“Ministry” can take many forms and happen in many contexts: preaching and pastoral care in a church, yes, but also serving firefighters, pursuing restorative justice, leading music and offering spiritual direction — just as examples. Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s new Master of Arts in Christian Leadership (MACL) degree provides leadership training for that ever-broadening spectrum of roles and contexts.
The new curriculum with its emphasis on “Christian Leadership” is a “re-visioning” of the previous “Master of Arts in Church Leadership” degree, said Professor Nancy Heisey.
While the traditional gold standard for congregational ministry remains a masters in divinity, “there are different ways of ministering and interacting with different contexts,” said Les Horning, director of seminary admissions and an ordained Mennonite pastor. “Trends across denominational lines are for specialty study, smaller and more nimble programs in addition to traditional, on-campus seminary studies.”
Flexibility is key. Students can incorporate other electives and disciplines — such as the graduate certificate in restorative justice offered by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding — into their own individualized curriculum.
“Missional leaders have different focuses, and the new MACL’s core curriculum of formation, Bible, history and theology requirements leave ample room for students to creatively tailor the program to suit their interests and goals,” said Heisey.
A blend of online and on-site courses allow for residential flexibility for students, but Heisey said that personal formation and building and maintaining a “sense of community” are still central. “It’s an exciting challenge for us to maintain our charism and at the same time recognize where people are coming from.”
The new degree — just like other seminary programming — requires students to reflect on their own inner selves and how they engage with the theological story. “We’re not a degree factory. Instead, we ask student to bring all of who you are, to inform their coursework,” said Horning.
That acknowledgement of a uniquely shaped individual is what ultimately makes the new MACL so attractive, Horning said, because students “are not being asked to fit into a pre-existing mold so much as think about the world’s needs and where their gifts can make an impact.”