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Sept. 22, 2020
This paid piece is sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary.
The experience of a missionary in Romania shows Sioux Falls Seminary’s vision for higher education at work.
Though halfway around the world, he was still considered a Sioux Falls Seminary student.
“He had one faculty mentor in Canada, one in the Czech Republic and one in the U.S.,” said Greg Henson, who has served as president of the seminary since 2013.
Closer to home, he points to a student who was completing her master’s degree and wanted to focus on Julian of Norwich, a 14th century recluse whose “Revelations of Divine Love” is the oldest existing book written in English by a woman.
The student’s mentor team was able to include a woman who was a Ph.D. candidate at a partner school in Chicago whose dissertation included significant focus on Julian.
“You just can’t replicate that in any traditional system,” Henson said. “Because of the network and relationships, students can hyperfocus on what they want.”
That network – called Kairos – grew significantly this year. It now offers programs in multiple languages and has students on six continents who represent 70 denominations.
“We now have faculty mentors from around the world and from all kinds of traditions,” Henson said. “We are able to offer a much more diverse set of learning experiences and make them available to everybody.”
Kairos, which stands for “moments in time.” revolves around the concept of a personal learning journey for each student as he or she pursues degrees that include associate or bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees ranging from divinity to leadership to counseling, and both professional and research-oriented doctoral degrees.
For $300 per month, students can engage with the program as much as they choose, online or in person, and degree costs are dramatically lowered. The average cost of a degree ranges between $6,000 to $10,000 to complete.
“The underlaying shift in the model came when we embraced the reality that a seminary’s primary value is no longer the content it provides,” Henson said.
“If we build a business model around content, we are dead on arrival. Instead, that $300 per month is for the mentor team, the integration and the platform that makes possible the customization and development of learning. That’s the value.”
The value was immediately apparent to David Williams, president of Taylor Seminary and a professor of theology and ethics.
Taylor, which has 100 students based in Edmonton, Alberta, had been a sister school with Sioux Falls since its founding in 1939, and both schools were “moving in the direction of competency-based education” when Williams met the newly appointed Henson at an event for seminary presidents.
“We connected almost immediately,” Williams said. “And it was a matter of how can our institutions work together.”
Greg Henson, left, and David Williams
Taylor became a legacy partner in the Kairos network last year, meaning they share the same board and will share one accreditation, staff, faculty and mission, while continuing to honor their heritage.
“It was such a paradigm shift,” Williams said. “Lots of change very, very fast, but we’re beginning to see the momentum with students coming on board with it. I’m hearing more and more Canadians say they never knew you could do education this way, and it’s so exciting.”
Earlier this year, two schools in Pennsylvania – Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown and BLI School of Ministry in Freeport – also became legacy partners, leveraging Kairos to reach even more people worldwide with affordable, accessible, relevant and faithful theological education.
“We decided our mission would best be sustained and enlarged through partnership with other schools,” said Tony Blair, president of Evangelical Seminary, which counted about 170 students before joining the network.
“What we wanted to do eventually, they were already doing in Sioux Falls. I had wanted to pursue what mentoring looked like, I got excited about a competency model, and Greg said, ‘Why don’t you join us?’ and we took the invitation seriously.”
With joining the network, “there’s tremendous excitement,” Blair said. “We had three unanimous votes during the process, the faculty have all chosen to join us in this, which has been remarkable, and students and alumni have been incredibly supportive. I did not expect that level of enthusiasm.”
Together, the schools are larger than 90 percent of accredited seminaries in North America and have the second-largest military chaplaincy program.
The value of the Kairos network is multifaceted but starts with its value for the church, leaders said.
“It recenters education in the life and ministry of the church and the vocation of the people of God,” Williams said.
“In the past, seminaries tried to pull people out of their contexts, and this decontextualized education is wreaking havoc and destroying our lives. Kairos re-embeds education in the life and ministry of the church and the people of God, which serves students well and helps them become what God has called them to be in the context in which God has called them to do it. The genius was the business model – a way to return education to the heart and life of the church in a way that serves students well.”
Students such as Michele Slott have seen how the approach can work.
She spent four years learning at Sioux Falls Seminary, working in marketing for a Black Hills winery and then at Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting while completing the program.
“I just realized my job wasn’t as satisfying as it had once been,” she said, adding a spiritual gifts assessment revealed she had the skills to become a pastor.
“So I started investigating what it would take to become a clergy candidate, and doors started opening,” Slott said. “There’s no way I could have made seminary happen if Kairos hadn’t come along. The way it’s structured with reasonable monthly payments, it was flexible, and that all needed to happen because the life change wasn’t going to happen. I had two kids and a husband who didn’t want to pick up and move out of state so I could attend seminary, but things fell into place.”
She’s now a pastor at Open Heart United Methodist and an associate pastor at First United Methodist in Rapid City.
“There were incredibly uplifting moments and amazing stories, and so many of the assignments are adaptable to what you’re doing in ministry or what’s going on in your life,” she said of her Kairos experience.
“It’s amazing how life experiences can be woven into an assignment when you can see the hand of God involved.”
For Tom Henderson, who has been in ministry for two decades and leads the Restoration Generation ministry in Sioux Falls, Kairos became a way to still go to class while he was traveling all over to speak.
“I loved the idea of being able to adapt the schooling to my style of ministry and experience. It was real rubber-meets-the-road stuff,” he said. “It was very customizable. Meeting with mentors and faculty and being able to do the work wherever I was made it a no-brainer. And I loved the integration of faith into every aspect of my life.”
He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership in 2017 and then enjoyed watching friends go through the Kairos program.
“They were both pastors and people outside full-time ministry, and it’s just been a great experience for everybody involved,” Henderson said. “We’re all called to ministry regardless of where we’re at, and this makes that accessible to so many people.”
Part of the strength of the network comes from institutions being willing to work together, Blair added.
“Kairos is based upon collaboration at a time when nearly everyone thinks in terms of competition,” he said. “I think what we’re doing is a beautiful model for higher education as a whole. It’s how we can work together for the good of the kingdom of God instead of competing for a dwindling supply of students or resources.”
The Kairos network is positioned for continued growth, Henson said.
Henson and Williams planning a Doctor of Ministry partnership in Cameroon with the North American Baptist Conference, Cameroon Baptist Convention and two seminaries in Cameroon.
In addition to the legacy partners, there are operational partners who share back-office functions to achieve economies of scale, as well as integrated partners who are governed by the Kairos board but retain their own assets and collaborating partners whose students are part of Kairos but the school remains a separate entity. Programmatic partners make their program available to students in the Kairos network but are not fully integrated.
“It’s a system focused on collaboration and innovation. If we invest in collaboration rather than competition, everyone in the network is blessed,” Henson said.
“We have north of 40 partners around the world and have connections with dozens of denominational traditions. In addition, the Kairos network functions in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. That means students are exposed to a very diverse set of perspectives and learning opportunities while also being empowered to focus on their particular needs and vocation. The value of this combination can’t be overstated.”
An amazing education network is being formed right here in Sioux Falls, connecting students with personalized learning worldwide.