“My conviction had always been to try to help other folks have the opportunity to study and train for ministry without having to make a big move.”
A native of the Yakima Valley, Wash., Adam Copenhaver, lead pastor of the Grace Brethren Church in Mabton, Wash., recognized the need for more opportunities for biblical training on the West Coast while he was pastoring the Grace Brethren Church in Yakima about ten years ago. It has been on his radar ever since.
“I wanted to return to school and realized the only way to do that is to sell my home, quit my job, and move across the country,” he recalls. “And in central Washington, there’s a dark hole when it comes to Christian colleges and seminaries. I wanted to do something about it.”
So he reached out to several area pastors, who, at Copenhaver’s prompting, gathered together to establish the Ezra Bible Institute, a local, college-level resource for lay leaders, in the fall of 2014. Modeled after the example set in Ezra 7:10, the Institute exists to study, obey, and teach God’s word. Structured as a three-year program broken into ten modules of weekly classes, it aims to be accessible to church leaders who are already established, but are looking for more theological training while continuing their jobs as pastors and lay leaders in their communities.
Since the Institute was created with the cooperation of several area churches, the content draws from several denominations that fall under a common statement of faith, including Grace Brethren, Nazarene, Christian Reformed, and Presbyterian. Gregory Howell, board member and a pastor of Community Grace Brethren Church in Goldendale, Wash., says the diversity of doctrinal ideas is welcome.
“We’re not trying to do hobbyhorses or our doctrine only. We’re supposed to be inclusive and either [lay out] several views or invite in guest speakers for certain perspectives.”
To expand its opportunities even further, the Institute has also started hosting an annual, one-day conference, dubbed Discern Conference, inviting a prominent theological scholar as guest speaker.
“As part of our mission to bring theological awareness to the Yakima Valley, we’re trying to branch out from just coursework,” says Howell.
Currently, the Institute offers a ten-course program, taught by educated pastors from various denominations who all have held terminal degrees, either D.Min. or PhD. Sixteen students are taking courses, and five are working their way through the whole program.
Copenhaver says he doesn’t know what the future holds yet. “Right now, we feel like we’ve got our finger on a need that we’re trying to meet with these lay folks, and they’re not looking for accredited degrees. They’re already in careers and just looking to be better equipped for serving the church.”
Howell agrees. “I’m privileged to be a part of it. I think some of my gifting is teaching, and Ezra Institute gives me an outlet and still be a local pastor. So I’m excited about it.”
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.