North Park University Graduates Find Value in Dual Seminary, Business Degrees

Students at North Park Theological Seminary
The University's dual-degree programs provide opportunities for Seminary students to combine theological instruction with business-skills education.

Graduate dual-degree programs improved, better integrated

CHICAGO (June 26, 2012) – North Park University has improved its graduate dual-degree programs that combine theological instruction from the University's North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS) with business and nonprofit administration education, offered through the University's School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM). Graduates of these educational programs say their dual degrees have helped them in their ministries and opened up career paths.

The University offers dual-degree programs with six different possibilities. The new degree structure is clearer, and integrates the two degree programs more, said Rev. Dr. Stephen Chester, NPTS professor of New Testament and acting associate academic dean. "The degree programs are better balanced in such a way that it's not two degree programs operating separately," he said. "This is an exciting and unusual opportunity for students."

The revamped graduate dual-degree programs include two required courses in which students reflect on the relationship of faith and business issues, said Dr. Wesley E. Lindahl, SBNM dean and Nils Axelson Professor of Nonprofit Management. In addition to learning business skills, students in the dual-degree programs "have access to literature and books, and make connections with professors whom they can call on for advice regularly," he said.

Students can earn one of three degrees offered by the Seminary: master of divinity, master of arts in Christian formation, and master of arts in Christian ministry. Each of these degree programs can be combined simultaneously with one of two degree programs offered through the SBNM -- master of nonprofit administration and master of business administration.

Studying for dual-degrees "allowed me to pursue my seminary education and pay attention to the part of me that loves to organize, and manage detail," said Rev. Erik Strom. "To me, this was faithful in pursuing my call. Each piece was very important."

Strom earned master of divinity and master of nonprofit administration degrees from the University in 2007, then served four years as youth pastor at Winnetka Covenant Church, Wilmette, Ill. About one year ago, he became executive director at Covenant Point Bible Camp, Iron River, Mich., where Strom is able to live out his longtime interest in camping ministry. "I would not be equipped for this had it not been my choice to pursue the dual degrees," he said. The search committee wanted someone with knowledge of Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) theology, and who would keep the camp connected to other area ECC congregations. They also wanted their leader to manage budgets, make financial decisions, and raise funds. Strom said that for any professional church leader thinking about organizational leadership, the University's dual-degree program is worth considering.

Rev. Trishia Kholodenko earned master of divinity and master of business administration degrees in 2008, motivated through her congregational experience in starting shelters for people who were homeless. "I found myself at this intersection of the deepest needs of people, and trying to meet those needs," she said. "I always had to reach out to CEOs and managers for sponsorship and funding, and I needed to be able to speak their language."

Students talking at Nyvall Hall.
Graduates say their ministries and career paths have been enhanced by earning dual degrees.

Kholodenko is associate pastor at New Life Covenant Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Chicago, and director of a nonprofit corporation, the Chicago Dream Center, that helps people become self-sufficient. The Dream Center operates a full-service restaurant and catering business to maintain its own self-sufficiency. "I would have never been able to do that without my degrees," she said. "We do several large-scale fundraisers, and we have to do forecasting and marketing. It is God's grace, coupled with skills and training, that has allowed things to be done as effectively as they have."  Not every pastor needs dual degrees, Kholodenko said, "but I can't think of a pastor who would not benefit from it." She has since added expertise, earning North Park University certificates in organizational development, nonprofit management, and entrepreneurship to go with her dual degrees.

Rev. Steven V. Hoden, who earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University in 2000, returned after working five years as a science teacher to work on a dual-degree program. Hoden chose the Seminary as opposed to others because of the dual-degree offering, and said taking some online business classes helped him juggle class time commitments. He and his wife served as short-term ECC missionaries in Spain, earning remaining field internship credits after he earned his divinity and nonprofit administration degrees in 2010. Almost immediately, Hoden put his business skills to work there while helping to establish an ecumenical bookstore to support an ECC church plant. Now he serves as pastor of Palmyra Mission Covenant Church, Hector, Minn.

"I think as a solo pastor, the (dual degrees) make it easier to be in this type of position," Hoden said. "I could have been called into this position without it, but I didn't realize the level of administrative tasks that would come to me right away. There were high expectations from the congregation, and having this foundation is really helpful."

His business knowledge has been useful in working with the church's administrative board, recruiting and mobilizing volunteers, and in financial matters. "I stay away from the financial giving of individuals and families, however, I appreciate knowing how to read a financial statement each month, and seeing the trends. When you're in a small congregation, financials can have a lot of impact," he added.

E. Kirsten Burdick, director of Seminary admissions, said she's answered several inquiries about the University's revised dual-degree program. "I think the complexity of what's expected of pastors — the integration of ministry and business preparation — is highly significant. Most pastors will likely have to deal with business matters," she said.

Use @npunews to follow North Park University News on Twitter. For further information or resources, contact John Brooks, Director of Media Relations and News, via email or at (773) 244-5522. Learn more about North Park University.

Next Steps

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