Global Theological Initiative provides increased avenues for theological education

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by Lauren Crane

Theological education should not be taking place only within the walls of a seminary, but within the body of local believers known as the church.

This understanding of theological education, although not new, is the new direction of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The school, which has always encouraged students to supplement their seminary education with ministry experience and on-the-field training, has recently begun a new effort to expand the opportunities for students to earn class credits outside of attending the Wake Forest, N.C., campus, while at the same time reorganizing the process students must go through to earn these credits for training from their local churches, para-church organizations or any Great Commission partner. This initiative, called the Global Theological Initiative (or GTI), will seek to identify like-minded, strategic partners that fit the seminary’s mission to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.

John Ewart, Associate Vice President of Project Development, said one of the main things driving the GTI is the fact that Southeastern’s president, Daniel Akin, announced at the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention that he wanted to see Southeastern partner with 100 churches for theological education.”

We didn’t think 100 was nearly enough, and we want to double it, if not have 250 churches (partner with us) in the next five years,” Ewart said.

To do this, Ewart said four formerly separate departments have come together under the umbrella of the GTI to see students trained both on-campus and off for the glory of God.

Distance Learning, which provides delivery methods for off-campus learning, is now under the umbrella of the GTI as together, they will seek to provide avenues for students to learn and study in a variety of off-campus contexts. Also included in the GTI is the Center for Great Commission Studies, which utilizes students’ time on the field to earn credits – whether it is as part of a short-term mission trip or a degree requirement.  The third major component of the GTI is partnerships with churches and other Great Commission entities.

Under the leadership of Steven Wade, the Great Commission Equipping Network is identifying local churches and para-church organizations that Southeastern can partner with to provide practical theological training through internships. Students will be able to receive solid, theological education through mentorships, off-campus classes with their pastor and a professor and by taking classes at an approved center – a church or organization where adjunctive professors teach normal credit courses, as well as courses that are specific to the faculty member.

For some, this may look like becoming a “partner,” providing student internships (up to nine credit hours) under the leadership and mentorship of a qualified supervisor. Some churches and organizations can also be “members” of the GCEN, having someone with both the qualifications and desire to co-teach classes on-site with a Southeastern professor. In this option, students can earn up to 18 credit hours.

“These are situations where there are interns, and they want to train and teach them practical things. We work with them on syllabi, etc. and help them learn so they get practical field-based training along with the theological education they’re receiving from Southeastern,” Ewart said.

The most involved level for a church or organization within the GCEN is to act as a center. This option is available for places where a Southeastern professor is currently. Not only can they offer up to 18 credit hours, like a “member” does, but they can also offer classes that are relative to the faculty member’s field. “There are key churches that we are working with in these areas,” Ewart said.

Through these agreements with churches and organizations, Southeastern is better able to seamlessly integrate theological learning and practical field ministry into all facets of a Southeastern education. This may look like students taking trips to existing partner the Brazilian National Mission Board and earning credits, working alongside their pastor or elders at Open Door Baptist Church or North Wake Church (among many others) or by taking classes in Uganda, where Southeastern is training faculty members for East-African seminaries.

“If we have a partner someplace, and we’re looking at student mission trips, why would we not want to send our students to work with our partners or our members?” Ewart said. “Rather than just hit or miss around the world, we have a strategy now to organize where they’ll go.

We’ll still do reactive trips to unreached areas and pioneer fields, but we will try to layer the trips with proactive ones to visit partners, members and centers,” he said. “We walked around the world to identify key partners around the globe.”

Although wedding theological education to the local church is not, and should not be, a new concept, Ewart said putting together these facets of the delivery system, partnerships and strategic missions emphasis is fairly unheard of among seminaries. Since January, Ewart said Southeastern has these teams working together to provide support for one another in this effort.

“To have a really dynamic, quality pastor training people through an internship in field-based practical experiences thee engage in every day is absolutely crucial. In some cases in theological education there’s been a dichotomy between the two,” he said. “There’s been a recognition of the value of both, but we want to bring those two things together. We want to acknowledge the value of that practical training by giving course credit.”

To learn more about the GTI or becoming a partnering church or organization, please visit the website here.

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