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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2007 Archives > September-October 2007 > Digital Christian Ed 101: Universities, seminaries bring education to local churches

A confirmation class from Central United Methodist Church in Florence, S.C., visits the United Methodist Museum at Lake Junaluska, N.C. Photo courtesy Meg Jiunnies.
Digital Christian Ed 101: Universities, seminaries bring education to local churches

By Ciona D. Rouse

Meg Jiunnies first volunteered in youth ministry 19 years ago. She had no formal training in youth ministry, but she had a passion for young people.

While serving with her husband, Jay, as youth pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Florence, S.C., Jiunnies realized the ministry needed an extra boost.

"We were getting stale. We just needed new ideas, people to bounce those new ideas off of and resources that we did not have," Jiunnies said.

She enrolled in eChristianEd, a Web-based training program for Christian educators offered by United Methodist-related Columbia College of South Carolina.

Jiunnies, like many other youth ministers, had found herself in a ministry that was primarily recreation-based. Through eChristianEd, she learned to create a more balanced model of fellowship, Christian education and mission. "It gave me the tools to help develop and organize my ministry better," she said.

The department of religion and philosophy at Columbia College developed eChristianEd in 2001 to provide master-level courses to adults leading youth, Christian educators, church school teachers and others seeking non-degree training in ministry.

Students of eChristianEd choose from six courses taught by some of United Methodism's leading Christian education professionals. Course work is primarily online with two face-to-face seminars per course. Students not living in South Carolina participate through one of eChristianEd's 10 affiliate programs across the United States and a new one in Cameroon, Africa.

A small group at Central United Methodist Church in Florence, S.C., meets in a home for Bible study. Photo courtesy Meg Jiunnies.
Now certified in youth ministry, Jiunnies is better prepared to lead Sunday school classes, train adult leaders and develop youth leadership. After implementing what she learned about how different personalities work together in small groups, Jiunnies noticed her youth "felt more useful in planning ministry opportunities."

As Central's director of spiritual gifts and congregational care, Jiunnies coordinates the Bible study classes, Stephen Ministry and other programs. She continues to value the library of resources she received from eChristianEd.

"I would never have been able to do this job without the training," she said.

Video brings seminary to local church leaders

While clergy attend seminary and receive theological training, many other congregational leaders cannot step into a full seminary program.Wesley Theological Seminary  in Washington, D.C., offers a resource to spark in-depth theological conversations in local churches.

The Wesley Ministry Network produces DVD-based courses that tackle theological questions. Taught by leading theologians, the courses are meant for group studies.

"We decided that as a seminary, we ought to take a lot more responsibility for educating the entire church, not just the pastors," said the Rev. Craig Hill, director of the network.
Centreville (Va.) United Methodist Church uses the study group courses primarily with members who have completed Disciple Bible Study or Companions in Christ and with new leaders.

"It gives [leaders] more foundation to stand on," said Lisa Day, director of spiritual formation and small group ministry at Centreville.

Day, who facilitated a Web discussion for the Wesley Ministry Network, plans to use the resource again this fall.

"It provides a deeper understanding for people of what the topics are currently in scholarship, as well as where their lives intersect with a deeper understanding of Scripture and a deeper understanding of relationship with their faith," Day said.

Hill says Wesley is committed to being a church-centered seminary. The network is one of many ways it connects to the local church. "It provides the means by which these great teachers become available to the local church."

Online workshop brings liturgy to life

The Rev. William Beatty expanded his understanding of Holy Communion through an online workshop.
The Rev. William Beatty had been leading his congregation in the sacraments for many years. Through an online workshop he enhanced his understanding of Holy Communion.

The Rev. Daniel Benedict, author and former head of the worship division at the General Board of Discipleship, led the course at, the Web site of the Institute for Discipleship at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan. The Institute is dedicated to meeting the continuing education needs of lay and clergy leaders.

Beatty, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Warren, Pa., said the workshops from allow him to draw on the experiences of others in ministry and on the expertise of the instructor. He has taken two workshops led by Benedict.

"Before (the online workshop), I took the [communion liturgy] responses as optional, reworded things and put it together however it seemed right to me. I now understand the purpose of what I say and also what the congregation says."

Benedict believes online offerings are valuable to ministerial growth and are convenient for many people who cannot afford the money or time for travel to on-site workshops.
"Online, they can take it from anywhere they are in the world . . . I had a classroom that was about 5,000 miles wide and about 2,000 miles long."

Stephen Wilke, director of the Institute, says a new partnership this fall with the Youth Worker Movement will introduce more youth ministry workshops on There will also be a workshop on prison ministry training in partnership with Disciple Bible Outreach.

"Society is changing more rapidly than in other times, and it is creating challenges where people need more rapid continuing education to keep up with the changes in culture," Wilke said.

--Ciona D. Rouse, Nashville, Tenn., is a freelance writer.

Colleges strengthen lay leadership through programs, partnerships

The Village Church of Pfeiffer University hopes to be a teaching church, akin to the teaching hospital.

Born from the vision of students and faculty at the university in Misenheimer, N.C., The Village Church is a chartered United Methodist congregation. Worshippers encompass the full range of the campus community.

As it brings college and congregation together, The Village Church provides on-campus training for students in Pfeiffer's Christian vocation programs. It is also a model for other congregations.

Anne Conover, director of church relations at Pfeiffer University, offers a colleague holy water in a renewal of baptism at Village Church as the Rev. Chris Hughes watches. Pfeiffer University Photo.
"We've said to churches – there's another way to do church. We can be of service to you," said the Rev. Chris Hughes, Pfeiffer's chaplain.

Many United Methodist-related colleges and universities connect with local congregations to strengthen ministries of clergy and lay leaders – and to enhance their students' education.
The Village Church operates in a co-leadership model. The education is two-fold.

Village Church student leaders share their expertise with other congregations as they study the latest in Christian education and ministry. Students have the opportunity to fully experience church life as they co-lead The Village Church and as they partner with other congregations in cooperative youth ministry, worship resources and missions.

"Most of the students, if they go to a church in the area, they're going as short-term visitors," said Hughes. At The Village Church, he said, they share leadership with others in ministry.

The Christian Leadership Center of Centenary College in Shreveport, La., is a 34-year-old program that helps undergraduate students explore God's calling on their lives. Students have opportunities to connect with local church leaders through small groups led by pastors in the community.

Centenary also hopes to be a quality resource center providing continuing education for clergy and laity. The college partners with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Illinois and Saint Paul School of Theology in Missouri to make two-week courses available by simulcast for church leaders seeking certification.

"We have no seminary in northwest Louisiana, so we make seminary education accessible by bringing some courses on-site," said the Rev. Betsy Eaves, chaplain of Centenary College and director of the leadership center.

High school youth benefit from the education at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., through the school's Student Leadership Institute. Part of the college's Duffey Institute for Church Leadership, it offers training and biblical foundations for young emerging Christian leaders.

"This is a way for us to reach out to youth, to lift up the body of Christ, and to make faith and Christianity real for today's youth so that they can extend the passion further among their peers," said the Rev. Mark La Branche, senior vice president and dean of the chapel at Huntingdon.

-- Ciona Rouse

More Collaborators

Here are some of the other United Methodist-related colleges that are collaborating with local churches and annual conferences to train laity to be ministry leaders in their congregations.

Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, S.D., is home to The Bishop Rueben Job Center, which offers Christian leadership development seminars across the Midwest for clergy and laity.

Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina, Kan., offers consultation and a Church Growth Workshop, and brings leaders together quarterly for consultation and accountability.

Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, Tenn., is home to the Cal Turner Jr. Center for Church Leadership. It offers weekend courses in the Academy for Congregational Leaders and institutes in Christian communications, children's, youth and young adult ministry.

Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, is partnering with Saint Paul School of Theology to offer seminary classes open to laity as well as future clergy.

Willamette University, Salem, Ore., hosts an annual School of Theological Studies, which provides community adult education.


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