Partnership Spotlight: Cascade School of Theology

January 14, 2019

At the end of our post last week I noted, “Theological education flows from the local church, the body of Christ.  As we see in scripture, each part of the body is needed.  Sioux Falls Seminary is only one piece of the body.  As a result, we are compelled to develop partnerships and to find ways for others to flourish.”

Today, we are going to look a bit more deeply at one example of how that can work and why it matters.

In June 2016, alumnus Chris Gorman, was appointed as Regional Minister for the Pacific Northwest region of the North American Baptist Conference.  As he began developing relationships with local pastors and churches, he learned several churches were struggling to find pastors who could lead well in their particular contexts.  Sometimes a church would appoint a leader who simply didn’t work out and other times churches simply struggled to find appropriate candidates.

Why was it so difficult to find leaders?

Chris and his team began to see a link between the quality of leaders and their connection to a local church or local network of churches.  In their experience, having churches invest in developing leaders is the most effective way of planting churches, developing pastors, and assessing church planters. Chris remarks,

“If our churches invest in raising up leaders then our sister churches can vouch for those students because the students have lived in community with brothers and sisters of the faith.  We are not hiring some person who is simply a great preacher.  We are looking for people whose character we know, whose lives we have seen transformed by the work of the Spirit.  Put simply, the local church is rooted in its local community and therefore understands the local culture and knows what it means to be an effective leader in that context.  If we are going to shape leaders for a local faith community, then we need those leaders to be developed in that context. “

To that end, Chris and his team, in collaboration with a local network of churches, developed the Cascade School of Theology.  This innovative initiative brings together a group of local churches to develop leaders who can serve within that local network.  It is a prime example of what it can look like when theological education flows from the local church.

Cascade partnered with Sioux Fall Seminary through the Kairos Project to provide for their local churches theological education that is affordable, accessible, relevant and faithful.  As a result, followers of Christ in the Pacific Northwest who feel called to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ and be developed as leaders can do so within the context of their local church.  The seminary provides exposure and access to the wider aspects of theological education while remaining faithful to the fact that theological education should flow from the local church. Students at Cascade School of Theology stay rooted in their local faith communities while also pursuing graduate-level theological education.  As they progress through their journey, they have the benefit of walking alongside mentors, elders, and fellow students who know their ministry context while also being challenged to think deeply about their faith.

I often hear people talk about the need to build bridges between the “academy” and the “local church” so that each can serve the other.  Sioux Falls Seminary doesn’t want to build bridges between the two.  Our prayer is that by building partnerships that empower the local church and create fresh expressions of theological education that flow from the local church, the distance between the local church and the academy simply disappears.  In its place is a partnership with Jesus at the center and the Mission of God as the driving force.

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