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Bethel Launches Ministry Scholars Program

Students can complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree in just five years through a new grant-funded pathway.

As the modern church grows and changes—and there are more notions of what it means to live and work in a ministry-minded way—a new dual-degree program allows students to act on their unique callings and complete both college and seminary in five years.

Catalyzed by a $499,221 grant from the Kern Family Foundation, disbursed over five years, the Ministry Scholars Program is now accepting applications for fall 2017. This pathway—the first of its kind at Bethel—will expand accessibility to high-quality, efficient, and affordable graduate ministry education to students from a variety of majors.

The five-year curriculum plan integrates undergraduate and graduate education by eliminating redundancies and streamlining course schedules. In short, graduates will receive a Bachelor of Arts from the College of Arts & Sciences—in one of a variety of complementary majors with personalized curriculum plans—plus a Master of Arts in Ministry from Bethel Seminary. The program will save students an estimated $7,425 and two years of coursework. In addition, students who plan to become senior pastors may qualify to receive a $5,000 Kern Ministry Scholarship in their fifth year, bringing their total savings to $12,425.

“While many students majoring in missional ministries or biblical and theological studies will certainly be a great fit for this program, enrollment data demonstrate that those from a variety of non-Bible majors go on to earn seminary degrees with equal frequency and success,” says Laura Harville, manager of academic services for Bethel Seminary. “Through this grant, the Kern Family Foundation has affirmed the importance of allowing young men and women to pursue their sense of calling to pastoral ministry while also majoring in areas that strengthen their God-given gifts and interests.”

Stephanie Williams ’05 S’12 will direct the Ministry Scholars Program while continuing her popular leadership podcast, “Lead Stories,” and role as lead pastor of Mill City Church in Minneapolis. As a graduate of both Bethel University and Bethel Seminary who works in close collaboration with young ministry leaders, she has a passion for the Bethel community and wants to see the university equip leaders for effective service in the rapidly-changing church. She says the current rate of change is unlike anything the church has seen since the Reformation, but she—and millennials in general—are excited about that, not apprehensive.

“We get the opportunity to be trailblazers,” Williams says. “I hope we can see the positive aspects of change and step into what’s possible. God is leading the church into the future, and we’re just trying to figure out how to follow. God is leading us into new things—He always has. Jesus said, ‘He is making all things new’ and the exciting thing is that we get to join in on that.”

While the new Ministry Scholars Program was primarily designed for students who feel called to be a senior pastor in the United States, it is a multi-faceted program and is also a good fit for:

  • Students who are ministry-minded but want to work outside of professional ministry. The new program will give students a more robust learning experience and a foundation in theology, with less of a time commitment.
  • Students who want to pursue bi-vocational ministry and have both a main profession and a ministry role (a growing trend in American ministry circles). The program allows for a wide variety of undergraduate degrees and career paths while still preparing students for missional living that serves the church.

The condensed program doesn’t leave downtime between college and seminary, a scenario that Williams says can sometimes create self-doubt and a loss of momentum. “Some students figure out tracks to run on—but a program like this gives students more confidence, with less floundering between programs,” says Williams. She was among the few students who went straight from the College of Arts & Sciences to a program at Bethel Seminary, and she’s excited about providing that same continuity and immediate credentials to Ministry Scholars. “Community is so huge here at Bethel, and the continuity and community that will exist in these cohorts will be key. Yes, we’re streamlining. Yes, we’re shortening programs. But we’re also creating a more robust cohort experience—a more full experience.”

The Ministry Scholars Program will marry liberal arts education and the deep theological training of seminary. But because students will often opt in to the program early, they’ll get to know each other and have the added benefit of co-curricular Ministry Engagement Experiences to enrich their pathway. Mentoring opportunities, ministry site visits, job shadowing, and formal internships will help students build a supportive network of peers and experienced leaders who will help them discern God’s leading. Williams hopes these elements together will instill leadership agility—that is the “ability to try new things, respond quickly, learn from your experiences, and then apply what you’ve learned to unrelated situations,” Williams says. Just as Bethel is coming at the program with a spirit of agility and responding to God’s leading, the hope is to equip students to do the same. “It’s just so important in a rapidly-changing world,” Williams says.

Find out more about the Ministry Scholars Program.

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