What is the impact of a seminary education on the spiritual, character, and virtue development of seminarians who will one day lead future churches, denominations, and NGOs? Despite the recent proliferation of spiritual and character formation training within seminary programs, to date, the answer to this question is largely unknown—especially from an empirical standpoint. Furthermore, no standards of best practice or widely agreed upon exemplary models are available to help shape the design, implementation, and assessment of such training.
Speaking of the latter, one of the most pressing needs in the field of theological education today concerns the robust assessment of degree outcomes and student outcomes--especially as it pertains to the formation of character and the spiritual life. In its accreditation work with member institutions, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS)—in line with other accrediting bodies of higher education—is increasingly asking that institutions provide evidence that their degree programs are in fact achieving the outcomes they are setting out to achieve. A significant challenge in meeting this need, especially as it applies to data that speaks to student character/spiritual formation, concerns the lack of available measures that are theoretically robust, psychometrically sound, and have been developed/validated specifically for the seminary population and context.
The purpose of this pilot grant, therefore, is to assemble an interdisciplinary team to develop and pilot test, in conjunction with ATS, a spiritual/character formation measurement instrument that can be both 1) useful for research and 2) utilized by a wide range of ATS-accredited seminaries for program/student outcome assessment purposes. These efforts will set the stage for the forthcoming full study in which this instrument will be launched at 8-10 North American seminaries, with longitudinal data to be collected at each location over 3 years.