Houghton’s Kern Program Educates pastors for a global future.
“The church is expanding in the global South,” said Dr. JL Miller, Chair of Religion at Houghton University. “But the fastest growing North American Christian populations are from the global South; and that means almost all our students are graduating into global Christian contexts.”
Part of Houghton’s aim – both within their ministry programs, and their general curricula – is to prepare men and women for both vocational competence and discipleship excellence. And that means helping students (during their time at Houghton) to learn how to serve within the local church.
As Miller and fellow Houghton professors educate students who are local-church bound, one key focus is preparing students for an increasingly-global worshipping community. The Kern Ministry program (a scholarship program at Houghton that allows students to graduate with lower debt, greater mentoring opportunities, and increased opportunities for development) is especially focused on helping students develop cross-cultural shepherding competencies by engaging with diverse cultural contexts.
One such example of this initiative was a recent visit to “Mission of Christ” Church, a vibrant Congolese Wesleyan congregation just over an hour away from Houghton in nearby Buffalo. Led by Pastor Yoshua Bashizi, Mission of Christ primarily serves an international population (immigrants and refugees) new to Buffalo. Since that population–and the church–continue to grow, this visit provided a unique learning experience for the students, and also fostered a deeper understanding of the diverse ways people worship around the world.
The visit to the Mission of Christ Church proved to be an eye-opening experience for the Houghton students. The service started at 2 pm, and upon entering the church building, they immediately noticed how different the setting was from what they were accustomed to. The congregation wore beautiful traditional suits, and the worship music was joyous and lively, reflecting a deep passion for God. Despite the language barrier, the warmth and hospitality of the congregation shone through, with efforts made to provide translations from Swahili.
The students witnessed a vibrant display of worship and praise, with people singing, dancing, and clapping in celebration of their faith. However, they also encountered some aspects of the service that were unfamiliar, such as spontaneous informal choirs and a preaching style that was direct and challenging in a way that American preachers often shy away from. This exposure to a worship style that was distinct from their own left the students both encouraged and stretched. They appreciated the genuine joy and love for the Lord that permeated the congregation, and left having felt loved, embraced, and challenged by what it would require to have a truly multi-cultural church.
“There are a lot of churches that have multi-ethnic demographics, but their way of doing life together is tied to one predominant culture,” reflected Dr. Miller. “We have to recognize that getting people from different demographics into our one-culture-worship-style churches isn’t the end goal of diversity. We have to also find a way that worship spaces can feel a little bit more diverse.”
To that end, Houghton’s Kern students are not making the visit to Mission of Christ Church a one-time event. “The church wanted to see us back, and specifically asked that we come back,” said Dr. Miller. “And this is an important thing: that our students sustain relationships with people who help them build an approach to ministry that will serve them well into the global world they’ll serve.”
For more information about how Wesleyan institutions of higher education are cultivating globally-minded disciples, visit wearewesleyan.org.