Embracing Change, Adapting Ministerial Training for Today’s Minister


IWU President, Dr. David Wright and 2017 KERN Graduate, Jake Thurston

Someone once told me, “Sailors don’t complain when the wind changes direction.  They just adjust their sails.”

I’m not a sailor but this rings true for me. Life is full of changes. Sometimes I think about the world my grandparents lived in – how little a house cost, how low gasoline prices were, how direct and simple communication seemed to be.  People talked with one another on the porch rather than texting and sharing life updates in social media posts with photos captured by sophisticated cameras mounted inside expensive hand-held wireless telephones.

The winds of life change.  Whether we like it or not, we have to adjust our sails.

Ministry is no different.  At IWU we are blessed to prepare hundreds of women and men for ministry.  The pastors of our day live in the same complex and expensive world while following a passion to serve the Lord with all of their lives.  Many struggle to acquire the education they need without burying themselves in debt.

We are thankful for people who understand this reality and are determined to make a difference.  Mr. Robert Kern, who made his fortune as an engineer, has used his resources to be a catalyst for change in the pastoral education model at IWU.  Mr. Kern was young when his father, a pastor, sought further ministerial education.  He witnessed how challenging it was for his father to go back to school while juggling the pastorate and a family.

Mr. Kern and the Kern Family Foundation put together funding and asked three institutions to find a way to meet a goal: increase the educational training of future pastors and ministry leaders in less time and for less money.  IWU was one of those three initial institutions that took Mr. Kern’s challenge launching the KERN Program in 2012.

2017 KERN graduate and newly appointed Connections Pastor of Ransom Church in South Dakota, Jake Thurston expressed his admiration for the KERN program this way, “There are so many things I could say about the KERN program!  It was a life-changing, intense program that pushed me to think deep and to write at a deeper level than I could have imagined would be possible when I entered the program as a freshman.”

KERN students study together for five years, and in the process, they form relationships that are truly incredible to witness.  Jake describes studying together, worshipping together, going to conferences together, struggling through incredibly challenging courses together and through it all becoming a family.  “The bonds are truly amazing.  We have group texts, we share ideas, we pray for one another, we ask each other questions.  I have a community that is still with me today, even though I have finished my degree.”

Additionally, Jake praises the residency experience, “The beauty of the program is that it moves online in the last year allowing students to do a 12-month residency.  KERN understands that you cannot teach everything about the pastorate in the classroom.  When you finish this program, you will not find yourself saying ‘seminary didn’t teach me that’ because of that one full year of training in a teaching church.  That is where you learn so many practical ministry lessons.”  He adds, “At the same time that you are doing your residency, you are still part of your cohort, you still take classes and you are still being mentored by your professors.  I have bypassed 5-7 years of experience in my 2-year residency.  I know that I have avoided many rookie mistakes by being a part of KERN.”

The KERN program’s weekly mentor and shepherd, Dr. Eddy Shigley is also amazed by the power of this style of learning.  “When this program was designed, we knew it would be challenging.  We knew it would prepare pastors well educationally.  But, we did not fully realize that by doing education this way students would be uniquely prepared for ministry in other ways.  Because of the rigor of the KERN program, they have to pick up the pace, juggle many things well, handle pressure and they come out refined by the fire.”   He also speaks about the bond that forms within the cohorts saying, “these men and women are going to plant churches together, go on the mission field together – they are going to be in one another’s lives personally and professionally for years to come.”

He also explains the importance of mentorship is within the KERN program.  The students are shepherded spiritually to practice working hard while also shepherding their own soul in the midst of ministry.  They are building habits that will make them effective ministers that have strength and longevity.

It was a joy to hear Jake talk about his favorite years being those that were the hardest academically.  He describes year four as being a year when ‘the bar was raised.’  He was required to do a project for his hermeneutics class which later launched into his capstone project which led to a philosophy of ministry that will likely lead to his planting a church one day. He has plans to write a book that incorporates all of his ideas.  Through the program, Jake says, “I discovered how God had gifted and wired me for ministry.”  And he stated over and over again, “I am so grateful for KERN.”

Because of the generous financial contribution of the Kern Family Foundation, these graduates are paying less for their two degrees (a Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministries and a Master of Practical Theology) than they would for one undergraduate degree.

We are delighted with the success first and foremost of these students, as well as this program.  The first graduating KERN class in 2017 was 18 students.  From that first cohort, six have full-time employment at mega churches in the USA. The majority of them are full-time pastors, one is an adjunct professor and another has started their own ministry, which is truly thriving.

Interestingly enough, our School of Theology & Ministry hosted a residency fair earlier this month.  Churches who want to recruit our KERN students were here making connections with IWU ministry students.  Eight of the pastors present for the ministry fair were IWU KERN graduates!

Thank you to the faculty of the School of Theology & Ministry for taking the Kern challenge and developing a program that adapts to the needs of the world today, but more importantly fulfills our mission of changing the world by developing students in character, scholarship and leadership.  Well done!

To learn more about the KERN program, visit www.indwes.edu/undergraduate/school-of-theology-and-ministry/kern/