The Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide Doctor of Ministry Cohort is launching in spring 2023.

This cohort focuses on the nature and dynamics of cultivating a personal and growing relationship with God. We will seek to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” by “keep[ing] company with [Jesus]” so that we might “learn to live freely and lightly.” Guided by humility, our goal is to become receptive and life-long learners in the spiritual school of Jesus and also model a similar hunger and desire for those with whom we live and minister. We can hunger for God because God first loved and delighted in us and sought friendship with us. The human longing for God is a response to God’s prior initiative in our lives and our world.  

We will be shaped by the wisdom of St. Richard of Chichester, a thirteenth-century British bishop, who prayed: 

“O, most merciful redeemer, friend, and brother, 

May I know you more clearly; 

Love you more dearly; 

And follow you more nearly.”  

The minister’s function has long been debated, and the pastor fulfills many roles. Scripture and church history provide a resounding answer that, at least, it must include being a spiritual guide inspired by the Holy Spirit. This Doctor of Ministry cohort builds on this conviction and seeks to equip ministry leaders to assist others in knowing, loving, and serving God more fully.  

Dr. Chuck DeGroat, the Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program, recently talked to Cohort Mentor Rev. Tom Schwanda about his background, the cohort, and the heart behind this topic.

DeGroat: Tom, tell me a bit about your pastoral and academic career and your work as a spiritual director, as well.

Schwanda: I am an ordained RCA pastor and served three congregations (solo pastor, pastor of congregational care, interim senior pastor) in NJ and Grand Rapids. I have taught Christian spirituality at Kuyper College (Grand Rapids) and, most recently, Wheaton College and many Doctor of Ministry courses at six different seminaries in North America. I have also had the privilege of companioning others on their spiritual journeys for over thirty–five years. My ministry’s central goal has been to encourage others to know and love God more fully and live out their faith in our broken world.

DeGroat: Your DMin cohort is called Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide. If someone were to engage in this three-year cohort experience, what are your hopes for their growth and maturation personally and pastorally? 

Schwanda: I hope that each cohort member, including myself, would grow in our awareness that we are always in God’s presence and learn how we can better love and enjoy God. Related to that is the importance of developing a healthy self–awareness that recognizes our sins and God’s grace. This combination should create a vibrant sense of gratitude for the enjoyment and contemplation of God. We also need to learn that any relationship, human or divine, requires effort, and the more we invest, the richer our friendship will be with our Triune God and those around us. Additionally, I trust students will develop a better rhythm for personal life and ministry and grow in the skills of being a physician of the soul. This will guide them in better recognizing the pathologies of the soul and where people get stuck in their pilgrimage.

DeGroat: You’ve been in a reformed theological space for years, but you drink deeply of the contemplative tradition within Protestantism and beyond it? Why has it been important to you to discover this broader tradition? 

Schwanda: To be limited to only one’s tradition restricts a person from the diversity of how the Holy Spirit has operated for over 2,000 years. In the Apostles’ Creeds we confess that we believe in the Communion of Saints, and at least in part, that means we need to grow beyond our historical, theological, and spiritual roots. My study of the Puritans has reinforced this since they were always reading and quoting Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Bernard, Jerome, Thomas à Kempis, etc., as well as Luther and Calvin. Also, I know that the more I interact with the broad spectrum of Christian spirituality, the richer and deeper my experience of Jesus Christ becomes. There are two specific benefits that I have personally received from cultivating this awareness: it has enlarged my contemplative awareness of Scripture and exposed me to some of my blind spots that I might otherwise not notice.  

DeGroat: Finally, are there possible research pathways you might anticipate for students in your cohort? Areas they may study, explore, and write on? 

Schwanda: As you know, the beauty of the WTS DMin is its practical application and connection with the student’s ministry context. That means the potential direction is as vast as the person’s interests. I can imagine projects on creating a mentoring emphasis that would equip elders or other interested leaders to encourage the intentional formation of the member’s personal spiritual growth. Pastors could create groups for other local ministers to read devotional classics and how that could inform and transform their shared ministry. 

Ministry leaders could study the historical examples of pastors as spiritual guides, which could create a model for their own self–care and spiritual maturity that could be duplicated for other clergy. Or some could work within the youth groups or senior groups (they often have similar needs and concerns) in exploring what specific spiritual practices would be most helpful for those in their teenage or senior years. Yet another option would be to study the nature and dynamics of contemplation and how our contemporary culture might resist it yet our desperate need to recover it for healing and renewal within the church. And these are just a few possible ideas.

Want to learn more about Rev. Schwanda and this Doctor of Ministry cohort? Join us on November 2 for the Meet the Mentor Webinar. Register by clicking the link below.

Not able to make it November 2, but still want to learn more? Email us at

Written by Winn Collier, Director of the Eugene Peterson Center and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. 

At the Peterson Center, we’re prayerfully asking God to help us nurture a way of being that is faithful, contemplative, joyful, holy, and deeply human. And goodness, do we have our work cut out for us. There are powerful, entrenched cultural forces arrayed against these simple hopes. Our frantically paced, ego-driven world insists we should clamor to be recognized; we should move lightning fast, and we should always be on the cutting edge. It’s assumed we must always have a quick, witty response in our back pocket—and a bullhorn at the ready. However, we believe that faithfulness means resisting these oppressive assumptions. We long for a better way.

What if, rather than increasing effectiveness, building a platform, or maximizing efficiency, our churches and neighborhoods really need friendship, humility, and wisdom? What if we are starved by our lack of curiosity? What if we need fewer words and more silence? What if our moment begs for courageous voices emerging out of a lifetime of fidelity rather than a reactionary impulse? What if we long to be people whose gifts emerge out of a posture of prayer and lament and hope? 

Eugene insisted that the American church thought too little about the way we go about doing our work, the way we live together and offer God’s wisdom to the world (as if the end result—like increasing members and offerings or “winning” a culture war—justified whatever the cost to get there). If we want to pursue a God-saturated life interwoven with relationships that ennoble human dignity and pursue the sacredness of God’s world and our place in it, then we need a way of going about this that doesn’t destroy our noble hopes in the process. We have to actually live the kind of life we want to nurture. We can’t create a beautiful world in ugly ways.

“The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal,” Eugene insisted. “[N]othing disembodied, nothing abstract, nothing impersonal. Incarnate, flesh and blood, relational, particular, local.”

This is why, in our desire to be relational, to foster beauty and goodness and truth, the Peterson Center (at least for now) won’t be on social media. This isn’t a brittle rule from which we’ll never waver, but we long to be as human and slow and thoughtful as possible. You can, however, find us on our webpage ( and our email list—and we always welcome old-fashioned letters.

Our hope is to encourage faithful presence: tending to our gardens, opening conversations, paying attention to God, and bearing witness to all that is human and holy. And we’re convinced that this will mean less noise, less promotion, more listening, and more grace. 

Hope College and Western Theological Seminary Establish “3-2” Program

HOLLAND – Hope College and Western Theological Seminary have established a “3-2” pastor-preparation program that will provide specialized training for ministering to underserved communities.

The new “Vita Scholars Program” (“Vita” is Latin for “Life”) will enable students to graduate both from Hope with a Bachelor of Arts degree and from the seminary with a Master of Divinity degree after a total of five years instead of the usual seven.

It’s a model described as “3-2” or “accelerated degree” because it involves completing a four-year bachelor’s in three years and a three-year M.Div. in two.  The program will also emphasize preparing the participants especially for ministry in rural and urban settings.

“We’re excited to be partnering with Western Theological Seminary on this innovative program, which will prepare students to serve the communities that have a need and hunger for pastoral care,” said Dr. Stephen Maiullo, who is interim dean for the arts and humanities at Hope — and who as a professor of Greek will also be teaching in the program. “The curriculum provides opportunities for students to understand the circumstances of people who are different from them — people working in the fields and factories, on construction sites and in offices — so that the Vita Scholars can serve them more effectively all while easing the financial burden associated with earning a bachelor’s and a master’s.  The program provides a path for students whose own circumstances might otherwise make this career seem like a dream they can’t achieve.”

“I am delighted that Hope and WTS have the opportunity to work together on this new initiative. I’m also grateful for the tremendous opportunity that this program provides students to experience exceptional classroom learning across both institutions, intentional mentoring, and transformative work and cohort experiences,” said Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson, who is dean and vice president of academic affairs, and G.W. and Edna Haworth Professor of Educational Ministries and Leadership, at the seminary.  “These students will carry into their ministries a deep sense of the importance of the working lives of their parishioners in ways that draw on the best of the liberal arts and the Reformed tradition.”

The Vita Scholars Program is being directed by Dr. Keith Starkenburg, who is an associate professor of theology at Western Theological Seminary. He has offices at both the seminary and Hope — whose campuses are adjacent to one another — to help provide ready access to students at each location.

The students will be participating in the Vita Scholars Program within cohorts organized around the time of their entrance into the program.  While pursuing their degree from Hope, they will also be taking courses in the seminary’s three-year M.Div. track that will simultaneously meet requirements for their Hope degree.  They’ll remain at Hope for four years and graduate with the rest of their Hope classmates, but as seniors will be taking all of their courses at the seminary.  After graduating with a B.A. from Hope, they’ll have just one year to go at the seminary for their M.Div.

The students will also engage in a variety of cohort-based experiences beyond the classroom throughout the five years, ranging from cohort-based programming designed by Starkenburg, to worship experiences, to co-curricular campus organizations, to related summer employment and church-based internships. “The goal is relational learning that is driven by big-picture theological realities within concrete, day-to-day experiences,” Starkenburg said.

“At first, they will explore a variety of spiritual or devotional practices, learn about the basic storyline of scripture and the church’s history. They will read and discuss contemporary and historic theological readings that address economic dynamics, led by a variety of faculty and pastors,” he said. “They will participate in an undergraduate ethics and economics group led by an economics professor. They will spend two summers working in different contexts based on their interests and background. For example, they may work in a factory one summer and intern at a marketing agency the following summer. They will interact with frontline workers, managers and other business leaders in guided discussions.”

The Vita Scholars Program started this fall as a pilot initiative with two students. The goal is to begin in earnest with five more students in the fall of 2023, another seven in the fall of 2024 and 12 in the fall of 2025.

It’s the first time that either Hope College or Western Theological Seminary have offered accelerated-degree programs. However, although they are separate institutions, the initiative builds on and benefits from a close relationship and shared history going back more than 170 years.

While drawing students from many faith traditions, both the college and seminary are affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a relationship that began in 1851 with the denomination supporting establishment of the Pioneer School from which Hope and the seminary eventually grew.  Hope was chartered as a College of Liberal Arts by the State of Michigan in 1866, and the seminary was established by the denomination in 1885 based on what had previously been the college’s “Theological Department” for the preparation of ministers.

Hope and Western Theological Seminary jointly sponsor a variety of presentations for each other’s campuses as well as the surrounding community.  Since 2019, the college and seminary have operated the Hope-Western Prison Education Program to provide a Christian liberal arts education to incarcerated men at Muskegon Correctional Facility.

More information about the Vita Scholars Program is available at

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce that Sam Gutierrez has joined the WTS community as the Associate Director for the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. 

“Sam Gutierrez has gifted beauty to WTS, and many portions of Jesus’ Church, in so many ways,” said Dr. Winn Collier, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian imagination and Director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. “Sam is a pastor who brings his artistic heart to his work, helping to create spaces and conversations that are honest, welcoming, and attuned to the Spirit.”

Gutierrez graduated with his MDiv from WTS in 2013. Since then, he’s led faith formation work with the CRC, served as Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Granite Springs Church in Lincoln, CA, and most recently served as Pastor of Community and Discipleship at Alger Park Church in Grand Rapids. In addition to his multi-medium art, Sam has written three books of poetry (Godbirth, Read These Poems About David, and The Reason Love Reaches) and a faith formation curriculum (The Jesus Questions, Haiku Bible Study, and The Jesse Tree). Much of Sam’s work can be found online at Print and Poem.

Gutierrez described his encounter with Eugene’s voice early in youth ministry, before his time at WTS. “Eugene Peterson’s words struck like lightning – bringing an instant charge of freedom and a spark that opened up an expansive space within me that I’ve been exploring ever since – prayer, listening, scripture, discernment, presence,” said Gutierrez. 


Learn more about the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination here.

By Dr. David Komline, Associate Professor of Church History

At the 146th commencement ceremony on April 30th, Western Theological Seminary had the privilege of bestowing the 2022 Distinguished Alumni award upon Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, M.Div. ’84. Granberg-Michaelson has played key roles in the three movements that continue to define Western  Theological Seminary’s identity as evangelical, ecumenical, and Reformed. In three different stages of his career, he has led in each of these areas, though never forgetting his commitments to the others. His early work with Senator Mark Hatfield and Sojourners magazine placed him at the forefront of the socially concerned evangelicalism of the 1960s and 1970s that scholars Brantley Gasaway and David Swartz have written about in recent monographs. Then, as a staff person for the World Council of Churches in the 1980s and 1990s, Granberg-Michaelson worked at the heart of the modern ecumenical movement.  

Wes Granberg-Michaelson has faithfully served the church of Jesus Christ with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. His leadership in the RCA and his work across various denominational bodies and ecclesial traditions continue to leave an impact today. I am grateful for his love for and lifetime of service to the church. – President Felix Theonugraha

He later played a key role in helping to launch Christian Churches Together,  an organization that fosters ecumenical dialogue. In 1994, he took over as the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, becoming the most public face of America’s oldest Reformed denomination. 

Granberg-Michaelson led the RCA for seventeen years. Under his leadership, the RCA adopted its first Statement of Mission and Vision, which famously  concluded: “We will no longer do  business as usual, nor our usual business.” He also stewarded the process of forming a ten-year goal for the RCA, “Our Call,” that focused on planting new congregations and revitalizing existing congregations, with supporting emphasis on discipleship, leadership, and mission. Finally, during his tenure, the RCA adopted the Belhar Confession. 

Granberg-Michaelson’s first formal connection with Western came during a six-month stint as a scholar in residence, during which he wrote his book A Worldly Spirituality: The Call to Take Care of the Earth (Joanna Cotler Books, 1984). At this point, he had only recently made a conscious decision to move from politics toward theology. While at WTS to write, he discerned a call to ordained ministry and thus enrolled in the M.Div. program. He was ordained at Third Reformed Church in Holland, MI, on June 10, 1984. Since his first visit to Western, Granberg-Michaelson has authored numerous books, including two that highlight his work with the RCA: Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity (Eerdmans Publishing, 2011) and Leadership from the Inside Out: Spiritual and Organizational Change (Crossroad Publishing, 2004).  

Throughout his career, Granberg Michaelson has led from a deeply meditative center focused on Christ. At the same time, he has kept mission at the forefront of his own work and of the communities that he has served. Western Theological Seminary is grateful for his leadership and is delighted to be able to honor him with this award.

Written by Jeff Barker, co-leader of the new Doctor of Ministry Cohort: Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture. 

“The Bible is not a book,” said Dr. Tom Boogaart.  

I remember how stunned I was when I heard him say that. “How can that be true?” I wondered. The Bible holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling book of all time. Of course it’s a book. It’s printed, bound, and I can hold it in my hand. It’s supposed to be read like a book. Isn’t it? 

Well, yes. But Tom was saying that the Bible is more. First of all, it’s not one book; it’s a collection of books. And each one of those books is a collection of genres that include songs, poems, sermons, stories, and even plays. What are those genres asking of us? They certainly want to be read, but those genres also ask to be sung, chanted, preached,  told, and enacted. Huge swaths of the Bible long to be memorized and presented with full-bodied communication to a gathered and participative audience. In other words, the Bible is begging to be performed.  

The Bible wants not only to be read,  but to be seen, heard, and felt. 

I’m a theater artist focused on directing and playwriting. I’ve partnered with Dr. Boogaart, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament for the past twenty years in reclaiming the performance of the ancient Hebrew dramas—the historical narratives of the Old Testament. Tom and I have come to understand that Israel’s histories are presented with dialogue, dramatic structure, and profound images that reveal their themes. We have led our students in performing dozens of these ancient plays including the dramas of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, David, Jonah, and more. Our book Performing the Plays of the Bible  is designed to help others join us. 

Other organizations like the Network of Biblical Storytellers and the Orality Network are exploring what we can learn about biblical texts by retracing our steps to the oral cultures out of which those texts grew. WTS has been at the forefront of this work through its methods of teaching Hebrew via performance. An additional facet of this scholarship has been Dr. Tim Brown’s project of teaching homiletics through scripture memory (or interiorization).  

Eugene Peterson’s writing and thinking comes alongside scholars who are asking, “How does the Bible want to communicate to us today?” Part of the answer is found in language itself, and part of the answer is found in the ancient world and the ways those people brought God’s Word to life through sight, sound, and heart.  

Beginning this fall, my co-teacher, Karen Bohm Barker, and I will join hands with doctoral students who don’t necessarily have performance training but simply want to study the Bible together. Our goal, of course, is to learn more about God’s Word, but ultimately that’s a pathway to learning more about God. Through the power of the Spirit and the joy of the learning community, we plan to help each other lead another generation of Christ-followers to know that the Bible is so much more than a book.

To learn more about Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture Doctor of Ministry program, click here.

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce Kate Bareman as the Associate Director of Student Life. Bareman will be serving as a member of the Student Life team.  

“We are so fortunate to have Kate joining our team,” said Student Life Director Timothy Basselin. “Her concern for love, justice, and community is evident in all she does.”

Bareman has worked in multiple ministry positions throughout Holland for the last 20 years. Most recently, she served at BLVD Church, where she was the Pastor of Mobilization and Families and helped create a vibrant, diverse neighborhood body of believers. 

Before BLVD, she served for six years at Ridge Point Community Church as the Family Life Pastor and then Community Life Pastor, and before that, she ministered at Christ Memorial Church. At BLVD and Ridge Point, Bareman shared teaching responsibilities with the lead pastors. 

“I hope to provide a fun and safe place for students to speak and to listen with grace and enthusiasm so that they can be responsively inspired to thrive as they pursue their calling,” said Bareman. “I have loved being a student at WTS for the last ten years as much as I have loved supporting and cheering on my fellow WTS students as they achieve their dreams and work towards their goals.”

She is open to sharing what she has learned as a BIPOC woman in ministry and serves as a bridge between people, places, and things. She looks forward to helping students connect to resources, organizations, ministries, and communities at WTS and abroad.

The student life department at WTS walks with students as they process their callings, questions, fears, and hopes. They meet with students as needed during family crises, financial crises, and crises of faith. They work with them to heal from past wounds/trauma, offering access to therapy through the Student Assistance Program. 

In the curriculum they create for Abbey groups and the Abbey retreat, the Student Life team introduces students to spiritual practices and invites them to form habits that will last their whole ministries. 

“We encourage practices that prioritize their relationship with God so that their ministry duties flow from their spiritual lives,” said Basselin. “In discerning their calls with them, we then connect them to mentors and places of ministry that can help with their particular needs for growth and maturity.”

To learn more about how the Student Life team provides care and support for WTS students, contact us at

Is a Master of Arts or Master of Divinity the right degree for you?

At Western Theological Seminary, we are committed to excellence in academic learning and the formation of the whole person.  

Regardless of your program of choice, the faculty and staff at WTS are dedicated to helping form students who love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. With John Calvin, we recognize that knowledge of God and knowledge of self are interconnected. Through curricular and co-curricular offerings, students come to know themselves more fully as they grow in their understanding of the triune God.

As faculty and staff, we are eager to walk alongside students as they grow intellectually, seek vocational clarity, and explore how to live fully integrated lives before God.

WTS believes that every class is formative in the lives of students. Faculty members understand the classroom as a place of vibrant intellectual engagement that simultaneously shapes students as faithful Christian leaders. 

Both the MDiv and MA programs at WTS offer rigorous academics alongside practical and intentional formation and leadership training. Coursework provokes transformation through critical thought and theological engagement. Simply put, the curriculum at WTS engages not only the mind, but the heart, personal faith, and Christian practice as well.

What is the difference between the MDiv and MA degrees?

Master of Divinity Degree – What is it?

  • 87 credits, internships, language requirements, co-curricular requirements

The Master of Divinity degree program is the preferred degree for denominationally ordained ministry. It is also the preferred foundational degree for national and denominational chaplaincy certification and endorsement programs. 

The Master of Divinity degree prepares students for all types of ministry settings. It is offered in-person and online through a hybrid distance learning format. The Master of Divinity (MDiv) is considered a professional degree. Students will study specified content in the following disciplines:

  • Biblical Studies
  • Theological Studies
  • Christian Ministry/Practical Ministry Studies
  • The practice of Ministry through Field Education/Internships

The Master of Divinity degree program prepares women and men for ordained ministry by equipping, empowering, and forming those called by God to lead within the church. The MDiv program also provides training for ministries in mission, social service, evangelism, education, pastoral care, chaplaincy, and theological research. 

Graduating MDiv students at Western Theological Seminary will have a rich theological and pastoral framework to see the world and discern how to serve the world in the name of Christ. This framework will be biblically grounded, historically informed, contextually alert, and developed in conversation with the Reformed tradition and diverse voices, past and present, here and around the world.

Biblical Studies

Students engage in biblical scholarship and interpretation through the study of scripture in its original language and context. This learning sets the stage for exploring how scripture has been applied throughout history and also for applying it today in diverse and dynamic contexts. Students are invited to nurture a love of the Bible as God’s living word and engage the world through the lens of the biblical narrative of redemption. Students will also develop a hermeneutic that engages the biblical languages and enables thoughtful and faithful interpretation that critically applies scripture in discourse, writing, preaching, and teaching.

Theological Studies

Students will apply theological integration to historical Christian doctrine through the study of key historical and contemporary theological voices. Students will learn the history of the global church with various theological movements, gaining both breadth of knowledge and a deeper understanding of each theological tradition. 

A final year capstone paper asks students to express their own theology in ways that demonstrate the integration of theological, historical, and ethical learning with their vision of ministry, mission, worship, and discipleship.

Christian Ministry

Students engage and learn various ministry skills and practices while reflecting theologically on their individual life experiences, faith formation, interior Christian life, spiritual disciplines, and personal sense of call. Students will be invited to preach God’s word, appreciate and administer the sacraments as signs of God’s grace, bolster the church, and shepherd God’s people with pastoral imagination. In relationship to the work of the local and global church today and the future, this distinctive aspect of the MDiv program at WTS provides whole-person preparation and learning. Regular retreats and an intercultural immersion trip enhance students’ abilities to integrate their seminary experience with their lives of faith and learn from the diverse character of the church’s witness and mission. 

Practice of Ministry

Intentional mentoring occurs in faculty-led small groups called The Abbey. Abbey groups are designed to build community, foster prayer, and encourage the cultivation of spiritual practices.  

Ministry internships begin in the second year of the MDiv program, offering students the opportunity to practice what they have been learning in the classroom under the guidance of seasoned ministry mentors. Practical ministry formation in classroom and ministry settings fosters increased capacity to proclaim and embody the gospel, administer the sacraments, build up the church, and shepherd God’s people with biblical and theological insight and pastoral imagination.  

Students who are interested in research can apply for research assistantships. As a research assistant for a professor, students are personally mentored by faculty. Such opportunities encourage students’ capacity toward advanced study and learning through individual research assistantships and scholarly writing opportunities.

Who should pursue the Master of Divinity degree program at WTS?

  • Those whose sense of call is tied clearly to church leadership
  • Those who seek to learn directly from faculty who are recognized as leaders in their field of study
  • Those who want credentials that will serve them for their entire career (if ministry is their vocation)
  • Those who wish to be ordained or in senior leadership in faith-based settings.  
  • Those at the beginning of their career who can see the church as being a key component of their sense of call and vocation
  • Those who wish to engage in in-person or hybrid distance learning
  • Those whose denominational settings do not provide practical ministry or leadership training
  • Those who may desire to pursue an advanced degree program such as DMin, ThD, or PhD
  • Women who wish to pursue ministry opportunities within the church (we can talk about why)
  • Those who want to be a chaplain in a hospital or correctional facility or want to be certified by a national chaplaincy agency
  • Those interested in an intentional formation process that includes Abbey groups, Abbey retreats, and internships 

Master of Arts Degrees – What is it?

42 credits – academic coursework, possible Abbey group participation

The Master of Arts degree is designed to provide women and men with the resources for thoughtful and competent Christian leadership in a broad range of settings. It is grounded in integrated reflection on scripture, theology, and core Christian practices.

In general, a Master of Arts degree can be primarily academic (preparing a student for further graduate study), primarily professional (preparing a student for a form of leadership and service), or can incorporate both academic and professional components. At WTS, the Master of Arts degree falls into this third category, including professional and academic engagement and preparation. In the final capstone course for the MA, students can choose to focus on either a research paper or a more practically oriented project to showcase their learning. 

WTS’s faculty teach in both the MDiv and MA programs as well as the Graduate Certificate programs. At WTS, the Master of Arts degree program can be completed online by distance learning. Throughout the MA programs, faculty are committed to providing instruction that will expand students’ biblical and theological knowledge and enhance their ability to analyze specific academic and ministerial questions.  

Like the MDiv, the Master of Arts degree provides a formational curriculum that engages whole-person learning. While internships and Abbey groups are not part of the required curriculum, Master of Arts students are welcome to register for The Abbey if they are studying on campus or wish to come to campus for the first two days of distance learning intensives.  

The Master of Arts does not lead to ordination in many mainline denominations. However, in some churches today, a Master of Arts is sufficient for ordination. An MA will also benefit individuals pursuing non-ordained roles within many ministry settings and other vocational spaces. A Master of Arts degree will fulfill the requirements for some chaplaincy roles. For clarity, students interested in chaplaincy should talk with their commissioning organization or denomination.

Who should pursue a Master of Arts degree?

  • Those involved in para-church ministry or multi-site church ministry and denominations or movements that provide structured leadership training and basic biblical/theological training (i.e., Young Life, non-denominational churches, church multiplication sites)
  • Those who wish to engage in theological studies but are uncertain about ministry as a vocation (Students may transfer into the MDiv program at any point)
  • Those who seek to learn directly from faculty who are recognized as leaders in their field of study
  • Those who wish to complete a degree entirely online, on-campus, or enjoy the flexibility of both
  • Those whose faith traditions and church settings do not require an MDiv for ministry leadership
  • Those who sense callings to ministry beyond the walls of the local church
  • Faith-based administration
  • Faith-based publishing
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Writers
  • Visual arts and technology
  • Christian educators (primary and secondary)
  • Health professionals
  • Business and marketing for faith-based industry
  • Support roles within the church
  • Lay leaders within the church
  • Ministry and service volunteers
  • Those who want to learn more about the Bible, theology, and Christian ministry for personal, professional, or intellectual depth

Faculty Commitment

Faculty at Western Theological Seminary are leaders in their fields and write and speak prolifically across the US and internationally. They are also deeply invested in the church and students’ development. Faculty engage students not only in their curricular experiences but also in daily worship and community time and other co-curricular environments that foster individual mentoring, learning, and collegiality.  

Financial Considerations – MDiv or MA?

At Western Theological Seminary, generous and committed donors allow tuition to be kept low for the benefit of the student. Because of this, those considering theological education have the freedom to pursue the degree best suited to the vocational goals and objectives that align with their sense of call. 

Those who wish to pursue an MDiv may be eligible for more financial aid/scholarship due to its length and the degree’s value for ordained ministry opportunities.  

The Master of Divinity degree program does take more time to complete, however, many students pursue the degree at a pace that also allows for paid employment. This can help mitigate the financial implications of time in a degree program. Many students working part-time to full-time in ministry have completed the Master of Divinity degree within five years.

Faith communities and denominational organizations often financially support MDiv candidates. We are happy to talk with prospective students to explore ways to afford theological education in addition to generous scholarships, grants, and federal aid.

The admissions team at Western Theological Seminary welcomes conversations with curious students. Let us help you discern which degree program best suits your sense of call and vocational need. Helpful conversations with faculty, alumni, and current students can be arranged as well. 

Still wondering about which program is best for you? Contact for more information or to answer any questions. 

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce that Dr. Alberto La Rosa Rojas will be joining the faculty of Western Theological Seminary beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year to serve as Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. La Rosa Rojas back to the WTS community,” said Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs Kristen Deede Johnson. “His addition to our faculty marks an important milestone; as our third fully bilingual professor, it is now possible for us to provide rigorous academic degree programs in both English and Spanish.  Further, as one who draws constructively on both Reformed voices and the voices of Christians in the majority world, Dr. La Rosa Rojas has invaluable contributions to make in the classroom,  in the world of scholarship, and in the wider church.”

Dr. La Rosa Rojas’s scholarship lies at the intersection of systematic theology and ethics, focusing on theologies of migration and home.  He is currently a postdoctoral associate and an advisor to the Presbyterian/Reformed House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School. He has also been involved in the divinity school’s Hispanic House of Studies and Hispanic Latino Preaching Initiative.

Dr. La Rosa Rojas received his Th.D. in Theology and Ethics from Duke Divinity School (2022) with a dissertation titled, “God’s Journey Home: Toward a Theology of Migration and Home from the Americas.”  He’s a graduate of Western Theological Seminary and Trinity Christian College.  He has received fellowships from the Hispanic Theological Initiative, the Golieb Fellowship in Interfaith Education and Engagement, and the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

Alberto has written a number of book reviews and book chapters, including “A Migrant at the Lord’s Table: A Reformed Theology of Home,” included in Reformed Public Theology: A Global Vision for Life in the World, and “The God Who Elects Leaving,” in Before the Face of God: Essays in Honor of Tom Boogaart. He has been involved in and presented at the Society of Christian Ethics, the American Academy of Religion, and the Annual Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Dr. La Rosa Rojas has taught courses in the United States, El Salvador, and Peru in Christian ethics, theology in the early Church, Karl Barth and Reformed theology, and theology of the sacraments.

He has been involved in a local Presbyterian church throughout his years in Durham while retaining his membership in the Reformed Church in America (RCA).  He is also a licensed candidate for ordination in the RCA.

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce four new Master of Arts degrees designed to prepare women and men for practical ministry.

“We recognize that theological education is changing rapidly,” said President Felix Theonugraha. “Western Theological Seminary is committed to meeting the needs of the Church now and in the future.  We are here to equip women and men for Christian ministry and leadership, whether their call is to pastoral ministry or lay leadership.”

The new degrees include a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, a Master of Arts in Disability and Ministry, a Master of Arts in Theology, and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

WTS will continue to offer its flexible MA in Christian Studies, which allows students to focus on their area of interest as half of the 42 program credits are electives. 

One of the hallmarks of the WTS Master of Arts is faculty involvement. WTS Faculty teach in both the Master of Divinity and Master of Arts programs, and all courses come from within the Master of Divinity curriculum. Faculty are equally engaged in distance learning and in-residence courses, often teaching the course in both modalities during any given semester.  

“Through these new MA degrees, students will experience rigorous academic engagement alongside practical and intentional formation,” said Academic Dean Kristen Deede Johnson. “I am excited for how our new MAs embody the same commitment to whole-person formation [or formational learning] and academic excellence that is a hallmark of all WTS programs.”

WTS faculty are committed to providing students with course content that will expand the breadth and depth of a student’s biblical and theological knowledge while enhancing the ability to analyze specific academic and ministerial questions as they utilize their learnings in each program. 

Master of Arts students will learn to demonstrate proficiency in the art of scholarly writing by constructing credible claims, developing compelling arguments, persuasively interpreting sources in their chosen field of study, and using critical methodologies and diverse theological perspectives in their analysis of specific academic and ministerial questions applicable in many vocational settings.

The Master of Arts degree provides the same formational curriculum that engages whole-person learning. While internships and Abbey groups are not part of the required curriculum, Master of Arts students can take The Abbey if they are studying on campus or wish to come to campus during distance learning intensives.  

All Master of Arts degrees from WTS can be completed in two years or spread out to accommodate “second career” or non-traditional professional students. Classes can be taken on campus or through WTS’s online distance learning program. 

”This is an ideal program for people who need to be working full time and want to chip away at a Masters’s Degree that will enhance their professional vocation and work in ministry,” said Director of Admissions, Jill English.

The degrees will be available to students beginning this fall.  Applications are open.