How to: Master of Arts Program

January 3, 2022

by Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University and President, Sioux Falls Seminary, and Sarah Dorsey Bollinger, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies (Old Testament) at Evangelical Seminary

We are sharing this post as part of a series about the various programs available across the Kairos community. Our focus today is the Master of Arts (MA).

The Master of Arts program within Kairos is a great way to develop expertise in particular areas of study in your context. Because of the flexibility provided in the program, each student’s journey could look very different. Let’s look at why that is the case. As has been our practice with each of the other posts about programs, we will look at the Master of Arts from three different angles: 1) Why people enroll in the MA, 2) What the MA journey entails, and 3) How current students describe their experiences.

Why Do People Enroll in the Master of Arts?

Often, enrolling in the Master of Arts program at Kairos University begins with a desire to go deeper in a particular area of study, a vocation, or in one’s understanding of the Christian faith. Some students may simply want to serve more effectively and faithfully in their churches or vocational contexts and are hungry for an educational journey that will help them walk that path. In each case, it is our hope that pursuit of a Master of Arts degree means going deeper in one’s relationship with God.

The MA within Kairos encourages students to heavily integrate their education with their current work and life, tailoring their study to meet the needs and interests of their own context. Each Master of Arts degree path will vary from student to student. The Master of Arts is also different because of the central value placed on focused mentoring for each student from start to finish in the program.

When considering the Master of Arts program, it is common for students to focus their energy in an area of study that others have done before (e.g., biblical studies, theology, leadership, spiritual formation or direction, congregational ministry, intercultural studies, worship, youth ministry, church planting, missions, and more). It is also the case that many students create a new path. We have seen students focus on hospital administration, financial advising, nonprofit leadership, etc. The fact that students have pursued a wide range of studies within the MA stems from the fact that the program is designed to encourage that level of customization while simultaneously opening doors to learning that students didn’t even know existed!

The Aspects of the Journey

The journey through the Master of Arts program is a humbling but exciting and transformational process. It is truly an adventure with all of the potential joys and low points. The process of the Master of Arts in Kairos follows three primary stages: Creating a Foundation, Walking the Path, and Discerning Next Steps.

Creating a Foundation
As students begin their journey of discipleship with Kairos, we invite them to engage in an outcome-level course called Starting Well. Here they learn about the program, discern and express their hopes for the journey, build a mentor team, and discover some of the resources available to them.

Following the completion of Starting Well, students begin to work with their mentor teams to consider the path they will take through the program. During this process, it is common for students to feel overwhelmed because of the program’s unique nature. It takes some time to find their rhythm and to discover best practices as a learner. At this stage, students also start developing a plan with their mentor team for their work within the program’s outcome-level courses and begin building a relationship with their mentor team. Students may take a scheduled learning experience or two at this point to build a foundation for the rest of the journey and to help clarify their area of focus within the program.

Walking the Path
As students progress through the program, our hope is that they are on an intentional journey to deepen their understanding of the Christian faith and what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus in their own context, vocation, and daily life. This process involves being introduced to the breadth and depth of our Christian heritage, including areas such as Theology, Biblical Interpretation, Christian Spirituality, and others while diving more deeply into a chosen area of interest or specialization. This is the student’s time to engage in mentor-guided coursework or personally developed “assignments,” ideally integrating their progressing study in significant ways with their current vocation.

Discerning Next Steps
The final step in the journey through the Master of Arts program is one that requires students to describe their next steps! We are never “done” following Jesus which means we are never done learning more about God or the work we are invited to do or the people we have the privilege to serve. A master’s degree is not the “end” of the journey but rather a chapter in a student’s story.

As students near the end of their program, they work with their mentor team to share how they will continue to grow in their faith, whom they will invite to walk with them in that journey, and what resources they will use along the way. Often, this work is done while engaging in two outcome-level courses, Mentored Life and Continuing Well.

How Has the Program Served Students?

It is often helpful to hear from students or graduates of a program in order to gain a better picture of why someone might enroll or how the program has been helpful for them. Debra, Derrick, and Jeremy share their experiences below.

Debra, Current Student
I met a student of the Kairos Project at a seminar in Florida two years ago. There were two things that caught my attention: the name Kairos and the fact that she said the program was going to help her do her job. Upon investigating the opportunity, I discovered that I could afford the tuition. I also knew that a traditional class schedule may not work well for me because I was busy in ministry and working. The flexibility in completing outcomes that can be paced according to my schedule was very attractive to me. I wanted a curriculum that was meaningful, supportive, and relevant to my work in ministry.

I have experienced tremendous personal and spiritual growth as attested by my mentor team and my husband (who has a Master’s degree in theology from a “traditional” program at another seminary). Kairos has challenged me to consider more effective approaches to communicating the gospel and meeting my students’ needs at the college where I serve because I have an increased awareness of how to engage people in different cultural contexts. It also has given me a greater sense of accountability in doing the Lord’s work.

Derrick, Recent Graduate
One of the key reasons I picked Kairos was to find out who I was at my finest. I have discovered that the most effective way to achieve this is through relationships, which Kairos offers in astounding ways. Through mentoring relationships, I was able to uncover the lovely process that necessitated continual creativity and inquiry on my learning path. Through its innovative approach, Kairos freed me from traditional educational perspectives thereby helping me unlock aspects of my calling that result in a truly unique mission.

I also chose the Kairos experience because I wanted to engage with individuals in an effort to bridge spiritual and societal differences that are most visible in cultures, beliefs, norms, and practices. Furthermore, I wanted to observe what discipleship looks like and how it works in real-life settings when used to bridge some of society’s numerous divides. Kairos offered me a platform that helped me contextualize and conceptualize fresh, relevant, and appealing ideas, which I was able to implement in the workplace, community, and church. As a result, I began to see bridges being built across those spiritual and societal differences. I was also able to assist individuals in discovering and evolving in their “whoness” to impact and influence their communities. When I encountered God through some amazing relationships, I discovered who I was. They, along with the Holy Spirit, paved the way for me to pursue a spiritual path that led to greater meaning, worth, and self-identity. Furthermore, Kairos gave me the strongest opportunity to re-present Christ’s mission in both the private and public spheres. Overall, Kairos has empowered me to be faithful to my calling, family, education, and witness.

Jeremy, Recent Graduate
I had been putting off master’s work for a long time. I had always wanted to pursue it, but time, money, and travel were obstacles for me. Kairos, along with my church, removed those obstacles. Kairos’ affordability made it possible for my church to cover tuition. The flexibility of the program meant I could work on my own schedule, and the ability to do the program remotely removed the need to travel away from home.

The course work itself was incredibly valuable, but to be more specific than that, here are a few things that stood out:

The Mentor Team – Having a group of mentors to encourage, support, and challenge me was a highlight of Kairos.

Adapted Assignments – The freedom to adapt assignments to fit my context was extremely valuable and allowed my work to overlap my schooling on many occasions.

Self-pacing – Being able to move at my own speed was a huge benefit. If I had time, I never was forced to sit and wait for the next assignment to be made available and if life got busy, I wasn’t worried about a due date being missed.

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