By: Doreen Gosmire, with contributions from Christa Meland
Twenty-two Dakotas and Minnesota United Methodist clergy just completed a year-long graduate certificate program that taught them about stewardship of financial resources, human resources, vision, strategy, community, and communications—and 14 more are about to begin the program.
The second cohort of the Nonprofit Church Leadership (NPCL) graduate certificate program was celebrated on July 7 via a virtual gathering. The program, which launched in 2018, is a partnership between the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of the United Methodist Church and Dakota Wesleyan University, with funding assistance from the Lilly Endowment. More than 50 congregations have benefited from their clergy participating in the program and gaining new skills.
“The NPCL certificate program is a 12-month rigorous, graduate-level experience,” said Diane Owen, director of the Dakotas-Minnesota Lilly Grant Initiative. “Not only did the graduating cohort obtain critical leadership knowledge and skills with immediate application in their local churches, but these pastors were also all thrown into adaptive leadership situations when the pandemics of both the coronavirus and racial injustices erupted. In an amazing display of agility and adaptability, these pastors guided their congregations into a world of virtual church. They did so as they applied new and very relevant competencies recently acquired.”
Minnesota’s recent graduates are Revs. Andrew Buschena, Henry Dolopei, Karen Evenson, Michelle Hargrave, Shawna Horn, Erica Koser, Laura Nordstrom, Becky Sechrist, and Rachael Warner.
The online program, which includes some live lectures, is designed to enhance the administrative and management skills of church leaders. It strengthens the competencies that pastors need to lead today's church but perhaps did not obtain during their undergraduate, graduate, or seminary education.
“I am walking away with new skills and resources,” said Rev. Andrew Buschena, who serves Common Ground UMC in Cambridge. The program meets you where you are. It is flexible. So much of the content applies to your church. The coaching and relationships I have built with everyone in the program are life-changing.”
Over the course of the year, each student completes two applied projects, each of which focuses on an area of need within the participant’s local church.
Buschena’s ambitious project was a “Living Boldly Initiative” focused on raising $45,000 annually for the next three years to build Common Ground’s staff capacity and increase its community impact. Rev. Shawna Horn, meanwhile, hosted a leadership strategic planning retreat day that brought staff and lay leaders of her church—Fairmount Avenue UMC in St. Paul—together to dream, reflect, and set missional goals. And Rev. Karen Evenson, who serves Faith Church in Farmington, developed new systems of management and administration that included the formation of a short-term strategy team and the hiring of a new church office administrator.
Each person’s project was specifically designed for their context.
“I wanted to bring more joy and stability to our financial work at Centenary,” described Rev. Michelle Hargrave, whose congregation is in Mankato. “I focused on our annual finance campaign, developed 10 years of charts and graphs for our giving and budgeting history, and studied the impact of our Trust Fund and how to grow it. I worked with several teams to develop the plan and to create information that we will be able to use for years to come.”
Each student is paired with a coach that provides mentorship and helps him or her understand the material and execute projects.
“My coach challenged me, pulled me along, even when I did not want to be challenged,” said Rev. Kyle Reinhiller, who serves the United Methodist Church in Hartford, South Dakota. “I would not have stepped out of my comfort zone without my coach.”
“The coaching piece is the secret sauce in many ways,” said Bill Lewis, NPCL coaching coordinator and a member of Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove.
The impacts of NPCL are far-reaching for the congregations and communities where these church leaders serve.
“For the second year in a row, I am impressed with the impacts that these ministry leaders have in their local congregations and communities throughout their time in the program,” said Dr. Alisha Vincent, NPCL program chair. “This year proved especially challenging for church-life during the pandemic. Yet, our participants rose to the challenge, and innovatively led their churches, implementing many of the practices learned and developed while in the program.”
Vincent has dubbed the program the “pastors’ masters.” Participants have an opportunity to transition into DWU’s online MBA program and complete their MBA with an additional 18 credits of coursework.
In the recent virtual celebration, which included both incoming and outgoing students, Bishop Bruce R. Ough commended participants for “your courageous leadership, your perseverance, and your adaptive leadership as we navigate through these times of uncertainty.”
Accountability, flexibility, and productivity were some of the things that graduating students said they most appreciated about the program.
“It is all there waiting for you but you need to take charge,” Rev. Rachael Warner, who serves Anoka UMC, told incoming students. “Ask your colleagues for ideas as you work through the program. You need to plan, set time to do the work, balance your coursework with your church work and family life. If you know something is coming up in your life, work ahead. The faculty are flexible and will work with you.”
View the 2019-2020 cohort list here.
View the 2020-2021 cohort list here.
Doreen Gosmire is director of communications for the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church