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Revamped M.Div. Resonates with Ministry Practitioners

September 28, 2022
Photo: Calvin Theological Seminary

It was 1993, and David Rylaarsdam had completed seminary and was beginning to serve as an ordained pastor. He said he lacked confidence, though, and still faced lingering questions about how to lead a church as he stepped into his first role as an interim pastor.

More recently  Rylaarsdam has made it his mission to help make Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) stand out in preparing graduates to hit the ground running in ministry, particularly in its Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program.

As a professor of the history of Christianity and worship, Rylaarsdam served on the committee shaping the curriculum for a newly revamped M.Div. degree at CTS. This team of faculty and staff leaders shared a common desire to see the new curriculum grow to embrace leaders from the global church who are attending Calvin.

“This degree is rooted in the Reformation,” says Rylaarsdam, “and thoroughly practical.”

“We spent nearly two years in study with the goal of retaining the center of our Reformed theological perspective and reputation of academic excellence while seeking to serve more effectively various students who have different contexts and vocational callings,” said Jul Medenblik, president of the seminary, in a press release announcing the curriculum.

“This new method of educating for preaching takes into account students’ diverse gifts and their vocational intentions, customizes training according to students’ individual needs, requires more evaluated sermons in ministry settings, and achieves curricular preaching goals with fewer credits,” said Gary Burge, dean of faculty, in the release.

While many seminary programs offer courses in the areas of biblical knowledge, theology, and spiritual formation in silos, the CTS M.Div. program connects all three areas in an integrated structure, alongside practical skills and contextual learning.

“We are inviting students to regularly inhabit the intersection of their in-class learning and their in-context work in real time ministry,” says Geoff Vandermolen, director of vocational formation, who also served on the revision team. “We believe this integration will serve the diverse student body at CTS, preparing them to be well-formed kingdom leaders.”

“There is cohesion throughout the program,” Rylaarsdam said. “Students will exit the program confident in doing what God has called them to do.”

Beyond providing an integrated M.Div. curriculum, Rylaarsdam noted, the level of mentorship that Calvin Seminary is known for continues to grow.

“With every passing year, I have seen already invested professors increasingly involved in the whole-person formation of their students, mentoring them spiritually and professionally in preparation for their callings,” he said.

Joan Beelen, registrar and associate dean of academic services, added that along with faculty support helping to create a tight-knit community at CTS, students of all backgrounds and settings come together to learn with and from each other.

“A global community is exactly what Calvin has,” she reflected. “You can meet the world at CTS.”

For anyone considering a rich, rigorous, and relevant M.Div. program, Beelen said, “This theological training is here to support your calling.”