08 Mar 2023: DMin Research Notes
DMin Research Notes are brief descriptions of research conducted by DMin faculty or students that will inform our community of current research taking place in DMin programs. DMin Research Notes prioritize research by DMin students and research related to DMin programs but any research relevant to Christian ministry will be considered. Please consider submitting a DMin Research Note and making your best DMin students aware of this opportunity to publicize their work.
The DMin Research Note Template is displayed in the following examples. Questions about DMin Research Notes can be addressed to the JCM Research Note Editor: Dr. Mark Chapman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Current DMin Research
Title: Using contemplative practices to support the dwindling faith of millennials who are
done with church and Christianity.
Author Name: Ellen Haroutunian, DMin
Institutional Affiliation: Trinity School for Ministry, Pittsburgh, PA
Contact Information: Ellen Haroutunian, email@example.com
Description of the Research:
This is a qualitative research study that includes an extensive analysis of the significant shifts in worldview and culture that have contributed to the loss of faith in the millennial age group (born 1981-1996). The shift into the modern era created a perception of reality that is desacralized and flattened to an imminent frame of reference only. The classic Christian worldview, that of sacramental ontology, was reduced to trust in reason over revelation, and the easy premodern acceptance of transcendence and supernatural realities was lost. The loss of transcendence gave rise to the autonomous individual who must create one’s own order and meaning in life, which has produced existential angst and loneliness, and which is evident in some of the responses of interviewees. I explore the idea that postmodern thought has created some cracks in the immanent frame of modernity which can allow hauntings of transcendence to stir and awaken souls again. In addition, my respondents had much to say about negative and harmful experiences of church and faith that also strongly contributed to their exodus from church and faith.
Thirteen individual interviews were conducted to gather information about the experiences of millennials who are still seeking God through formal spiritual direction with me as well as through engagement with contemplative practices despite their active deconstruction of faith and subsequent exit from their churches. I also conducted a focus group of four people from the same demographic but who were not my personal spiritual directees, in order to explore differences in their responses which could indicated bias on my part. Their responses were so similar that I coded, analyzed, and recorded their responses together with the larger group of individuals. I conducted a second focus group of six which was comprised of pastors and spiritual directors to glean from their wisdom and experience about this particular demographic, and to compare with my own experiences and observations of them.
My hypothesis was that contemplative spiritual practices are still meaningful to them and contribute positively to their experience of God and Christ, which was demonstrated to be true for this particular group of millennials. The personal stories they provided give insight for ministry to people who are similarly deconstructing their faith, yet still acknowledge some belief in God. For example, every respondent indicated that what they desired most was meaningful community, and they identified how hierarchical religious structures, and attitudes towards women, people of color, and other groups make community unsafe for them, thus weakening their trust in the church and the faith. They also described their longing for transcendence and mystery and where they are able to find this outside of the church when they do not experience it inside the church. Listening to this group can help ministers to facilitate experiences of God that can sustain faith.
Sources for Further Exploration:
The Ministry in a Secular Age series by Dr. Andrew Root explores in depth the larger cultural changes in worldviews and the resultant changes within the human person that both modernity and postmodernity have created. Book number four in the series describes a scenario of a dying church that finds its way back to life through listening to the needs and experiences of a young man from a thoroughly postmodern and post Christian generation and gives practical wisdom for pastors and churches to recover their mission again within the immanent frame.
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Title: Admissions as Transformational Process: Expanding the Role of Seminary Admissions Personnel in Prospective Students’ Enrolment Discernment Process
Author Name: Kevin O’Coin
Institutional Affiliation: ACTS Seminaries of Trinity Western University
Contact Information: Kevin O’Coin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Description of the Research:
This project sought to determine whether incorporating best spiritual care practices (see the works of Elizabeth Liebert, James Ashbrook, Carrie Doehring, Emmanuel Lartey, and Howard Stone, among others) into conversations with prospective seminary students increases the likelihood that they describe those conversations as helpful in deciding whether to enrol in seminary.
Two groups of ACTS Seminaries prospective students completed identical questionnaires asking them to reflect on their enrolment discernment process. In particular, the questionnaire asked them to rate their agreement with the following statements, and how important each aspect was in their decision-making process: ACTS Seminaries admissions personnel (1) expressed care during our interactions, (2) took the time to get to know me and understand my specific goals and background, (3) valued my story and encouraged me to tell it, (4) listened carefully to me and understood what I said, (5) encouraged me to access resources in my faith community and relational network to assist me in my decision-making process, (6) tried to help me hear and respond to God’s overall call in my life, and (7) tried to help me determine the best program fit for my vocational and personal desires and goals.
A control group consisted of prospective students from all stages of the admissions funnel for terms summer 2016 to spring 2020. Responses were solicited from 1,444 potential participants, 132 of whom responded. 35 prospective students from the spring, summer, and fall 2021 terms (the duration of my study) agreed to join a separate experimental group. Prior to the experimental group participants completing the questionnaire, I had personal conversations with each of them that included my proposed best practices. I made notes based on my observations of their responses to my questions and use of spiritual care principles.
The results showed a marked increase among the experimental group in overall satisfaction with their enrolment discernment conversation experiences. They indicated the most important aspects of their discernment processes was to have someone help them find the best program fit. Conversation with other seminaries or Christian colleges would determine if my practices could be of use more broadly.
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Title: The Binary Church: The Impact of Gift Rejection on the Basis of Patriarchal Gender Ideology
Author Name: Rev. Dr. Vanessa Bickle
Institutional Affiliation(s): Trinity School for Ministry, Pittsburgh, PA
Contact Information: Vanessa Bickle, email@example.com
Description of the Research:
The purpose of this research was to identify areas in the church and its ministries where women’s and men’s gifts are rejected due primarily to their gender. A secondary purpose was to increase awareness of gender bias and promote alternatives to gender-based divisions in ministry and church life.
The study was comprised of individuals from three congregations with diverse social norms yet common liturgies. Initial results obtained through responses to an online quantitative survey were comprised of 16 women, 10 men, and 27 others who did not identify. Qualitative interviews were conducted with a smaller sample of the original respondents and included 9 women and 4 men. The objective of the interviews was to ascertain in what circumstances people in the church have experienced gender bias.
Results of the study indicated four themes: (1) gender stereotypes and biases are prevalent in the church and its ministries; (2) gender-based ministry groups are the most frequent means by which men and women describe gender unique experiences in the church; (3) women have negative feelings toward church leaders and God as a result of their gifts being refused; (4) as a result of the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and biases, men and women are forced into separate identities in the church.
I defined “ecclesiastical essentialism” as a model for transforming how the church considers and relates to women and men. This model insists that the church not be rooted in gender viewed from a post-fall lens, but rather in the precepts of Gal 3:28 realized in the present. Once gender stereotypes are repudiated, gender-based ministry groups can be reconciled through elimination or examination, preventing the bounding of one’s church relationships by gender.
The refusal of gifts is eliminated or reduced when church leaders recognize and admit that gender barriers exist in their churches. Acknowledging and overcoming centuries of role stereotyping provides a haven for men and women to heal from past wounds.
When church leaders eliminate false gender identity boundaries, men and women are no longer forced into ideologies of masculinity and femininity that may be incongruent with their innate expression of gender. Through the elimination of these unnecessary divisions based on biological sex, men and women can serve together as originally created in the image of God.