Adam Joyce, program assistant, The Center for Transformational Churches
The Oikonomia Network’s annual faculty retreat featured provocative and stimulating talks from three leaders of the faith and work movement. Access their talks and slides here:
- David Miller, “God Bless Us, Every One: The Past, Present and Future of the Faith and Work Movement” (audio)
- Amy Sherman, “In and For Community: Helpful Models in Theological Schools” (audio and slides)
- Amy Sherman, “In and For Community: Helpful Models in Local Churches” (audio and slides)
- Paul Williams, “Theological Education: From Scholastic and Clerical to Ecclesial and Missional” (audio and slides)
Amy Sherman, senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute, gave two excellent talks on educational partnerships and how churches have infused an emphasis on faithfulness in work and the economy into their communities. Her first talk concentrated on the different initiatives and partnerships theological schools are engaging in.
She began by telling the story of Greg Spillyards. Spillyards holds an M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary and attends and works at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis. Sherman shared how Spillyards understands his primary ministry as out on the streets of Memphis, and works full-time for a commercial real estate development firm, Cushman & Wakefield. He founded and leads a division that is doing work fostering racial reconciliation and economic development in downtown Memphis. This division aims to bring high quality real estate expertise to neighborhoods in need. In an interview with a local paper, Spillyards said: “I feel that I’m getting to do what I was created to do.”
In an interview with Sherman, Spillyards discussed a key conversation he had with a beloved professor, Ellsworth Kalas, at Asbury. Sherman told the ON retreat that Kalas “believed that Greg was going to be used by God to cast [a] vision for how believers could serve the church and community by pursuing a ministry through his real estate skills.” Spillyards knew he wanted to combine ministry and real estate, and Kalas’s words freed him to pursue his vocation. Spillyards is a theological education success story, and his work represents the “fruit of theological education that takes seriously the call to whole life discipleship and that creatively and intentionally crafts initiatives and partnerships and equips future church leaders to be catalysts for flourishing in their communities.”
Sherman discussed promising models of partnerships between theological schools and other entities and organizations, partnerships that promote human flourishing and holistically form students. The categories of partnerships she discussed were:
- Partnerships that advance community development
- Partnerships with local churches
- Partnerships with non-profits
- Partnerships with the business community
Through concrete examples of these partnership models, Sherman shared how different institutions are structuring their education so students like Greg Spillyard can pursue their community’s flourishing in both the church and the marketplace.
Partnerships that Advance Community Development
For community development partnerships, Sherman began by discussing the work of Asbury Theological Seminary and Jay Moon, who runs its Office of Faith, Work and Economics. (Read more about his work in this month’s newsletter!) She highlighted the school’s internships program, which pairs seminary students with Christian marketplace leaders who act as mentors. Greg Spillyards was one of these interns; he received mentorship, took part in conversations and summits, and went to Acton University with the rest the Asbury interns.
Sherman also discussed the Asbury Project. This project is an annual business plan competition co-hosted by Asbury Theological Seminary and the Howard Dayton School of Business at Asbury University. Taylor King, the winner of the 2015 competition, proposed winning idea of a homemade popsicle business, called What’s Poppin? This small business aims to provide job training and experience for teenagers at an alternative school for juvenile delinquents. Taylor told Sherman how “it has been so exciting to see these young people who didn’t know a lot about work and who didn’t have the opportunity to work, [and] how many of them had a despairing sense of the future…[which] only held welfare, drugs or gangs, but now they are learning about entrepreneurship and experiencing the pride and the dignity of work.”
Partnerships with Local Churches
Next, Sherman discussed a partnership between Asbury Seminary and an innovative, young ecclesial community, Blue Jean Church. Blue Jean is a socio-economically diverse church; Asbury Theological Seminary students worked as interns in one of twelve different areas of ministry. For example, Asbury students can intern at Hope Academy (an alternative school), a business accelerator, or in the ministries of Blue Jean Church itself.
Sherman also introduced the The Fellows Initiative. Founded 20 years ago at The Falls Church Anglican in northern Virginia, this program has expanded to 21 churches across the country, including Sherman’s own Trinity Presbyterian Church. She described how this program is “an intensely practical, nine month, spiritual and vocational leadership development for recent college graduates.” A typical program includes a part-time professional job in the participant’s field of interest, theological coursework, Bible study, mentoring and community service. Taking place in cohorts of six to twelve young adults, the objective of this program is to help recent college graduates “start well,” giving them a strong theoretical and practical foundation for integrating faith, vocation and life.
As the program has expanded, 14 out of the 21 programs formally collaborate with seminaries. In these programs, the fellows take six to twelve credit hours of theological education at a local seminary. Sherman argued that any healthy partnership should be a win-win relationship for both sides, so she surveyed various fellows program directors, asking, “what do you get from partnering with a seminary?” Overall they stated that the seminary partnership provided credibility, a sense of professionalism, a sense of Scripture’s meta-narrative the fellows didn’t have previously, and an attraction for fellows who are considering seminary.
But what did seminaries get out of this partnership? Sherman also interviewed Scott Redd, president of Reformed Theological Seminary’s D.C. campus (RTS-DC). He felt that the main value of this partnership was how strongly it aligned with RTS-DC’s mission of serving the church. For RTS-DC, partnering with fellows programs provides name exposure for the seminary, forms young adults at the beginning of their career, and leads to some fellows becoming full-time students. RTS-DC’s long-time relationship with The Falls Church Anglican resulted in the formation of the Anglican Studies Program, which offers a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies. Sherman observed how good partnerships – in this case, a healthy partnership with a church – breed other good opportunities and partnerships for theological institutions.
Partnerships with Non-Profits
For seminary partnerships with non-profits, Sherman discussed the Christian Community Development Organization (CCDA). The CCDA is a national network of mostly non-profit urban ministries. Through the work of Jimmy Dorrell, the executive director of Mission Waco, the CCDA partnered with George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor. In 2005, Dorrell proposed that seminary students come early to the annual CCDA conference and learn from nationally-recognized leaders in community development. After the conference, students went back to their own seminaries and implemented a post-conference project in their own communities. Numerous seminaries participated in this initiative.
Mission Waco also partnered with the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. This partnership involved a January-term course where seminary students would come and live at Mission Waco’s facility, participating in its programs and receiving classroom instruction. Dorrell argues this immersion approach is even superior to the CCDA conference model, and has been attractive to a number of schools. Educational institutions such as Loyola University, North Park Seminary, Eastern Seminary and Bakke Graduate University are all either implementing or exploring this type of program.
Partnerships with Businesses
Sherman began this segment by highlighting the work of Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). The IWU School of Theology and Ministry established a business internship program, which allows students to spend considerable on-site time at businesses owned and operated by Christians. The internship requires 126 hours of work, involving reading, research, mentorship, and on-the-job time. About 20 students have participated each year, and they have interned at a range of businesses – a trucking company, a funeral home, a chicken processing plant, large Christian bookstores and many other places of work.
Sherman interviewed students and asked how they felt this internship had equipped them for pastoral ministry, wondering if “they anticipated being a different type of pastor than you might have been if you had not had this experience?” Ethan, who worked at the chicken processing plant, shared the following story:
I got to interact with people from blue-collars all the way up to the CEO on a daily or weekly basis. Just seeing what they actually do, and seeing people in a context where they are vulnerable because of the pain and stress of the workplace. One day in the cafeteria, I was talking to a line worker about employee moral and job satisfaction at the plant. The line worker started to cry, and said that this was the first time any white-collar worker had asked how he was doing… Everything that I’d say in a sermon I’d realized was built for educated, middle-class people. Now I’ll be preaching better to the working classes.
Such a response showcases the value hands-on experience provides for seminary students, emphasizing the importance of embodied forms of education and formation. According to Sherman’s research, good partnerships operate according to a pedagogy of “show and tell,” and allow learning happening in places where “sleeves are rolled up.”
She concluded with a comprehensive call for theological education to train “a better kind of pastor,” one who
is creative, who emphasizes whole life discipleship and who has seen the fruit of what happens when marketplace Christians actually capture the understanding of living into their work as mission, their work as neighbor love. The practical training and equipping… is helping them to become future pastors who will lead churches that will put a high value on…serving their communities and affirming the strategic vocational stewardship of the scattered church, as they labor in the various cultural influencing sectors of society. Because of partnerships like this, churches and communities will be much better off.
Listen to her full talk here.