This last month, we interviewed SSA liaison Dan Wielenga from Montana Bible College (Bozeman, Montana) on MBC’s Outdoor Discipleship Concentration.
SSA: What is the Outdoor Discipleship Concentration?
D.W.: The Outdoor Discipleship Concentration (ODC) is one of six degree concentrations offered by Montana Bible College, in company with Pastoral, Biblical Counseling, Christian Ethics and Culture, Missions, and General Ministry. These are degree “concentrations” of one degree: a Bachelors in Biblical Studies. In order for a student to graduate in the ODC, they are required to complete approximately 30 concentration specific credits, acquired from a wide range of classes which include a number of skills training classes (Canoeing, Rock Climbing, Backpacking, Wilderness First Aid, Backcountry Navigation, Cold Weather Camping). Other classes pertain specifically to youth (i.e. Youth Ministry, Teaching Children) or the outdoors (Theology of Outdoor Discipleship, Creation Ethics).
SSA: How is the Outdoor Discipleship Concentration at Montana Bible College structured?
D.W.: Like our other concentrations, the ODC is part of a full four-year degree. Many of the classes are semester long, while most of the skills classes are taught in a modular format, which can vary from a weekend to a full week. Naturally, most of the participants are ODC students, though some of our skills classes are open to students from other concentrations as PE credits (Canoeing, Rock Climbing, Intro to Backpacking).
SSA: How did the program come into being?
D.W.: The ODC has its roots in a need voiced by Christian camp directors for students with training in Christian camping. We have not catered to this need specifically, though we believe students who go through the ODC would be well equipped to fill such a role. We focus instead on the opportunities for meaningful discipleship that the outdoors affords, and extend it beyond typical adventure ministry to include provocative discussion of the possibility that work in the outdoors is a more fitting and biblically faithful environment through which to facilitate discipleship. We certainly don’t dismiss the adventure elements, and want to make good use of the opportunities provided there as well.
SSA: What is the purpose of the ODC?
D.W.: Our purpose is to train students both to “leverage outdoors situations for their disciple-making potential,” and to “lead and direct wilderness adventure ministry experiences in a manner that is safe, biblically grounded, and oriented toward the spiritual growth of the participants.” Since we are located in Montana and much of our training is oriented toward ministry in rural areas, our hope is to give our students the capability to minister well in these environments and have a biblically rooted mindset toward creation and our place within it.
SSA: What aspects of the concentration have contributed to its success?
D.W.: Any successes for the concentration have been a result of the faithfulness of the Lord, in cohort with our location and the general student interest in the outdoors and in finding some opportunity to minister in the realm of their interests and passions. Our number of students pursuing this concentration has been steadily increasing.
Food for thought to discern what opportunities for outdoor discipleship may be present at your institution:
- How might outdoor discipleship courses be incorporated into an existing degree program?
- Would it be possible to make outdoor discipleship opportunities more viable by offering those classes as electives (or PE credits) to the general student population?
- What ministry training needs are present in your surrounding community? (I.e. adventure ministry, urban farming, etc.)
- What type of outdoor discipleship interest might be growing amongst your student body?