Friday, January 14, 2011

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Today I sent students back to their primary classrooms--their ministry settings. For a week, we dwelled in Scripture, read books, talked together, laughed together, shared food, and enjoyed each other here in Rochester, Michigan. In particular, we spent the week discussing ministry issues surrounding gospel and cultures. Our time together in these intensive weeks is important and formative. But theses students do the bulk of their learning in our graduate program by being together in online community while they discern the work of God in their ministry contexts.

This group has in less than a year become an amazing learning community. They were together as a group only once before--this past August. But they found each other this week as dear friends, joined by our common work. An ethnographer would have a field day in their presence. Their community is already thickly construed, dense with stories, inside jokes, rituals, and roles. I marveled as I watched them this week.

This week, and others like them over the past year and a half, have been confirmation that we have created a powerful learning environment. We are producing missional leaders in a collaborative, collegial community. Our students live full time in Michigan, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois, and even Brazil. Yet we have a well defined, common learning space in the rhythm of intensives and online interaction. And the actual practice of ministry sets the agenda. Our conversations move more often than not from the congregation and its immediate context to the readings or course materials, not just the other way around.

I think the design of our degree has attracted a particular kind of student. And this type of student is a motivated learner who knows the stakes in play in the day-in-day-out of ministry. They are bright, ignited by theological depth. And they are interested in the frontiers of ministry, willing to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom. They are preachers, elders, youth ministers, church planters, campus ministers, church volunteers, etc. And all of them are explorers who have little patience for MWF at 9:00 am while the world is spinning around them.

My second year students, a different group, spent the week in Durham, NC. Part of that time they spent with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the "new monastic" community with which he is involved. I have received email from some of those students telling me what a rich week of learning this has been for them. And I also received today a note from Jonathan.


I wanted to write and let you know how much I (and the community here) enjoyed your group of students last weekend. Higher education is changing, and I suspect the sort of cohort model you're developing will become more and more important within the academy. But it is now and always has been good news for the church to put action and reflection on the ground, together in the same place. Was glad to be part of it and wanted to celebrate both your vision and the work you've put in to make it happen.

Peace and all good to you,


So, today I am thankful. Thankful for Rochester College who had the vision for this, especially for John Barton and Rubel Shelly who have encouraged me every step of the way. For the outstanding faculty who have been more than willing to stretch themselves, work past their familiar landmarks, and learn new ways of engaging students. And I am particularly thankful for these courageous cohorts of students who have established the validity of our vision.

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