Every generation believes it is living in a unique time and place, with unprecedented change. Ours is no different; and, we are, indeed, living in a rapidly changing world that is shifting the ways in which human beings interact with one another and, subsequently, is shifting the religious landscape. What we know is that the church of the future will not be the same as the church of the past. This offers us fresh opportunities to re-imagine not only how we “do church” but also how we prepare leaders—both lay people and authorized ministers—for ministries that transform and empower our local congregations, communities, and the world they impact.
In response to the changing needs of churches and the formation of its leaders, the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ conceived the idea of the PATHWAYS program, which consists of three specialized levels that foster theological education and ministry formation. Some participants feel called to be strong lay leaders in their congregations. Others are discerning a call to ministry. Others are confident in their call to ministry and desire to move towards being licensed or ordained into ministry. They often join the program for their theological education because seminary is not the most fitting setting for their development and training.
What makes PATHWAYS unique is that it uses an online collaborative learning model that fosters learning communities across geographical boundaries. Students from Iowa, Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama, from large churches and small buy brand avodart online churches, from metro area congregations and rural congregations, from new church starts and churches planted over a century ago meet each other online to learn about topics that range from how to critically read the Bible to church history to understanding the dynamics of difference to preaching. Facilitators, each a professional and working in their field of expertise, lead these courses and help participants to think deeper or to ponder new insights. Through collaboration, cooperation, and dialogue, learners help each other make connections and dig more deeply into topics that spark a passion or provoke questions.
All of the above might sound awfully heady, but in practice, it’s as natural as conversation. PATHWAYS is about community, about spiritual formation, and about preparing leaders for ministry in their local contexts. By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to lead and to be leaders in the church. Our churches benefit from having folks engaged in the program because when we learn, our new knowledge transforms us and, in turn, we transform the world around us.
The Iowa Conference is excited to be partnering with PATHWAYS as we continue to foster education and formation of all of our leaders. If you, someone you know, or a group from your church are interested in learning more about the program, visit the program’s website, tasc21.net (Theology and Spirituality Central for the 21st century) or contact Laura Arnold (firstname.lastname@example.org).
—Guest Writer Laura Arnold, Pastor of Decorah Congregational UCC in Decorah, Iowa