A Decade of Kingdom Work Through the Urban Cohort Program
by Kristina Garvelink (M.S. ’15)
In mid-October, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (GRTS) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Urban Cohort program. During a service attended by alumni, students, donors and church leaders, participants reflected on the program's history and anticipated its future.
"It's back on peoples' radars that the church is not antithetical to the academy," Rev. Dr. Royce Evans, assistant professor of pastoral ministries and executive director of ministry residency and the Urban Cohort program, said. "It's actually the church that gives birth to the academy."
Established in 2008, the Urban Cohort program makes theological education accessible to ministry practitioners who desire educational credentials. Having enrolled 218 urban ministry leaders and graduated 90 students, GRTS has learned from urban ministry leaders about the challenges faced in urban ministry, facilitated collaboration between suburban and urban churches and encouraged community among the seminary's diverse student population.
"The benefit to the local church is that they get trained ministry leaders," Evans remarked. "Those churches are located in communities where the church becomes a blessing. And that's how we assist in kingdom building. That's what I love."
Prior to leading the Urban Cohort program, Evans served as a bi-vocational ministry leader for 14 years, balancing work as an industrial electrician and service in a local church.
With a heart for learning and a longing to see each student reach his or her academic potential in service to the kingdom, Evans takes seriously his present role to mentor ministry leaders. Over the past decade, he has provided encouragement and support to entire families, whole church leadership teams, international students and first-generation college students enrolled in the Urban Cohort program.
"The ethos that I have tried to push into and model for students is the charismatic operation of the Holy Spirit to purpose me in ministry, character and competence," Evans said. "I've learned how to let the Lord discern what's best for His servants, including me. The Lord knows what everybody's journey is when He sends them here. My job is to assist them in being true and faithful to that."
Looking ahead, Evans expressed excitement for the next cohort which is on track to be one of the largest cohorts and ways the program's footprint continues to extend beyond West Michigan.
"My goal is to finish well and to be able to hand over to my successor a thriving, fully funded program," Evans concluded. "The work continues. We celebrated 10 years of God's work, and we cannot afford the luxury of resting on His laurels.
"Philippians says that 'he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion,' and so my prayer is that we'll be as faithful for as long as there's a Cornerstone University."
To listen to an audio recording of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Urban Cohort program and the presentation of the James Murray Grier Theological Educator Award to Evans, visit cornerstone.edu/urban-cohort-celebration.