Yesterday was a grand celebration at First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, TN, culminating six years of labor intensive effort. CBTS of Tennessee, now a full degree-granting site, is housed at this fine church. This means a learner can earn a Master of Divinity accredited by both the Association of Theological Students and the Higher Learning Commission. The site also offers the Diploma in Theological Studies for non-baccalaureate students.
Generative partnerships have made this form of ministry preparation possible. CBF of Tennessee, FBC Murfreesboro, the national CBF organization, and Central have collaborated to fund, staff, publicize, and develop a new form of educational delivery in a teaching church. It has taken all of us for this to work!
When an ATS representative came to assess the viability of the site, she was impressed with what the church had provided in terms of instructional and hospitality space, but even more with the quality of the students. "Where do you get these students?" she asked. They come from calling congregations, those churches who, in the language of the Fund for Theological Education, "notice, name, and nurture" those whom God is calling to ministry.
In my judgment, one measure of the health of a congregation is its capacity to identify those with giftedness and inclinations for ministry. This is a key practice for churches, to serve as God's instruments in calling needed leadership.
Another source for garnering these students is Dr. Ircel Harrison, the Barnabas of Middle Tennessee, and beyond. Truly a "son of encouragement," he has helped potential seminary students interpret their calling--especially women--where the conventions of their congregation might not be as affirming. Each of the six graduates from Central in Murfreesboro bear the graceful imprint of his mentoring.
This coming week Central's faculty will have its annual retreat in Wisconsin, the home of our other site. Expect to hear about it next week!
Molly T. Marshall
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