10 Year Stewardship Report: Affordable, Accessible, Relevant, and Faithful

June 24, 2024

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


In March 2014, Sioux Falls Seminary began inviting people to join us on a journey of developing a system of theological education that is affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful. At the time, the average price of a Master of Divinity in the United States was nearly $50,000. Students were relying on educational loans at an alarming and increasing rate. Most students had to reorient their entire lives just so they could participate in theological education. They had to either move to a city with a seminary or align their schedules with their school’s traditional academic calendar.

Sioux Falls Seminary and the other schools that are now legacy partners within Kairos University were no different. Student debt and borrowing had skyrocketed, and students often had to set aside some aspect of their life or vocation to engage in education. At Sioux Falls Seminary, one of our responses to this crisis was to conduct a research study on the relationship between operational models and educational debt. The project was funded through a grant from the Lilly Endowment, and it helped the school develop a more robust understanding of what it means to be affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful. Here is where we landed.

Affordability means more than offering scholarships to students so that they do not bear the entire burden of cost. While scholarships are important, they do not make anything more affordable. They merely shift the burden of cost from the student to some other part of the church. Instead, we begin with a laser focus on significantly decreasing our cost to educate a student. In doing so, we reduce the price of education. For a longer explanation of this concept, you can check out this 2013 blog post. In addition, we recognize that price (or money) is only one aspect of affordability. An individual’s time is an equally important aspect of affordability. Just as scholarships do not adequately address the burden of financial cost, our educational assumptions often do not address the burden of time.

Accessibility is related to location, level, and time. To address the aspect of location, we ensure our programs and services are accessible to those God places in our care, no matter where God has called them to serve. In this way, those we serve can grow where God has planted them. To address the aspect of level, we embrace the fact that some people need high-level academic study while others may desire certificate-level education. In all cases, the primary goal is to meet people at their level of need rather than at a preferred level of service. Finally, to address the aspect of time, we strive to build systems that allow those we serve to set the pace of engagement. It is their schedule that dictates how we walk alongside them. In doing so, an academic calendar and institutional schedules do not have undue power over how students must spend their time.

Theological education should address the student’s context and not seek to be one size fits all. To provide relevant experiences for those God places in our care, we seek to fully integrate each individual’s life, vocation, and calling into his or her journey with us.

We remain faithful to a tradition that is characterized by a high view of scripture. In addition, we remain faithful to the essence of spiritual formation that must happen while a student is engaged in theological education. Delivery methods, technology, and more will change, but we must always hold in high regard the invitation to transformation that occurs in everything we do. We are not simply providing a good or service (i.e., selling degrees). We are inviting people into a journey characterized by the hope we find in Christ.

Ten years ago, students were saddled with rising levels of debt. They had to reorient their lives in order to work with us, and the local church often questioned the relevance of what we did. As a result, there was a growing disconnect between the school and those we served. Fortunately, our faculty, staff, students, therapists, and board members were aware of this reality and were actively searching for ways to step boldly into a new future. Our community of therapists provided wonderful language to help us see a way forward. In everything we do, we must meet people where they are. It is only then that we can offer hope.

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