If you want . . .
to learn how to assess regional educational programs
Assessing Regional Educational Programs
A Resource for Committees on the Ministry
When the Ministry Issues Pronouncement called upon the UCC to “make available paths of preparation for ordained ministry which are appropriate to the needs and possibilities of the church and community, including: . . . (b) Regional theological formation programs,” it was calling for something that to some extent already exists in the life of the church. Regional theological educational programs have existed for some time in many of the Conferences of the UCC, as well as in the judicatories of other denominations. So there is a strong history of important work in preparing leaders for God’s church. On the other hand, in the UCC most of these programs have aimed primarily at preparing persons for licensure, not ordination. For those preparing for ordination, therefore, most existing programs will be used as a foundation upon which other experiences and educational resources will be added to build an individual educational and formational plan (EFP).
Regional educational programs come in a variety of forms and formats. There is no common accrediting body for them. Because of their diversity, a COM needs to spend time assessing such a program to determine its appropriateness for a particular Member in Discernment.
This resource is designed as a piece to be read in preparation for working with a particular MID. Please contact Parish Life and Leadership for descriptions and information about regional educational programs in the UCC.
I. Marks of a Good Regional Educational Program
Because of the diversity among regional educational programs, a COM needs to spend time assessing such a program to determine its appropriateness for a particular MID. It is important to know what a particular program is equipped to provide as you determine what role it will play in the MID’s educational and formational plan. The primary aim of your committee’s assessment should be to determine how effective the program is in developing and nurturing the Marks of faithful and effective authorized ministry. These Marks should always be before you as you consider the various program options and seek the best resources for your MID.
Given the Marks of faithful and effective authorized ministry, an effective regional program will enable its students to acquire:
- the bodies of knowledge identified or implied by the Marks;
- the abilities and skills necessary for manifesting the Marks;
And to cultivate in its students:
- an awareness of and commitment to the United Church of Christ;
- an awareness of the wider, global church and the ability to engage in ecumenical and interfaith conversations;
- a sensitivity to and awareness of the particularity of context;
- an openness to critique, receptivity to the possibility of transformation, empathy with those who are different, and respect for unfamiliar perspectives;
- dispositions and habits that explicitly integrate religious knowledge, skills, ministerial identity, and character in patterns of behavior and practice characteristic of authorized ministry, including the public role of authorized ministers in the broader society;
- a mature spiritual life that includes an awareness of God’s love and mystery, a deepening relationship with the Creator, gratitude to the Redeemer, and openness to the Holy Spirit.
And provide an appropriate educational environment that includes:
- opportunities to learn from qualified faculty;
- access to a depth and breadth of print and electronic resources for learning;
- an interactive and dialogic peer learning community that encourages the development of personal convictions and interpretations;
- opportunities to learn from experienced UCC ministers;
- opportunities to learn through the actual doing of ministry.
II. Assessing programs
In addition to the characteristics listed above, there are other important factors that your committee needs to consider when assessing the quality of a regional educational program. These include curriculum design, quality of teachers, learning environment, admission standards, and accountability. Here are some guidelines for your assessment.
Ask to see the curriculum requirements for the program. The courses offered should be those that enable students to achieve the Marks. There should be sufficient number of courses and sufficient length of time in the overall program for quality learning to occur. It is also helpful if there is some demonstrable logic and structure to the courses making up the curriculum. A collection of courses taken in random order is seldom an effective educational process.
Ask to see the syllabi for the courses offered. The content of a particular course should be appropriate for achieving the Marks you hope it will address.
Ask how many hours a course meets. These are often called “contact hours.” The more contact hours, the better. While regional programs cannot be expected to meet the typical seminary requirement of 40 hours per course, a sufficient number of hours is important for effective learning.
- Check to see whether teachers have expertise in the area they are teaching. Generally, they should be ordained and have advanced degrees appropriate to their subject matter.
- Check to see whether and how the program evaluates its teachers and provides them feedback.
- Check to see that the program provides opportunities for appropriate mentoring relationships in addition to formal teachers. There should be clear guidelines for the goals and the conduct of such relationships. Examples include spiritual directors and pastors who supervise a student’s work in a church.
An appropriate learning environment
- Check to see that the program provides facilities and resources for its educational experiences that are conducive to the patterns of learning in the program.
- Check to see that quality texts, materials, and other necessary resources are readily available.
- Check on opportunities for ready access to teachers outside of the classroom context.
- Check to see that attention is paid to activities for spiritual nurture, growth, and expression.
- Check to see that the program has some standards of accountability for its participants. In other words, students should be evaluated on the basis of required reading, paper writing, and/or project presentation.
For those programs that are explicitly preparing individuals for ministerial authorization, check to see that there are explicit admissions standards in place. Admission standards seek to ensure that individuals entering the program have the capacities eventually to attain the marks of faith of faithful and effective ministry on behalf of the church.
Check to see that there exist clear lines of accountability with the UCC Conference, Association, COM, and congregations.
Once again, it is important throughout the assessment process to keep before you the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministers. These are the ultimate criteria by which you will measure the effectiveness of a given program. It is also important to remember that participation in a regional educational program is not the end of a MID’s preparation for authorized ministry. Even as they enter into such ministry, they will continue to prepare themselves. Formation for ministry is a lifelong process and calls us to continuing effort and faithful work.