Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind., has always had a mission to train and equip leaders to reach the nations for Christ. But it has never been more globally active than in 2012. The evidence? The seminary is now accredited with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in six different countries, going on its seventh, and with the eighth not far off.
That kind of educational certification in that number of countries is unprecedented, says Dr. Jeff Gill, dean of the School
of Ministry Studies at the seminary. The mission of the Association is to promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools in North America to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public.
“The thing about this that is very unique to Grace is that, to my knowledge, there are no other ATS accredited seminaries that have approval to offer courses in this many countries.” He adds that other larger institutions have only pursued one or two locations outside of the U.S. As the seminary looks to add Korea and the Cen- tral African Republic to a list that already includes such countries as the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Australia and France, it pushes what might be called record-breaking boundaries.
Why the increasingly diverse, worldwide repertoire? Well, most of it has to do with the seminary’s Korean program.
“The Koreans absolutely value seminaries that are ATS accredited,” says Gill. He explains that a huge part of their desire to learn through Grace is a strong sense of academic excellence that is backed up by top-notch certification.
Often students come halfway around the world for the training that Grace offers, but that’s not always the best option. For example, Korean pastors seeking a Doctor of Missiology or a Doctor of Ministry degree aren’t always able to travel to the U.S. to fulfill their goals. Many are already in the mission field, planting and pastoring churches. Rather than leave their ministries, they need ATS-approved educators to come to their door. That’s where Grace comes in.
In 2004, Gill, the late Dr. David Plaster, and Dr. Ron Manahan began to discuss the possibility of ATS accreditation. Grace had been accredited in 1982 but not by the ATS, which offered a multiplicity of expansion opportunities includ- ing possible grants and overseas teaching options. Three hundred pages worth of a self-study and six years later, a site-visit was initiated and Grace was approved as an ATS member.
Since then, Grace has been acting, not so much as an initiator, but as a tool, an agent to fill the gap between pastors abroad and their need for professional training.
“We apply academics to real world ministry with real people,” says Dr. Tom Stallter, executive director of the Korean Studies Program at the seminary. “In this professional degree program, we want to teach skills for culture-discovery and rel- evant intercultural ministry. Students are drawn to this as it meets a real, felt need for them.”
It doesn’t get much more “real world” than the frequent one-week expeditions that professors from the seminary make routinely. Stallter himself has taught in Amsterdam and Korea before the ATS; Gill traveled to the Philippines in April; Dr. Tiberius Rata recently returned from India; and Dr. Matt Harmon spent some time in Thailand.
“For me, to get a taste of the variety of the Body of Christ really helps you see that your little world is just that: it’s your little
world,” says Gill, who believes the seminary is on the cusp of something massive. He says that if all goes according to plan, August of 2013 will see ATS-approved Ward courses being taught in the Central African Republic where there are approximately 2,100 Grace Brethren churches with more than 500,000 members that are pastored by about 900 leaders.
“There is a tremendous need to train godly men with the tools and practical experience they need to tackle a multitude of challenges faced by the churches and their leaders,” says Dave Guiles, executive director of Encompass World Partners (for- merly Grace Brethren International Missions).
The seminary’s goal is to train 35 to 40 top pastors in the coun- try who will then pour into other leaders. Encompass World Partners is trying to raise $400,000 for this initiative, asking interested donors to sponsor a pastor for $12,000.
“I feel so incredibly blessed that God has given us a greater glimpse of his global church,” Gill says.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Jones is a graduate of Grace College who previously interned at the Brethren Missionary Herald Company. He and his wife, Emily, reside in Valparaiso, Ind., where he teaches high school English.