Western Theological Seminary

Formation for Ministry

Discerning God's call can be challenging, to say the least! Formation for Ministry at Western recognizes that you might appreciate some guidance along the way. Here formation for ministry means. . .

    • A place to practice ministry
    • Space for ministerial reflection
    • Feedback and support from mentors and peers
    • Opportunities to repeat the process to confirm your learning

Beginning early in your seminary journey, you will engage and explore your call in a supervised ministry setting with a mentor and peers. Western is committed to providing you with just the right place and space to nurture your call to ministry.

Formation for Ministry Objectives

1. To deepen self-awareness

2. To refine social awareness

3. To engage in theological reflection on ministerial experiences

4. To practice ministerial skills and increase ministerial competence

Components of Formation in Ministry
  • Supervised ministry settings, mentors, and site teams
  • A facilitated peer group of WTS students
  • Complementary coursework and integrative seminars
  • In-residence students will experience a first year Christian formation retreat and second year intercultural immersion experience
  • Distance learning students will experience a yearly Christian formation retreat during the May intensive. The intercultural immersion experience occurs during the fifth year of the program.

In-residence Formation for Ministry curriculum




Internships are part of the formation for ministry process at Western Theological Seminary and provide a breadth of experience while going deep through the use of learning covenants and case studies of actual ministry experience.

In-residence M.Div. students will participate in four 100-hour part-time units and one 400-hour full time unit of a supervised in-ministry experience within an approved ministry setting.

Distance learning students will participate in six 130-hour units of a supervised in-ministry experience during the five years of the program.

Ministry settings may include:

  • Congregations
  • Hospitals
  • Faith-based agencies
  • Parachurch Ministries
  • Campus Ministry
  • Care Facilities and nursing homes
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Testimonials


Jenna Brandsen, M.Div. student

Participating in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services this past summer was one of the most formational experiences I've been a part of during my seminary years.

There is an unfortunate misconception that CPE is only for those considering chaplaincy as a vocation; on the contrary, I wish the program were mandatory for all seminary students considering any vocation but especially those anticipating a pastorate. Every pastor must learn by doing, and every pastor needs to learn how to listen. It's imperative for our future congregations that we be patient, empathic listeners. This summer gave me the opportunity to do just that.

The clinical method of learning lets students learn, put the learnings into practice, then debrief and reflect...then repeat. The experience was also invaluable for my formation as I continue to learn about myself and who I am as a minister. In addition to all of this, it allowed me to experience working with a particular demographic -- those dealing with mental illness and addiction -- which is marginalized in society but will be extremely prevalent in any church community.

I would recommend the experience not only for anyone but for everyone considering entering the ministry.


Ryan-Donahoe.jpgRyan Donahoe, M.Div. student

I entered into seminary firm in my belief that I wouldn’t want to work in a parish setting. Yet I find myself two years later seeking a call to a church in the PCUSA, and I can point clearly to my summer of CPE for making this 180-degree turn in my ministry. I had no idea that spending eleven weeks with Karl Van Harn and my fellow students at Pine Rest would so dramatically impact my life and call. I was fortunate to be a part of a new program Rev. Van Harn developed in which students complete their CPE work through a partnership with a local church. Through my work with Westminster Presbyterian Church, coordinated by Pine Rest, I was able to minister to parishioners at four different hospitals, Pine Rest’s facility and local retirement homes. 

I vividly remember my first solo visit to a parishioner in a local hospital. I entered her room with great trepidation but was welcomed in as if I was a life-long friend. I don’t remember the words that I said, but will never forget the way that this woman that I was going to minister to, instead ministered to me. As I walked to my car I felt tears streaming down my face as I wondered why I was so blessed to have this encounter with one of God’s saints.  

Through the weekly meetings with my colleagues at Pine Rest and in-depth discussions about my ministry with Karl Van Harn I discovered my passion for pastoral care and now wonder why I would have considered anything else. 

Though rewarding, CPE was also one of the most difficult summers of my life as I dove even deeper into my family history and sought to discover my own “metaphor for ministry” while also tending to parishioners in their time of need. There were days that I wondered how much more emotional turmoil I could handle, but then another saintly parishioner would welcome me into their lives as I sat and prayed with them at their bedside.  

The amazing structure of CPE created space in which I could discuss my interactions with the parishioners so that I could examine ways to improve my pastoral care and hear stories from my colleagues who had been in similar situations.   This level of introspection and support allowed my to extend outside of my comfort zone and develop in ways that I never thought possible.

There is not doubt that without CPE I would still be declaring that I would never work in a church.  But with CPE, I have found where the deepest desires of my heart line up with God’s greatest needs.  

For more information, see the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.

Resources for Mentors

Resources for Field Education Mentors

Article on working with Millenials, "Digital Natives - Ministry Immigrants"

Online training for supervisors

Formation and supervision website

Peer Groups

peergroupmeeting.PNGPeer groups meet for personal support, reflection on ministry practice, and prayer. Care is given to maintain the same groups when possible through the first two years.

In-residence peer groups of about 6 students meet weekly and are guided by a mentor with ministry experience. Senior Master of Divinity students serve as facilitators for junior peer groups. Ministry professionals from the area are utilized for middler peer groups.

Distance learning peer groups are also guided by a mentor in ministry and meet during the on-campus intensives and on-line during the semester.

Student Testimonial

Jared Ayers & fam Liberti Church-lr.jpg

Jared Ayers

     My story begins in Eastern Europe behind what was once the “iron curtain.” During college I spent my summers with churches and church leaders in the Czech Republic and Poland, interacting with young adults who were extremely intelligent yet skeptical about the Christian faith. 
     I loved it. I felt the Lord tugging on me to work someday in a church that catered specifically to thoughtful, skeptical people. 
     After a few years in other ministry posts, Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, MI hired me as their youth pastor. In the summers I took teams of people to North Philadelphia to help house churches in impoverished neighborhoods. My friends there told me they were praying for someone to start a church in “the belly of the beast”—downtown Philadelphia.
As my wife and I prayed and researched where the Lord might want us, I found that the least likely person to be a Christian in North America is an urban professional in the northeast metro corridor from Boston to D.C.  
     In 2008, my wife Monica and I moved with our baby, Brennan, into a two-bedroom apartment in the city of Philadelphia. We found it challenging at first because neither of us really considered ourselves “city people.” My wife’s parents were farmers, and her closest neighbors growing up were barely within eyesight.
     Another challenge was adjusting to being a Christian in a very post-Christian place. I had to learn how to talk about Christian faith all over again.  We began getting to know as many of our neighbors as we could, as well as contacts our friends had given us while we were moving. 
     This is how Liberti Church started. For seven or eight months we met every other week with a small launch team of believers and non-believers to discuss what a church would look like that made sense for this place. On the off weeks, we basically hung out and got to know each other better.
     In the spring of 2009 we began worship services. We were seeing some of our friends become believers, and that helped form the DNA of Liberti—we didn’t use insider language that often happens in churches, but instead we learned not to make assumptions about where people were in their journey.       
     If you were to visit Liberti church today, you would find it much the same as when we first began. We have grown from 30-40 people to about 700-800 people in two campuses, yet it’s still normal to bring friends who aren’t Christians. In fact, we go to great lengths to guard that environment of hospitality.
     We don’t water down the Gospel message, but we do address things that are confusing or objectionable. We always want to remember what it’s like to not believe, and we also want to help people understand how the Christian faith can make very deep sense of their lives.  
     Soon I will complete my M.Div. through Western Theological Seminary’s distance learning program in partnership with the Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco. It wouldn’t have made sense for me to relocate my family of five to a new city, so the distance learning option has been ideal. The marriage of first-rate classic theological reflection with the wisdom of expert ministry practitioners in an urban environment was just what I wanted in an M.Div. program. 
     My studies have been very formative for me and for Liberti Church. Our whole approach to ministry—to seeing our own city as a mission field—was the vision and theological legacy of Lesslie Newbigin.
     Jesus came for the sick. Our church exists for broken/fractured/messy people who need grace. Liberti is like a teaching hospital that not only helps the sick, but sends people out with what they have learned, whether that’s through counseling, gospel ministries, residencies, internships, etc.  
     Continuing in the strong missional tradition of the RCA, I hope Liberti can be a place that both blesses our own community and encourages the wider church to pursue its mission in the world.       —JA

A Fall 2014 update to Jared's story is here.

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