On Monday night, we relaunched the Pirsig Fellowship and Kern Scholar Enhancement programs. Four cohorts, many spouses, and even some kids gathered at the Gainey Conference Center at Cornerstone University to reconnect at the beginning of another semester. Snow falling and slippery roads outside; warm soup and conversation inside.

We were blessed to have author and speaker Sharon Garlough Brown with us as a keynote speaker for the evening. Sharon spoke on cultivating humility and how God often uses what Paul called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) to produce deep transformation in our souls if we are willing to steward them. She called us to shift how we think about the lasting, painful struggles we pray against but seem to linger: health issues, financial struggle, fear, depression, addictions, difficult people, constantly closed doors for career or ministry, or relationship.

If we are willing to shift our perception of these struggles and view them as potential instruments of God’s grace, we will find God working in us in ways we wouldn’t expect. He will cultivate in us a sprout and then a deep root of humility that can bear the kind of fruit only God can bear through our lives.

Sharon’s message fits at the heart of what the Pirsig Fellowship is all about. Pirsig Fellows join a cohort of students in the Master of Divinity program, receive a major scholarship, and participate in retreats, small groups, and dinners like this throughout the year. Our goal is to provide a holistic theological education (which is seminary-speak for a deep transformation of the soul), anchored in a deep understanding of God’s Word, and facilitated by growing skills for ministry in the local church.

Our first Pirsig Fellowship cohort is finishing their first year, and from the looks of it, they’re having a ball. More importantly, they’re experiencing something profound. Here are a few things they shared with me recently:

“The enhancement program is spot on. I cannot think of a better way to approach Christian spiritual formation. The Scripture [my leader] uses, the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality book, the retreat, small groups, students, and leaders are invested in us as I have never experienced before.” —Chris Cornell

“I absolutely love my cohort. It’s so fun to have classes with them and know their stories and to be understood by them. I enjoy meeting with the ladies for small groups, but I also like that we get to see the guys too once in a while. It’s great to have all these unique perspectives and personalities.” —Maddie Baker

“Suddenly, all this talk about ‘humans were made for the community’ that I got in undergrad started to make sense. Being in community with the body of Christ….is about walking with one another through all of our hurts, fears, and struggles with sin…I’m not the man that I was a few months ago…I’m more gentle, more understanding, more vulnerable, more excited about life, and more confident that I am actually called and qualified to serve as a pastor than I was before this semester.” —Dylan Kern

What I love about the Pirsig Fellowship is that it takes the best program the seminary has to offer pastors and ministry leaders, the Master of Divinity drastically cuts the cost, and wraps it with the authentic community and spiritual formation.

The church needs leaders who can sustain a lifetime of ministry, not because they’re gifted (burn out happens to everyone) but because they’re anchored in God’s love in a way that sustains them and leads others to do the same.