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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.

Origin Story: Interview with NBS President Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is President of Northwest Baptist Seminary (NBS). In 2014, NBS’ CBTE-based program Immerse became the first such program to be accredited with ATS and in 2017 became the first CBTE program to produce M.Div Graduates. Immerse is co-owned by NBS partner churches (the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists in British Columbia) and has spawned various iterations with other networks and churches all under the auspices of NBS.

What led to the need to start Immerse?
We needed to do a better job for our churches quite simply. We weren’t satisfied with the rate or quality of what we were achieving for our churches in terms of leadership development. We began to ask ourselves, “If we were to reverse engineer the process and work more closely with our churches could we do a better job and see a better result?” And we did!

What have been the challenges of getting Immerse started?
Well, there were no models! We had to figure it out and I think we did a pretty good job. By the time we were done and looked back, we were able to see that a lot of intuitive decisions we had made early on had been the right ones. The competency-based model was emerging in the university world in general, and we discovered that we were very well aligned with what is going on in the world of education.

In terms of ongoing challenges, our program rises and falls on the quality of the mentors. Making sure that mentors are well prepared and understand the vision is crucial and an ongoing focus. Obviously making the paradigm shift for faculty is a big challenge. Helping people who are deeply invested in conventional education to see how their personal missions will be fulfilled through a different paradigm is pretty challenging. It can be done, and it is amazing. But it’s not immediately evident to people who have built their life around a particular approach. To lead them past that to something different is challenging.

What is your advice in terms of helping faculty to make that shift?
Again, helping them see how their personal mission and calling can be fulfilled through this other form is a huge step. Over time, the faculty have come to truly enjoy this method of working with students because there is a greater relational quality. It is quite attractive once you get used to it. As well, it was incredibly helpful to us that all of our faculty are deeply committed to our churches. They were motivated in knowing that not only was this what our churches desired, but that it would have an improved impact on the product for our churches.

What benefit does CBTE give the seminary as opposed to traditional programs?
Oftentimes, schools have thought of their product as being educational content. The consumers of this content – students – form the customer base of the school. I think this model is actually problematic. In our model, we like to think of the customer as being the church or ministry that will employ the graduate. Our graduates, our students, are the product. We desire to be particularly good at producing students who can lead our churches. We work really hard to understand the type of leaders churches need and then help them develop that leader.

When you think of it that way, this model is very productive. Mission fulfillment is accelerated and improved. This resonates with our churches and our people, and hence we have seen a tremendous response from donors – much higher than we have experienced in the past.

Why do you think that is?
This just makes sense to people. A lot of our donors are in our churches and receiving the benefit of our students training. When they can participate in the development of these people, and see the results directly in their churches and in their own lives, it is very attractive. I’m finding that people respond very naturally to this idea of supporting an innovation that trains people toward mastery in context through mentors. It just makes sense to people.

Leveraging the Democratization of Information

The age of educational institutions having a monopoly on knowledge is quickly ending. Today, videos, lectures and other resources from world-class subject matter experts and communicators are available for free at the click of a button. No matter what subject you are looking for and no matter what depth you are looking to engage it in, you can find the resources you need online. In essence, a motivated learner can access content whenever they want from wherever they have an internet connection. No expensive tuition required.

But that raises the question if educational institutions are no longer the guardians of knowledge, what are they? What is their role? May I suggest that their role is to bridge the gap between knowledge and education.

Education is cohesive, collective and scaffolded
Much of the democratized information available online is found independent of context and related subject matter. As a result, this leaves the learner with gaps in their knowledge often resulting in frustration as they attempt to understand deeper concepts without a solidly built foundation.

Education, on the other hand, helps a student build the pathway from being a subject matter padawan to being a master. By linking all the related subjects together, demonstrating their connectivity and identifying the discrete steps in the learning journey, educational institutions can help their students gain more than just information.

Education is outcomes orientated
While information can be accessed and accrued without a broader understanding of how it fits in, education is always concerned with getting someone somewhere. The cohesive, collective and scaffolded programs we just talked about also give prospective students a clear view of where they are going … and why.

Every degree program and every course within that program includes discreet learning goals that are clear to the prospective student before they embark in the learning journey, enabling them to effectively understand why they are learning what they are learning and what they will know and be able to do when they finish.

Education is standardized and accredited
For many, the fact that educational institutions are standardized through accreditation is a strike against them, not a benefit. This critique is not unfounded as accreditation and standardization can sometimes lead to program designs that do not account for different learners with different abilities, learning styles and prior knowledge. By treating each learner as identical, these programs do not allow individual students to reach their best.

However, knowing that a graduate’s education has included key components is critical. Without it, future employers or schools looking to utilize or build on the student’s education cannot have any sense of security that the student has engaged any particular subject at the depth they are required to.

What is the future for educational institutions?

As educational institutions lose their monopoly on knowledge, we need to look towards educational philosophies and programs that emphasize what we can provide that no amount of free online content can. If knowledge is available everywhere, we need to leverage that and focus on providing education.

In the world of theological education, we have an opportunity to do that in Competency-Based Theological Education.

By building integrated competencies, CBTE programs are able to clearly demonstrate to students the different subject matter required to achieve mastery. Mentors are able to guide the student in the process of developing mastery and scaffolding toward demonstrating it.

CBTE programs are, at their very core, outcomes oriented. While some traditional courses and programs were designed around outcomes, the evaluation of these outcomes in the student is done by proxies (such as exams and assignments). CBTE programs collapse the distance between outcome and evaluation through direct assessment of the competencies in the life and work of the student.

CBTE programs also maximize the value of accreditation by standardizing the results (which leads to confidence in the quality of the graduate) rather than process (which leads to asking diverse students to develop in the exact same way). In other words, future employers or educators can be confident about what the graduate knows and can demonstrate and the student has the freedom to modify their education experience to maximize their development.

The future of advanced education is changing and theological education is not exempt. CBTE is not, and will not be, the only innovation that helps schools to meet the changing needs of learners, but it is one that enables educational institutions to focus on what they can provide that no video or web platform can alone.