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Overview

Preparation for ministry is the pursuit of a lifetime.  We want to partner with you in this noble pursuit. If you are looking to prepare yourself as a minister or are a minister who wants to partner in preparing students for ministry, then we want to enter a partnership with you. The ACU Graduate School of Theology equips people in effective missional leadership for ministry in all its forms. We expect students to willingly embrace this pursuit of training and transformation of their hearts and minds.

Definition of Contextual Education
What on earth is Contextual Education? Contextual Education is an active process where student ministers practice ministry in a context and reflect upon the practice of ministry. A contextual approach is the heart of minister formation in the GST.

This intentionally active process of formation for ministry involves willing students, faculty, and ministers. Ministry preparation cannot be “classroom only” learning nor can it be merely unguided “on the job” training.

Student-ministers learn by practicing in a ministry setting and learn by reflecting on the practice of ministry. Contextual Education is part of the formative ministry degrees (MDiv, MACM, and MAGS) in the Graduate School of Theology (GST) at Abilene Christian University. Through the sequence of courses students are formed for ministry by practicing what they learn in specific ministry contexts.

Contexts

Today the range of student’s ministry interests is more diverse than ever. Opportunities for ministry are abundant and unique. There is significant need for well-trained, godly ministers to serve these wide interests and opportunities. In the GST Contextual Education program, student-ministers explore four diverse ministry categories:

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Church – This context is identified as a local community of disciples that worship, serve, and nurture one another while participating in God’s mission in the world. It is for students interested in exploring the nurture, mission, and transformation of local congregations (jobs might include: preaching, youth ministry, spiritual formation ministry, etc.).

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Community – This context references settings where believers have identified issues of need or injustice that need service and transformation. Students interested in community development may include those seeking jobs in social work, para-church organizations, social justice, non-profit ministry, or associate ministries.

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Pastoral – Pastoral Care situations occur in hospital chaplaincy, military chaplaincy, business chaplaincy, prison ministry and some social work settings. It is for students interested in restorative justice, chaplaincy, counseling, hospice, and other care agencies.

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Emerging – This is an adjective (not a brand) describing the ever expanding church, ministry and mission contexts where God is at work. These include but are not limited to global contexts, mission work, domestic mission, church planting, intentional communities, or house church movements.

Students are expected to choose a ministry context and eventually to identify one of these four contextual tracks as their primary location for contextual learning. Certainly, there is room to grow (and change focus) in ministry through the program, yet it is vital to practice ministry in a context while in graduate school. Even if (and when) that ministry context or interest changes, student-ministers must locate their learning to a contextual community while they are learning the practice of ministry.

These descriptions each represent many unique ministries, which are limited only to the entrepreneurial imagination of ministers and to the ongoing work of God in the world.

The Contextual Education program lets students take initiative for choosing to serve in these settings while moving through the program. Students locate their learning (coursework, class projects, and Field Ed Contextual Immersion Experiences) in a specific ministry setting. Locating learning by active participation in ministry helps students see the world as the classroom and also develops their awareness, practice, and reflection in these local ministry contexts. Plus, Students have the added benefit of learning indirectly about other ministry contexts through their peer’s ministry experiences in separate contexts.

Students

Ministry is not something students do later after graduation. Ministry is something students practice now while learning in graduate school. Contextual Education represents our understanding that learning occurs through practice in specific contexts. The full Contextual Education sequence includes five courses, yet the holistic learning experience involves more opportunities like: weekly mentoring group, case studies, and pathways projects. A student’s path through Contextual Education courses depends upon their chosen degree program and their use of electives.

Here are four opportunities that are part of a student’s Contextual Education experience:

Mentoring Groups are gathered groups of residential students that meet weekly for prayer and conversation in an informal setting with a faculty mentor. These groups provide students with a community of student peers and a faculty mentor for their spiritual journey. This face-to-face time with faculty is a mark of distinction compared to other similar schools. Students may participate every year (the minimum graduation expectation is 3 years of mentoring for MDiv students and 2 years for MA degrees).

Online Spiritual Mentoring Entering Fall 2018 Online degree requirements now also include a Mentoring component. Online Students can learn more about this degree requirement by reading the “Spiritual Mentoring” booklet.

Case Study is one method used in the GST to pose a real ministry scenario that demands the student-minister develop a specific response to a complex problem. Through the program, students develop a case brief response that offers an analysis of the situation, a theological proposal, and a prescription of a concrete response to the issue.

Pathways Projects – While studying for full-time ministry, some wonder how classes like Systematic Theology or History of Christianity relate to ministry. These theoretical or historical classes help students learn how to think deeply through contemporary church problems or relevant issues theologically.  Pathways Projects are class assignments that allow a student to connect what they are most excited about in the class with their ministry context. The result is a uniquely integrative ministry practice. (MDiv students complete three pathways projects)

Portfolio Reviews (April) – A student’s formation for ministry is something the faculty observe beyond the classroom, assignments, grades, and mentoring groups. Students are given opportunity to represent their best work by creating a personalized online Portfolio. The portfolio will include documents (artifacts) like Student Ministry Identity Paper, Case Brief Response, Student Theology of Ministry, Pathways Projects and other outstanding work. The student adds to and improves these documents to represent their formative progress. Then, each April students refine and upload documents to their portfolio before the oral annual review of progress with a faculty panel. Completing the Junior Review moves the student to full Candidacy and completing the Senior Review moves them toward Graduation. This is a helpful time of affirmation, stretching, exploration of vocation, and prayer of blessing for the student.

Guidelines

The Director of Contextual Education is looking for established sites for contextual education to provide students experience in a wide range of ministries. Sites may include churches, organizations, non-profits, and ministries. It is preferable to have a site supervisor to provide guidance for the student, yet in some cases students chose a contextual supervisor, who is offsite and provides listening expertise in the student’s area (see Supervisor section for more info and to complete an application).

Internships can take place of varied duration, but the requirement for the course called “Field Education Contextual Immersion” is 300-400 hours over no less than ten weeks. The semester length course is offered in the Fall (August-December) and in the Summer (May-August). To submit your site for consideration, please complete the application.

Online Mentoring

ACU Graduate School of Theology

Definition: A student selected, GST approved Context Mentor meets monthly for prayer and conversation with a student-minister. The Context Mentor provides space for listening to students attending to God, self and others on their journey to embody virtue in life and ministry.

Basic Expectations:

  • Student Selected Minister (10+ yrs Ministry / Mdiv)
  • Context Mentor applies, identifies student mentee, and seeks GST approval
  • Context Mentor & Student meet 60 minutes monthly 4 times per semester (minimum)
  • 1:1 ratio mentor-student
  • Review & Follow Resource Spiritual Mentoring booklet
  • Context Mentor completes an assessment at the end of each term (2x year, Google Form), using GST Program Practices (Spiritual Life, Wisdom, Mission, Community) and Outcome (Identity).
  • Student completes an assessment at the end of each term
  • As with on campus mentoring, students complete at least 4 terms for MACM & MAGS or 6 terms MDiv degrees

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Field Education

Contextual Education welcomes churches and organizations to submit information about internship positions. Compelte the form below to provide more information about your position, which will help us establish a partnership with you for the training of student-ministers.

Sites may include churches, organizations, non-profits, and ministries. It is preferable to have a site supervisor to provide guidance for the student, yet in some cases students chose a contextual supervisor, who is offsite and provides listening expertise in the student’s area (see Supervisor section to apply).

Internships can take place of varied duration, but the requirement for the course called “Field Education Contextual Immersion” is 300-400 hours over no less than ten weeks. The semester length course is offered in the Fall (August-December) and in the Summer (May-August). To submit your site for consideration, please complete the application.

FAQ

What is Contextual Education?
An active process of formation for ministry by practicing what is learned in a ministry setting and reflecting upon what is practiced.

We learn the practice of ministry through attentiveness, action, and reflection in a specific setting. This process includes practices of attentiveness to the context of a community, action in the context of community, and reflection on the practice of ministry.

Theology is a contextualized practice of rigorous and coherent thinking, action, and reflection that leads to sound judgment. Praxis and theology cannot be separated nor polarized (as learning needs doing and doing needs learning). The practice of ministry is context specific and yet draws on ancient practices that transcend context (like good conduct & prayer).

What are Mentor Groups?
Regular face-to-face gatherings for prayer and conversation regarding life, ministry, and school. The mentor provides space to listen and assist students in attending to God, self and others on their journey to embody virtue in life and ministry.

MDiv students participate in mentoring for three years and MA students for two years. Each year has a particular focus or stage (below), even as these practices (of listening, interpreting, and living) are present and develop over all years.

Stage 1: Listening – share life story with a focus on calling to ministry and to ACU GST
Stage 2
: Interpreting – prayer, theological reflection on ministry scenarios, virtues
Stage 3: Living – prayer, vocation, ministry scenarios, virtues

What are Residential Mentor Groups?

These Faculty led small groups of residential students meet weekly for prayer and conversation. Groups of three to seven students meet over twelve weeks (10x minimum) for 45-60 minutes.

What is Online Spiritual Mentoring?
For students entering Fall 2018, online degree requirements now include a Mentoring component. Online Spiritual Mentoring occurs as a student selected, GST approved Context Mentor meets monthly one-on-one for prayer and conversation with the student-minister for 60 minutes. Find out more information about this program in the “Spiritual mentoring” booklet.

What are Pathways Projects?
A discipline-specific contact points between student learning in a particular class and the overall goals of their degree program.

Pathways require one to integrate the resources of particular disciplines into your course of study, to apply classroom learning to particular situations, and to reflect on implementation. This is where what a student is most excited about in class connects with their ministry passion in a unique integrative practice.

Currently accomplished by students applying course material (a) to your case or (b) to a project that you develop and implement in a ministry context. (Class series, sermon, discipleship program, etc.)

What is the Annual Review Process?
Students are given opportunity to represent their best work by creating a personalized online Portfolio. An annual review of GST students by two faculty members occurs each April. This review process monitors and assesses a student’s formative progress through the program.

Year 1 – First Review and Candidacy Check: Completed English Bible Exam, Ministerial Identity, Case 1 Revisions, Pathways Project #1, and Mentor Group participation report. Due before March 21.

Year 3 – Final Review: Substantive feedback on Senior Case #2, Theology of Ministry, and revised Ministerial Identity papers. Plus Mentor Group participation report and completed Pathways Project #3. (note: students will not be reviewed if they have not completed requirements for years 1-3). Due before March 15.

Current students will find many additional resources on the GST Pathways Blog.