By Jennifer Johnson
“Old methods of seminary training assume an outdated model that’s primarily baptizing, marrying, and burying,” says Mark Love, dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Rochester College (Rochester Hills, MI). “But we don’t live in that world anymore. We need to be teaching students how to read a culture and relate to it as missionaries.”
To this end, Love created the Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership, a two-year, 36-hour program designed to educate students while they serve in a local ministry.
“Their ministry context is their primary classroom,” Love says. “So we combine online learning with several one-week intensives.” These weeks are spent not only at the college’s campus, but at ministries in Portland, OR; Dallas, TX; and Durham, NC.
Coursework includes “Yahweh and Ancient Israel in Covenant Community,” “The Word of God and Missional Leadership,” and “Salvation and Human Identity.” Every student takes each of the 12 courses in the same order. Randy Harris, spiritual director for the College of Bible at Abilene (TX) Christian University, is one of several guest faculty members; he leads the orientation for each new cohort and guides them in writing a “Rule of Life” with spiritual practices they commit to observing throughout the program.
“Every component of the program creates a very thickly textured, spiritually nourishing learning environment,” Love says.
Because many students are doing primary research as part of the degree, he also created a resource center for missional leadership.
“In addition to gathering this research, we host a conference on missional leadership and Scripture called ‘Streaming’ that brings theological and biblical scholars together,” he says. “Recent speakers include Walter Brueggemann and Scot McKnight. We also consult with churches interested in missional transformation, and we’re working on a three-year project with Church Innovations in St. Paul.”
One of the first program participants, Ryan Woods, was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his graduation and died last November. The school recently announced a full-tuition scholarship to the program in his name. Learn more about this and the degree at www.rc.edu/academics/graduate-missional-leadership/.