The first five years of transition into ministry are monumental in the journey of a ministry professional, so that is why the Reformed Church in America and Western Theological Seminary have invested and developed this learning opportunity. Because of generous donations, the cost of the TIM Summit is only $100 plus some applicable travel expenses.
Recent graduates of Western Theological Seminary return to WTS for a three-day intensive to learn together with their peers, gain insight from seasoned mentors, and process what is happening in their first five years of ministry. The TIM Summit is the culmination of the new Learning to Follow...Learning to Lead Initiative (L2F...L2L) at Western Theological Seminary in partnership with the Reformed Church in America. The L2F...L2L Initiative is based on the belief that training people to serve Christ in mission begins with one's call to seminary, continues through one's course work and formation for ministry, and involves investment as graduates experience ministry life on a day to day basis.
The T.I.M. Summit allows time for recent graduates to reconnect, learn from each other, and develop ministry skills. There is also opportunity to learn from professors and other ministry professionals around the certain themes. These themes have included:
Continual learning through reading and discussion is also a part of the Transition into Ministry Summit. Each class will have their own mentor team who will facilitate discussion around a particular article and the group’s life experiences.
The gathering is a great time for the alumni/ea to learn, but Western Theological Seminary and the Reformed Church in America also see this time as a valuable assessment process to improve the educational process of their institutions. Hearing from graduates about the learning curve in key areas of ministries helps to shape and mold the curriculum for future students at the seminary. Focus groups allow graduates to learn from others in their own ministry settings. Information gathered from the focus groups enhance the pastoral education received at Western Theological Seminary.
A partnership event of Western Theological Seminary and the Reformed Church in America
Two years out of seminary, Bethany Popkes serves in a non-ordained role as the Youth and Family Ministries Director at a Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Oak Harbor, Washington.
The island where the church is located is home to many military families, and the small church averages 240 congregants, many whom call Oak Harbor home just for a year or two. Homelessness and spiritual exploration—particularly into the Wiccan religion—are some of the key issues Popkes deals with in her work with teens and young adults.
Although Popkes loves the work she is doing, she is conscious of being a long way from family, friends, and seminary classmates. Although she feels connected to ministry, she sometimes feels disconnected to any resources.
Popke joined fellow Western Theological Seminary graduates from the last five years at the annual Transition into Ministry Summit held at the seminary in April, 2013. 45 of the 183 eligible graduates attended the conference.
“Many people think this conference is a reunion, but it’s not,” Popkes reflects. “For me, it is about connections. It helps me maintain my RCA ties.”
Rev. Keith Derrick, the director of Western Theological Seminary's Journey Center for Learning, says maintaining connections is at the heart of the summit. “Western has made a commitment to students that transitioning into ministry is an eight year formational process. Learning to Follow…Learning to Lead: Transition into Ministry Summit is one part of that commitment during the five post-graduate transitional years.”
“We graduate with a strong understanding of biblical principles and a theoretical understanding of ministry,” said Popkes, “but the conference guarantees a chance to reflect on my ministry and evaluate what areas I need to continue to grow and develop. There is safety doing this in the context of the seminary and my peers in ministry.”
The TIM summit is a revision of a conference formerly known as the 1-3-5 Conference. The previous model invited graduates back following the first, third, and fifth year of ministry rather than each of the first five years. Derrick said feedback from those conferences combined with a research study convinced organizers that more support was needed.
“There was clear data that grads didn’t feel prepared,” said Dr. Kyle Small, who conducted the study to evaluate the effectiveness of a WTS degree in ministry. “The overwhelming message from graduates and faculty was ‘We’re not done with each other.’”
One result is that graduates receive free ministerial coaching for the first year following graduation.
Jamie Dykstra, a 2008 graduate and pastor of Delaware Reformed Church in Lenox, South Dakota, returned for the conference a third time, the first time with the new model of Learning to Follow...Learning to Lead.
“I left with a strong sense that the focus and perspective had shifted in a healthy way,” said Dykstra. “The seminary is making an active effort to listen to pastors describe what they need.”
To Dykstra the first two conferences felt like a chance to reconnect with former classmates and share a time of renewal. This year, he sensed more intentionality to provide specific resources related to the RCA and specific areas of ministry.
“The break is welcome and refreshing, but I'm even happier to receive resources that encourage and support the work I am doing in ministry,” Dykstra said. “I think the program is definitely headed in the right direction, and this will be a blessing for the graduates and the seminary.”
By Lisa Knapp
The next conference will be held April 29 - May 1, 2014 at Western Theological Seminary.