Recently, Calvary Christian Fellowship (CCF) in Kingwood, TX launched a unique, intense, and broad School of Ministry for their congregation. Mark Brocato, teaching pastor at CCF, worked with Redemption Seminary to craft a unique experience using digital courseware and even a chance for the students to earn their Master’s Degree.
Pastor Brocato sat down with us recently to share how his church is utilizing technology, a partnership with Redemption Seminary, and dedicated staff to provide a world-class discipleship program.
You recently launched a School of Ministry and discipleship program. What was your initial vision?
A couple of years ago, I sat down with our other lead pastor and began to discuss starting a school of ministry. We wanted a more in-depth discipleship program. We had three levels of purpose for the school and were praying through what it would look like to launch such a sophisticated program.
(1) Spiritual Formation
(2) Biblical Foundation, and
(3) Missional Formation.
The first level is that an individual would develop spiritual formation. The second level is solid Biblical knowledge. We wanted believers to have a very solid ability to handle divine scripture.
The third level is about mission. We wanted individuals to be able to discern the missional will of God for their life. Whether that calling is immediate or long-term missional depends on the individual and God’s calling, but we wanted individuals to have an overall understanding that there is a missional call for their lives.
We wanted a discipleship program that was outcomes-based — to have some sort of process that demonstrates growth and action.
That is the vision we had for what we were seeking to accomplish.
That is an incredible vision. How did you launch?
We started by looking at traditional seminary and traditional school programs, but there were multiple issues and problems trying to adapt their programs into ours.
We continued to pray and ask the Lord to guide us to a solution. Several months later, I got an email from Logos (I am a long-time user) advertising a way to get a Master’s Degree using Logos Mobile App Courses. I was thrilled because I love Logos and its courses. I clicked on the link, and it took me to Redemption Seminary.
In looking at the program, I discovered there was so much overlap and similarity between what Redemption Seminary is doing and our vision for next-level Discipleship. I was able to set up a Zoom meeting with Dr. Schwandt, the founding President of Redemption Seminary. We got together to share our visions, and after that, I felt like we could work hand-in-hand together. It’s been a real work of the Holy Spirit through this whole thing — getting the chance to talk to Dr. Schwandt and have a commonality of vision.
I’m really grateful.
How did you integrate a Master’s Degree program into a Discipleship program?
The way the Redemption Seminary program works with churches is amazing.
First, there is a track for those who want to pursue a Master’s Degree program. Secondly, there is a track for students who want to audit the classes, but don’t want to do the extra layer of work required for a Master’s.
But the very cool thing is that if an audit student changes their mind, every single class they’ve taken will count towards their Master’s Degree!
We gave our church two options — Life-Track (Audit) and Academic-Track (Master’s Degree).
What are the discipleship classes like?
Scholars record video teachings in their area of expertise. These videos are the source of the main lectures.
We watch the videos together then have a class discussion on what we just watched. Students can ask questions and we can fill in the gaps for them.
We meet every week for about 2.5 hours. The students are divided into groups of 3-5, and they meet separately on another night of the week to work through the course workbook.
Redemption has graciously made the workbook available to both Academic (Master’s Class) students and audit (Life-Track) students. There is additional assigned reading to go along with the lectures to broaden knowledge.
The whole program is put together by Redemption from the first course to the last, and you are directed through it. The very first courses are all about building self-leadership and building the spiritual. This is the foundation for the whole program. Then we begin to move into the scriptures and biblical interpretation. Then you begin to move into understanding the world around you from a biblical perspective. Then the final course is the actual thesis and academic project. Mentors are also assigned to work through the course with students.
How does the mentorship piece work?
Academic-Track students can choose a mentor from the official Redemption Seminary program.
We arranged a similar (not exact) mentorship experience for our Life-Track (audit) students through our own church. They can meet with Pastor and Ministry mentors we’ve personally identified within our community.
Mentors, whether through Redemption or us, review all the work students have done in the workbook. They’re looking for student competency and demonstration of knowledge.
Like I said before, we wanted to build an outcomes-based program. We want our students to develop spiritually, Biblically, and able to pursue their missional calling. We didn’t want people to go through a class, get a certificate, and wonder what to do with the knowledge.
The Redemption Seminary mentors guide our Academic-Track students through this outcomes-based education. Our Life-Track students are guided by our own mentors. We hope, that when they’re all done three years from now, students will be launched into what God is calling them.Churches can create a unique digital learning experience for Biblical training and spiritual transformation. Recently, a Texas church partnered with Redemption Seminary and FaithLife Equip and to begin their school of ministry,… Click To Tweet
What do you mean by outcomes-based?
One of the problems with discipleship (and educational programs in general) is that they may increase your knowledge, but they might not help you apply the knowledge. Often, there’s nothing built into the program to demonstrate application. We wanted to build a discipleship program through our School of Ministry that would help believers deconstruct a skeptic’s argument, develop an understanding of Scripture, and live out their faith practically.
Does each discipleship student have to sign up for their own courseware account? How does that work?
For those who sign up for the Academic-Track to get their Master’s through Redemption Seminary, they are given the entire library of Logos.
For our Life-Track Students, we signed up for Faithlife Equip. When a church is a member of Faithlife Equip, all congregation members have access to all of the Logos mobile app videos. This is a way to give the Life-track students access to some of the materials. For the additional readings, Life-track students can purchase them and put them in their own “library.”
Faithlife Equip and Dr. Schwandt have really helped us architect a program for both kinds of students.
Learn more about Equip’s integrative capabilities.
When did you launch your school and how many students are pursuing their Master’s Program?
We started in March with a three-week intro segment to get everyone on the same page. And now we are working our way through the first course together. We have twelve students — eight of them are Life-Track, and four of them are earning their Master’s Degree.
What is the feedback then so far from students?
The comments have been around how solid the program and education are. It’s hard work. It’s kind of like working out at the gym — you know you’re going to be sore, but it’s a “good sore.” That’s how these classes are. They require hard work and authenticity, but it feels really good.
How did you roll out this School of Ministry / Discipleship Course opportunity for your church?
We held an Information Night event and announced it over several weeks on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. On the Information Night, we set up a Zoom connection to our meeting for Dr. Schwandt so he could provide information and answer questions on the Seminary piece.
We made sure to be very detailed so that students knew the commitment level and students were able to sign up right then and there.
What is the investment of a church for a program like this?
The only different investment for us has been the cost of FaithLife Equip. Then, staff members and volunteers run and administer the program.
As for students, the Academic-Track students pay tuition to Redemption Seminary, and Life-Track students pay course fees to our church.
How do you hope your church is changed by this kind of digital Bible training and discipleship offering?
We need to undergird and support the gifting and calling in our lives. Part of this discipleship program / School of Ministry is about meeting that need in the body of Christ.
Can you just imagine what would happen in the body of Christ if you have people who, after three years of intense learning, live out God’s calling? What if they say “I really want to live my life the way God wants me to live it.”
Paul, in Acts 13, said this — David lived out the purpose of God in his life in his generation and then he went to sleep. How much change will we affect when we are able to live out the purpose of God in this generation?
Our students are spending time asking that question, figuring it out, and getting trained on how to live out their calling. What our students do might benefit Calvary Christian Fellowship, but this program is about building the Kingdom of God period.
What would you say to other churches who would consider a digital learning experience with Redemption and FaithLife Equip?
This is a doable thing for any church which has the vision to do it. Reach out to Redemption Seminary and figure it out together. Anybody that has the vision to walk down this road, do it! It’s not difficult, it just takes time and effort.
Partnering with Redemption offers a legitimacy that’s really solid. Even if you are a seminary scholar yourself, it would be hard to pull off a program with such a broad perspective. With this program, you are introducing people to a broad intersection of biblical, Christian learning as well as academic learning. Your church will get the appropriate level of challenge and appropriate level of orthodoxy.
ABOUT PASTOR MARK
Mark Brocato is a minister and counselor that has been actively involved in ministry for over 25 years. He helped found Family Life Church, which merged with Calvary Christian Fellowship in 2004. Mark has a depth of conviction for discipleship. Mark is also bi-vocational as the VP/GM for an industrial construction company. With a passion for studying and teaching the Word of God, Mark has traveled to Kenya, Africa to work with Kenya Ministry Training Institute in training pastors and leaders. He and his wife, Diane, have two children; Isaac and Brenda.