In 2012, the Kern Family Foundation partnered with the Indiana Wesleyan University School of Theology and Ministry to create a program to help students be ” More hirable, better trained, and less indebted.” Admission to the Kern program is contingent on previous academic excellence, personal interviews, and pastoral and personal recommendations. Here are the top five things you need to know about IWU’s Kern program:

1. Five Years, Two Degrees, Cheaper Than One:

Housed in IWU’s School of Theology and Ministry, Kern is a seamless five-year program: three years are spent earning a Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministries, two years earning a Masters of Arts in Christian Ministries. The undergraduate track fulfills ordination requirements for The Wesleyan Church—and the tuition structure makes it possible to get both degrees for less cost than the standard four-year ministerial education (see details here).

Seamless degree integration ensures that students experience Masters Degree courses tailored to their undergraduate experience: “One of the major advantages of the Kern ministry program is that students get more advanced ministry education than an M.Div with more ministry experience and less student debt than the average graduate, all in just under 5 years,” said Dr. David Ward, Associate Dean of IWU’s School of Theology and Ministry.

2. Regular Mentoring with Ministry Experts:

Each cohort meets weekly with Dr. Eddy Shigley—a renowned leadership expert and pastoral coach. Weekly mentoring focuses on spiritual formation and leadership development, with attention to group dialogue and practical application. Dr. Shigley also invites guest speakers—like pastors, residency supervisors, and business experts—to discuss principles for life and ministry. Just as importantly, these sessions make space for guided discussion among peers. Kern scholar Elyse Garverick says: “One of the greatest parts of the Kern program is the learning community, because it cultivates an openness among the group, and makes room for a lot of honest discussion.”

Along with corporate mentoring, each upperclassman Kern student has individual mentoring sessions with Dr. Shigley, while each underclassman Kern student is paired with a third or fourth-year member of the program. “One of my favorite parts of Kern’s structure is the individual mentoring. We have a chance to set goals, have conversations, and discuss real-life stuff: marriage, ministry, conflict, relationships—because that’s ministry, too,” said Dr. Shigley. These times allow students to receive personally tailored ministerial coaching before they enter a full-time ministry setting.

3. Vibrant Relationships Among Future Church Leaders:

“We’re not just discussing topics with classmates; we’re building relationships with peers that will last for years to come. Because of these times, I expect to be able to call on fellow Kern students when we’re all placed in local churches,” said Kern scholar Megan Swan. Kern students graduate with catalytic long-term peer-mentor relationships that help alleviate post-graduation isolation. Shared experiences and transformative conversations set the backdrop for a vibrant community of Christians and ministers.

4. Leadership Development Through High Impact Experiences:

The Kern program provides access to attend premiere ministry events, like the Catalyst Conference or The Wesleyan Church’s Gathering 2015. At Catalyst One-Day, a group of Kern scholars were among an exclusive group (only about 17 people) to have lunch with Andy Stanley, discussing church culture and innovation. Kern requires students to develop essential ministry skills, like team-building, church leadership, and financial stewardship.

But Kern students don’t just attend ministry events: they learn business acumen, too. Kern scholars are required to participate in a summer business internship, where they’re paired with a Christian business leader, who teaches them integration of faith, work, and economics. From this experience, these future pastors learn what it’s like to balance a budget, manage a company, and participate in the lives of their future congregations.

5. Accelerated Launch into Effective Ministry

“Whereas a lot of college ministry programs give a lot of theory and very little practice, Kern ministry students get to spend the equivalent of over a year in full-time ministry leadership before they finish the program,” said Dr. Dave Ward, Associate Dean of the IWU School of Theology and Ministry. In addition to practical experience required of every IWU ministry student, the Kern program requires a robust summer internship between years three and four. Students also get hands-on professional experience during year five during a one-year residency at a “teaching church.” This residency provides ministry opportunities and onsite mentoring for Kern residents. Altogether, each scholar comes through the five-year program that “Combines a unique design of mentoring, leadership development and practical ministry experience with some of the foremost leaders, pastors and thinkers of our era,” said Dr. Eddy Shigley.

These five items only begin to encapsulate the Kern program’s vision to create the pastoral training program of the future while catalyzing students for long-term success. Through every step, each scholar is rooted in a vibrant community of fellow ministers, where they’re challenged to network, develop skills, and innovatively approach a lifelong ministry calling. Can deep theology and practical ministry coalesce into an academic program? Kern thinks so.

*Photo Credit: Gabrielle Engle