Susan Heeren Reese, Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation, Sioux Falls Seminary
Nathan Hitchcock, Assistant Professor of Church History and Theology, Sioux Falls Seminary
Jessica Berg, Developer of Social Entrepreneur Studies, Sioux Falls Seminary
Sioux Falls Seminary received a grant last year to explore the integration of faith, work, and economics. The initiative has been a great fit for our small, energetic seminary in the Midwest. The majority of our students come from the business world; 80 percent of them are pursuing a second career, with an average age of 38. Furthermore, our region fosters a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit, attested by a recent CNBC study in which South Dakota was rated “the top state for business.” Therefore, it was a natural extension of Sioux Falls Seminary to equip pastors and Christian leaders to connect faith to economics and pursue social entrepreneurship through a better understanding of how to live out their calling in the kingdom of God.
One of our new initiatives involved the creation of a new class called Faith, Business, and Money. The class touched on a variety of faith and economics topics: wealth and debt in the Bible, theological perspectives on economy, cultural assumptions about money, and strategies for socio-economic change. What made this class stand out was its collaborative, team-teaching approach. Throughout the semester, students had the chance to learn from seven different professors and administrators, who brought a diverse spread of disciplinary backgrounds. We also shared the 12 Elements of the Economic Wisdom Project and assigned students to write reflection papers on them. While the class’s format is still a work in progress, students and faculty alike found that the collaborative model spurred them to new, interdisciplinary insights. We were delighted to see how the Faith, Business, and Money class drew together professors, seminarians, current pastors, and business leaders.
As we listened to the conversations taking place in this class, we noticed that students wanted to explore specific business strategies to address certain social issues. Students needed time with other entrepreneurs to process, dream, share challenges, and innovate together. We decided to respond to conversations by offering “incubation sessions” prior to each Faith, Business, and Money class. These sessions were an unexpected success, allowing our student entrepreneurs to formulate and execute ideas. As a result of our students’ positive experience in these sessions, we plan on continuing the program this spring.
Not everything that we initiated from the grant, however, was equally successful. Enthusiasm from our early momentum led to a false start. A proposal for an emphasis in social entrepreneurship within our masters of Christian leadership degree was approved prematurely. While a fully formed program may still be in our future, we decided to take a step back from pursuing that degree as we construct a few solid courses for students. Moreover, we are making it a priority to have each professor identify places in their curricula where economic issues can be addressed. Our hope is that every seminarian is exposed to “faithonomic” ideas multiple times during their seminary journey.
Another one of our priorities was to connect with local businesses to broaden our network in the community. We formed a key relationship with an international business, Raven Industries (http://ravenind.com), a world leader in the design and manufacture of aerospace, surveillance technology, electronics, and specialty sewn products. Sioux Falls Seminary delivered a presentation on foundational elements of social entrepreneurship to lay groundwork for Raven Industries and their staff. We continue to be in conversation as to how we can partner with them in making a long-term, sustainable difference in our region.
As we move ahead with our Oikonomia Network initiative, Sioux Falls Seminary is leveraging its identity as a practical, contextual, flexible institution. Dr. Jay Moon did an exceptional job pioneering our early efforts. Now we see a large percentage of our faculty rallying to live out a second chapter, guided by our program developer, Jessica Berg. Together, we are optimistic about making a considerable impact on the lives of pastors and Christian leaders.