The Wesleyan Church’s (TWC) division of Education and Clergy Development (ECD) received a $550,000 grant aimed at helping ministerial students experience better training, less debt and greater collaboration with peers.

The grant — offered by the Kern Family Foundation — creates a pathway for ministers in training to finish both a bachelor’s and masters’ degree in five years at any one of the five Wesleyan institutions of higher education (WE5) and Wesley Seminary (WS).

While each school will impart its own formative focus to the program, students from every institution receive the same benefits: student scholarships, leadership training, accelerated ministry programs, local church experience and (in the future) retreats that bring together ministerial students from every WE5 Kern program.

But perhaps the highlight of what the Kern grant makes possible is the cohort model. As students journey through the five-year program, they are accompanied by fellow students who walk through the same curriculum, leadership training and post-graduate experiences.

“The relationships formed in these cohorts really add value,” reflected Dr. Eddy Shigley, coauthor of the grant and director of the Kern Ministry Program at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). “For future pastors to leave college already having friendships with fellow ministers —and to have people to call on when they have questions, and who in turn will offer support and encouragement — is a real-life benefit of this program.”

In addition to deep relationships with those in their own cohorts, the collaborative aspects of the Kern grant will help build a unified ecosystem of future Wesleyan ministers. And the Kern grant’s emphasis on marketplace leadership training helps ensure that these future clergy will be well-equipped to partner with laity in building local cultures of discipleship.

“This Kern Family Foundation Grant also provides multiple cocurricular formative events and allows students to accelerate their undergraduate and graduate ministry training so they are able to earn both degree in five years, while also deepening their character and engagement with the local church,” said ECD’s Executive Director Russ Gunsalus.

This commitment to local discipleship extends into the Kern program’s accelerated master’s program. While the undergraduate degree is hosted on WE5 traditional residential campuses, the master’s degree component is fulfilled through WS and allows students to be embedded in the local church during their course of study. Through a creative arrangement with Wesley Seminary, students also have the option to take dual enrollment during their undergraduate terms, further accomplishing the goal of lowering cost and retaining a congregational focus.

“The beauty of this program is that the Kern students graduate with an undergraduate degree in ministry, then go directly into the local church — while pursuing an M.A. or M.Div. focused on doing projects, papers, and assignments that serve their congregations,” reflected Shigley.

This WE5 initiative broadens Kern’s initial partnership with IWU’s School of Theology and Ministry (STM). STM has piloted a five-year, two-degree program since 2012, with over 200 students either graduated or enrolled. The credibility of IWU’s program propelled Shigley and Gunsalus to approach the Kern Family Foundation with a broader vision for developing a whole-denomination vision for this kind of ministerial training.

“Capitalizing on the strength of the IWU program, we were able to extend this grant to all WE5 schools and Wesley Seminary in a collaborative relationship, helping strengthen the culture of Wesleyan ministerial education,” reflected Gunsalus. “This program is attracting gifted ministry majors to our schools and deploying high-quality young ministers into The Wesleyan Church,” he continued.

For more information or questions about how the Kern Ministry Program is offered at each institution, please contact education@wesleyan.org.

Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of collegians and young adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.