CBTE model holds learning constant while time varies, whereas traditional models hold time constant while learning varies.

As we have progressed through this project, we have come to realize CBTE is more than merely a model to replicate. It is a value system that forms a foundation for a renewed approach to theological education. As evidence of this, two of the ten schools in our CBTE peer group have been approved by the ATS Commission on Accrediting for non-credit/course-based CBTE programs as five-year experiments: Northwest Baptist Seminary in June 2014 and Grace Theological Seminary in February 2017. A third school (Sioux Falls Seminary) operates a CBTE program that is essentially course/credit-based and does not require the approval of ATS, regional accreditors, or the United States Department of Education (DOE). (For a side-by-side comparison of the three schools, see the last page of this report.)

Clearly, schools can deliver programs rooted in a CBTE value system in different ways. At the same time, all three of the programs in our peer group share a similar set of underlying values that form the foundation for their approaches to theological education. This value system calls us to think of theological education not as a transcendent form of education (graduate-level, traditional courses and credits, residency requirements) but as a transcendent function of education. As such, it needs to reinterpret itself from setting to setting to optimally fulfill its function.

We recognize CBTE as a movement that has outgrown “niche” status and rapidly is gaining traction in higher education. More than 600 institutions have some form in place; however, we’re convinced that one size doesn’t fit all, and that prevents our schools from blindly joining the wave. Not only does theological education in general have unique characteristics and requirements, but individual schools within the theological education world have distinct characteristics and requirements. Seminaries that embrace CBTE need to consider its underlying value system and discern if it fits in their contexts. CBTE may require schools to raise the value they place on certain aspects of theological education while lowering the value for other aspects. Member schools also must allow for differences that arise among sister schools that implement CBTE programs.

The goal of our research is two-fold: to help seminaries determine if CBTE is right for them; and to help seminaries design and initiate CBTE programs that support their missions, meet the needs of their constituents, and follow best principles and practices for ATS member schools.

Read the full report here.

The mentor’s dilemma: tips for assessing “soft” competencies in Competency-Based Theological Education (CBTE)

Note: This article, written by Ruth McGillivray, was originally published in the July 2018 edition of the ATS magazine Colloquy

Kyle is a theology professor at a seminary that has recently implemented a competency-based MDiv program. He has a decade of experience teaching traditional, semester-based courses at the post-secondary level, and another decade taking them. But his role in this new program is different. Instead of teaching courses in his specialty area to a new group of students each term, he’s now the academic advisor on a cross-functional mentor team guiding one student through her whole degree. Not only does he also evaluate how well she articulates understanding and critical thinking on theological concepts, but he also looks at how she applies them in her daily life and work. In addition, he’s responsible to oversee her development in disciplines outside his specialty and assess whether or not she has mastered competencies like humility, faith, hope, and culture.

This presents a dilemma for Kyle, as well as for the ministry and practitioner mentors on his three-person team. Each has an individual sense of what it means to be humble or have hope, but how do they articulate what mastery of humility or hope looks like for assessment purposes? To complicate things further, Kyle oversees two other students in this new program and, in that capacity, is on three different mentor teams. Even if one team reaches consensus on what mastery looks like, he has to navigate the same waters with the other two teams. How does he assess his three students consistently if each team arrives at a different definition?

read the rest of the article here

What’s All the Buzz About Competency Based Education? Part 1

This article is originally published on the blog of ABHE President Dr. Ralph Enlow

If you are not aware of the contemporary surge of interest in Competency-Based Education, you should be. Fresh interest in CBE is being driven by innovators at the institutional level but also by policy-makers at the national and international levels. One institution with a historical connection to ABHE is at the forefront of the CBE conversation. Northwest Baptist Seminary (BC) is one of two ATS-accredited seminaries that has been granted special experimental permission to develop a credible approach to accredited CBE. Over the next 4 months, I will be posting excerpts of an interview with Northwest Baptist Seminary President Kent Anderson and Director of Competency Based Theological Education, Ruth McGillivray, about this innovative approach and how you can become informed and involved.

Ralph: What are the essential features of and arguments in favor of CBTE?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Competency-based theological education (CBTE) is an educational approach that bases program and curricular design on demonstrating mastery of the competencies required to be successful in a targeted vocation or ministry role. People sometimes call CBTE programs “reverse-engineered” because program design starts with the desired end result—as defined by practitioners and employers—and works backward from there.

The key distinction between CBTE and traditional course-based programs is that CBTE programs award credit based on demonstrated competency, not completed courses. In course-based programs, students can receive a passing grade in every class without mastering key concepts or skills. This doesn’t happen in CBTE programs because competencies are assessed holistically and directly, rather than by proxy through exams, courses and papers.

Northwest’s CBTE programs focus on mentored mastery in-context. Students don’t take courses, but rather are guided through a process of learning and development by a dedicated mentor team while they work in their chosen ministry. This way, learning, application, assessment and mentoring occurs in the context of real-world situations. Students graduate as proven leaders, trained holistically in-context in the knowledge, skills, and character traits they need to prosper in their callings.

(click here to read the rest of the interview)

Speaker Profile: Greg Henson

Greg Henson serves as President at Sioux Falls Seminary where he has worked with his team to develop several new approaches to both financial and educational models within theological education. As a published author and speaker on the topics of theological education, innovation, generational theory, missional theology and competency-based education, Greg seeks to help people see the unique opportunities that exist within the challenges we face in the church and in theological education. Learn more about Greg here.


What excites you about CBTE?
What excites me is CBTE’s potential for empowering disruptive innovation in an industry that greatly needs it. When fully embraced, the CBTE philosophy enables schools to think integratively about curriculum and the ways in which that curriculum is delivered. It also helps schools to explore how educational and operational models are deeply interconnected.

What excites you about participating in the CBTE 2018 conference?
In the world of community development there is a philosophy that the people with challenges often have best solutions to them. Theological education is an industry in need of change and CBTE 2018 will bring together people who are wrestling with that need and wrestling with challenges in their context.

People engaged in CBTE could be tempted to declare, “We have the solution! The answer is CBTE and you do these things and take these steps.” But that would be dangerous and would fail to take account for the importance of context. It is much better to have a diverse group of people who are wrestling with various challenges interacting with those who have experimented with this philosophy of education. That synergy and interaction has the potential to bring about a lot of new ideas and approaches and I’m very excited about what may emerge!

What are you sharing at CBTE 2018 and how does it add to the conversation?
I am going to be talking about how CBTE is an educational philosophy, not a model. It isn’t a step-by-step process that any school can just take off the shelf, so to speak. It is an educational philosophy that has to be thought through and wrestled with in order to be applied and integrated into the context and mission of the school.

I think this opens us up to immense possibilities and that conversation will lend itself to methods, programs and applications that are unique to the school and to the students. It will allow us to invite conversation around the philosophy that we can all benefit from.

Who do you think will benefit most from the conference?
Well, there are really two questions there: “Who will benefit?” and “Who will benefit most?” As far as the first question, I think anyone who is trying to find a new way forward in theological education will benefit. Anyone who is saying, “There has to be a new way to approach theological education,” or, “There has to be a better way for denominations to be engaged.” Anyone who is saying, “I want to be involved in theological education but I just don’t have any faith in the system.” I think the conference will speak to them. It will resonate; it will be encouraging and refreshing.

As to, “Who will benefit most?” I think it is anyone who is looking to discover the CBTE philosophy and has an influential voice or leadership role. So faculty, deans, vice-presidents of enrollment or denominational leadership or anyone who holds a position like that. They will see practical steps forward and have the opportunity to encourage change in their institutions.

CBTE Perspectives: Ministry Mentor

Paul Olson is the Pastor of Burnett Fellowship Baptist Church in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. He served as the ministry mentor for Glory Destura, one of the first students in Northwest Baptist’s CBTE program, Immerse.

In the Immerse program, each student is taken on by a church in a long-term leadership development role, and assigned a 3-person mentor team comprised of academic, ministry (practitioner) and network (denomination) mentors. We asked Paul to reflect on his experience as a ministry mentor.

How did you come to be involved with the Immerse program?
I received a phone call from [NBS President] Kent Anderson telling me the school was trying a new type of church-based education program and had a student who would be a great fit in our church.  Our church board was keen for us to to participate, as we believed mentorship was an important way to multiply leaders.

I already knew Glory from when I had served in another church, and could never have pictured her in a traditional masters program. I don’t think that would have been something interesting to her at all. But Immerse crossed our paths and we began a journey we wouldn’t trade for anything. It was hard but it was good.

You say, “It was hard but it was good.” That’s from your perspective. What about for the rest of the church?
It was great. Her involvement came at a perfect time for us. I was transitioning out of family ministry and starting a lead staff role, so Glory stepped into my former role. Glory is very capable and the church took her under their wing and loved her immensely. She did a great job. She loves kids and has a heart for children. That made it easy for us.

The program was hard for Glory. She didn’t see herself as a student. She didn’t love to read. She didn’t love to write. But she loved to do the ministry. So that’s what enabled her to keep going. She got a better balance in ministry and was challenged in many areas. She tried to quit many times but I always responded, “I’m not letting you quit. I’ve invested too much into you and you’re going to carry on.” And rightfully so. I think for her to finish was very important – even though the degree was less important to her than what she was learning.

You talked about the investment you made into Glory and the program. Was it worth it?
I think it was worth it because now we have someone (on staff) we have invested in. The culture of our church is very much part of her life, and we had no hesitation to hire her after graduation. Absolutely no hesitation. We invested in her and now we are reaping the dividends. Her education is deeper. She has an M.Div., and learned a lot in that process. We got more than our money’s worth in the end, and all the way through, to be perfectly frank.

Glory had skills, even at the beginning, so we actually got a lot of value from her right from the start. The financial cost wasn’t really a burden for us, but the cost in time-–that was a lot. We were deeply committed and willing to work through every aspect. And she did it. She pulled it out. Her debrief at the end was powerful. She gave illustration after illustration of how the experience had changed her and improved her ministry capacity.

Why didn’t you as a church just bring on an intern and train her in the church? What did you gain from partnership with the seminary and the denomination?
We had done that before with others. I had also led a mentorship program with some of the young adults. There was some value in it, but the challenge was it needed more structure. We needed input from outside our church to provide a well-rounded view.

I don’t know how many times (academic mentor) Brian Rapske pushed back on Glory and say, “Well what about this? Have you thought about this?” I wouldn’t have pushed back on those things. We needed that. We needed someone with those skills on the team. And I needed (network mentor) April Christenson to bring the larger denominational perspective. The (academic) structure of learning units and assignments was very helpful, as well as having different voices challenge her.  I think the partnership helped her have a better, well-rounded curriculum.

How would you compare Glory’s education to yours?
I came out of Bible College with about 80% theological knowledge and 20% practical knowledge– if that. I got eaten alive – as did my fellow graduates. I’m actually one of the few that actually survived in ministry. I found my education irrelevant in so many ways because it didn’t prepare me for what church ministry was like.

That would have been true for Glory. But the practical aspects of Immerse helped her to understand, balance, and learn as she went along. I do think we are serving our churches a lot better by preparing students who are well-rounded and know what it is to do relational ministry and theological ministry.

Glory has learned a lot of that. She has been forced to learn a lot of theology that she didn’t necessarily seek out. But it was important. Theological grounding is important. But she learned it in the context of children’s ministry. She learned why she needed to know – and to teach – the whole process of sanctification and the role of the Holy Spirit. She was able to see what it could look like in children’s ministry. And it made far more sense to her because she saw it in practice. That is what I wish I had far more of when I was a student. We did field education but it was nothing compared to this kind of stuff. This has a great edge to it that resonates with a lot of people … and a lot of churches as well.

Glory has graduated and you have a second student about half-way through. Do you expect your church will bring on another Immerse student?
Absolutely! We are planning to bring on another student. I’m thrilled with the program. It’s really grown well and I know it is always under revision, which it needs to be, but I’m thrilled with it. We are in–hook, line and sinker–because I think the program has huge potential for helping us grow our church, as well as others.

CBTE 2018 Speaker Interview: Dr. Stephen Graham (ATS)

Dr. Stephen Graham serves as the Senior Director of Programs and Services for the Association of Theological Schools. Prior to joining ATS, he served as Dean of Faculty and Professor of American Church History at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Dr. Graham will bring his experience in educational models and practices to CBTE 2018. Learn more about Dr. Graham here.

What excites you about Competency-Based Theological Education?
CBTE raises a lot of questions for theological educators about how things have been done in theological education and how they might be done, potentially more efficiently and effectively. Assessing mastery of competencies (broadly conceived) is what theological educators have desired to do regardless of educational model and CBTE breaks free from assumptions about mastery being necessarily related to duration or place of methods of delivery. I also appreciate that CBTE necessarily connects educators and theological schools with those served by their graduates.

What excites you about participating in the CBTE 2018 conference?
I welcome the opportunity to gather with people exploring CBTE and working to address a range of issues involved in applying CBTE to a range of institutions and programs.

How does the topic you are covering at CBTE 2018 contribute to the conversation?
I hope to provide the broader context of theological education, including the findings of the Educational Models and Practices Project, and some reflections on accreditation, and how they can inform the conversations.

Who will benefit from the information and experience you are sharing?
What I have to say should be of benefit to a wide spectrum of participants, including those on particular stages of the road of understanding, considering, and implementing CBTE.

CBTE 2018 runs November 5-6, 2018 in Vancouver, Canada.  Registration is open now.