The approach to formation of clergy is changing for the Religion Division of Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) as they study and innovate ministerial programs. Dr. Michael Tapper, chair of the Religion Division, shared how SWU is working toward preparing pastors for an increasingly demanding and complex world after graduation.

Over the past year, SWU has made several new hires in their shift toward praxis-based education for minsters. Along with Tapper, other new hires include Assistant Professor of Multiplication, Discipleship and Renewal Mark Wilson, Assistant Professor Rev. Andrea Summers, and Nextgen Professor Brent Dongell. Tapper shared his excitement to be a part of a team with these new faculty who are driven by the conviction that higher education exists to serve the church.

SWU’s Religion Division recognizes education for clergy has to be constantly assessed and revamped if they are going to adequately prepare ministers. Tapper shares: “While it is important to train our students with a robust theology, we have to do more than impart knowledge. We have to prepare our ministers to be successful not just today, but in the future as well.”

SWU’s Religion Division purposes to prepare successful minsters through practical ministry. One way they are doing this is through the introduction of their new 3+1 ministry program, offered to students with concentrations in Christian ministry or youth ministry. The first three years of the program are spent in the classroom preparing students in a more traditional sense with foundational competencies for ministry. The fourth year is spent entirely in an active ministry residency in close contact with leadership mentors. The aim is to graduate successful ministers who are prepared to be flexible leaders of conviction – ministers who are attuned to the seismic changes taking place in the culture around them but are able to uphold their own convictions while remaining relevant.

It is also the desire of SWU’s Religion Division to be engaged in the local church and understand its needs when training future ministers.  When Tapper was hired, he interviewed over 60 pastors, recent SWU graduates, staff leaders and Wesleyan leaders in an attempt to gain an understanding of what the church felt was needed in ministerial training. Throughout the interviews, there was a consistent trend of the need for praxis-based training.

Tapper has seen a shift in the church and the way ministers need to be trained as well. A lot of churches have begun hiring people who have not been trained as ministers but have other skills sets and a heart for ministry. He believes it is advantageous for universities to examine their ministerial programs and provide more opportunities for these unconventional students to be trained in the competencies and theologies they will need to be successful clergy.

SWU also recognizes how ministerial students who are graduating may need to be bi-vocational in order to support themselves in the world of ministry. Because of this they allow students to take on a second major alongside ministry so that they are prepared for whatever type of ministry they are called to after graduation. Training pastors with a wide range of skills will enable them to serve the kingdom best.

Overall, Tapper is excited about the developments in SWU’s Religion Division and the opportunity to innovate their programs to meet the needs of the local church.