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Preparing Ministers for Mission

Northwest University’s College of Ministry expands methods to train pastors.

KIRKLAND, Washington — After 88 years, Northwest University still prioritizes the training of ministers as vital to its original mission as an Assemblies of God Bible college. Additionally, the school now develops nurses, teachers, business leaders, counselors, and other professionals as a doctoral professional university.

In 2019, Northwest launched its Empowering the Future initiative, guaranteeing that College of Ministry majors won’t have to pay more than 50% of the cost of full tuition during their four years of education.

“We know that ministry is not the most lucrative career; it’s a sacrifice,” says Joshua R. Ziefle, dean of the College of Ministry. “We want to ensure students won’t be saddled with debt.”

There are 80 students majoring in ministry on campus here in Kirkland, focusing on specialties from worship to missions. When ministry majors participating in church partnership programs at the NU campus in Oregon, and online are considered, the total is 345 students, 62 of them at the graduate level. The ministry students attending via church partnership sites take a full load of online classes while gaining practical ministry experience.

At the NU campus in Oregon overseen by Debbie Lamm Bray, 23 of the 27 students are ministry majors. The site serves as the largest producer of credentialed ministers for the AG’s Oregon Ministry Network.

“The College of Ministry at Northwest University exists to serve the Church by training pastors and providing resources,” says Ziefle, 42. All 10 full-time College of Ministry faculty members are credentialed AG ministers.

Ziefle believes the NU partnership with local congregations throughout the region may be the wave of the future as far as ministry education goes. Around three-fourths of the College of Ministry enrollees are through the 68 active church partners. The arrangement has students take a full load of classes while also receiving hands-on training in an internship. The high-flex courses agreement allows rural students especially to stay closer to home, yet interact in real time with students in a NU classroom. Students at the Oregon campus and the largest partnership site, Canvas Church in Kalispell, Montana, have hosted master’s degree cohorts.

Northwest University President Joseph L. Castleberry says the university strives to keep pastors in front of on-campus students. The recent appointment of New Life Church Renton pastor Troy H. Jones as College of Ministry chancellor will aid in that.

“We work hard to get practicing pastors into the classroom on a regular basis,” says Castleberry, 62. “We understand school by itself can’t create a pastor’s heart.”

Next year, Northwest will roll out a structure that requires residential students to engage with a pastor of a Seattle-area church.

“We want our campus students to have that same level of internship expression,” Castleberry says. “Ministry is learned in the realm of professional practice.”

In addition, the College of Ministry has implemented twice-a-semester Ministry Moment events in which a Northwest Ministry Network pastor will visit a classroom to talk about a current topic, such as sexuality and gender.

Ziefle, originally from Bridgeton, New Jersey, obtained both his master’s and doctoral degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. He came to NU as a youth ministry professor in 2011. In 2015, thanks to a Lilly Endowment grant, Ziefle founded the Center for Calling and Theological Formation at NU. In 2018, he succeeded Wayde Goodall as College of Ministry dean.

While the aftermath of COVID-19 left some questioning the value of a college education, Ziefle is a firm believer in the traditional educational process.

“Young men and women at the College of Ministry build community and support each other as they train,” Ziefle says. “Seeing students — those who have just started to those about to graduate — worshipping and praying together gives me hope for the next generation of people preparing for ministry.”

All first-year students enrolled at NU, regardless of their major, must take a set of five core Bible and theology courses overseen by the College of Ministry: foundations of faith, the Christian Scriptures, interpreting the Bible, work of God and work of humanity, and the gospel and culture.

“We want to help all our students connect with our complicated and ever-changing culture,” Ziefle says. “The goal is for all Christian laypeople to think hard about ethical, spirituality, sexuality, and gender issues.”

Ziefle also will be overseeing a new $1 million Lilly Endowment grant awarded to the university to help parents pass on their faith values to their children.

A vital component of the Center for Calling and Theological Formation is Summer Journey for high school students. NU graduate Destiny E. Kennedy oversees the program. Her husband, Nathan I. Kennedy, runs the youth ministry and production at the Brentwood campus of the Bay Church, based in Concord, California. Both are ordained AG ministers.

In 2017, Nathan graduated from NU with a dual major bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and intercultural studies. In 2019, he earned a master’s degree in Bible and theology from Northwest. He started out as a contemporary music industry major and says the recording and sound design classes he took at NU have proven valuable in his current production role. His degrees come in handy with his youth ministry job.

“Pastoral care and counseling classes have allowed me to provide help in teaching youth, who still deal with anxiety issues because of COVID,” says Kennedy, 27.

Kennedy believes his education at the suburban Seattle campus also helped him experience a different environment from his upbringing in rural Montana, where 97% of residents are white.

“Northwest challenged my worldview and broadened my perspective,” Kennedy says. “It prepared me for the ethnically and culturally diverse congregation where I now minister.”

TOP PHOTO: Joshua Ziefle is dean of the Northwest University College of Ministry.

LOWER PHOTO: Nathan and Destiny Kennedy are graduates of Northwest.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.