10 Year Stewardship Report: A History of Spirit-Led Learning

June 10, 2024

by Greg Henson, CEO Kairos University; President of Sioux Falls Seminary


In 1858, a small group of church leaders in Rochester, New York, saw the need to develop followers of Jesus to serve their local communities. Nearly 170 years later, with the advent of partners and by the grace of God, that vision has grown into Kairos University – one of the largest and most diverse accredited systems of competency-based theological education in the world.

When that small group of pastors gathered in Rochester, I doubt they expected their vision to grow into what we call Kairos University. I am convinced, however, that they envisioned a community of Jesus followers who were committed to what Walter Rauschenbusch later referred to as the “whole gospel” – a way of being that proclaimed the gospel through word and deed. The early founders of Kairos had a passion for serving those God placed in their care – those who were in their community, their neighborhood, and their context. It was a seminary started by the church for the church for the purpose of helping local communities flourish.

This felt need to follow Jesus into the neighborhoods in which they resided was a common theme among all of the schools that eventually became legacy partners of Kairos University. While the aforementioned church leaders in Rochester were all German Baptists who felt called to start a seminary, a similar spirit arose among Baptists in Alberta, Wesleyan farmers in Pennsylvania, and Quakers in Texas. In October 2021, these movements came together to launch Kairos University. It was a beautiful picture of Spirit-led stewardship. Let’s take a brief look at each story as we reflect on what God has done.

Sioux Falls Seminary launched the Kairos Project in 2014. It was a natural response to what the faculty, staff, and board members had been exploring for many years prior to 2014. With the advent of a few new opportunities and the urgency of a few challenges, the school stepped boldly into this renewed vision for theological education.

Around the same time, its sister school in Edmonton, AB, Taylor College and Seminary, began experimenting with alternative educational philosophies. The school had launched the EP Wahl Centre and was considering the role competency-based education could play in its work. The history and heritage of Taylor is rooted in a number of “Christian training institutes” that were widely dispersed across the western prairies in Canada. As a devotee of Walter Rauschenbusch, Dr. E. P. Wahl imbued the new institution with the social and theological impulses of the “whole gospel” which would forever guide the institution.

Evangelical Seminary’s history grew out of a Wesleyan movement called the Evangelical Congregational Church, a group that traces its roots to the conversion of Jacob Albright, a Pennsylvania German farmer. He had a deep desire to bring the Christian faith to his neighbors at a time when the Methodist Church did not allow worship services to be conducted in the German language. Over the course of the last half-century, Evangelical Seminary partnered with the church to prepare women and men who flourish in their vocations – all the while holding true to John Wesley’s concern for “rigorous minds, passionate hearts, and Christ-centered action.”

In the early 1900s, Dr. Henry Shilling, founder of Transylvania Bible School (later known as BLI School of Ministry), purchased White Oak Camp. Through God’s direction, this parcel of land was turned into a meeting location, youth convention, and finally a Bible school. Shilling’s vision was rooted in the idea that regardless of one’s vocation it is important to be firmly rooted in biblical principles. Like the other legacy partners, BLI’s history was one of commitment to deeply rooted faith and active service to others.

This brings us to Houston, Texas, and Houston Graduate School of Theology.  Houston Graduate School of Theology began as the passionate vision of Dr. Delbert Vaughn, a Houston pastor of the Evangelical Friends Church, with the able partnership of his wife, Carol. Houston Graduate School of Theology has been a forerunner in the area of missional theology, a theology that embraces the idea that we are grateful participants in God’s mission to reconcile the world through Christ.

As you can see, each of the legacy partners of Kairos University has long shared a commitment to developing followers of Jesus who flourish in their vocations for the sake of the world. It is that commitment that undergirds our stewardship of God’s resources. For the past ten years, we have been in a cycle of discernment, activity, reflection, and renewed activity. Through this process, a group of schools discerned the leading of the Spirit and collectively stepped into a bold mission to cultivate affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful expressions of theological education and integrated counseling.

While our histories portray communities that are invested in the work that God is doing, a closer look would also reveal a series of challenges and opportunities that sparked this renewed vision.

Next week, we will take a look at some of the catalysts that fostered a sense of urgency at Sioux Falls Seminary. We think it is a great example of how we are called to simply offer what we have been given – a few loaves and fishes – in order to see God move in powerful ways.

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