Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2004

Church concentration added to BU offerings

August 19, 2004

Baker University students who think they have been called to ministry work will now have a chance to explore their interests before heading to seminary after graduation.

Starting this fall, Baker will offer a 36-credit hour Foundations of Church Leadership concentration. The pre-ministerial program is designed to prepare students for graduate training in church leadership, especially a seminary degree leading to ministry. Students of any major and of any faith may participate.

"It gives us something that will set Baker apart from some of our competing schools," said George Wiley, Baker professor of religion who helped develop the new concentration. "State universities can't offer a program like this in religious leadership."

The concentration will consist of 13 classes, half of which will also fulfill general education course requirements. Classes will include oral communication, advanced public speaking, psychology or counseling, and several religious courses, such as world religions, The Torah and New Testament. The concentration is a blend of these existing courses as well as several newly created ones -- Designing Educational Programs for the Parish, What is a Pastor?, and Business for Leaders of Not-for-Profit Organizations.

"At Seminary, pastors get a lot of training in religious issues, but they're not always experienced to prepare a budget or read financial statements or work with volunteers," Wiley said. "The business class could also be taken by anyone who wants to work for a nonprofit organization."

The Rev. Ira DeSpain, Baker's campus minister who also helped develop the concentration, said he hoped the program would attract new students. He said the courses were building blocks for later religious study that could serve a number of different church-related positions, such as pastor, youth leader, business administrator, director of music, or director of church education.

"I'm really excited to work with people to help them explore the possibility of the ministry," DeSpain said. "Your profession is not only what you do, it's often who you are."

DeSpain said he expected the program would grow slowly. Although it will become available to students this fall, the university is only now beginning to aggressively market it to the incoming class of 2005.

The Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church will help spread the word to congregants, and the university is developing brochures and admissions information. The concentration will be open to students from any major.

"We have already been graduating people who want to go on to be church leaders," Wiley said. "Hopefully this will help them decide what they want to do and clarify what they've been called to."

Already, the new program has received positive responses from church leaders as well as students. DeSpain said Baker's religious diversity would be evident in the program.

"Baker is open to people of all religious beliefs," DeSpain said. "We're often a surprise to people who come from religiously conservative tradition who are expecting conformity of beliefs. There are a great variety of religious traditions in the classroom among both faculty and students."

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