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: BIBM 603 Foundations of the Theology of Ministry, BIBM 657 Contexts of Ministry, BIBM 629 Field Education Contextual Immersion, BIBM 658 Leading in Context, and BIBM 679 Theological Reflection in Practice. The foundation of this sequence is the development of the practice of thinking theologically about ministry. Once this foundation is laid, students choose a particular context for their contextual immersion in the Field Education course, such as congregational ministry, urban mission, or hospital chaplaincy. Other courses develop the student’s capacity to ask questions, listen to, understand, and interpret the contexts of their ministry. The sequence ends by providing a time of integrated reflection as students prepare to enter into full-time ministry.
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!
In the first semester students are given a case-study that poses a realistic and complicated ministry scenario that demands the minister to develop a solution to a complex problem. Throughout their time in the program, students develop a case brief that offers an analysis of the situation, a theological proposal, and a prescription of a concrete response to the issue.
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 M.Div. 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.
Mentoring groups are assigned each year in order to provide students with a community of peers and faculty to aid their spiritual journey. Each week, a small group of students meet with a faculty member in an informal setting for prayer and discussion.