Jun 8, 2023
We live in a rapidly changing society. Notably, the religious landscape of the United States is undergoing a transformation unlike anything we have experienced in the history of this country. Studies have shown that the number of Christians is declining, while the number of people who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion continues to rise.
Western Theological Seminary is also navigating this rapid transformation. WTS was established in 1866 when seven of the first eight Hope College graduates petitioned the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America for permission to continue their ministerial preparation in Holland, Michigan, instead of traveling back to the East Coast. The General Synod agreed and established the seminary to meet the needs of the mid-western churches. Now, 157 years later, the mission and purpose have remained unchanged: to form women and men for faithful Christian ministry and participation in the Triune God’s ongoing redemptive work in the world. In other words, we exist for the sake of the Church.
At the same time, the denominational and educational landscape we find ourselves in today is drastically different from 1866. According to the Association of Theological Schools, by 2030, the most common seminary student will be attending a school that does not belong to or receive support from the same denomination as their parents and will most likely end up serving at a church that belongs to a movement, network, or denomination that did not exist 30 years ago.
Western Theological Seminary is already experiencing this profound shift. A mere 25 years ago, the dominant majority of our students came from the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and almost all of our faculty members were ordained in the RCA.
Today, only about 25% of our students come from the RCA, while only about 50% of our faculty is ordained in the RCA. In light of this shift, WTS requested and received permission from the General Synod to become an officially related seminary of the RCA (just like Hope College, Northwestern College, and Central College) instead of a seminary owned and owned operated by the RCA. This new status will make a tangible difference in our ability to recruit students from beyond the RCA and establish partnerships with churches outside the denomination.
We are already seeing the fruits of this shift, as denominations such as the Disciples of Christ and churches from the Presbyterian Church USA have begun sending students to WTS and establishing new scholarships with the seminary.
But what does this mean for you, our churches, loyal supporters, and partners? In short, you will find more of what you have always loved and appreciated about Western Theological Seminary.
You will continue to find a school that is absolutely and unashamedly committed to the historic Christian faith, the authority of scripture, and the flourishing of the Church.
You will find faculty members dedicated to our students’ holistic formation. You will find a seminary that continues to be distinctively Reformed, drawing upon the richness of Reformed theology and the depth of the Reformed tradition to inform our theological reflections and preparation for ministry.
You will find a seminary that remains unmoved in our commitment to equip women and men for all levels of ministry. You will find a seminary that is responsive to the critical needs of the day by developing new programs in Mental Health Counseling and Disability and Ministry so that our students can be equipped to face the urgent challenges of our society.
You will find a seminary that continues to grow in our Spanish language programs and engagement with Christians from the majority world, where the Church is bursting at the seams and growing in leaps and bounds.
In other words, you will find a seminary that will continue to graduate pastors to serve and lead the Church with you.
We are indeed living in a time of rapid, challenging shifts. Yet, I am filled with hopeful excitement for the critical role that Western Theological Seminary has played and will continue to play in forming and equipping students who will faithfully lead the Church, proclaim the good news of the Gospel, and embody the love of Jesus Christ in a broken and hurting world that desperately needs Jesus, the hope of the world. By God’s grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will meet the challenges of today and the problems of tomorrow for the flourishing of the Church.
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