In an effort to stay current and informed, and to stretch their understanding and depth, pastors and members of associated Grace Brethren organizations are engaging in study and research at the doctoral level.
In the past decade, Grace Theological Seminary has awarded the doctor of ministry degree to a number of pastors, each of whom completed a significant professional project as part of the graduation requirements.
Dr. Ken Bickel, who heads the D.Min. program for the seminary, explains that the project is to “enhance the student’s professional competence by expanding upon an enlarged foundation of theology and ministry experience.” The specific purpose, he says, “is to stimulate the student to pursue a serious investigation and a practical application of a significant ministry project.”
In addition to a serious investigation and practical application, the project must also show a developed strategy and undergo an objective evaluation, according to the degree’s guiding documents. Most result in a high-level manuscript of 125-200 pages which, in bound copy format, is permanently housed on the lower floor of the Morgan Library on the Grace campus in Winona Lake, Ind., and is available to researchers.
Some study practical issues a pastor may encounter. Greg Ryerson of Centerville, Ohio, whose degree was granted in 2000, studied the printed outline and its impact on sermon retention. John Smith, who pastors the Grace Brethren congregation at Willow Valley in Lancaster, Pa., developed an “Eden Course,” described as, “A Course Designed to Teach Biblically Illiterate Adults the Irreducible Minimum of the Bible Story Line.”
Steve Galegor, Sr., who works with Native Americans in New Mexico, created a contextualized evangelistic Bible presentation for Native American Indians as his doctoral project in 2006.
Roger Peugh, who also completed his program in 2006, produced “God and Teamwork: Implications of the Unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for Christian Ministry Teams.”
Peugh, a teacher and administrator at Grace College and Seminary, says, “I have been using a modification of my project as my Biblical Teamwork class notes. My hope and passion is to be able to revise it into a book which would connect with Christians who are in their 20s, since there is such a horrible lack of knowledge and understanding concerning what the Bible teaches about the Trinity and the practical implications of that teaching.”
In 2007 Greg Howell, pastor of the Community Grace Brethren Church, Goldendale, Wash., studied church-planting strategy and practices previously applied in the Pacific Northwest. And John Teevan, whose pastorates included Ashland, Ohio, and Winona Lake, Ind., geared his work toward viable Christianity in Japan with a look at “Renewed Effort, Accommodation, or Radical Contextualization.” Teevan now heads up the prison extension ministry of Grace College and Seminary.
This past year, in 2010, Steven Williams of the staff of the Seal Beach, Calif., Grace Brethren Church, focused his study on pre-marital counseling for couples who have minor children.
Mark Saunders, pastor of First Grace Brethren Church, Dayton, Ohio, developed a plan for a “Well-Organized Prayer Ministry Focused on Reaching the Unsaved.” Saunders says what he learned from the project was “the wonderful privilege of prayer.”
“As I read and studied all the passages on prayer in the Bible,” Saunders recounts, “I was impacted with the overwhelming need to pray to a loving and compassionate God. My relationship with Him has deepened.”
Also completing his project in 2010, Larry Edwards, who in Berne, Ind., and at Southview Grace Brethren Church in Ashland, Ohio, studied the historical Brethren practice of nonresistance, “The Misunderstood Pillar within the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches–a Historical Study With an Emphasis on Providing a Biblical Rationale and the Noncombatant Option Available for Young Men and Women as They Consider Military Service.”
“The D.Min. program was extremely beneficial to my ministry and personal nurturing. If I never received the degree, the classes were practical for everyday ministry,” Edwards says.
Several more projects are underway with completion anticipated in the coming year. Doug Courter, pastor of the Calvary Grace Brethren Church, Hagerstown, Md., is studying the proper use of a statement of faith in groups like the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. And Dan White, of the York, Pa., Grace Brethren Church, is focusing on the 80/20 principle as it relates to caregiving in the local church.
“I desire and need that regular sharpening that has come through the D.Min. program offered by Grace Seminary,” White reflects. “Following graduation I will continue to pursue courses that will best equip me for my work.”
Regarding the professional project, he says, “The professional project has been tailored specifically to help our church in our quest for becoming the church God wants us to be . . . Our church will never be the same as a result.”
The Grace Brethren fellowship has a rich history of rigorous, biblical scholarship and publishing. Authors such as Alva J. McClain, Herman Hoyt, John C. Whitcomb, John J. Davis, Homer A. Kent, Jr., and many more have left a lasting legacy of scholarship which continues to shape and inform Bible students and practitioners today. A new generation of pastors who are scholar-practitioners are adding their contributions to the influence that continues that heritage.