Flourish Institute: Graduate School of Ministry
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a physical location?
The short answer is no, not in the way most people think about brick and mortar seminaries. Technological advances are allowing much training to be delivered virtually. Many traditional seminaries are graduating students who have never stepped foot on their campus. The majority of education can be done in a virtual format while providing occasional opportunities for people to be physically present with one another. In this format of development one physical location isn’t as helpful as utilizing space in various churches for those occasions when students are gathered. There will however be the opportunity for regional hubs where cohorts of students can have greater physical interaction. This model of seminary allows for unique ways for the training of leaders that can be implemented uniquely in different contexts.
Will this be accredited?
We are seeking, but can’t guarantee accreditation. Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is the primary accrediting body within the United States. They are becoming more flexible in what they are willing to accredit. For example it used to be that students had to spend a certain number of units “in residence” which meant they had to be physically on campus. ATS is now recognizing the research that indicates that you can be in residence so long as a certain number of hours are spent synchronous interaction. Perry Shaw believes that our pedagogy and training philosophy will be received favorably by the ATS and have a good chance of accreditation. If they do not offer accreditation then there are other accrediting bodies. It is important to keep in mind that the accreditation process takes years and isn’t ordinarily given until after the first class has graduated.
Will ECO students still be able to go to other seminaries?
Yes, absolutely. We know that many people will find other seminaries a better fit for them and their long-term goals. We enjoy a great relationship with many seminaries and are not trying to compete with those seminaries. We also know that our methodology will be more attractive to some and make seminary a possibility for those for whom graduate school training would be out of reach.
How much will it cost?
The current tuition for most M.Div. programs are $50,000 - $65,000. In our model, we can offer M.Div. at a cost of approximately $17,500. In addition, it is our hope to have funds available for scholarships so that those who plant churches or pastor in underserved or immigrant communities will have their seminary tuition forgiven over the course of a few years of service.
How can we do this for such significant savings?
The regular cost of seminary is high for two primary reasons. The first significant expense is the cost associated with a physical property. When considering the cost associated with purchasing, enhancing, and maintaining a physical campus it can be very high.. Second, the cost of full-time faculty, when considering salary and benefits for full-time faculty and divide it by the number of courses that are taught per year it can cost $15,000 for a professor to teach a course regardless of the number of students.
In our model there is almost no cost for physical space, other than a small percentage of our rental office suite. Adjunct faculty are paid a one-time fee to develop a course which includes the syllabus, handouts, and recording the lectures. When a professor teaches a course they are paid a fee per student who takes their course to grade papers and facilitate the live interaction. This allows us to charge $500 for a 3 Unit semester course as opposed to the average cost of $1,600-$2,000 per course.
Is the quality less than at a traditional seminary?
The question of quality in using adjunct faculty as opposed to full-time is an important topic. On the one hand traditional seminaries seek to draw full-time academicians who have a remarkable track record of study. While we appreciate the amazing contribution of these individuals, our goal is to draw those who have both academic distinction and who also have a track record of being skilled practitioners in ministry. These faculty are perhaps best able to help students integrate deep theological and biblical knowledge in everyday practical ministry. If a student is wanting to be a career academic then our school will probably not be the best place for them. If, however, they are training to be a pastor or active in other forms of church ministry then our school seeks to be of the highest caliber in developing pastors. We seek to have graduates with excellent theological and biblical knowledge that can integrate their knowledge with relevant ministry and leadership skills and minister out of a place of wholeness in the Lord.
What about lay leaders?
Historically there has been a significant gap in what we have called “lay leaders” and those who have been “ordained clergy”. We see, rightly so, and decreasing gap and also becoming more of a spectrum. Our current commissioned lay pastor programs have been well received and many students who have started with a CLP1 course have felt called and encouraged by their mentors to pursue CLP 2 and then eventually ordination. We therefore are keeping all of ourCLP courses into the Flourish Institute as they are the foundational courses for an MDiv and M.A.
When will it start?
The big launch will be in the fall of 2022. However we are offering a pilot integration course this fall. This will be taking a look at the church’s response to culture through the traditional academic disciplines such as theology, church history, biblical studies as well as utilizing aspects of discipleship, leadership, spiritual formation. Then in the spring of 2022 we will be doing another integration course on human sexuality through the same framework. We will also be modifying current courses to be more in-line with Perry’s suggestions.
Is this only for future ECO pastors or lay leaders?
The hope is to be able to expand in a variety of ways. First, there are other denominations and networks that have expressed interest in conversation. Those denominations that come from a Reformed perspective might simply be able to take most of the courses we offer. Other denominations might need to develop a specific track with the school. Second, there are some of our reformed denominations across the globe who have expressed interest in finding ways to bring this training into their culture. All of this will be down the road but we see the tremendous possibility that Flourish Institute has to have a wide impact.
How can we help?
We are thankful for the tremendous support and encouragement we have received from people as we have introduced this concept. Many have asked, "How can I help bring this into reality?'
Respond to surveys - We are going to be doing surveys to ensure that we have a broad understanding of the challenges that are facing pastors and congregations in different locations and circumstances. Your input is invaluable in designing this curriculum.
Recruit Students - We see that many of our current ordination candidates are people that had no Presbyterian background until they worked for ECO churches. We are thankful that our churches are functioning as pipelines but will need even more help getting the word out about Flourish Institute
Be a Mentor - The key to our model is practical ministry and the school will need to have a close relationship with local churches in the development process. Consider ways in which your church might be a home for 1 or 100 students.