FIT Fall 2023 Update

December 7, 2023

As the Flourish Institute of Theology moves through its second Fall term training the next generation of church leaders, I wanted to write a brief update, so that we might share the good news of all that is happening with the larger church family.

We began a year ago with twenty-four students. All of them were involved in ministry with most of them working full-time in church ministry positions. Nearly all our students are part-time, averaging two courses per term or six per year. Student ages spread from the mid-twenties to mid-seventies. We start our second year with fifty-three students spread across our various certificate and degree paths and offer thirty different courses, not counting those in our Mentored Ministry program. Our first year has been a whirlwind but we have sensed God’s leading and felt his blessing at every turn.

Accreditation

We are frequently asked about accreditation and how this is proceeding. The simple and quick answer is we are in full pursuit of accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and hope to have this fully completed around 2027.

The fuller response is more complex. There are two initial realities: first, ATS requires we graduate at least one MDiv student before we can apply, and second, we can only apply in odd-numbered years. That means we are hoping for and working towards having graduates in 2025. We believe we are on track for this and thus we are making every effort to be ready to apply for accreditation sometime in 2025. Thankfully, ATS is very clear on all that the application process requires and we have been working for the last two years (yes, well before classes even began) to make sure that all the requirements are known and every step taken to be ready when the time to apply arrives.

Upon receiving our application ATS will carefully look at every detail of our vision and mission, classes, structure, finances, students, faculty, and numerous other details. This will include face-to-face conversations, reports, and interviews as well as correcting areas deemed insufficient or adding items believed to be missing. How long this might take is unknown but we hope that sometime in or by 2026 we will be granted “provisional” accreditation. This period will include further scrutiny and conversations that will hopefully conclude with full accreditation which we hope to have in 2027. Once we have been fully accredited, all graduates will be retroactively considered as having accredited degrees.

For those interested in further details of accreditation please see the ATS website here: www.ats.edu/Accreditation

Face to Face Education Opportunities

While most of our classes are completely online—video lectures, Zoom class meetings, and small groups—studies have shown that the best learning is a hybrid model that includes both online and face-to-face opportunities. Thus, from the start we have pondered how to include such events in our curriculum. This Summer and Fall we held our first two events which were wonderfully successful.

Local-Focused Theology

Last August the Flourish Institute of Theology went to Houston! There we offered one of our courses which was attended by eight of our students as well as half a dozen auditors. We will be going to Tacoma Washington in early December, Greenville South Carolina in May 2024, and Bethlehem Pennsylvania in the Fall of 2024 where we will offer a seminary course for local churches. These locally offered classes allow our students to meet face-to-face with professors and have the opportunity to discuss with other students in ways not available online. But they also allow us to encourage people who are considering seminary to experience a class and invite leaders in the church and presbytery to join us for a unique opportunity of study and reflection. Our teachers also offer to give presentations in the local church as a way of thanking them and sharing the resources of the seminary with the church community.

“I am immeasurably thankful for the Flourish Institute of Theology, as it offers students both premium theological education alongside deep, personal, and transformative pastoral care. I love FIT and look forward to all it will accomplish for the kingdom.” – Josh Avila

The Gathering!

From the earliest days of dreaming of how we might do seminary differently, we knew that we must include opportunities for our students to grow spiritually, build life-long community and friendships, and have spouses included in all this. To achieve these goals, we created The Gathering! This is a full course in which students read several books and complete homework assignments. But rather than providing weekly videos the lectures occur over several days in a face-to-face setting beginning on a Thursday evening with dinner and ending with lunch on Saturday.

In early October, after months of planning, pondering, and praying, The Gathering took place with twenty-one students and ten spouses. Our theme was God’s Word of Grace and while we had an academic element the focus was on helping our students understand what it means to live under and do ministry from within God’s gracious love, call, and anointing. But its focus was not merely “upward” or “inward” but outward, into the life of the church and its people. Students are required to create a curriculum that would allow them to bring what they learned into their ministry setting.

We could not be more pleased with our first Gathering event and are preparing for the next event in March. Our current plan is to hold one Gathering event in each of the Fall and Spring terms. But with the increase in students we are exploring how we might increase these while maintaining the quality of education and relational intimacy we desire. It, like every element in FIT, is a work in progress, but one that is unfolding in ways that are powerfully transforming our students’ lives even as we prepare them to be leaders who bring transformation to churches.

“I am eternally grateful for FIT and the Gathering. I have gleaned a lot from the classes offered and have gained invaluable friendships from the Gathering.” – Katherine Server

“People perceive a class on theology or even the word itself to be too academic or overwhelming. To my surprise, I have loved that this class is exactly not that. I realize that understanding theology as the basis of our beliefs to connect with God. It can also be so much more, for it is beautiful. Theology as an act of worship is so profound to me.” – Sonya Hernandez

“I loved the Gathering. It was inspiring and it stretched me to think about grace in fresh ways– in ministry, marriage, and for myself. It was also wonderful to make connections with other students, some who I met for the first time, and many students that I had seen in classes online. I left the experience energized and excited for more!” – Christina Gilbreath

“The Gathering was instrumental in expanding our view of grace for marriage and ministry. It came at a critical time for us, as the Lord used it to answer some of our prayers and strengthen our hope. We are incredibly grateful for the Gathering, and God’s providence in it.” – Josh and Daniela Avila

Partnering With The Flourish Institute of Theology

Our goal is huge and far reaching: develop a seminary that is one-third of the cost and three-times as effective in training vocational and lay leaders for ministry in today’s church. Following a medical school model of preparing highly educated people for the practice of ministry, we believe that our graduates will transform the life and health of the church for decades to come. There are three ways you can partner with us in this endeavor.

Send Students:

We have ambitious goals for increasing the number of students attending The Flourish Institute of Theology, not only from across the ECO church family but beyond. One of the most helpful things a church or presbytery can do is point people our way. If you know of anyone considering seminary and/or vocational ministry, please lead them to our website and should they have any questions help them connect with us at info@flourishinstitue.online. We would love to talk with anyone interested in pursuing a seminary education and are glad to answer any questions they may have

Financial Support:

Our business model and financial goals are also ambitious. We believe that it is wrong for students to graduate from seminary and enter ministry with large student debt. For this reason, we are committed to keeping tuition costs roughly one-third of that of traditional seminaries. But starting a seminary is expensive, even with a tiny staff and no buildings to maintain. The gap between tuition and core expenses averages out at $350,000 per year over the next four years. Thankfully, the contributions from churches and support from ECO have been profoundly generous enabling us to work well with our model. But the support of persons, congregations, and presbyteries is needed if we are to continue to grow and move forward.

Be a Teaching Church:

A core element of our education is to take the deep academic ideas of the classroom and apply them effectively in actual ministry settings under an experienced mentor. To do this we need churches to join our Teaching Church team and pastors (active or retired) to become registered mentors. To learn more about this see our web page at: flourishinstitute.online/partner/.

“I am enjoying my classes in FIT. The classes are small enough that we as students are able to have a relationship with the professors and I am getting to know my fellow students through our small groups as well as our time together at the gathering. I am pleased that my classes and the books that we have read have stretched my mind. I hope that I am able to communicate this to my church family effectively.” – Alfred Wanner

A Great First Year

Slightly more than a year into offering classes we can say without doubt or qualification that our nascent seminary is flourishing. We have an incredible group of students who have given us all renewed hope for the future of the church. We have not only increased the number of students in one year by more than 120% we have been able to do so while keeping our costs low and tuition affordable. It has been a wonderful first year and we are more excited than ever for the future of the Flourish Institute of Theology.

If you want to learn more, check out our website at flourishinstitute.online and if you have questions email us at info@flourishinstitute.online. I am happy to meet with church sessions and committees via Zoom and visit presbyteries to share in person what is happening with our seminary. If interested please reach out with the email above.

“Although the church strives to teach us about our faith, it cannot alone meet the needs of a life of ministry. FIT opened my eyes to the full depth and breadth of my faith, exposing the gaps that prevented me from grasping the knowledge and divine wisdom needed to effectively serve others through the work of the Holy Spirit. To my surprise, it wasn’t just the formal instruction, or the countless authors, biblical scholars and theologians, it has been the real-life experiences of my fellow seminarians that has proved invaluable.” – Alan Poling

May the unending love of God be with you,

Rev. Mark Patterson, Phd

President, Flourish Institute of Theology