09 November 2011

A Season of Thanks: Day 9

On this ninth day of November, I choose to be thankful for a great place to work.

It's not just that I like my job.
I do.

It's what Lexington Theological is about.

In 2008, when the stock market crashed, LTS faced a monumental decision.
They were faced with an endowment that was suddenly worth a fraction of what it had been worth the day before. It brought about serious questions about the viability of the institution.

But the faculty, staff, and trustees believe in the work of LTS and in its specific voice among theological schools.
So rather than shut the doors,
Or just create an online program,
Or bury their heads in the sand and hope the market got better some day,
they used the opportunity to ask some hard questions about the church and about theological education.

Their answers then astound me now.
They listened.
They listened to churches, who were telling them that LTS was sending them students who were very intelligent, had done their homework, and had excelled in academia. But these students weren't prepared to be pastors.
They listened to students, who said they didn't know how to take all that they had learned from their time at LTS and transfer it to the local congregation.
They listened to regions, who said they had a lot of people wanting to be pastors who couldn't relocate their entire families to Lexington to take the first step toward heeding their calling: a Masters degree.

Their response to these problems was to create a program that is fully accredited by ATS and yet meets all of these needs while maintaining the integrity that has been a part of this institution for 146 years.

The biggest piece of the puzzle was how to train ministers better.
So they moved the education into the local church.
Within 6 credit hours, M.Div. students are required to be serving a local church. And not just any church; the church must be a "partnering congregation," which simply means that the church has accountability to the school. There are parameters to follow, responsibilities to be monitored, etc. Students must serve at least 10 hours per week in the local congregation.

Secondly, they moved the academics to an online forum. It allows students all over the country to attend classes simultaneously without having to uproot themselves from the place they call home. It makes sense. Why would a student want to leave the place where she first began to discern her calling, just to move to a new area to learn how to live into that calling. The courses are taught with fantastic software that allows essentially real-life classrooms without walls and boundaries. The invention of the webcam has allowed students from every corner of this country to be "in class" together without leaving their living rooms.

Finally, every M. Div. student is required to have a mentor. They are required to meet with this mentor at least an hour a week. What they discuss is up to them. How the time operates is at their convenience. But it is required.

In the face of a catastrophic economic problem, Lexington Theological Seminary set the pace for how the church universal needs to think. They asked the basic question, "Why are we doing this?" And they didn't shy away from the answers. The result of their discernment was a fundamental shift in the way theological education is taught.

For fifty years, no one has considered that the format of theological education may be outdated. LTS stepped bravely into uncharted waters during a raging storm. 2 years into the new model, we are discovering that students are our biggest recruiters. They love the education they are receiving. They cherish their opportunities to learn in their local church. They depend on their mentors and their classmates to help them through difficult situations. They are learning to navigate the life of ministry in a way no minister in the last half century has done.

And I believe they're going to be great ministers because of it.

I am honored to work for such a place.
I am thrilled to be the "gateway" for students.
I couldn't be more excited to share what we're doing.
I look forward to watching this first batch of new ministers spread their ministerial wings in a few years.

I am grateful for an institution that is not so mired in institutionalism that they cannot think creatively.

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