Teaching Spiritual Entrepreneurship in Theological Education

Despite social innovation’s historic roots in the Christian church, spiritual entrepreneurship rarely makes it into the curriculum that shapes American faith leaders. Theological schools tend to view conversations about social innovation and entrepreneurship as outside the theological canon; congregations tend to see social enterprise as a “new” form of church funding, rather than as an ancient form of Christian witness. In short, theological schools and congregations alike overlook entrepreneurial ministries as vehicles for shaping theological imaginations, especially with the young and the “ecclesially ambivalent.”

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The “Teaching Spiritual Entrepreneurship Project” (TSE) seeks to reframe this conversation by making formation toward spiritual entrepreneurship and its corollaries (Christian social innovation, social entrepreneurship, changemaking, etc.) more available in theological education. In fact, we view theological education as uniquely positioned to form “changemakers” — people who seek to lead positive change by participating in God’s redemptive work in the world, leveraging human systems to enact a Christ-shaped vision of human life.

To that end, the TSE Project has three goals: 1) to identify gaps in theological schools’ current offerings around entrepreneurship; 2) to explore, design, and test pedagogical models for teaching spiritual entrepreneurship in ways that are tailored for theological education; and 3) to expand the theological resources — and pedagogical confidence — of theological schools hoping to enter this conversation with their students. To do that, the TSE Project will engage in three primary activities:

1) Mapping the existing and growing — but often unnamed — efforts in ATS schools to introduce spiritual entrepreneurship to their students. This will help us know which parts of the social innovation conversation come easily to seminaries, and which parts still need to be cultivated.

2) Designing, prototyping, and iterating on models of teaching spiritual entrepreneurship as a theological practice, testing/contextualizing these models in nine different seminary settings. At least two additional prototypes will be tested in “non-degree” spaces, in recognition of this sector’s growing importance in forming faith leaders.

3) Creating resources (e.g., a library of possible learning modules, learning tools, examples of community interaction between seminaries and faith-based nonprofits and social enterprises, a bank of internship models, etc.) for theological educators who wish to introduce students to spiritual entrepreneurship as a form of ministry within and beyond congregational settings.

The grant begins and ends with a stakeholder gatherings to assess our progress and to formulate next steps. At the conclusion of the project, the TSE Project will have worked toward three goals: 1) a better understanding of the current landscape of spiritual entrepreneurship in theological education, 2) nine partner seminaries that have formed a community of practice around teaching this material to seminarians, and 3) a bank of theological and pedagogical resources around entrepreneurial ministries that can be available for theological educators.

The TSE Project is managed by Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture and faculty liaison to the Institute for Youth Ministry, with Larissa Kwong Abazia serving as project coordinator. This grant is funded by Trinity Church Wall Street.

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Pastor of Scottsboro Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Alabama

Micaiah Tanck, Class of 2015

“The friends, colleagues, and professors I’ve met will continue to be resources for me both personally and professionally.”