When Steve Kammer began thinking about leaving his 15-year ministry at Cru to attend seminary, he considered the cross-country move, the financial hardship, the ministry he would leave behind, and how the rigorous experience would affect his family life.
As a longtime member of Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Kammer began talking with his pastor, Mark Bates, about his dilemma. And he found that Bates had a long-held vision of raising up and training men from the Western U.S. to become leaders and pastors in the area. Bates had noted that many PCA pastors serving in the west came from the South and East and, after experiencing cultural adjustment, many eventually moved back.
Western Seminary Training is a reproducible program that Kammer hopes will spread to other churches and even to other denominations.
A new vision was born. What if there was a way for men and women to stay in their local church and get a virtual seminary education while being mentored and getting real-world ministry experience? Kammer and Bates began working with Richard Pratt’s Third Millennium Ministries to obtain seminary curriculum and successfully petitioned their local presbytery to create a program that met General Assembly requirements for ordination. The result, Western Seminary Training, is a reproducible program that Kammer hopes will spread to other churches and even to other denominations. (MNA offers a similar virtual seminary program, Leadership and Ministry Preparation, LAMP, which requires that a church pastor serve as the primary mentor to the student.)
Now, Kammer and two other men have begun the three- to four-year process of completing their seminary degrees through Western Seminary Training. Each week they complete seminary courses online, take tests, meet with their coaches, and complete ministry hours while attending staff meetings and leading ministry in the church.
Meeting a Need
Some of the first glimmers of Western Seminary Training came from Kammer’s interactions with pastors, many of whom struggled during their seminary days.
“We’ve had a surprising amount of support, due to many people’s seminary experience,” he said. “So many said that seminary was very hard on their family and marriage.” And the cost was a hardship too. Kammer estimates that an M.Div. currently costs $50,000, while the cost of a degree through Western Seminary Training is closer to $6,000 (Third Millennium courses do not offer Greek or Hebrew, so those must be taken separately).
But he does not want to take away from the traditional seminary experience. “Seminaries are so important,” said Kammer. “But many people, through life experiences, are not able to make it work to attend a traditional seminary, and this program is for them.”
He sees potential value for many people groups, including ethnic communities. “Sometimes people are acculturated at a seminary, then come home, and it takes time to readjust and reintegrate. What if they could stay in their home church and learn how to apply their studies where they’re going to serve in the future?”
Kammer also sees a strong benefit to Western Seminary Training’s coaching arm and ministry training. “You apply what you’re learning to your own life, so that spiritual growth keeps up with academic growth,” he said. Day to day, Kammer works out of the Village Seven church office, leads college groups, and meets with staff. And he’s found that he is using his seminary knowledge in very practical ways. He recently used teaching from the book of Genesis to counsel a couple whose marriage was faltering.
“I love being in community with the staff as they pour into me — I’m supported by their wisdom and help,” said Kammer. “I’m learning a ton through theological conversations, including how to counsel in sticky situations and how to shepherd well.” And as he is increasingly equipped, he has begun to mentor others just beginning their studies through Western Seminary Training.
To learn more about Western Seminary Training, visit westernseminarytraining.com.