Last week and this week, we are reflecting on how Sioux Falls Seminary and Taylor Seminary are embracing God’s work within theological education. This short series was originally published by the North American Baptist Conference as part of its fall 2018 issue of Onward Magazine. Last week we introduced the topic and provided an update on the impact of technology within theological education. Today, we are focusing on our work in the areas of curriculum and student engagement.
In fall 2014, Sioux Falls pioneered a new approach to theological education—the Kairos Project. Building on the concepts of competency-based education, the seminary blazed a new path that led to changes in curriculum, tuition prices, and the student experience, among many others. Since then, the seminary has grown by 60 percent and now has over six hundred people and ministry contexts engaged in its Kairos network around the world. The Kairos Project is now recognized as one of the most innovative and effective approaches in North America.
It was this change that sparked many of the early conversations about greater levels of partnership. As Sioux Falls began implementing these changes, the faculty at Taylor was rewriting its curriculum based on a similar competency-based approach to theological education. The faculty was deeply committed to making Taylor’s programs as relevant to the vocational callings of its students as possible. To that end, Taylor worked diligently with local pastors and ministry professionals to better direct its educational competencies and outcomes to the vocational needs of its students. These changes will now come into full effect in the next academic year, but they are already having a positive impact on the students.
Indeed, God was weaving Taylor and Sioux Falls together before we knew it was happening! Perhaps more important than the work God is doing to prepare our institutions for the future, He continues to transform the lives of our students.
Last June, a Taylor graduate spoke at a national gathering of seminary leaders about the way she had been shaped at Taylor. Both Taylor and Sioux Falls were extremely pleased as she testified about how Taylor helped her more deeply understand her beliefs and how to stand strongly for her faith in a gracious, humble, generous, and Christ-like way.
That phrase, Christ-like way, might be one of the best ways to think about the work of theological education. Over the past several years, Taylor Seminary and Sioux Falls Seminary have reflected more deeply on what it looks like to develop disciples of Christ who are prepared to live fully into their unique callings within the Kingdom mission. This shift in perspective is, in most ways, a call back to the original purposes of theological education. That is to say, discipleship has always been the work of the local church, with seminaries being invited to play a role in that process through developing pastors. Today, however, the multifaceted ministry of the church calls for a multifaceted understanding of the role that seminaries play in the development of followers of Christ who live into their unique callings.
Nearly half of the students enrolled at Sioux Falls are in a professional vocation outside of a local congregation. In fact, the majority of students enrolled in seminary across North America enroll primarily because they want to learn about integrating their faith and their vocation, whatever that vocation may be. Seminary, therefore, must be a place where all members of the body of Christ can grow in their faith. One student said it best when he noted that “the heartbeat of the seminary here is that the education doesn’t give you the right to serve in ministry. The education, in fact, draws you closer to Jesus.”
Such a shift in the way students participate in theological education requires a change in how seminaries think about, approach, and engage in their work. Sioux Falls Seminary and Taylor Seminary have fully embraced this new reality and are excited about what the future holds. Together, we are better able to pursue our shared mission to develop followers of Christ.