Filling the gap, going the second mile
Providence discipleship school to provide grounded, reproducible experiences
OTTERBURNE, MB—Providence University College is challenging students to go the second mile.
The Otterburne, Manitoba, school launches its Mile Two Discipleship School—a new, intensive approach to the type of experience Providence has historically offered—this fall.
“I think Providence has done very well in maintaining a Christ-centred university education…but discipleship is different,” says Providence instructor and Mile Two director Jeff Banman.
In addition to time spent in classes designed to teach better biblical literacy, Mile Two students will embark on a study trip to Israel at year’s end. But for Banman, the most important part of the year will be ongoing service components in various ministry settings.
Though in some cases it is possible for discipleship to occur through a college curriculum, growth often “happens as you’re pushed a little bit out of your comfort zone and beyond your boundaries,” Banman says.
“It doesn’t move from our heads to our hearts sometimes until we are out there on the streets…spending an afternoon with a ministry…[In] discipleship, that’s where the rubber meets the road.
“Sometimes it gets dirty and messy and difficult—and that’s okay. That’s all part of what discipleship is.”
Originally founded as Winnipeg Bible College in 1925, Providence has long sought to train students in the ways of discipleship through Christ-centred education. In recent decades, however, its focus has shifted somewhat towards a broader academic experience. Mile Two seeks to address the need for a foundational understanding of the Bible in the context of discipleship.
The idea for Mile Two began as a conversation among a small group of Providence faculty members, with Banman eventually being drawn to the forefront given his experience as a director at the now-defunct Cross Current Discipleship School at Winkler Bible Camp.
Part of the idea came from the reality that Providence had “a lot of applicants who come here looking for a one-year program,” Banman says. “And for students like that, we didn’t have a lot.”
Academic dean Cameron McKenzie says Providence recognized more first-year students were in the midst of a ‘gap year’—a trend in which students fresh out of high school aren’t necessarily looking for an education that lines up with their career plans.
“Christian young people are always going to be looking to the large public universities for their educational and career aspirations,” he says. “But…it’s important to say to those young people, ‘look, there is still a [discipleship] formation issue.”
While the Christian college is important to developing students’ faith on an intellectual level, it’s crucial that young people be taught to recognize ministry opportunities in a local setting, and for discipleship programs to provide experiences that can be replicated after the year’s conclusion.
“Discipleship needs to be rooted in the experience of a local [church] congregation,” McKenzie says.
“Christ-centred higher education only flourishes in an environment in which it remains closely connected to the Church and the mission of the Church.”
McKenzie says Providence recognized that other schools and organizations were already employing a number of successful discipleship initiatives, often in foreign settings. The challenge was determining how to complement those models with something different.
Mile Two will have a capacity of 15 students at launch. But Banman says the school is expecting the program to grow, and has already begun to plan ahead.
“We’ll never have one big student body of 50 Mile Two students because it’s difficult to do discipleship with 50 students at a time—there’s probably a reason that Jesus picked 12 people to be His disciples.
“When Mile Two grows, we’ll simply break the students up into smaller discipleship groups and we’ll have more staff who will take leadership for those groups,” he says.
McKenzie says having the Mile Two school join the broader Providence student body will be beneficial for both communities.
“Having those two communities side by side is going to be a little bit like iron sharpening iron—both will be enhanced by this relationship.”
“The goal of Mile Two is to make disciples of Jesus who go and make more disciples,” says Banman, something he feels can be done regardless of whether students continue their education at Providence, elsewhere, or not at all.
“It doesn’t matter whether you go on to become a nurse, or a teacher, or a farmer, or a theologian—you can take some of the practices that you’ve learned here at Mile Two and carry that with you for the rest of your life.”
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