Wesley Seminary exists to serve the local church. We do this in a variety of ways but primarily through preparing the church’s leaders, lay and vocational, to be a Kingdom Force in the communities where the Lord has planted them.

Wesley comes alongside the pastor, ministry leader, marketplace multiplier, volunteer and parachurch worker to equip them for the work of the kingdom — the work and context to which they have been uniquely called. We view this relationship as a partnership in which students are actively involved in ministry, making application of what they are learning as they serve.

The impact of COVID on the church and ministries required ministry leaders to pivot in how they lead, pastor and serve. Wesley pivoted with them so that what students continued to learn in the classroom was relevant to the new reality in which they were serving. Wesley faculty adjusted assignments and curriculum to meet the new and changing needs. The seminary team responded to support the churches and leaders we serve, walking beside them through the changing and challenging times — and the Lord poured out his blessings.

Students repeatedly shared testimonies of how every week the Lord showed up and provided an answer to the latest ministry challenge through a textbook, a lesson, an assignment or a timely conversation with a professor. And throughout the months of lockdown and isolation, the Holy Spirit continued to move among them as Wesley students were part of a small group with men and women who were facing the same challenges. They met together weekly, providing relief from the sense of isolation and a means of spiritual renewal amid the storm.

Wesley worked to Unleash Kingdom Force leaders like Wesleyan Pastor Bethany Tippin.

“Wesley Seminary made the impossible possible,” said Pastor Bethany. “As a female pastor in a rural area, very few opportunities present themselves for education, edification and improvement. Wesley Seminary’s online program made the pursuit of an M.Div. (Master of Divinity) a reality.”

Wesley continued to invest in Unleashing Kingdom Force leaders like Pastor Hector Ramirez of Iglesia Cristiana el Buen in the city of Mesa, Arizona. Pastor Hector attributes to Wesley “the knowledge to serve God and my neighbor as I do today, with more preparation and with much more love for what they really represent in the kingdom of God.” Hector’s church is a Kingdom Force in his community, organizing health fairs that provided health testing and vaccines, establishing a food bank and offering resources to assist immigrants in the midst of COVID.

And Wesley persisted in Unleashing global Kingdom Force leaders like Rev. Benson Gubule, dean at Pilgrim Wesleyan Bible College in Zambia. Rev. Benson says Wesley is “a means of grace to me that has assisted me to know the Lord better and have great skills to use in ministry. … This course for me is a miracle, it is powerful … the kind of course needed in the world.”

How is a Kingdom Force leader developed and released? Pastor Sam Sprunger describes his experience through the relationships formed and forged, “The faculty that has taught me have not just invested in me intellectually, but they have invested in my personal spiritual life and in helping me in my ministry as well. They have taken time to pray with me and speak with me about situations that have come up in ministry … my fellow students have laughed with me, prayed with me, struggled through classes with me, and have just always supported me!”

Education is transformational at Wesley Seminary. Through the miles of separation and relationships mediated through technology, the Holy Spirit has moved, lives have been transformed, leaders have been encouraged, and the Kingdom Force has been equipped, empowered and released.

We are making seminary education accessible and expanding seminary education to the global church. The Lord blessed us through incredible student growth — an enrollment increase of 28% in the past 18 months, serving students who live in 38 different countries, representing 65 different denominations and studying in English as well as Spanish.

Wesley is growing the Kingdom Force through an approach that is educationally and financially accessible; seminary education that comes to you, meets you where you are and walks beside you through the joys and challenges of ministry and life.

Wesley is creating equipping for ministry that is comprehensive by developing end-to-end theological education and ministry preparation.

The Lord blessed Indiana Wesleyan University in 2021 with a $50,000 Lilly Endowment grant through its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, designed to support theological schools preparing leaders for congregational ministry. That planning grant provided space for Wesley Seminary to host listening sessions with ministry leaders, pastors and theological educators from around the world. These gatherings and retreats explored questions, including: How has ministry changed and what do we need to do to respond?

What we learned led Wesley Seminary leaders to prepare a second proposal to Lilly Endowment through the implementation phase of its Pathways initiative. An additional grant of nearly $1 million will help Wesley to develop a hub that provides practical tools, resourcing, opportunities for connections and conversations, and a means to gather.

Transformational, accessible, local and global focused, and comprehensive education for those just getting started in ministry to those who have been serving over a lifetime is our goal.

Wesley is committed to leaning in to find ways to serve the church and equip Christian leaders for missional ministry in their local communities and around the world, both now and in the future.

For more information regarding the Lilly Endowment grant, click here.

Rev. Dr. Colleen Derr is president of Wesley Seminary in Marion, Indiana.