Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The matter of the proper education of preachers of the gospel is worthy of our ultimate commitment.” It is the responsibility of the church in every generation to raise up and send out theologically equipped leaders to carry the baton of faithful, fruitful, and gospel-centered ministry well into the future. While there are well-worn pathways for “culinary school” and “kitchen trained” pastors, a number of leaders in our area began to see, especially as we were sending out new church planters and re-planters across the Mountain West, the dire need for another option on the table.
A Different Mode of Study for the Busy Leader
The Mountain West is an area roughly ten times the size of the United Kingdom— 800,000+ square miles—with two or three cities boasting traditional brick and mortar seminaries. To attend such a school often requires that a leader relocate, removing them from their current church context for the better part of three to four years, knowing full well many may never return home.
Lately, online education has grabbed a corner of the market but, when it comes to ministerial formation, some things just can’t be learned in an online course. Many ministry leaders already feel isolated, discouraged, and tired, to put it mildly, and a disembodied transfer of data can never replace incarnational mentorship and training. Too much relational distance remains between students and faculty, even in a traditional seminary setting, let alone the online alternative.
Enter a group of pastors who simply couldn’t shake the notion that it was high time we explored a different model, at a different (lower!) price point, undergirded by a different philosophy of training, where students would even earn a totally different degree.
The result: William Tennent School of Theology.
A Meaningful Mode of Connection for the Busy Leader
Though often used in Doctor of Ministry programs, the cohort model is rarely, if ever, employed at the Master’s level, where the vast majority of theological students are. This unique approach enables us to fulfill our vision of “developing shepherd leaders by shepherd teachers, offering excellent theological education in a life-giving, relational community, while allowing students to remain faithful in their ministry context.”
For students weary from hard labor in the ministry trenches, this mode of study allows for a periodic retreat to a residency for study and quiet reflection and rich gospel-friendships with both students and faculty so they may return to their current vocation reenergized, intellectually challenged, and better equipped. As C.S. Lewis noted half a century ago, “we live, in fact, in a world starved for … meditation and true friendship” (The Weight of Glory).
A Desire to Properly Equip the Busy Leader
We have unashamedly borrowed a page from William Tennent. When his sons wanted to enter the ministry but had few theological options, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian clergyman took matters into his own hands, literally, and built a modest log cabin where he could teach them Greek and Hebrew, theology, and the Scriptures. Though many scoffed at this upstart school, numerous graduates became significant leaders in the most powerful movement of God’s Spirit in the last 300 years, now known as the Great Awakening.
Tennent’s passion was to equip godly workers who could be sent into fields white for harvest. The result, due in part to his training, was an awakening where countless throngs of people met Jesus.
Our passion and hope is the same.
In the upcoming posts, we’ll explore who Tennent is for, how the course of study is unique, and the when & where of this new model of seminary training.