REAL Possibilities: Five degrees of integration

By Eric Rangus

5 Degrees of Separation -3The early 21st century hasn’t been kind to theology schools. Nationwide, seminary enrollment is declining. Fewer people attend church, and the number of “nones”—those unaffiliated with any religious institution—is rising.

Is this a problem? Many would say yes. But is this also an opportunity? Candler School of Theology says definitely.

Already blessed with strong degree programs, Candler is seeking ways to address the varied issues facing modern theological education. For more than a year, Candler’s leadership has been building new programs designed to expand the possibilities of reaching more people who want to make a real difference in the real world. The results are five new degree programs that are rolling out over the next two semesters: two new master’s degrees, two new dual degrees, and a new iteration of a doctoral degree whose name may be familiar to some, but whose implementation will be the definition of innovation.

Doctor of Ministry: Fall 2014
“I’m thrilled to see the DMin back,” says Alice Rogers 98T, senior pastor at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church and associate professor in the practice of practical theology at Candler. She earned her Doctor of Ministry from Candler during the program’s first go-round some 15 years ago, served on the design committee for the retooled version, and will serve on the program’s core teaching faculty. “It’s going to play a significant role in the education of effective pastors.”

Parish leadership is ever more challenging in an increasingly global—and an increasingly secularized—society, and Candler’s DMin is designed to help pastors find practical ways to meet those challenges. The degree is a valuable addition to the repertoire of an experienced minister, says Brent A. Strawn, professor of Old Testament and director of the DMin program.

“The DMin is designed for ministers who graduated with a Master of Divinity, got out in the real world, and began to know what they didn’t know,” he says. “It has real-world, practical applications.”

5 Degrees of Separation -2Many theology schools offer DMins (including three in the metro Atlanta area), but Candler’s program, by design, is distinctive from any other in the nation.

“A lot of our thinking was forward, not backward,” says Strawn. “We designed a new DMin from the ground up, one that’s ideal for the 21st century.”

Four elements set Candler’s new DMin apart. One decidedly 21st century aspect is that 90 percent of the three-year program takes place entirely online. Apart from four key on-campus experiences, DMin students will complete their courses from the comfort of their churches and homes. Candler offers the only DMin program of its kind where distance learning plays this significant of a role.

“An online approach means that ministers can stay deeply rooted in their congregations while pursuing the degree, applying what they’ve learned right away, every day,” says Strawn. Plus, there is an inherent added value of the online format in that students will acquire enhanced digital communication skills, giving them new, more effective ways of connecting with their parishioners in this age of the smart phone.

The second distinctive element is that Candler’s full-time faculty—not adjuncts—are teaching the DMin, and they are doing it as part of their regular semester course load, not as an add-on program during off-periods. “That faculty access is important to participants—getting a Candler DMin means spending quality time and exchanging ideas with some of the nation’s most esteemed theologians,” says Strawn.

The third difference is the DMin’s two-track system, which Strawn describes as “hyper-focused” on the strengths of Candler’s faculty. Track one, Church Leadership and Community Witness, is geared toward students interested in models of ministerial leadership inside the church and out. Track two, Biblical Interpretation and Proclamation, focuses on the theology of Christian Scripture. In addition to allowing students to focus on what interests them most, the tracks also enable them to form a cohort and collaborate throughout their three years together.

The fourth unique aspect is the approach to the final project. Rather than requiring its completion at some point after the three years of course work—potentially delaying graduation—Candler’s final project is “scaffolded” into the curriculum so that it is completed at the end of year three. But even more importantly, Strawn notes, the final project is germane to each student’s particular ministry setting.

“The final project emerges from and engages with students’ ministerial contexts—the exact place they most want and need help, and the reason they pursued the DMin in the first place,” he says. “It’s designed to make a difference.”

Master’s and Dual Degrees

It’s a given that landing a “dream job” in this day and age may require landing a master’s degree first. But what makes job-seekers even more desirable is the ability to navigate the issues created by today’s multi-cultural, multi-religious global workplace. Candler has seized the opportunity to prepare students for this real world experience by offering four new master’s degrees. 

Master of Religious Leadership: Spring 2014
The Master of Religious Leadership (MRL) is a two-year degree designed for people who want to enhance their leadership potential for Christian service. It offers five concentrations: Mission, Evangelism and World Christianity; Justice, Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation; Pastoral Care; Ministries with Youth; and Worship and Music.

“We designed the MRL for people who aspire to hold a leadership role in a church but aren’t necessarily interested in being ordained,” says Ian McFarland, Candler’s associate dean of faculty and academic affairs and the Bishop Mack B. and Rose Stokes Professor of Theology.

The MRL includes participation in Candler’s Contextual Education Program, a national model for blending service with learning. Con Ed provides practical experience in social ministry or ecclesial settings aligned with the MRL concentrations.

Students can complete the MRL on a full- or part-time basis, and they have access to Candler’s online and hybrid courses.

Master of Religion and Public Life
5 Degrees of Separation -1The Master of Religion and Public Life (MRPL) is Candler’s own creation—no other seminary offers it. A one-year degree for professionals in nonreligious fields—lawyers, doctors, nurses, social workers, and even accountants—the MRPL is geared toward those who serve a socially engaged clientele and could benefit from a greater appreciation of the role of religion in people’s lives.

The MRPL’s genesis sprung in part from the results of a survey given to alumni of the Emory College of Arts and Sciences. Respondents did not work in religious professions, yet many were interested in understanding more about the intersection of religion and their vocation. Outreach efforts for MRPL students will focus on professional associations—an audience brand new to seminary education.

“This is the kind of degree that can be a great service to the Atlanta area,” says McFarland, adding that students can mix it in with their career responsibilities. “It can also tremendously enrich the experience of our divinity students, giving them further opportunities to engage with professionals from other disciplines.”

Dual Degrees: Fall 2014
For Candler’s new dual degrees, the school is tapping into a strong existing partnership with Emory’s Laney Graduate School for the Master of Divinity/Master of Development Practice (MDiv/MDP), and forging a new bond with The University of Georgia (UGA) for the Master of Divinity/Master of Science in Social Work (MDiv/MSW).

5 Degrees of Separation -5The MDiv/MDP is designed for those in sustainable development work who want to learn how to apply their theological convictions or engage religious communities with greater openness, and for religious leaders from developing countries who want to address social and economic issues as part of a holistic approach to ministry. It includes four years of residential instruction and two summer international field practicums. The MDiv/MSW is available for those interested in considering the role of faith and religious institutions in community health and development, the care of individuals in poverty and crisis, responses to systemic and institutional injustice, and issues of social transformation. It is a four-year residential program divided between Candler and UGA’s campus in Athens and/or satellite location in Gwinnett County, and includes Contextual Education, which can be completed in Atlanta.

Integration and Innovation
To Candler’s Dean Jan Love, these five new degrees are all about helping more real people make a real difference in the real world. The latest proof points underscoring Candler’s commitment to the church, they demonstrate that the school can innovate to ensure it stays relevant for years to come.

“These new degrees are wonderful examples of how we can creatively respond to the changing needs of the world around us in a way that’s unique to Candler,” she says.

“As the world around us continues to shift, we look forward to finding other opportunities that will allow us to live into our mission of educating faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries in the world.”

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Lifelong baseball fan and Braves season ticket holder Eric Rangus eagerly anticipates the first pitch of opening day each spring. Play ball!