The Rocky Mountain Northwest presents a unique and challenging context for Christian ministry.
Churches have sent waves of mission teams to Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Washington with mixed results. These are ruggedly independent states that do not take easily to ‘out-of-state interlopers’ and are proud of that fact. Founded by trappers, miners, explorers, and other fortune seekers; shaped by the Indian wars of the late 1870s and the deep winters of the northern Rockies; and now inhabited by ranchers, farmers, prospectors, recreation enthusiasts, Hollywood transplants, and an increasing number of high tech entrepreneurs, Northwesterners are a tough, practical, and skeptical people who consider themselves intensely spiritual but are very suspicious of any organized religious expression. This sentiment bears out Donald Miller’s comment “Religion will still be with us 100 years from now, but most likely in forms that we would hardly recognize.” Montana is evidence of the massive cultural shift cascading through Western culture. This area is similar to the southwest—tough and practical—yet without the ‘Bible Belt’ mentality. It takes an intense form of relational evangelism and agape-love ethos to connect Northwesterners with the gospel.
Rooted in the Northwest
With that in mind, Yellowstone Theological Institute was founded in the Rocky Mountain Northwest. In this growing area of the country, men and women often must travel hundreds of miles to pursue advanced theological education. In many cases, they must move from their home communities, relocating families and departing from local churches and already-established areas of ministry.
A new generation of education
The founders of Yellowstone Theological Institute desire to provide a quality theological education for interested persons and those called into ministry. Additionally, they seek to recast the method of theological education for a new era and a new generation. Not only do they desire to train people for ministry, but also to engage the greater Northwestern community with the gospel through “faith, adventure, and the arts.” The 80 acre tract in Bozeman that will become the home of YTI is designed with a chapel looking out on the Bridger Mountains, classroom facilities, community gardens, a fine arts center, a retreat center, casting (fly fishing) ponds, soccer fields, and miles of trails for hiking and riding in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. The comprehensive outreach-minded nature of the facility will enable students to not only learn about the gospel, the Bible, and its proclamation but, just as importantly, how the gospel works in culture.
In the 2015-2016 academic year, YTI’s classes are offered in a modular format in Bozeman, Montana and at our satellite center in Bellingham, Washington. These classes are taught on a 6-week basis with one week of intensive instruction and five weeks of follow-up. Every student in the M.A.A.T. program is expected to enlist a ministry mentor for the length of the program and is expected to be actively involved in an established ministry. This educational format combines the intensive learning of the seminary format with the constant application in ministry settings.
As of 2014, many of the traditional churches in the Rocky Mountain Northwest were without pastors. The balance of the Northwest is experiencing a similar decrease in pastors across denominational lines while the overall population continues to grow. After years of having a population of less than one million, Montana is now experiencing a large influx of new residents who are bringing in a much different cultural predisposition. Churches throughout North America are mostly traditional churches attempting to find their way in a rapidly changing postmodern world. This influx of people from all over the country – primarily urban, metropolitan areas – is bringing a new ethos that eschews organized religious expression for a much less involved natural spiritualism. The harvest is great and the workers are few…
In such a dynamic world, ministerial training must constantly be evaluated for effectiveness. Taking into account available technology, faculty quality, the needs of our faith communities, and the educational experience desired by students, YTI has designed programs that combine the residential experience with opportunities for distance learning. Acknowledging that we live in a multi-cultural world, cutting-edge theological education requires that students come to terms with the changing aspects of ministry, while holding to a firm, theological, and biblically coherent foundation.