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$500,000 grant launches MBTS B.A./M.Div. degree

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — A $500,000 grant will help Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and College launch a new program enabling students to earn a bachelor’s degree and master of divinity degree within five years.

The Kern Family Foundation is providing the grant for Midwestern’s new “Accelerate” five-year B.A./M.Div. program.

Midwestern President Jason Allen voiced gratitude to the foundation “for such generosity in assisting Midwestern College to provide an avenue for its students to graduate with high-level theological education in a significantly reduced amount of time and cost.”

“The legwork for this grant was accomplished by John Mark Yeats, our undergraduate dean,” Allen added. “Dr. Yeats’ work in obtaining this grant … has enabled us to offer the Accelerate program to students much sooner than originally anticipated.”

The Wisconsin-based Kern Family Foundation, according to its website, has “a deep appreciation for excellent pastoral leadership, believing that healthy local churches led by capable, committed pastors can transform the moral fabric of our society.”

Yeats noted that the Kern family has expressed concerns about the time it takes for a pastor to receive training — typically four years for an undergraduate degree and three to four more years for an M.Div. — which can mire ministerial candidates in debt and keep them from serving effectively once in the field.

“Accelerate helps decidedly motivated students to engage their studies in an aggressive manner,” Yeats said of the five-year educational experience that results in bachelor of arts and master of divinity degrees upon completion.

“Students are required to take approximately 15 credit hours per semester and to complete some coursework during the summer,” Yeats said. “Students follow a highly structured course of study that includes a weekly cohort meeting. By the third year, students are taking select M.Div. courses along with their higher-level undergraduate courses.”

Other benefits for Accelerate students, Yeats said, include significant financial savings “because of the condensed program format — allowing them to jump more quickly into front-line ministries like church planting and missions,” as well as opportunities for learning “not just in the classroom, but by working with others in an intentional cohort that better grounds them for ministry.”

The program is residential, with all coursework taking place on Midwestern College’s Kansas City campus.

Yeats said Accelerate will involve a four-pronged approach:

— Communal learning: Accelerate’s cohort structure, which fits best-practice models throughout higher education for engaging students, aids in retention, provides encouragement and strengthens the learning process, Yeats said.

“Ultimately, it whets the student’s appetite for lifelong ministry and learning, supported in later years by communities of similar ethos,” Yeats said. “A minister who refuses to minister alone is a minister who is built to last.”

— Leadership focus: The Accelerate program’s cohorts and academic classes are designed to continually emphasize the necessary skills for each graduate to enter their ministry field as a high-capacity leader, Yeats said. Assessment structures, practicums and regular courses contribute to the cohort structure, reinforcing leadership ideas that help each student become better suited to the 21st-century

— Discipline: “The academic rigor of Accelerate will challenge students to develop capacities of self-discipline that are essential to short- and long-term ministry success,” Yeats said. “To a certain extent, and by design, the proposed structure replicates the pressures of actual ministry.”

If Accelerate’s students learn to manage reading loads, class projects, ministry obligations and community responsibilities effectively, Yeats said, they will be more apt to maintain healthy balances in their future ministries.

Experience: The environment sustained within Accelerate equips students with an essential package of theoretical knowledge but also engages students in firsthand ministry.

“In their final year of study, students will be well-engaged in the apprenticeship phases of ministry service,” Yeats said. “Especially for students who struggle with practical engagement, the required practicums in the fifth year create and require new opportunities for ministry.”

Students applying to the program directly from high school must possess a 3.0 GPA or higher and provide strong letters of recommendation. The program also is open to current Midwestern College students who have not yet earned 40 credits in order to integrate smoothly into the program.

“If you are a young person called to ministry, we invite you to join what God is doing at Midwestern Seminary [to] … grow in your faith and be anchored in the truth of God’s Word,” Allen said.

“Accelerate allows us to do this on a more advanced level that places you into unique and dynamic contexts and that trains you to be a leader of tomorrow, today.”

Applications for the Accelerate program, which will launch in the fall of 2015, are currently being accepted for the limited space available. For more information, click here.

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  • T. Patrick Hudson