Thanks to a partnership between Nazarene colleges on the Eurasia Region, eight church leaders with Kirche in Aktion (Church in Action) in Germany are earning their Master’s Degree in Theology without stepping away from their ministry.
KiA is a church planting effort with 26 locations in four cities — Frankfurt, Mainz, Darmstadt, and Wiesbaden — involved in urban ministry at sites such as pubs, coffee shops, and cinemas working with the homeless, the elderly, asylum seekers, prostitutes, and other inner city populations.
Most of the pastors already have bachelor’s degrees in other subjects but, due to their involvement with KiA, became interested in postgraduate study in theology. Some are seeking ordination.
One of the cohort was himself an asylum seeker; another is a marketing and project management professional who recently sensed a call into ministry; another has a finance background. Another is a new believer who found Christ through KiA and was baptized in January 2016.
Eric Smith is a KiA city pastor in Darmstadt who realized a need to study theology.
“One reason is to gain a better understanding of the Christian faith and tradition, its history, and the way it’s shaped the world we live in,” Smith wrote. “A second reason is that I’ve continued to gain more interest in the area of apologetics. Working in the context of western Europe, specifically Germany, I’ve gotten into many interesting conversations with people who have very much been influenced by ‘post-modernism,’ as well as Muslim refugees.”
Last spring, after meeting at an Urban Mission evening, one of the founding pastors, Cris Zimmermann, talked with Deirdre Brower Latz, principal at Nazarene Theological College (NTC–Manchester) in Manchester, United Kingdom, about the college supporting the formal education of their leaders. As this evolved, NTC–Manchester also started a conversation with European Nazarene College, which has a learning center in Frankfurt, to help prepare the students for postgraduate study.
“The MA in theology has a range of options, so it allows the students to start together with a common foundation, then select the pathways that suit them best,” said Peter Rae, NTC–Manchester academic dean. “Some are taking the urban ministry pathway to prepare them to work in the world’s cities; some are taking the humanitarian development route; still others are passionate about the Church’s response to Islam, so [they] are taking the MA in Christian engagement with Islam.”
It is quite routine at NTC–Manchester to have practitioners learning; indeed, one of the values of the college is that it exists to serve the church by equipping its leaders for relevant ministry and mission.
However, only a few in the group had prior studies in theology, which would make it difficult for them to study at the post-graduate level.
“To study with NTC they need to know at least two areas — one is historical theology, and the other is Introduction to biblical Studies,” said Klaus Arnold, rector of European Nazarene College (EuNC).
EuNC was asked to help provide the pre-master’s level courses that the leaders needed. Last autumn, the students took a course at EuNC’s Germany Learning Center in Frankfurt, and a second by intensive study and videoconference with NTC–Manchester. In January, the cohort began their MA work through NTC–Manchester, committing to read and prepare one day per week, and then joining short intensive courses several times a year at the NTC–Manchester campus while applying what they learn to their current ministry contexts.
“It’s a dual learning program,” said Philip Zimmermann, co-founder of KiA with Cris. “You are already in ministry and having responsibilities, and at the same time theoretically and theologically you are educated on deeper truth.”
NTC–Manchester’s MA in Theology (Urban Ministry) is particularly relevant to the cohort as KiA is pushing the envelope of evangelical ministry, tailoring it to a postmodern European urban setting, experimenting and taking risks to reach people with the gospel.
“That’s the question we are wrestling with, and the Church in general is wrestling with: How do we engage in church planting in urban cities? Because the way we used to do it is not working anymore,” Philip said. “It might be working in villages, but what about the urban centers? How can we do it there? We are an incubator to try out a few things. Some things don’t work at all and some things are working great.”
Philip said NTC–Manchester’s MA is a perfect fit for the needs of KiA pastors and lay leaders, many of whom need to not only know how to do ministry in an urban context, but also the theological foundations for why they do it in certain ways.
Joseph Wood, a lecturer at NTC–Manchester, taught one of the pre-MA courses, joining the students in their direct ministry context.
“‘I have been thoroughly impressed at the level of theological thinking this cohort has exhibited, but what impacted me the most is how their thinking is clothed in hospitality,” he said. “I left feeling inspired, excited, and exhausted. KiA is on full throttle. It’s in their name: ‘Action!”