TRUSTEES: MBTS academic expansion ready

Baptist Press
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Posted: May 20, 2013 5:52 PM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Implementation of expanded academic offerings at both the college and seminary levels at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was announced during the April 29 trustee meeting at the Kansas City, Mo., campus.

Midwestern will now offer four new dual-major programs for undergraduates, three new master of divinity concentrations and a professional doctoral degree in counseling, which had been approved in previous trustee meetings. MBTS President Jason Allen said months of research, coordination and planning have been invested in the academic expansion and attaining approval from the seminary's accrediting agencies.

"(B)y any estimation, is a sweeping expansion of Midwestern Seminary's academic program," said Allen, who assumed the seminary's presidency last October. "Each of these initiatives serves to further Midwestern Seminary's vision of existing 'For the Church.' Missiologically, this ultimately enables us to equip more people in more contexts for more roles of service within the church."

For Midwestern Baptist College, the dual-major concept combines three components: general education courses, a biblical studies or Christian ministry major focus, and a professional training emphasis. The latter includes such areas as business, psychology, music and the humanities, with other degree areas to be added as the program progresses. Students also can major in both ministry-related degrees to earn their diploma.

In conceptualizing the dual-major program, seminary leaders discussed: "What's the most effective way of equipping Midwestern's God-called men and women to become ministers who can take the Gospel to what is called a 'Pioneer Area?" and "What is the most effective way to prepare a church planter?"

According to seminary leaders, the reality of planting churches in "Pioneer Areas" most likely will entail bivocational ministry. But if students receive an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a master's degree in a similar field, they likely would not possess the skills necessary for the professional side of their bivocational work. By providing dual majors, Midwestern will help bridge that gap.

Jerry Sutton, Midwestern's academic dean, said the dual-major concept "will provide our students a curriculum to supplement the ministry training we're already giving them with professional skills they'll need to work bivocationally until the ministry really takes off."

"The bottom line is that we're trying to be innovative in such a way that we equip our students to impact our world for Jesus Christ. We want to give them the skillset necessary to be well-rounded and fully prepared for bivocational ministry," Sutton said.

Allen said the dual-major program will launch in the fall 2013 semester.

Seminary-level expansion

The three new M.Div. concentrations, which also will begin in the fall, include preaching and pastoral ministry, Christian ministry, and biblical and theological studies. Allen said the intent is to bring a focus back to the pastoral side of the degree track.

Allen said that in the past the M.Div. has been considered the primary degree for those going into pastoral ministry. While that philosophy hasn't changed, the M.Div. has become quite specialized due to a larger number of concentrations, and there might be the perception that seminaries aren't in the business of training pastors anymore.

"In recent decades, the specialization of degree concentrations within the master of divinity program has enabled seminaries to graduate students with specialized equipping in various ministry niches," Allen said. "While that has been healthy, from a distance one may look at the respective fields and conclude that seminaries are not bringing the same level of focus and determination in training pastors. Midwestern Seminary is redoubling its efforts to bring our very best academic offerings to training pastors, and these three featured emphases enable us to do just that."

The new 30-hour professional doctoral in counseling degree, which was recently was approved by the seminary's accreditors, will become the fourth doctor of ministry program at Midwestern, Allen noted.

Rodney Harrison, MBTS director of doctoral studies, said people who seek counselors desire to know they're receiving guidance from a professional. So by attaining this degree, he said, many students believe they can significantly remove any barriers that would exist.

"Students in the doctorate in counseling program will take courses that are really honed to the needs of someone functioning in an advanced level of counseling service and science," Harrison said. "So the course work will drill in on the unique needs of those engaged in the ministry of counseling." He added that the program's capstone will involve writing a dissertation that specifically relates to the practice of ministry counseling -- thus making a significant contribution to the field of counseling as it relates to Christian ministry and the church.

Currently, more than 400 students are enrolled in Midwestern's doctoral program. Harrison said the administration views the doctorate in counseling as another avenue of fulfilling the mission of being For the Church while serving the students' needs as well.

Harrison also lauded Midwestern's counseling faculty as being "exceptionally good and well-versed in the disciplines of counseling and psychology." The program is led by Larry Cornine, who also will serve director of the doctor of counseling program.

"The catalyst for these sweeping innovations is clear," Allen added. "Midwestern Seminary is determined to bend our entire academic program to best serve the local church. Each one of these steps is integral to that progress, and collectively they enable us to announce what is the most sweeping academic expansion in the history of Midwestern Seminary."

T. Patrick Hudson writes for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

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