This past week, roughly 70 students attended the Kairos Project fall intensive course on our campus in Sioux Falls. We had students from three different countries, two different continents, and several different states. All of them had one thing in common: they were here because someone told them about it.
Up to this point, we have not actively recruited for the Kairos Project. Instead, we have noticed that students are finding their way to us because people they respect are recommending they consider this “new and different” model of theological education. While personal recommendation has almost always been the primary avenue through which students learn about a seminary, it seems that the Kairos Project is gaining traction in new ways.
Over the past two years, denominations and denominational leaders, ministry training organizations, and pastors have given Sioux Falls Seminary great feedback on why they feel this project is valuable for the students they encourage to attend seminary. In essence, they are fans of this model of theological education and are telling others about it. In the next few paragraphs, I will share a little of what we have heard. While there can be unique reasons for each group, it seems the ability to customize and contextualize the educational process is at the top of the list for most everyone.
Denominations and Denominational Leaders
As we know, many denominations struggle to find pastoral leaders for particular ministry contexts. This could be because of the location, the type of role, or even whether or not a position is full time or part time. Through the Kairos Project, denominational leaders have found that they can develop leaders from within those ministry contexts rather than trying to import them from somewhere else. In this way, students can grow where God has planted them.
Added to this benefit is the fact that the Kairos Project is significantly more affordable than other educational options available to such students. Denominational leaders express an appreciation for the fact they can help shape the experience of the student, thereby ensuring a denominational ethos is present before the student assumes a particular position within the denomination. Finally, the mentor team format allows denominations to have a person from within the denomination walk alongside a student, thereby creating connections to the denomination that will serve the student long into the future.
Ministry Training Organizations
For many of the same reasons, ministry training organizations, that is organizations that offer unaccredited training programs for pastors or lay leaders, greatly appreciate the Kairos Project. Often, programs created by organizations such as these exist to provide specialized focus on a particular area of ministry or a particular theology. The ability to customize content and to enlist mentors from within their networks allows these organizations to continue offering the programs they have developed but to do so in partnership with Sioux Falls Seminary. The result is that students can progress toward an accredited degree while simultaneously participating in a program offered by a ministry training organization of their choice, thereby increasing the relevancy of the degree. Obviously, this reality brings questions about curricular oversight, the role of faculty at the seminary, and much more. Through these partnerships, students are able to engage in accredited theological education with a specific emphasis relevant to their ministry contexts.
Continuing the trend, pastors appreciate the opportunity that the Kairos Project provides to develop leaders from within their congregations while those leaders stay active in ministry. When a pastor serves as a member of the mentor team, the experience of the student is significantly informed by the ministry context; and this means the church is developing leaders who know the culture of the church but also have the opportunity to be shaped by the holistic discipleship and educational process created by the Kairos Project.
Put simply, the Kairos Project creates an educational process that is, to borrow a phrase from Tom Tanner, “customizable, communal, and contextual.” By enabling denominations and denominational leaders, ministry training organizations, and pastors to work with students to create unique pathways through their journeys of theological education, the Kairos Project brings the right mixture of flexibility and consistency. If these first two years are any indication, it seems that that Kairos Project is developing a bit of a fan club.
Note: This is a repost of an article I wrote for Sioux Falls Seminary, which is available here.