Graduate Department of Theology

The Graduate Program of Theology at Rochester University provides excellent opportunities for those called to professional or lay ministry to pursue a quality graduate education that is integrated with real-life ministry. The program prepares students for a lifetime of faithful service and vibrant discipleship while continuing to stay ahead of the new and rapidly evolving cultural context, in order to conceive and deliver training. The Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership is an attempt to provide faithful ministry preparation that takes our changing context seriously.

Degree Requirements

Graduate Studies: Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership

Rochester University offers a two-year, cohort-based Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership (MREML), which trains those called to professional or lay ministry to lead in a new missional era within the setting of her or his own congregation or ministry context.

Program Overview

The Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership recognizes that Christian leaders now find themselves in an ever-changing culture and new missional era. Christian communities in the U.S. can no longer assume, “If we build it, they will come.” Things have changed. Christian leaders are often doing everything they’ve been trained to do, better than they’ve ever done it before, but with diminishing impact. Churches and Christian organizations in the U.S. can no longer assume a place of prominence.

While this shift can feel as a threat and discouragement to some, the MREML believes this is an opportunity for Christian leaders to reimagine what it means for communities of faith to partner in the work and mission of the living God. The MREML equips leaders to discern the activity of God with others in their contexts and to join God in seeking the flourishing of their local community.

Ministry challenges in a new missional era do not always come with obvious solutions. Leaders, therefore, must be able to interpret their own cultural settings, recognize new opportunities to experience the hospitality of God on terms other than their own, and engage spiritual practices necessary to experiment in the midst of ambiguity and anxiety. These are challenging times, but they’re also exciting times for those who have a sense of adventure and willingness to trust the leading of a living God into a new future.

MREML Distinctives

The MREML features four distinctives of missional leadership training:

  1. Situated Learning: We think learning to lead is best done by leading. We want students to learn in the “situation” or location where opportunities to lead already exist. Each course features a major assignment that begins in the student’s context, whether it is a congregation or other ministry context. This is because we believe the living God is at work in the details of the experience of the congregation or community. The ministry context, therefore, is not simply a place to apply our theology. Instead, it is a source for doing theology. Sometimes we discover God in ways we don’t expect by attending closely to the details of the community.
  2. Spiritual Formation: Central to leading and joining in the mission of God is the pursuit of a God-centered identity. From orientation to graduation, students are invited to attend to the presence and work of God in their lives, communities, and the world. Students share common spiritual practices, such as prayer, scripture, hospitality, and simplicity by crafting a Rule of Life that contains spiritual rhythms which open them up more fully to the life of God. Students have frequent conversation points through the program with a spiritual director and fellow students, ensuring that the pursuit of a God-centered identity occurs within the context of community.
  3. Cohort Learning: Students journey through the program with the same peers from the beginning to the end. This deepens the learning, as students do not continuously meet new peers and need to build trust during each course. Before any online learning occurs, students spend time together at orientation and for their first course to ensure that students know one another from day one. Students learn by observing one another in a variety of different ministry contexts and navigating challenging theological and spiritual waters together. At graduation, students consistently express that cohort relationships have deepened their time in the program in profound ways. Cohort friendships and ministry support last for many years to come.
  4. Over the Shoulder Learning: While the “classroom” is largely a student’s local context, students also travel to four different locations during the program to learn from other missional leaders and communities of faith. In places such as Portland, OR, Indianapolis, IN, and Nashville, TN, students encounter other ideas and possibilities to open their imaginations to the new work of God in their own contexts. These weeks are also a rich time of sharing life together through meals, conversations, worship, spiritual practices, reflection, and fun while exploring various cities.

The MREML offers a unique approach for training ministers for Christian communities in a new missional era. Since the MREML began in 2009, over one hundred students have completed the program, many who continue to thrive in ministry. The results from a 2020 survey of alumni demonstrate overwhelming student satisfaction and preparedness for ministry in a new missional era. We hope you’ll come learn with us! Email to inquire for more information or click to apply » 

MREML Program Design

Since the MREML is a situated learning degree, seven of the twelve courses that students take deliver instruction fully online. The other five courses are either one-week intensives or hybrid courses that combine face-to-face learning with online work. In order to remain on track with one’s cohort, students typically complete three courses in a sixteen-week semester.
The MRE tracks student learning outcomes in relation to six competencies. They are as follows:

  1. Missional leaders serve in the mission of God in relation to a God-centered identity. They lead, in other words, out of a clear and cultivated sense of calling, or vocation, and not in relation to their role. They cultivate habits and practices that shape their desires and give them a continuing sense of participation in the life of God.
  2. Missional leaders center the margins, locating their lives and communities among the suffering with the belief that hearing the experiences and perspectives of the powerless deepens compassion, ignites works of justice, and helps communities more fully embody the eschatological vision of the kingdom of God.
  3. Missional leaders interpret local contexts culturally, using the tools of ethnography. By attending deeply to a congregation and its immediate context, the missional leader provides thick descriptions that serve the task of doing local theology.
  4. Missional leaders enable congregations to interpret their shared life in light of the global and historical story of Christianity, including theological themes that have been central to understanding God’s work in the world.
  5. Missional leaders practice hospitality as they convene and lead groups for the sake of discerning and joining the mission of God. They do this primarily around rhythms of action, reflection, and articulation.
  6. Missional leaders maintain environments that allow congregations to develop a shared, biblical imagination for mission. This includes teaching and preaching, but also necessitates slow, communal readings embodied in practices like Dwelling in the Word.

The following is the course sequence for students beginning in the Fall 2022:

Fall 2022

  • Orientation and Retreat (Rochester Hills, MI – Aug 19-21)
  • Leading the Missional Congregation (hybrid, Rochester Hills, MI – Aug 22-23)
  • Jesus in the Life of the Church (hybrid, Rochester Hills, MI – Aug 24-26)
  • God, New Creation, and the Church (online)

Spring 2023

  • Gospel and Cultures (hybrid, Portland, OR – Jan 25-27)
  • Over the Shoulder Learning and Retreat (Portland, OR – Jan 27-29)
  • Salvation and Human Identity (online)
  • The New Testament and the Gentile Mission (online)

Fall 2023

  • Over the Shoulder Learning and Retreat (Indianapolis, IN – Sept 8-10)
  • Hospitality as Leadership (hybrid, Indianapolis, IN – Sept 11-13)
  • Prophetic Critique and Program for Renewal (online)
  • The Holy Spirit, Leadership, and Missional Communities (online)

Spring 2024

  • Missional Hermeneutics (Hybrid, Nashville, TN – Jan 24-26)
  • Over the Shoulder Learning and Retreat (Nashville, TN – Jan 26-28)
  • Missio Dei: The Story of Christian Mission (online)
  • Joining the Mission of God (Capstone Course, online)