This article is adapted from the June 2022 issue of The Messenger.
What thoughts race through your mind as you read that word? Does change scare you? Excite you? Maybe you’re neutral towards it – in other words, “change is fine, but it’s not for me. Given a choice, I’d let things be the way they are.” Perhaps the thought of change makes you cringe. Things are comfortable, predictable, nice, and cozy. “If it were such a good idea, we would have done it that way all along,” you think to yourself. You might be the type of person who tackles changes head-on – even initiates changes – you’re not the “rest on your laurels” type.
At a recent conference I attended on behalf of the Seminary, an attendee approached my table and we discussed seminaries – particularly their place in partnership with the church and the ability the institution has to shape the trajectory of the church. In other words, how goes the seminary, so goes the church. Concern was expressed that seminary training may have run its course, and that the local church is where ministerial training should occur. The sentiment was that as seminaries age and implement changes, they become susceptible to liberalism. There is no question that a number of seminaries have lost sight of their mission, chasing rabbit trails inconsistent with their institutional identity and far from biblical orthodoxy – call them pet projects, theological hobbyhorses, or outright progressivism antithetical to Scripture. What happens when seminaries lose their way? They take churches with them. The local church suffers from starvation – the preacher does not preach the whole counsel of God! Whole denominations suffer, losing sight of their true unity in the Spirit as they seek to unify around contemporary political/social issues. Undoubtedly, the faithfulness of the church is influenced by the faithfulness of the institutions tasked with training those responsible for the right treatment and proclamation of the Word. Maybe seminaries have run their course— haven’t they done enough damage? A balanced perspective is important here. For every camp that embraces reckless change and every progressive action, there is an opposite reaction to pull back the reins – even so much that change is resisted on the principle that all innovation is bad and will lead to the ultimate demise of the institution, and then the church.
If you have been keeping up with the Seminary, you might notice Mid-America Reformed Seminary is in a season of change – a season of innovation. Mid-America Reformed Seminary is building off of a rich heritage of innovation. We are tapping into our core DNA as an institution, prayerfully hopeful in equipping and edifying the local church and further advancing Christ’s Kingdom for His glory through effective pastoral training.
Mid-America Reformed Seminary exists because of innovation and change. Over 40 years ago, amidst great denominational volatility, pastors concerned with the outlook of their beloved denomination met to form a new seminary. There existed a need for a seminary concerned with fidelity to the Word of God, deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition, and one that placed a high premium on supporting the local church through robust academic and practical training of her ministers. Mid-America Reformed Seminary was born, taking residence in Orange City IA. A number of years later, the Board sanctioned a move to Northwest Indiana, opening the students up to a wide variety of ministry opportunities, as well as increased social and vocational outlets in the greater Chicago area. The Seminary would innovate further and pursue accreditation through the Association of Theological Schools. In a world where higher education and student debt are synonymous, the Seminary’s commitment to affordability – decreasing the financial burden placed on students and increasing the Seminary’s reliance on our heavenly Father – is rare.
Mid-America has not ceased to be innovative. We are in some of the most exciting times in the life of this institution. Today, there exist several areas of change and innovation that ought not to scare even the most strident critic but should encourage all who support our work and who will undoubtedly benefit.
The Center for Missions & Evangelism (CME)
The Center for Missions & Evangelism offers a new set of classes, conferences, cohorts, and internships focused on areas of evangelism, church planting, discipleship, and foreign missions. It is designed to help the church raise up the next generation of faithful church leaders to serve faithful churches and new plants both at home and abroad – better equipping students and pastors to plant and perpetuate Reformed, ordinary means of grace churches to carry out Christ’s Great Commission.
The CME seeks to glorify and enjoy God in Jesus Christ by: cultivating a genuine love for God and His church; helping raise up the next generation of faithful pastors, evangelists, and teachers with a high commitment to the Reformed Confessions and catechisms with a missional mindset; equipping and training students with the particular gifts and calling to plant evangelistically engaged churches; offering classes and lectures taught by proven church planters, missionaries, and lay workers with extensive experience in missions, evangelism and related practical areas in tandem with the current M.Div. program that focuses primarily on the mission of the church; offering continuing education courses, conferences, and lectures for pastors and missionaries on relevant subjects, cultivating a greater awareness of evangelistic opportunities at home and abroad, and assist students with internship placement; assisting churches in cultivating more outward facing cultures of evangelism while maintaining strong covenantal identities; encouraging lay members of local congregations as they seek to serve Christ faithfully, and by establishing cohorts in various locations, focusing on missional subjects and providing valuable resources to churches on subjects related to evangelism, outreach and discipleship, as well as church planting and missions.
While this is a new initiative, the spirit in which the Seminary undertakes this work is consistent with the way things have always been done in the life of this institution – in partnership with the local church. The involvement of the local church is essential to the CME. While the primary goal of the program is to help students develop their gifts and abilities for effective ministry, a secondary goal is to aid the church in growing missionally within their respective contexts. Thus, the CME seeks to both serve and cooperate with the local church in reaching the world for the sake of Christ. The benefit is twofold: first, to help those within Reformed churches to discern the importance of missions as part of being a faithful Reformed church, and second, to help those with a great emphasis on missions to realize this calling with a wholehearted commitment to Reformed doctrine and worship.
The Seminary is enjoying a renewed sense of awareness in the marketplace of institutions. With the development of “Round Table,” a weekly podcast featuring the Seminary’s Faculty discussing various theological topics with practical implications, many prospective students are being introduced to Mid-America for the first time. The Seminary also enjoys a prominent social media presence on a variety of channels, which allows Mid-America’s work to be seen by many.
In addition to this, Mid-America is present at several national and regional conferences throughout the year. Conference attendees are often excited about all things theological and eager to talk about pursuing ministerial training. By attending these events and engaging with the attendees, the Seminary is able to capitalize on this excitement, and invite prospective students to campus for a visit. One last note on conferences is that the Seminary is mindful of its Reformed convictions, and only attends conferences with theological standards aligning to those of MidAmerica.
A renewed effort to visit more traditional undergraduate feeder institutions has also been underway. The recent COVD-19 pandemic had stalled this effort, but visits to these institutions have resumed, and their effectiveness is greater than ever. Like conferences, visits to feeder schools allow the enrollment staff to invite would-be students to visit campus. When a prospective student visits campus, they get to see first-hand what Mid-America’s academically challenging, spiritually nurturing, and pastorally focused environment looks like. When they experience seminary for a day, they are very inclined to enroll.
A natural by-product of the last two initiatives listed leads to an issue that needs addressing – space. At the Seminary, Junior students take their classes together, and Middlers and Seniors are combined into one classroom, because their classes are offered every other year. There are only so many seats in a classroom. Two options exist to address this issue: build or hire. Build an addition to the existing facility, and the space issue is resolved. Hire additional faculty, and every class can be taught each year. Over time, the most stewardly solution is to build. In Phase I of the expansion project, the Seminary plans to build a new chapel/ auditorium, as well as additional staff offices, an enlarged cafeteria, and a board/conference room. This will allow modifications to the current classrooms as follows: remove the wall separating the current Junior and Middler/ Senior classroom, thus creating a new, large classroom for the growing Junior class, and convert the Seminary’s existing chapel (essentially, a large classroom) into the Middler/Senior classroom.
Four years ago, the Board of Trustees, in consultation with a special study committee with staff and faculty, recommitted to our residential model of seminary education. Many institutions in the seminary marketplace offer their degrees fully online. Our conviction and response is that ministerial training is best done in a residential setting, where peers and pastor-scholars are accessible for spiritual development and mutual encouragement. Seminary families do well when they live among other seminary families. There are many institutions that lament their distance programs, since they lose that personal and pastoral touch. This conviction leads to the need to develop on-campus student housing. Phase II of the Seminary’s building campaign will focus on developing a residential community on campus, and while it is being planned concurrently with Phase I, the project itself will come later.
The question remains, is all change bad for a theological institution? Admittedly, there are examples of once-faithful institutions dragging down once-faithful churches. Sadly, it is more common than not. By God’s grace, Mid-America Reformed Seminary has remained faithful to its mission, to its convictions, and to its supporting churches. Our partnership with our constituent churches is paramount to our work, and naturally leads to a healthy and necessary sense of transparency and accountability. The initiatives listed here as well as the corresponding results propel us forward, and yet they all harken us back to our first love – serving and supporting Christ’s church through the faithful training of her pastors, resulting in fruitful ministries for the glory of God. That commitment, my friends, will never change.
Michael Deckinga serves as the Vice-President of Advancement at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.