Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Here is an article about the Doctor of Ministry program I designed. I created it to be innovative, rigorous and diverse. I am proud that my former doctoral students are now finishing their work and attaining their degrees. They are demonstrating grit (1 Corinthians 15:58) and grace (Colossians 3:13).
by JULIAN WYLLIE, Sep 2, 2016.
A new initiative launched in May at Indiana Wesleyan University is attracting a diverse group of students to the predominantly white school.
According to school statistics published by the Associated Press, 98 percent of students at the private Christian school in 2006 were caucasian. Today, that number has dropped to 91 percent.
The Doctor of Ministry (DMIN) program at Wesley Seminary, which will rotate its concentration each year, began in May with the Transformational Leadership concentration. The other concentrations of the program are Transformational Preaching (starting in 2017) and Spiritual Formation (starting in 2018).
Bob Whitesel, an award-winning writer, speaker and professor, is leading the first phase of the initiative and says the school’s new courses are built to increase racial diversity in enrollment by allowing working ministers to earn a degree while maintaining pastoral positions. Most of the program’s coursework is online, with two additional weeks of residential courses as a supplement.
Whitesel said the program currently has 10 Black students and five female students, out of 19 individuals total.
Charles Thurman, a current student, said the group has already traveled to Atlanta for one of the conference-style classes. The next two stops, Oxford, England, and San Diego, are scheduled for the next phases of the program.
“The residential courses are definitely a plus for networking,” Thurman said, citing the Atlanta trip as a valuable experience for him and other students. Thurman, who is considering writing his dissertation on African-American and multicultural leadership in ministries, said the program benefits by having Whitesel encourage diversity as a key to future success.
Whitesel, who is caucasian, said students in the doctorate program will need to be prepared for the challenges associated with a modern multicultural base of American churchgoers.
“Today’s pastors need more knowledge to make an impact. It’s harder to be a pastor today than it was 50 years ago,” Whitesel said. “We are looking at ways to innovate the church. We are learning how some churches are growing and how most churches plateau.”
Whitesel said taking students to places like Atlanta, England and the West Coast provides a multitude of perspectives about how societal influences will change how a ministry operates. For the Atlanta trip this summer, students visited Ebenezer Baptist Church and learned of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons to large congregations during the 1960s. They also met with Brian Bollinger, the executive director of Friends of Refugees, an institution serving Cambodians, Kenyans, Croatians, Liberians, Koreans and Iranians, among others.
“I wanted to take them to not just churches in Indiana, but churches everywhere,” Whitesel said. “We decided, ‘Let’s all go on a road trip and bring students with us.’”
Another student in the doctorate program, Mark Brown, described himself as part of the Baby Boomer generation looking to learn about prospective churchgoers of various minorities, including the Asian and Hispanic population.
He said he likes the program at Indiana Wesleyan because it helps him balance time as a student and daily work. In his opinion, other programs were not as practical and lacked the unique travel experiences for students.
“If this wasn’t online or formatted the way it is, I would not be able to study at a doctorate level,” Brown said. “I could never stop and live on campus for three years. Other programs either went to the same place three times or nowhere at all.”
Whitesel echoed this statement by saying, “When we started, we wanted to have the best of online. The students can go online and chat about the books and their papers with one another. It’s really this collaborative opportunity. I have one student who posts at 2 a.m., because he works at night and that schedule works best for him. Other students may post at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. in real conversations over a couple days.”
Brown said he didn’t miss having a weekly classroom setting because he, like most of the students in the program, has other responsibilities, such as work and family. He described the current model as a “best of both worlds.”