Date of Award

2001

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Religious Education, PhD

First Advisor

O. Jane Thayer

Second Advisor

Jerome D. Thayer

Third Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Abstract

Problem. Many seminary students describe their time in seminary as a spiritual desert. Most Protestant seminaries do not provide spiritual formation classes for their students, thinking that such measures are unnecessary or inappropriate for theological education, or assuming that the church is the place for spiritual formation to take place. Nevertheless, pastors are expected to be spiritual leaders, and the pastor’s spirituality is ranked by laity as the highest priority needed by seminary graduates for effective church ministry. A literature survey of theological education shows that, in the last 150 years, students have consistently recognized their need for help with personal spirituality, yet these needs remain largely unmet, with faculty feeling ill-equipped and uncertain about how to offer personal help for the spiritual life. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a 10-week required class in personal spiritual formation for pastors in training.

Method. More than 2,100 pages of data were collected from 120 students (40 nationalities) over a period of 2 years. Pre-course questionnaires, field notes, weekly journals and reading reports, transcribed focus groups and interviews, reflection papers, and follow-up questionnaires revealed the impact of the four major intentional learning experiences in the class: the day-retreat, the learning about spiritual disciplines, the required 4 hours (weekly) of practicing spiritual disciplines, and the weekly accountability small groups.

Results. The retreat was the catalyst for increasing honesty and openness with God, self, * and others. Learning about different spiritual disciplines through lectures and reading brought increased enthusiasm and variety to personal devotional times, while cultivating habits of consistency increased appreciation for God’s love and character. The small groups brought many benefits including accountability and mutual encouragement. The positive impact of the class extended to family members, church members, future ministry plans, and the unchurched. The uniqueness of impact on individuals was portrayed in student vignettes.

Conclusion. Students grew personally and spiritually in diverse yet beneficial ways, and were grateful for life-changing attitudes, perceptions, and habits, regarding spiritual formation as a highlight in their seminary experience. The teacher’s own authenticity and commitment to personal spirituality were seen as crucial factors.

Subject Area

Spiritual formation--Seventh-day Adventists, Spiritual formation--Study and teaching--Evaluation, Seminarians--Religious life.

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