SPRINGFIELD, Mo.—The Kern Family Foundation in Waukesha, Wisconsin, recently awarded a grant to the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary of Evangel University to support expanding its accelerated master’s degree program.
AGTS received this second grant to expand the 4+1 Fast Track Program for highly qualified students committed to full-time, long-term ministry in the United States.
Students enrolled in the program earn a bachelor’s degree at Evangel University in four years, and in one additional year at AGTS finish with either a Master of Leadership and Ministry (MLM), Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies (MAIS), or Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS).
“The ultimate goal is to prepare students for vocational ministry in less time and with less debt,” said Dr. Tim Hager, vice president and dean of the seminary.
“We are humbled by the confidence placed in the university and seminary by this grant award,” said Hager. “This is a catalyst toward our commitment to send well-educated, spiritually passionate, biblically literate and articulate ministers into U.S. churches.”
The foundation previously awarded a grant to AGTS to help create the 4+1 Fast Track Program. It was launched in the fall of 2016 with 21 students and has experienced steady growth — 29 the second year, 40 the third year, and in the fall of 2019, there are 55 students participating in the accelerated program.
Evangel’s strong pre-seminary tradition and the mature graduate programs of AGTS work together to form a solid foundation on which to build the program.
The focus of the 4+1 Fast Track Program through Evangel and AGTS is the development of men and women who are called to be U.S. ministers. Why so specific?
In the Assemblies of God there is high demand for the next generation of quality pastors due to the aging of ordained ministers and the aggressive church planting initiative within the fellowship.
According to John W. Kennedy, news editor for AG News, “The average age of an ordained minister in the U.S. Assemblies of God is at an all-time high of 60. Half of the more than 37,600 AG ministers are 60 or older. Only 21.2 percent of AG ministers are under age 40, an all-time low.”
Kennedy reported in a 2018 article, Mentoring Under 40 Leaders, that this shift has been happening gradually.
“The problem is not that our ministers are getting older,” said Rev. Gary Grogan, retired AG pastor, in the article. “The problem is we are not getting and keeping new ones. Our young people are not going in the ministry, not staying in the ministry, or not staying in our tribes. We have to be more intentional about young men and women in leadership.”
Compounding the need, the Assemblies of God has a church planting division started by an AGTS alumnus called the Church Multiplication Network. The network has a rather aggressive strategy for planting 500 churches per year, and those efforts will continue to increase the demand for quality pastoral leaders.
Meeting the Need
“God answered my prayer for provision by allowing me to receive help through the Kern Grant,” said Rev. Lance Langenberg, connections pastor at First Assembly in Rolla, Missouri.
“Since I received those funds, I was able to go all the way through seminary without taking out a single loan, and I am now able to focus all my attention on ministry tasks without the burden of student debt.”
Lance is one of the first five AGTS students to graduate from the 4+1 Fast Track Program. All five walked the line on May 3, 2019, and AGTS assisted each of the students in finding a full-time pastoral ministry position.
Langenberg added that linking the undergraduate degree from Evangel with the master’s at AGTS, “…is a crucial and wise way to encourage students to enroll in college and stick with it all the way through the graduate level.”
Dr. Mike Jaffe, AGTS professor and director of the accelerated master’s program, agrees.
“The program is easy to sell,” said Jaffe. “When we convey to the students the value of participating in the 4+1 Fast Track Program, the benefits are clear.”
Three Benefits for Students
• The number one benefit affirms the old saying “time is money.”
If a student were to enter the traditional master’s degree track at AGTS, it would take them at least two years and would cost approximately $26,000 to $28,000 for tuition.
“However, by starting as an undergrad student at Evangel and entering the 4+1 Fast Track Program — thanks to dual credits and scholarships — they will finish the master’s degree in just one additional year at a cost of less than $8,000,” said Jaffe. “That is about a 70 percent discount on the cost of their master’s degree.”
If the student doesn’t meet all of the eligibility requirements for the Kern scholarship, AGTS offers scholarships to help discount the final year. “We want all of our students to enter ministry with less debt,” Jaffe added.
• The second benefit is a strong emphasis on life and ministry mentoring.
“Our focus is on mentoring spiritually strong, emotionally healthy pastoral leaders,” said Hager. “To this end, each student engages in a formal mentoring program with members of the AGTS faculty.”
Jaffe added, “We also provide opportunities for students to get into a mentoring relationship with seasoned pastors that can last all five years. Relationships remain a crucial aspect of quality ministerial preparation, effective spiritual formation and retention efforts.”
Each group of incoming students is enrolled as a cohort, so they are going through the program together. This builds a strong sense of comradery, according to Jaffe. Building on this, multiple times a semester, gatherings with district officials, local pastors and special speakers are organized around meals to incorporate a greater sense of community for students in the program.
To help ensure success, AGTS recently incentivized the mentoring program, and this ties back to the first benefit.
Every semester that a student participates in a mentorship relationship, he or she will receive $100 off of their last year’s bill. Over the life of the program, that can be an additional $1,000 savings.
• The third benefit is ministry placement assistance.
AGTS is committed to providing students with opportunities to improve their relational skills and make vital life-long connections within the ministerial community.
“We have already seen that the pastor or district official investing their personal time in the future graduates builds a stable relationship for future employment opportunities,” said Jaffe.
Evangel students are realizing that the complexities of ministry today require these types of innovative education and development programs.
“We are committed to assist in placing every student in a pastoral ministry position upon graduation,” concluded Hager.
Optional Pre-seminary Minor
As a bonus, the new accelerated master’s program at AGTS is flexible, with multiple access points.
Many students feel called to enter the ministry with a bi-vocational skill set. Many churches are small, and many introductory positions are part time. Having a business or counseling degree, for example, enhances the options for landing that first job.
“Evangel students can take a major that interests them and that they believe will enhance their calling, be it in business, music, communication or education,” said Dr. Jaffee.
Then, by applying for the 4+1 Fast Track Program and taking a select set of theology classes for the pre-seminary minor (21 hours), a student will still be able to graduate from AGTS in one additional year with one of the three master’s degrees listed in paragraph three.
About EU & AGTS
AGTS is the national seminary of the Assemblies of God and holds dual accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission and The Association of Theological Schools. Since 1972, AGTS has produced 4,000 graduates who are serving in all 50 states and 125 nations globally.
AGTS is a seminary embedded within Evangel University, which currently has more than 2,300 students enrolled in 70 undergraduate majors and 19 master’s and doctoral degrees.
For more information, contact Dr. Mike Jaffe at (417) 865-2811 ext. 8891 or jaffemevangel.edu
WRITTEN BY: Paul K. Logsdon & Meghan D. Musy