What is required to lead effectively as a disciple and minister in our rapidly changing world?
Ministry leaders today face multiple demands on their time, attention, and energy. A busy life of service can make it difficult to pursue meaningful theological training opportunities. If you’re a ministry leader, whether lay or ordained, seeking flexible but formal training to prepare you for the unique challenges of ministry in the twenty-first century, The Candler Foundry has a bold new option for you.
Launching this August, “Foundations in Faith & Leadership” is an online certificate program for groups and individuals who want to grow spiritually and professionally through structured, cohort-based learning. It’s ideal for those who want flexible, independent study that they can dive into anytime or anywhere, alongside structured, real-time opportunities for discussions with peers and trained facilitators. The program also offers micro-credentialing—earned evidence of having developed specific skills in a particular field. Program tracks beginning the last week of August include “Essentials for Biblical Interpretation” and “Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation,” and three additional tracks will roll out in 2023: youth ministry leadership, trauma-informed care, and community-based ministry.
In each track, instructors will dive deep enough into the subject matter to attract seminary graduates while staying accessible enough to interest those who’ve never studied theology formally. The hope is to provide ministry leaders from all backgrounds with access to training and support for faithful, adaptive leadership.
Elizabeth Arnold, postdoctoral fellow at The Candler Foundry and the director of the Foundations program, emphasizes that this new initiative is designed for both professionals and laity: “If you’ve been to seminary, you can take one of these tracks in order to sharpen your skills and perspectives for the challenges of ministry today,” she says. “If you haven’t been to seminary, the tracks are designed so that you can learn the concepts and practices outside of one of Candler’s traditional degree programs.”
Foundations had its genesis in comments that Arnold and Foundry director Ryan Bonfiglio kept hearing from lay and ordained leaders across ministry fields: these individuals needed flexible, affordable, and relevant avenues for training and theological exploration outside of formal degree programs. Arnold and Bonfiglio began designing an educational opportunity that would build sequentially and successfully from one course to the next yet still retain maximum flexibility. The program received a $225,000 grant from Trinity Church Wall Street to support its launch and implementation.
“The generous financial support from Trinity Church Wall Street helped accelerate the launch of this new program,” says Bonfiglio. “Their commitment to innovative leadership formation resonates deeply with The Candler Foundry’s mission to make the best of theological education accessible and engaging to broad audiences, including clergy, ministry leaders, church boards, teachers, social advocates, and all those who seeking to live and lead faithfully in our rapidly changing world.”
When a person enrolls in a Foundations track—no formal application is required; there’s just a short registration form to fill out—he or she joins a cohort of eight to fifteen learners and proceeds through a specially designed curriculum over eight months. Each track has four six-week courses led by Candler faculty and community experts. Weekly modules include two hours of independent study and a one-hour live online class discussion with the facilitator. Course content includes brief lectures from leading scholars, short readings, videos, and reflection questions designed to help participants make tangible connections to their life and ministry. And each class in a track’s sequence builds on the previous one, offering what Arnold calls “a sustained arc of learning.” She gestures toward the program’s goal: “It’s intended to be rigorous but manageable when it comes to the time commitment involved.”
Tuition costs $750 for an eight-month track. That includes enrollment in the four courses, access to a trained facilitator for questions and personalized guidance, free digital access to Pitts Theology Library, a certificate of completion, and eight continuing education units (CEU’s) for those with requirements for licensure and credentialing. A limited number of partial financial aid need-based scholarships are also available.
Arnold is especially excited about the group enrollment option, which offers special rates for churches or other non-profits whose teams or staff members would like to participate together. Groups of four or more people qualify for a 20 percent discount. Groups of seven or more have the option to form their own private cohort with an instructor. A pilot program last semester tested the program on a group of ministers and ministry support staff from a church in Orlando. “Having a group doing it together helps people in their learning, and the learning they’re doing together strengthens their internal bonds as a team,” she says.
Faculty are as interested in the new program as potential students have been. “It’s a great opportunity for them to teach exactly what they love and are passionate about,” Arnold says. “Students aren’t just getting a slice of learning from them. They’re getting the best of learning.”
It’s also a reminder of The Candler Foundry’s broader mission: making theological education accessible to everyone, believers and seekers, Sunday School attendees and lay ministers, community organizers and non-profit leaders, clergy who want to sharpen specific skills, regular churchgoers, and those who are just curious about faith in general. Foundations especially welcomes participants who might be navigating a vocational discernment process. Not everyone is called to minister full-time, Arnold says. Callings can take different shapes and sizes. Foundations’ targeted tracks in different ministry areas welcome that kind of diverse approach.
And for all participants, the program offers something many have felt the lack of for some time: meaningful conversation during a time when social and communal ties have come under strain on multiple fronts. The chance to explore questions that matter with engaged conversation partners is a gift that doesn’t come along as frequently as we might wish. Foundations is one way to begin building those essential conversations back into one’s life and weekly rhythm.
Most of all, the program serves as a natural extension of Candler’s mission to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries throughout the world. Foundations opens new possibilities for leaders and learners at all stages of theological education. “Seminary is not—nor should it be—the only place theological education happens,” Arnold says. “Foundations in Faith & Leadership hopes to help facilitate theological learning in the context of everyday life and discipleship.”
The Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation track, taught by Ellen Ott Marshall and Kyle Lambelet, and the Essentials for Biblical Interpretation track, taught by Ryan Bonfiglio and Elizabeth Arnold, both begin on Aug. 23-24. For more information or to register, visit the Certificates page on The Candler Foundry’s website.