When Becky Owen assumed leadership of the children’s ministry at her church, she brought to her duties a love for children and professional experience as a qualified mental health professional serving in public schools.
Yet she perceived she needed training in ministry, biblical studies and other theological disciplines. She began looking for opportunities to gain additional education, and her search eventually led her to BSK. She is a first-year Master of Divinity student.
While her position does not require a theological degree, Owen wanted additional study so she could give her job her best effort.
“I wanted to make sure that I was doing the best I could do for the children,” said Owen, director of childhood activities at Grandin Court Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia, for the past five years.
It’s people like Owen and congregations like Grandin Court that BSK seeks to reach through its recently launched Homegrown Ministry initiative, BSK President David Cassady said. Increasingly, he explained, congregations are looking within their own ranks to fill staff positions in youth and children’s ministries.
“There has been a shift in thinking from advertising for a position and interviewing for a job to looking for people within the congregation who are gifted, and then cultivate them and nurture them in these positions,” Cassady said.
Cassady lists three reasons for the change in the recruitment process:
— Congregations are shifting these positions from full-time to part-time.
— Recent seminary graduates, who are often encumbered by student debt, cannot support themselves and their families on the modest salaries congregations can offer for youth and children’s ministries.
— Even if a congregation is close to a seminary, today’s seminary students often cannot accept a part-time position because they are older, have families and must work full-time.
At Grandin Court, Owen was the volunteer nursery coordinator when the congregation reached out to her to assume some responsibilities that had been performed by the recently departed children’s minister. Owen had taken a few years away from her professional life to focus on parenting her three children when the congregation approached her. She began her duties as a volunteer and then was invited to continue as a part-time staff member.
Owen had some anxiety about entering a church vocation, but she said her pastor, Kevin Meadows, and other staff colleagues gave her valuable guidance. “I was clueless about a lot of things, but nobody ever made me feel inadequate,” she said. “Everybody was extremely helpful.”
About two years into her job, Owen began exploring options for theological education. She took some non-credit certificate courses at another seminary before enrolling for a degree program at BSK.
Her introduction to BSK came when a ministry colleague at Grandin Court, Melissa Kessler, encouraged her to attend a luncheon that was held to introduce BSK to Cooperative Baptists in Virginia. Just prior to the meeting, CBF Virginia and BSK had formed a partnership that aids Virginians who wish to study at the seminary. At the luncheon, she met Cassady and the school’s admissions director, Abby Sizemore.
Owen heard about BSK’s offerings and the opportunity to complete her degree online. After the presentation, she promised, “I will be applying tomorrow.”
CBF Virginia’s Theological Education Fund defrays much of the cost of her studies. Cooperative Baptists in Virginia who wish to attend seminary without leaving the place where they live and work are eligible for financial aid from CBF Virginia to study at BSK.
At BSK, Owen attends online classes that are held in real time, and she is joined by a diverse group of classmates from several states. Relationships with faculty and students are developed during class and in the time before and after each session, she said. “The professors are really great about coming on a few minutes early and then staying afterwards to answer any questions you may have.”
Like Owen, many new church staff members may want to begin their theological education with non-credit courses, Cassady noted. For those individuals, BSK offers non-credit classes on youth ministry, children’s ministry and other topics through its Flourish Center for Congregational Imagination.
BSK also has certificate programs for students who want to enroll in for-credit courses without committing to a degree. Students may apply these credits toward a degree if they choose to continue their education.
The Homegrown Ministry initiative reflects BSK’s commitment to providing accessible and affordable theological education for students and serving congregations as they seek to identify and call leaders, Cassady said. “We want to provide resources, process and support to congregations as they cultivate and form leaders for part-time ministry positions.”
BSK’s Homegrown Initiative is a new project that is seeking funding to move forward more rapidly. Give to BSK today to help support this new work!
This article is from the Spring 2023 issue of the BSK Updates newsletter. Written by Pat Cole.