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Practical Theology

Classes in practical theology nurture students' faith and prepare them for God’s call.

Students pursuing an MACEF, Dual MDiv/MACEF, or ThM degree may focus their studies in any of the three areas of study within practical theology—education and formation, pastoral care and specialized ministries, or preaching, worship, and speech communication.

Students in the MDiv program can take courses in each area of study (including a floating elective) for a total of 14 credits.

Areas of Study

Education and Formation
Courses in education and formation prepare students for leadership roles in youth ministry, congregations, and educational settings.

The two-year MA program prepares students for the ministry of education and formation in congregational and institutional settings and provides training for teaching. Students in the MA, dual MDiv/MA, or ThM programs can focus their studies in education and formation.

Pastoral Care and Specialized Ministries
Courses in pastoral care and specialized ministries prepare students to serve as pastors, counselors, chaplains, and leaders of nonprofit organizations. Students gain the skills for ministry—the capacity to listen with empathy, to think contextually, the ability to offer spiritual and moral guidance, and the skills to provide ethical leadership in a variety of contexts.

Students in the MA and ThM programs can specialize in the area of pastoral care. Students pursuing a ThM must complete one unit of clinical pastoral education or a course in pastoral care and counseling.

Preaching, Worship, and Speech Communication in Ministry
The mastery of preaching and leading worship is vital to proclaiming the word of God. Learning these skills is fundamental to the MDiv curriculum, and will allow students to combine critical theological reflection with hands-on experience. Courses in preaching, worship, and speech communication in ministry teach students to be effective communicators in the classroom, in the chapel, and in the nonprofit sector.

Current Course Highlights

The Church in Transition
An examination of practical ministry and theology in the context of church closures, mergers, financial insecurity, alternative ventures, community partnerships, and institutional change. Students will evaluate ecclesial concepts and priorities against shifting cultural factors; they will study local congregations and communities, and they will grow in practical knowledge regarding how to foster Christian education and spiritual formation in contemporary America. This course will provide historical background regarding decline of mainline Protestant denominations and congregations in the United States, in the context of broader disintegrating social organizations and ties in American society. Embracing the challenge of the digital age, financial decline and the growth of evangelical and non- denominational congregations and ministries, this course will provide students an opportunity to discern new and creative models for congregational life and ministry, innovate existing models, and evaluate and workshop ecclesiological priorities. Thus, the course will equip students both theologically and practically for contemporary, congregational ministry, straddling the divide between historical, anthropological, and practical modes of learning.

Addiction, Compulsion, and Grace
A survey of addictive and compulsive behaviors, including alcohol and drug abuse, gambling and pornography addictions, and eating disorders. Antecedents to addictive and compulsive behavior, such as past trauma, mental illness, and social oppression will be reviewed. Students will practice 12-step spirituality and become conversant on physiological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of recovery. Students will also evaluate Christian perspectives on addictive behaviors and consider the tension between individual morality, personal brokenness, and social sin frameworks in understanding and responding to addictions.

Care of Self, Care of Congregations
An introductory survey of the theories, methods, and practices of pastoral theological reflection and how these inform care of selves, congregations, and communities. It emphasizes the way pastoral care promotes psychological and spiritual health in congregants and considers pastoral care as theological inquiry. Participants will identify how their own theological perspectives inform approaches to pastoral care when encountering differences of culture, class, gender, and religion. Moving beyond the confines of normative pastoral theology while engaging cognate disciplines that inform a range of pastoral skills, the course draws on "classical" pastoral theological texts along with resources from African American, Latina/Latino, Asian-American, and feminist traditions. Additional readings derived from African and African American literature, Black, Black feminist and Womanist theory, psychoanalysis, and LGBTQ+ studies contribute to developing critical self-awareness, intercultural sensitivity, and theologically reflective pastoral care.

Laboratory for Sustainable Models of Ministry
Millennial leaders—including young church leaders—view institutional structures as potential vehicles for social change. In contrast to some prior generations, however, millennials are especially attuned to the importance of emotional, social, spiritual, and financial sustainability in ministry. This course explores the relationship between ecclesiology, sustainability, social innovation and faith formation in a laboratory setting that helps students develop a process for taking a ministry innovation from concept to scale. Using case studies and theories of innovation, students will explore various social innovations’ implicit theological operating systems, leadership assumptions, use of social media, financial sustainability, and ecclesial impact.

Complete Course Offerings

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church, Crystal City, Missouri

Joshua Noah, Class of 2015

“Through my field education placement at Trinity Presbyterian Church in East Brunswick, New Jersey, I discovered my gift to minister to all age groups.”