Bridging the gap between seminary and the Church, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) has partnered with a church-based institute in Omaha, Nebraska, to offer graduate level theological courses that can be counted towards a certificate or master’s program.
The driving force behind this initiative is “to build bridges with the local churches as we seek not only to train believers and lay leaders but also to establish partnerships with these churches in equipping all saints for gospel ministry,” said Dr. David W. Pao, academic dean of TEDS and professor of New Testament.
In the same vein, Bill Yaccino, Trinity International University’s (TIU) Director of Church Relations, hailed the partnership between TEDS and Brookside Institute as a milestone in church-seminary relations. TEDS is TIU’s divinity school.
“Accredited theological training is no longer exclusively for full-time seminary students, and Brookside has found a creative, effective way to bridge that gap. We, here at TEDS, are excited and honored to partner with them and look forward to more church partnerships in the future,” said Yaccino in an interview.
Through its partnership with TEDS, Brookside Institute is now able to offer two-tiered formal theological training—a church-based unaccredited Certificate in Christian Theology and graduate-level courses that count toward one of the certificates at TEDS.
Through the accredited track, participants can earn up to 6 hours of credit towards a graduate-level certificate or master’s program offered at TEDS—either the Certificate in Christian Tradition (a 12 credit-hour program) or the Certificate in Theological Studies (a 21 credit-hour program). After completion of 6 hours of credit with Brookside Institute, students wishing to complete either of these certificate programs can do so through TEDS online.
“Our broad goal is to champion formal theological education in a way that advances discipleship and serves the church,” said Dr. Tim Wiebe, a pastor who oversees the Brookside Institute.
Way of the Future
It was Wiebe who reached out to TEDS through Dr. Gregory Carlson, then the Director of Church Relations of TIU, last year to explore the possibility of laypeople getting a certificate from Brookside Institute through a partnership with TEDS. Both Wiebe and Carlson are from Omaha.
“So he (Wiebe) wanted to make it official and see if we can possibly partner and offer accredited theological training in a local setting like that. I think it’s brilliant. I really do think it’s the way of the future,” said Yaccino.
Asked about the goals of the partnership, Yaccino said:
“We wanted to make formal theological education more affordable and more accessible to the average lay leader because very few people are going to move across the country, or across the world, to come to Deerfield to get their theological training. If we could make it more accessible, then we know that more and more people are going to be ready for ministry, more equipped, fully equipped for ministry, and some of them may choose to continue (their studies) to get their MDiv (Master of Divinity) or MA (Master of Arts) in Theological Studies.”
Trinity has opened its doors to the church in such a way that laypeople “can receive the top-quality training that we offer here at TEDS,” said Yaccino, who has pastored local churches for 32 years.
“Part of making disciples is reproducing yourself into other people. Top-level multiplication of discipleship is something now that local church pastors can offer their people in partnership with TEDS,” Yaccino stressed. But in an affordable and accessible way, a certificate program allows laypeople to go deeper into theological studies than they would ever have had a chance to before, he said.
Removing Price as Barrier
TEDS offers doctoral and master’s degree programs in Illinois, Florida, South Korea, and at extension sites throughout the U.S. At TEDS, a variety of evangelical denominations and theological traditions teach, study, serve, and worship together.
Through strategic partnerships with local churches, TEDS aims to make theological education more accessible within the context of a local church, in particular through its fully accredited certificate programs that help students strengthen their ministry and marketplace skills within a specific area of study. A certificate program can enhance a seminary degree or be a great first step into graduate education.
New students can also receive a 50 percent scholarship on the first certificate they take by including a letter of recommendation from their pastor or church leader.
Dr. David Bryan, who advises certificate students at TEDS, said that with the partnership, Trinity is not only removing the financial barrier to getting into seminary but also helping educate laypeople and churches about how they could use a certificate.
“(Trinity is) trying to really help by being creative … and that’s why removing price as a barrier is so helpful. It’s not free, but when it’s just around $500 per class, for a 3 credit-hour class, with that scholarship, people don’t think too hard about (the cost),” said Bryan, who is also the Assistant Director of the MDiv program, in a separate interview.
He said that it was Weibe and Brookside Institute’s desire to for an accredited graduate level program for their resident students that had prompted TEDS to think about providing accredited education in “bite-sized chunks,” which are shorter certificate programs. “And then the next step is how can we really make it affordable—what are their combinations for different aspects of ministry and the life of the church could we come up with. So, we want to broaden our pool of students and we also care about the church, and we want to serve the church well,” Bryan explained.
Bryan likened students pursuing a certificate program to “dipping your toe in” the water.
TEDS understands that some laypeople may feel intimidated by the prospect of pursuing graduate level theological education, so, with the certificate programs, “we’re trying to be thoughtful and intentional and yet show that TEDS cares about the church.”
“Trinity is a needed space for men and women preparing for service in the church. I hope that we can grow into that space more and more as things go, and certificates, I think, can help. The Lord willing, that will be what happens,” he added.
Local and Live
Wiebe is thankful to TEDS for partnering with the Brookside Institute which is not only bridging the gap between the seminary and the Church but is also bringing the seminary’s world-class resources to local areas.
“One (track) is accessible to laypeople (accessible in terms of cost and learning experiences) and the other is an advanced level in partnership with an accrediting institution (TEDS),” said Wiebe, stressing that the “training is local and it’s live—so this is about more than just consuming content. You can participate in a way that forms you, builds community, and serves others.”
The launch of this initiative by Brookside Institute signals a local church’s investment in theological training in the Omaha area. When replicated elsewhere, such a church-led educational model has a huge potential for growth as it bridges the gap between the church and seminary in the service of the body of Christ.
“Because we believe in the future of the church, we care about her foundation. Our goal is to
offer a transformational classroom environment that builds and reinforces strong biblical/theological foundations for a vibrant Christian life, the health of the local church, and the church’s mission in the world,” Wiebe explained.
“For this to be sustainable long-term, we’ll need more churches that are actively participating in this. My goal is to actively pursue a roundtable (discussion with) churches that are involved, not just EFCA churches,” said Wiebe, referring to the Evangelical Free Church of America.
With TEDS’ academic rigor being brought to bear on the theological training, Brookside
Institute can now teach at a higher level, he said, adding, “TEDS is offering something very meaningful—adding a layer of credibility to the education people are pursuing.”
In this hybrid model—combining the local resources of the church with the academic experience and resources of a world-renowned seminary—“we’re really seeing church and seminary going hand in hand instead of separating,” Wiebe stressed.
Levels of Involvement
On its website, Brookside Institute asks program participants to commit to one of two “levels of involvement.”
The first level of involvement requires students to attend at least 80 percent of the class sessions over the course of the program year, read five books, and write four short reflection papers. According to its website, the cost of the unaccredited certificate program for one year is only $250 ($125 due each semester), excluding the cost of books, but scholarship information is available upon request.
The second level of involvement offers courses for graduate-level credit through TEDS. While class lectures will be identical to the first level, those taking the class for credit (second level) will have more reading assignments and coursework.
Between the two tracks, 34 students have already signed up for the program. The ages of participants range from late teens to mid-60s, with the majority in their 20s and 30s.
Classes meet on Monday evenings from 6:30-9 PM at Brookside Church’s Millard Campus.
The training program runs for 28 weeks on a semester-based schedule (2 semesters of 14 sessions each), with a couple of breaks planned each semester. The fall term began on Aug. 28, 2023, and ends on Dec. 11, 2023. Spring term begins on Jan. 21, 2024, and ends in early May.
The program covers the following courses: theological method (prolegomena), the Bible (bibliology), God (theology proper), humanity (anthropology), sin (hamartiology), Jesus Christ (Christology), salvation (soteriology), the Holy Spirit (pneumatology), the Church (ecclesiology), and the future (eschatology).
Wiebe, who is teaching the class, holds an MDiv from TEDS and a DMin from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America and a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Another pastor from Citylight Church, Dr. Matthew LaPine, also a TEDS alumnus, will be teaching anthropology in one of the sessions later this semester.
Affordability and Accessible
Through its certificate programs, TEDS seeks to make Seminary education affordable and accessible to the whole church. All new certificate students will pay only $167 per credit hour and have the opportunity to receive an additional 50% scholarship after submitting a recommendation letter from their pastor. To learn more about accredited certificate programs through TEDS, click here.
In addition to being offered through local church partnerships, many of Trinity’s certificate programs are offered via a fully remote format and are accessible to everyone.