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Women pursue M.Div. degrees for theological, missions training

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A desire for a deeper knowledge of the Bible and more in-depth theological training inspired three women who graduated from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this year to take a road less traveled — pursuing the master of divinity degree instead of the master of arts in Christian education degree.
“I wanted to be able to study the Bible and the original languages on a deeper level,” said Danette Cundiff, who started her studies at Midwestern in the master of arts in Christian education program. “I really wanted to be able to open the Greek New Testament and be able to read it and pull out the deeper meaning of the text we sometimes don’t get.”
A political science graduate of William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., Cundiff said she also wanted the opportunity to choose from among the larger number of M.Div. electives, but she saw the preaching requirements for the M.Div. as a hindrance. “I didn’t want to take the preaching classes.”
Don Whitney, assistant professor of spiritual formation, encouraged Cundiff to switch programs, helping her with the process of swapping alternate courses for the preaching courses and making the transition go smoothly. Later, however, Cundiff reentered the Christian education program to earn both degrees. “I’m so happy I did,” she said. “Whatever field of ministry you pursue, the number one priority is to understand God’s Word.”
Cundiff’s ministry has encompassed many fields during her years at Midwestern. On campus, she has served as director of student enlistment. Off campus, she has been active in a number of ministries at First Baptist Church, Raytown, Mo., including the youth, singles and television ministries. In addition, she has been active in mission projects, working in North Africa, Haiti, Thailand, St. Lucia, Montana and Florida. Following graduation, she hopes to be appointed by the International Mission Board to work in Uganda.
Amy Sims came to Midwestern convinced the M.Div. degree was the right one for her ministry plans. A graduate of Williams Baptist College in Arkansas, Sims felt God’s call to missions at the age of 12. “I felt it would be the preferred degree since I wanted a missions emphasis,” she said.
During a summer missions project, Sims met her future husband, Julian, who also believed God was calling him to prepare for the ministry by attending seminary. The two came to Midwestern and, although Julian had felt called to ministry as a teenager, it was not until their time at Midwestern that he became convinced God was directing them to missions.
Sims doesn’t look down on those who pursue other degrees, but for her life and ministry, she selected the M.Div. as her best option. “I preferred that degree because of the theological education that is not as heavily emphasized in other degrees. We’ve really enjoyed theology classes,” she said, adding her New Testament and Greek studies under prof Alan Tomlinson were “exceptional.” She said she feels the M.Div. has prepared her for a wide range of ministry opportunities, including writing curriculum, missions and chaplaincy.
Currently, the Simses are hoping to serve with the IMB in a closed country following graduation, and she anticipates that her M.Div. will prove to be a great asset. “[M]en don’t have ready access to the women in that culture,” she noted, so, by having the theological foundation of the M.Div., she will be able to teach women who otherwise might not be reached.
Sims was honored at this spring’s commencement exercises with awards in theology and church history.
Michelle Byler, a psychology graduate from the University of Central Arkansas, also came to Midwestern prepared to pursue the M.Div. degree. “I felt God calling me into chaplaincy and felt the master of divinity was the best degree to gain biblical knowledge,” she said. Byler said she is especially appreciative of the Old Testament, New Testament and theology courses.
“The curriculum helped me figure out why we believe what we believe,” she said. “I knew a lot about how to help people, but not from a biblical basis.”
Byler’s husband, James, is youth and music minister at Charity Baptist Church, Rogers, Ark., where she assists in his ministry. Expecting their first child in November, Byler has put her plans for chaplaincy work on hold. “I received a good education at Midwestern,” she said, recommending it to others considering a seminary education. “I had some Bible knowledge, but my seminary studies helped me learn a lot about doctrine.”
“I would encourage everyone, women especially, to pursue the M.Div.,” Cundiff agreed. “If you come to seminary for a Bible education, it is more challenging and it is well worth the commitment. Your spiritual development will astound you. It’s incredible.”

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  • Stephanie Heading