Formal theological education is moving beyond the academy and into churches and communities. Across the churchly landscape, societal and religious trends are converging to create a need for resources like the Koinos program. Koinos, a creation of the Pacific Association for Theological Studies in Seattle, Washington, aims to bridge the educational gap between seminaries and churches; it’s a pilot for teaching and learning theology independently of degree-granting institutions. Participants in programs offered in Seattle-Mercer Island, Bellingham, Tacoma, and Redmond, Washington, pay $795 to attend the series of ten day-long, weekend seminars led by professional educators, most of them active or retired professors of theology. Dr. Ward Gasque, Pacific Association’s president, describes the nonprofit organization’s mission as “making good theological education available to every believing Christian in Washington state.”

Koinos instructor Ian Rennie.

Photographs by
Jeff Larsen.

The name “koinos” itself, which is Greek for “common” or “together,” captures in a word what Gasque has in mind.

Most important to the evangelicals who administer and the students, most of them evangelicals as well, who enroll in Koinos is the way that the program helps them to fulfill their spiritual duties. Almost all adhere to the principle that ministry is a central obligation of Christian life, not an activity restricted to professional clergy. It’s a view espoused more and more widely in churches of all traditions, but many congregations, especially small ones, and their pastors lack the resources to provide in-depth education or mentorship to their members. In the Roman Catholic Church, and other churches as well, a clergy shortage or limited funds means a growing a number of congregations are led by lay men and women, some of whom have no theological education at all. Part of Koinos’s purpose is to offer academically respectable foundational knowledge about the Christian faith.

Tina Mead, a teacher who enrolled in the program for “personal growth,” reflected on the religious education of her early years. “I was raised Catholic,” she said. “There wasn’t much focus on the Bible.” Mead is now a member of Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, where she has been taking the course. She has found community in that congregation, but not the depth of theological education she desires. She looks forward to earning her Koinos certificate, but the official recognition of her studies isn’t something she plans to use professionally.

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