Contextual Education is at the heart of how we are forming students for ministry and mission in the Graduate School of Theology. Rather than seeing the many important disciplines of ministerial preparation separately, contextual education assumes that all ministerial practice begins in some specific context of human experience and then seeks to utilize the biblical, historical, theological, and social disciplines. Thus, from their first semesters in the GST, students participate as “situated learners" through particular learning experiences such as case studies and ministry scenarios. Students’ participation in a particular context stretches across the span of their degree program and deepens as they progress in their degree plan.
Contextual Education teaches students to be able to integrate theology in contemporary cultural contexts. This involves critically interpreting the role of historical and cultural contexts in the formation of theological perspectives and analyzing the key elements of a cultural context, including congregations and a culture other than one’s own. Students are taught to construct specific theological proposals that are centered in the kingdom of God and appropriately suited to particular contexts.
The following courses make up the Contextual Education course sequence for M.A.G.S.: BIBM 603 Foundations of the Theology of Ministry, BIBM 657 Contexts of Ministry, BMIS 646 Foundations of Missional Practice, and BMIS 619 Church and Mission. The foundation of this sequence is the development of the practice of thinking theologically about ministry and mission. These courses develop the student’s capacity to ask questions, listen to, understand, and interpret the contexts of their ministry.
The Capstone Course, BMIS 671 Supervised Research in Mission, allows students to draw together their entire program of learning and apply it to a focused, context-specific project they choose together with the M.A.G.S. advisor. This project focuses upon a real-world issue or problem which is submitted in an online professional practicum where all students evaluate and learn from each other’s projects.
Students studying for full-time ministry occasionally wonder how classes like Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion, or History of Christianity are relevant to their ministry context. GST faculty are convinced that these more theoretical or historical classes are extremely relevant for learning to think through contemporary church tasks, problems, or issues theologically. Pathways Projects allow students to incorporate the material learned in a class like History of Christianity in a way that is applicable to their ministry context. For example, a student currently in or preparing for a senior ministry position could develop a project in which he or she studies Augustine's hermeneutic in de Doctrina in order to develop a six-part sermon series based on Augustin's interpretive methods. The potential connections are completely up to the creativity of each student and the uniqueness of their ministry context!
Pathways Projects, Case Briefs, and other artifacts from Contextual Education are collected in a student's E-Portfolio–an integrative blog of a student's artifacts, experiences, and reflection. The E-Portfolio provides you with an opportunity to formulate and pursue a strategy for ongoing formation. Although students receive periodic grades and other evaluations in particular courses and in co-curricular activities, the E-Portfolio is a means of exploring and expressing growth at the program level. Ongoing critical reflection on personal progress will help students personally integrate the diverse facets of the program as an experience of ministerial formation. Students have also used portions of their E-Portfolio as part of an job application to a church or ministry.