Updated July 18, 2016: The original version of this article referred to the “Pirsig Scholars Program,” which has now been renamed the “Pirsig Fellowship.” This new title more accurately reflects the nature of the program. The article below has been updated to reflect this change.

“If I have learned nothing else in seminary, being a part of this formation enhancement will have made the seminary journey worth it 100 times.”

For the last two and a half years, I’ve had the privilege of walking with students in the Kern Scholars Program, which provides a generous scholarship and a cohort experience for students in the Master of Divinity program (M.Div.). I’ve been encouraged to see the way these men and women have connected with each other in their cohorts. As the above quote from one student testifies, the journey of theological education is profound, and it becomes even richer when you have peers who know you on a deep level, and whom you know as well.

Classmates who are also friends, who know the challenges you face, who know when you’re struggling and who are willing to share their struggles as well—these friendships are a gift. They change an often-lonely educational journey into a love-deepening, grace-inspiring community.

The friendships these students are developing will transform their ministries for a lifetime.

That’s why, as the Kern Scholars Program draws to a close, I’m excited that we have the opportunity to launch a new scholarship program next fall, the Pirsig Fellowship. This new program builds on what God has been doing in the Kern program, and expands it for a wider reach of students. Here are the basics:

  • Scholarship: Two-thirds (66%) tuition scholarship for the entire M.Div. degree.
  • Community: Intentional relationships within a cohort.
  • Enhancements: Experiences outside the classroom to enhance spiritual formation.

One of the most profound experiences you can have in seminary is space to be honest.

I like to call it “space for the heart.” Although every class at GRTS engages students at a formational level, the classroom can be a difficult place to process what’s going on “under the waterline,” as Peter Scazzero puts it. In the classroom, you have a limited period of time to cover a ton of content, so you can’t get to know each other beyond a certain limited level. Though these “classroom relationships” are still meaningful, sometimes you just need to get away, enjoy good food together and take the time necessary to really share what’s going on and listen to each other’s stories.

For Kern Scholars (and now Pirsig Fellows), this “space for the heart” happens on an annual formation retreat, in small group meetings each semester and at other events. It’s been amazing to watch students lean in, open up and pursue friendship with each other at a deep level. I can tell you that many of them will never be the same.

Here’s what a few more Kern students have said about their experience in the program. If you or someone you know is considering seminary or the Pirsig Fellowship, this is what it’s all about:

“I read a book before starting classes last fall called ‘How to Stay a Christian in Seminary‘ by David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell. After my first year in seminary and the Kern program, I feel like those authors should have included a section about some kind of community like the Kern program. Christians stay Christian in seminary because of the grace of God in community. It orients and anchors the seminarian in the truths of God. This is what the community of the Kern program has begun to do for me this past year….I have seen glimpses of what a community of pastors can do for one another, how they can encourage each other, and how they can, by their actions, call for deep vulnerability.”

“I have had many classes this year with my cohort. After going on the retreat, I hear them in a new light during class, and I know that they hear my questions better. The spiritual enhancements confronted the competition, pride, envy, jealousy or mistrust that can easily arise during an academic year, and caused classes to be viewed in a refreshing lens…The formation retreat provided the encouragement to approach classes properly and to have my classmates become companions in journey, rather than competitors in a race. I could let my guard down in class. I felt less of a need to be perfect.”

“I grew more during and after that weekend than in any time since my days in my undergraduate education.”

My heart sings when I read those words. I am grateful for how God is at work in these students, and I’m grateful for how walking with them has impacted me and other leaders as well.

The amazing “bonus” in all of this is that these students get this experience without incurring mounds of debt. The scholarship alone is a huge step ahead in ministry training, but wrapping it with true spiritual community is priceless.

For more information or to apply for the Pirsig Fellowship, see the main information page here.

If you have questions, or simply want to explore the opportunity more, I have been known to sit down with plenty of folks over a good cup of coffee to talk life, ministry and calling. I would love to talk with you.

You can reach me at darrell.yoder@cornerstone.edu.