Seminary’s online master’s allows students to serve at home, learn at FPU
Fresno Pacific University press release
Many businesses encourage customers in an online age to “buy local.” Fresno Pacific University, the Mennonite Brethren college headquartered in Fresno, Calif., is using online resources to help students in a new master’s program to “minister local.”
The Master of Arts in Ministry Leadership and Culture at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary lends online courses and short residencies to educate solo pastors, outreach pastors, family pastors, youth and child pastors—anyone serving at least 10 hours a week in a church ministry.
“Increasingly we live in a local world, ministry is not one-size-fits-all,” says program director Brian Ross, assistant professor of pastoral ministries.
Anabaptist focus is unique
What makes this master’s degree, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary’s first online program, unique is its focus on Christian ministry from an Anabaptist perspective. Though “Anabaptist” denominations are small in number, the principles of a high view of the Bible, the centrality of Jesus and a believer’s church that is a true community with a mission of peace and reconciliation to the world have reached far and wide and attract a new generation today.
“There’s definitely an emerging group of young church leaders that resonate with Anabaptist values,” Ross says. “Those who are Neo-Anabaptist are in evangelical and other churches, but they increasingly resonate with Anabaptist values and theology.” (More about Anabaptism at usmb.org/menus/the-12-principles-of-anabaptism.html.)
Classes in the three-year program will be online, except for four week-long residencies. The first and fourth residencies will be at the seminary campus at 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno, and the second and third will be in different cities. Groups of students will start and remain together and each participant will have a ministry coach with a seminary degree and at least 10 years ministerial experience in the Anabaptist tradition.
There will also be weekly real-time online discussions with all members of the cohort present. “So they’re not simply students typing into a computer,” says Ross.
Guest faculty will enrich program
Also boosting the program are guest faculty Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey and Brian Zahnd. “They are possibly the three most influential leaders in Neo-Anabaptism,” Ross says.
Cavey is teaching pastor of The Meeting House, one of Canada’s largest congregations and “a church for people who aren’t into church,” and author of the best-selling End of Religion. The Meeting House is an international multi-site church with a vision to create safe places for spiritual seekers to ask questions and develop a thoughtful faith.
Boyd is recognized worldwide as a theologian, preacher, teacher and author. A former professor of theology at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., he co-founded Woodland Hills Church and speaks to thousands each week as senior pastor. Boyd’s books include Letters From a Skeptic, Repenting of Religion and The Myth of a Christian Nation.
Zahnd is lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Mo. He and his wife, Peri, founded the church in 1981. Zahnd is also the author of several books, including Water to Wine, A Farewell To Mars, Beauty Will Save the World and Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.
“I think they were pretty excited when they saw the outline of the program we were creating,” Ross says.
Inspiration and direction for the program came from Terry Brensinger, seminary president and FPU vice president, as well as a 2014 meeting at the seminary between leaders of the Brethren in Christ, Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church USA denominations.
Program suited to "this time in our culture"
Ross, who joined the seminary faculty in 2014, flavors his teaching with his experience with Neo-Anabaptism and online seminary degree programs. Choosing Anabaptism in his late 20s when he planted a church in eastern Pennsylvania, Ross spent 10 years developing a thriving ministry that primarily attracted somewhat skeptical young adults.
He earned his doctorate through a distance program from George Fox University, Portland, Ore., while working as a pastor. “It was the best learning experience I ever had,” he says.
Eight years after graduation, Ross still has friends from the program from all over North America, experienced pastors from a mix of circumstances. “You develop deep relationships,” he says.
With the Master of Arts in Ministry Leadership and Culture, FPU tunes into the trend toward people wishing to stay involved where they are and not move away to attend seminary, yet still get the high-quality education they need to better minister.
“This program is divinely suited to this time in our culture,” Ross says.
More information at: learn.fresno.edu/mlc/
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