Can you give a brief overview of how the program works from the student's standpoint?
We run a series of workshops around North America on a yearly basis. These workshops are intended for men already in full-time preaching and teaching ministry and function as a kind of "continuing education" component. While we limit our participation to men because of theological commitments, we are working toward a 2010 "women in ministry" workshop due to our desire to see women teaching women Gods Word in a variety of full-time ministry settings.We distinguish our workshops from other "conferences" since our workshops are intended for preaching pastors (not other ministry leaders or Sunday school teachers). Further, we expect our participants to show up having already completed some "pre-workshop" assignments on the biblical text before coming (golf clubs are left at home!).
The workshops themselves consist of six instructional sessions which convey the tools for understanding and teaching the Bible in an expository way, three model expositions, and four small group workshop times for the participants to work on their own preaching. These small groups are made up of eight pastors and are led by a leader who went through a special leaders training. We find that men return home invigorated to make progress in their own preaching. And we hope that their churches will be strengthened in the gospel as a result.
We have worked with a few churches in the Chicago area for about nine years on a training program called the "Chicago Plan." The program itself brings together what we think are the three elements of a good residential training scheme: classroom instruction, ministry exposure, and mentorship. Our classroom instruction consists of a 90 minute meeting each week that will include many activities: instructions on preaching and teaching, lectures from guest speakers and academics on particular issues of biblical studies or ministry, practice times for the students to work on their own exposition skills, book discussions, and weekly Greek lessons. Ministry exposure occurs in a students home church. Some students teach an adult or cross-generational Bible study; others do full-time pastoral ministry (at an apprentice level). This depends fully on their experience and their year in the program. Mentorship consists of a series of small-group and one-on-one meetings, both formal and informal, between a student and a mentor pastor. We are fairly selective about who can serve as a mentor pastor and so this naturally limits how large the program will become.
The first two years are the "Candidacy" level. Candidates are typically engaged full-time elsewhere (undergraduate school or full-time employment), but they explore full-time ministry through our weekly classroom meetings, approximately 10 hours per week of church ministry involvement, and a light schedule of mentorship. At the end of each year of "Candidacy," the mentor pastor and the student evaluate the students fitness for ministry.
The second phase of training is the "Internship" level. Here the student is definitely headed toward full-time ministry and so is going to seminary either part-time or full-time. Their church ministry involvement is formalized and they begin to take on leadership roles in various ministry outlets (usually requiring 15 to 20 hours per week). Their mentorship also becomes more hands-on.
The final phase is the "Residency" level. Here the student is finishing up any lingering seminary requirements and working full-time for a local church.
In addition to the various levels of commitment, the Charles Simeon Trust funds the students at various levels. To summarize:
Candidacy 10 hours of ministry not funded
Internship 15-20 hours of ministry $5,000/$7,500
Residency full-time ministry $24,000 to $32,000
In addition to the above scheme, we are now getting applicants who are already through seminary or are in an academic setting (in theology or biblical studies) but still committed to the local church. As such, we have designed a special category called "Fellowship." An "Academic Fellow" can serve the church on a project basis (such as giving lectures in their field or writing Bible studies for the church); a "Pastoral Fellow" can serve part-time but is otherwise is considered like a Resident. These fellowships generally require two-year commitments.
One of the most exciting initiatives we are presently undertaking is something called "The Simeon Course on Biblical Exposition." The idea is to make available a training course on biblical exposition anywhere there is an Internet connection (from American farmlands to the urban slums of Nairobi). For the seminary student/graduate and the working pastor, this course fills in gaps in their training and provides a sharper focus on that most central activity: the preaching of Gods Word. For the lay preacher, elder, Sunday school teacher, missionary, and pre-seminary student, the course provides the basics of how to prepare and deliver a lesson from the Bible (and leads toward alternative certification or even seminary credentialing).
The Simeon Course itself consists of a series of classes on preaching, preaching from distinctive biblical-literary genres, biblical and systematic theologies as they relate to preaching, and the like. We are presently running classes on preaching and literary genres, and were developing the curriculum for the biblical theology class.
The Course runs along two tracks: mentored training and flexible training. The mentored training track functions on the same principles as our residential training, and we work hard to include the same three components: classroom instruction, ministry exposure, and mentorship. It presently includes six to eight students from geographically diverse churches. Presently, we have seven students from five churches: from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, St. Johns Shaughnessy Church in Vancouver, Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, College Church in Wheaton, and Christ the Redeemer Church in Spokane. The pastors at some of these churches (Phil Ryken, David Short, David Helm, Paul Rees) as well as other guest pastors and professors provide much of the content, the video lectures, and the video-conferences. The students are mentored by their pastors and receive their ministry exposure in their home churches.
The students gather in Chicago for an in-person orientation and will gather once more in May to complete in-person assessments. Throughout the year, the students are assigned videos, audio lectures/sermons, and readings. This material has been provided by the pastors at each of the participating churches as well as by experts in the field (through our relationships with domestic seminaries as well as the Proclamation Trust in London and Matthias Media in Sydney). The students then interact over this material via video-conferencing, online chats, and message boards. Additionally, they are each responsible for contributing written assignments, audio or video assignments, and other forms of assessment that will measure progress. Some of this work is collaborative.
The best way to describe this track is with the word "integrated." The idea is that it combines the best of both worlds: seminary-level coursework on preaching and teaching the Bible (which strangely, is becoming rarer and rarer in the seminary) with the experience and strength of church-based residential training. Whats more, it brings together young men and their pastors from widely diverse contexts in order to inform and sharpen each others work.
Students who have completed a minimum set of classes and completed their mentorships and ministry experiences will receive a certificate of completion of the Simeon Course (and may also receive credit for some portion of an M.Div). We have recently been given approval by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield to submit our students for credit for the two classes on biblical genre. When we are running the full course, our students will be able to get TEDS credits for passing our courses and apply them to a seminary degree to be completed at Trinity or other seminaries.
This track, as it relies on the residential training programs of local churches, is highly selective and admits students on an invitation-only basis. The Simeon Trust must be in a good relationship with both the "home church" and the "mentoring pastor" to even consider admitting a student.
The flexible training track works very similarly to the mentored track, only without the requirements of being mentored by an approved pastor and being involved in pastoral-type ministry. This track is ideal for pastors who have been to our workshops but desire more extensive training than we can provide in a three-day workshop. It can serve as a refresher for those pastors. This track also helps Sunday school teachers, missionaries, elders and lay-preachers develop their skills at opening Gods Word.
These students will also work together in small clusters on their "virtual classroom" material, which allows them to sharpen one another while sharing practical techniques for teaching the Bible.
The first two classes on teaching the Bible from biblical-literary genres will be launched publicly in autumn 2009 and registration will be available this spring. The registration cost will be kept intentionally low as the Charles Simeon Trust is dedicated to making this training available in places where money can prevent participation (internationally, in rural areas, and in the inner-city). Those students wishing to receive graduate credit from TEDS will have additional tuition charges.
The mentored training track will be testing new classes this coming year, hopefully to be made available for the flexible training track in 2010.