New Program Brings Theological Training to Bay Area Leaders

Dan Kimball Launches Bay Area Cohort

cohort student Meg Ryan

Dan Kimball is troubled by the rise of “theological deconstruction” stories in the church as more young people are questioning their previously held beliefs and abandoning faith. At a ReGeneration Forum a few years ago, he decided to host an informal lunch discussion on the topic of theology and ministry to new generations. Hoping for a handful of youth pastors to show up, Kimball was surprised to find the room packed with youth pastors, young adult pastors and worship leaders—all hungry for answers to the difficult questions they were facing in their churches.

More than ever before, Kimball realized the urgent need for theological training for the next generation of leaders in the Bay Area.

“These young leaders are on the forefront right now of all the cultural questions being raised about pluralism, sexuality, the afterlife and the validity of the Bible,” says Kimball, Director of the ReGeneration Project, a gospel-centered ministry of Western Seminary that exists to help church leaders respond to difficult questions about theology and the Bible. “But the problem is that often these leaders aren’t trained. They’ve been brought onto staff at churches because of their skills and abilities, but they usually don’t have the theological background to provide credible answers to these difficult theological questions.”

When the conference was over, Kimball began to develop a plan for how Western might be able to meet the unique needs in the Bay Area. He realized that there were very few formal training opportunities available to young leaders at regional churches, but he also knew that time and cost were significant barriers to seminary training.

dan kimball

“The vision is to have Western be the go-to option for theological training in this region. But because of logistical challenges, it has to be practical and affordable,” says Kimball.

With this in mind, Western launched the Bay Area Cohort last fall for students to get their MA in Ministry and Leadership. The cohort is offered in a condensed format that meets all day, once a month, allowing a group of up to 20 students to journey together for three years towards their degree.

The all-day intensive is a unique aspect of the cohort that fosters deep relationships between students.

“They get to have lunch together and really get to know each other, while sharing the specific ways how what they are learning in Bay Area specific ministries, which is the really fun part,” says Kimball. “I didn’t experience that kind of friendship or interaction when I was at seminary because I was always coming and going without much connection.”

Another important aspect of the cohort is that it is offered at half the cost of a typical master’s degree program, thanks in part to a partnership with the local churches and ministries that the students serve in. Each student works with a mentor from their church or ministry as part of the requirement for the ministry classes. This leverages their real-time ministry experience in the field to be incorporated into their ministry classes, while the classroom time is focused around Bible and theology content.

Kimball believes that Bay Area churches will see the need and really get behind the idea of providing theological training to their young leaders.

“These leaders are getting bombarded with so many theological questions and yet many don’t have answers,” he notes. “If they can offer young believers and non-believers reasonable answers to the hard questions, it can make a huge difference at such a crucial moment of faith in the lives of so many here.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic making it impossible to meet in person, the cohort began to meet this fall on Zoom, allowing the students to start remotely. Kimball is looking forward to meeting in person and growing the program to more students in the future.

“Our current students come from some of the most thriving churches in the Bay Area, and I could easily see having 80 or more students in four years, if we can get the churches to really invest in their younger staff.”

Explore the Cohort