Last July, I had the privilege of attending Yellowstone Theological Institute as part of the Yellowstone Scholars program. Dr. Jay Smith visited our campus ministry several times over the last year and a half, talking with our students and leading one of our regular weekly events, Dinner & Discussion. Students are drawn to his energetic style, his vast knowledge on many different topics, his deep faith, and his understanding that the world is changing rapidly.
It is the combination of all these qualities that make Yellowstone Theological Institute poised to “do” theological education differently. YTI understands the demands of people seeking a theological education in the 21st century and seeks to meet them where they are on that journey to serve in leadership with the church.
New Trends in Theological Education
The Association of Theological Schools, in their 2017 annual report, revealed that although enrollment in theological education had stabilized, member schools have seen an 11% increase in students seeking a professional or academic Master of Arts degree and a 14% decrease in students seeking the traditional Master of Divinity degree.1 Furthermore, in a survey of graduating students, the ATS found that “Graduates perceive theological education to be effective in helping them think theologically and build respect for their own traditions, but somewhat ineffective in preparing them to administer a parish.”2
A Different Approach
YTI approaches theological education differently. They focus on preparing the student in the traditional foundations of biblical literacy and theological competency, but also emphasize “the understanding that all ministers or clergy must know how to allow their faith to speak through generous, spiritual, and loving engagement with the community at large.”
The faculty and administrators understand that becoming a pastor and leading a faith community integrates one’s whole self, which is why Yellowstone Theological Institute includes faith, adventure, and the arts in their curriculum. Students also receive academic advising, spiritual direction, and hands-on ministry mentoring while pursuing their degrees. This not only increases their success as students during their degree program, it offers relationships to refer to and fall back upon during the sometimes difficult transitions within the early years of ministry.
YTI’s mission is “to bring about a world in which we experience deeper, more meaningful connections to God and one another in Christ.” Participating in the Yellowstone Scholars program allowed me to briefly experience this mission brought to life through daily seminars for Yellowstone Scholars, sitting through a class for M.Div. students, and attending the YTI sponsored Gilhousen Lecture held on the Montana State University campus. YTI is equipping the next generation of ministry leaders for success, as pastors and people.
Reverend Susan Rose is director of university campus ministries at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville.