Online graduate school aims at burned-out pastors - East Valley Tribune: Spirituallife

Online graduate school aims at burned-out pastors

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Posted: Saturday, June 3, 2006 6:52 am | Updated: 4:23 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Roger Keller thought there was a “typo” in the statistics from respected religious researcher George Barna. It said 1,800 pastors leave the ministry each month. Keller figured Barna meant “each year.”

But it was true. So it prompted the retired aerospace executive to undertake his own research and then go to the drawing board to design training to restart the engines of beaten and defeated clergy.

“People in the ministry are just walking away from their jobs and going back into secular roles,” said Keller, who spent 24 years with Honeywell, including as its vice president of engineering and program management. The one-time lead designer of the automatic landing system for NASA’s space shuttle took the clergy dropout phenomenon to two trusted Christian friends and corporate veterans.

Out of a collaboration comes the Graduate School of Ministry Management, which will be launched this fall.

The Phoenix-based online educational program targets pastors typically with about five years of experience and likely experiencing frustration managing congregations, including finances, struggling at congregational leadership, and being a force in community and the workplace.

“Many of them are just frustrated with the day-to-day operation of the church,” said Keller, who lives in Fountain Hills. “It has become so much more complex.” Should pastors, he asks, often in congregations of 100 to 150 members, “stagnate or go away?”

The program’s purpose is to empower pastors with practical management disciplines “so they can achieve a higher degree of success and significance.”

Pastors tend to obtain strong theological training in seminaries, Keller said, but it falls to on-the-job training to become competent in so much of the rest of congregational ministry. “They don’t teach leadership or management skills. They don’t teach financial skills and on and on,” Keller said. “They don’t teach all those things that you have to deal with when you are a pastor or a leader in the ministry.”

Keller and his colleagues wondered aloud, “Why haven’t people gone out and started a school that taught these practical and relevant disciplines?” So Keller teamed to create the graduate school (www.gsmm.org) with partners Tom Ryan, founding president of Life Transitions Academy and cofounder of Arizona Alliance for Community and Faith-Based Action, and Dale Henderson, an entrepreneur who has started several companies.

Two types of executive degrees will be offered: Executive master of ministry management and executive master of marketplace ministry. As much as 30 percent of the course work for each degree program overlaps. Each has eight core courses and six electives. Among electives are Faith and Money, Reaching Out to Hispanics and Enhancing Ministry With Technology.

The two-year programs will begin with a one-week residency, The Forum, in Phoenix for orientation with faculty and introductory seminars with such focuses as Building Integrity and Character First, Creating a Leadership Engine, Organizing Everything and Everybody and Bringing Wealth Into the Kingdom. Those, in turn, are titles of full three-credit courses in the master’s online programs.

Enrollment will be limited to about 100, and enrollees will be put into learning teams for mentoring and support. Tuition will be about $6,000.

“We want to make this affordable,” he said. “Pastors don’t make a lot of money, so when we were all done, we decided we didn’t want to have bricks and mortar” school but a significantly less costly online one. “If we had a goal in life, it is that every pastor would be scholarshipped,” he said.

A satellite school site is planned for Fort Worth, Texas, and eventually the school will be taken international “once we get our feet on the ground domestically,” he said.

“We want people who are out there in the trenches,” Keller said. Pastors will be invited to bring their spouses into the training at half price.

His wife, Judi, who holds a master’s of ministry degree in biblical counseling, is vice president of academics. She draws from 12 years of work as principal of a Christian school she helped to start and her work in Open My Eyes Ministries, which she founded in 1990 to “train and mentor Christian leaders in the development of Christlike character.” Using a curriculum rich in pictures, she mentors people in a process. She has worked with many who have suffered physical and sexual abuse.

“When you see people set free, you get so excited,” she said, noting how once people are effectively mentored, “they will turn around and start helping other people just because of what they were brought.”

Judi Keller believes her own ministry helped awaken her husband to explore the ministry to pastors.

“She has been engaged with the graduate program from day one. She is my discerner, and I trust her input on a lot of the decisions,” said Roger Keller, who is developing means to gain accreditation for the graduate school as soon as possible, through an arrangement with universities.

Another goal is to be engaged in the “city transformation” movement, in which pastors interact, pray and foster spiritual change for a divine purpose in each community. “We have some major leaders involved in this thing and people who have been working in the whole area of city transformation for years,” he said. Eventually, the school may offer a degree program in city transformation.

“We want to be nondenominational,” Keller said. “We don’t want to be branded with any denomination. That is really critical for us. This problem is not unique to any denomination. They are all struck.

“We want to touch as many pastors as we can,” he said. “We want to bring the pulpit and the pew closer together.”

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