When life serves up lemons…

Evangel – Fall 2014

Keeping PACE

Normal means expect the unexpected. Normal means that you can’t predict tomorrow’s winners based on today’s successes. Normal means that leaders and their teams have to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

So state James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their short new e-book Turning Adversity into Opportunity (2014). They have discovered that when leaders talk about their personal-best moments, they inevitably focus on periods of adversity that they helped turn into opportunities. “It’s not a choice; it’s a requirement. If communities and organizations are not just going to survive but to prosper, leaders must rise to the occasion.”

These fundamental dynamics of group life are part of the reason why ABC’s fourteen year old PACE program has found a growing appeal (nineteen new students in the last year) for a new breed of leader. They know how to make lemonade when life hands out lemons!

ABC has two distinct platforms of program delivery. The regular program serves students under 25 seeking foundations for living.

PACE (Professional Adult Christian Education) is ABC’s program for people over 25 who have considerable life experience. The typical PACE student is 40-42, with a family and full-time job. Increasingly that job is congregational leadership: pastor, youth minister, Family or Christian Education coordinator, or the like. Three of the four 2014 PACE grads were involved in these ways, as were sixteen of twentyfive PACE grads in the last five years. Thirteen of the current thirty-nine “active”1 students also serve as leaders in congregations, four in Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.

PACE leads to either a Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Ministry or a Bachelor of Arts in Counseling and Ministry. The degree is conditional to the transfer of two years of General Studies from other institutions. Without transfer, students may complete two-year diplomas in the same areas (Leadership or Counseling). While the degrees are accepted for graduate study in a broad range of seminaries, many graduates treat their degree as terminal. The program is easily accessible with multiple entry points (not just September or January) and a “payas- you-go” feature minimizes student debt. In addition to on-site classes, PACE can be accessed on-line via video conferencing.

The curriculum is modular in nature. Each class (of six to ten students) meets weekly for four hours for five weeks. The program uses an adult collaborative learning model, similar to what happens in graduate studies, with information and research gleaned during six to twelve hours of individual study between classes, and then processed, evaluated, developed, and personally or communally integrated during class. Students constantly testify to the personal and professional transformation that ensues.

Currently, a core of eighteen dedicated, reflective practitioners with considerable experience in local church ministry or counseling practice provide instruction. All have completed graduate studies, and several have doctorates.

PACE students come from all kinds of backgrounds, with over two-dozen Christian traditions represented. They are as culturally diverse as one can imagine—a veritable United Nations! Ten of the twenty-five grads of the past five years were non-Caucasian, mostly African, Central American, and Oriental. These immigrants account for 5{6b5dbf719d8904cfe310e3fef45823b50f2fb164038ae90b4f0776986a0d04c5} of the growth of the evangelical church in Canada, which, with a 2{6b5dbf719d8904cfe310e3fef45823b50f2fb164038ae90b4f0776986a0d04c5} decline in Caucasian participation, accounts for all (3{6b5dbf719d8904cfe310e3fef45823b50f2fb164038ae90b4f0776986a0d04c5}) of evangelical growth (Bibby, 2012).

There is much however, that all PACE students have in common: they know the meaning of “normal!” They are all facing changing circumstances, disruptions of one kind or another. They regularly point to these times of disorientation, as times of growth and reorientation, frequently connected to “going back to school.” Some are dissatisfied with personal growth or want to interrupt a slide. Some want new windows to see themselves, their world, and their God. A medical doctor wanted to develop a biblical view for operating a clinic in China, which she has done. Several ‘natural’ chaplains “felt like frauds” and wanted to improve skills to continue their work in a jail, hospitals, and an airport. Some are gambling on a vision to do something good! (See the Spring Evangel.) Some want to ‘give back’ to the church and the world after successful careers. Being the richest person in the cemetery holds no appeal to them! Going to bed at night saying: “I’ve made a difference to that person” does! So they take on the mantle of leadership as pastors, church planters, house church leaders, shelter administrators, youth or young adult leaders, social justice advocates, missionaries, etc. Some want to complete a degree left unfinished when life got in the way. Some serve in congregational contexts, as noted above, where their natural/supernatural gifts are honored and they desire a biblical/ theological framework to exercise them. Some want to prove that voices declaring their inability or worthlessness were wrong. Some just want to find their own voice about their faith, and to find words for what they already know. Others lives have been surprised by Love, and they rightly understand that whatever is next, begins in that Word that has already redefined their world.

Stories of transformation are equally diverse, and full of imagination and hope, redeemed from the upsets of life. We will continue to tell these unique and beautiful stories in this column. We thought that the ABC family might like to understand the broader context of PACE and its people. It is a program born of hope, and every participant is a living testimony that it is never too late to learn! If you are interested in taking a course, you can find more information on the PACE Program pages.

1 In addition to the 39 “active” students, there are 31 “inactive” or “selected studies” students presently connected to the program. An “inactive” student is one who hasn’t taken a class at ABC in the last year, but who is still working on their degree in other programs, or taking a sabbatical. “Selected studies” students are those taking occasional courses before declaring their program.

Dr. Fraser is the Director of Learning Services as well as a professor who specializes in New Testament and Christian history; theological pedagogy; and social ethics in contemporary education. He credentials include B. Th. ’73 Alberta Bible College; B. Ed. ’73 University of Calgary; M.C.S. ’86 Regent College; Ed. D. ’08, University of Alberta Academic.

Ron has also published extensively: From Tinkering to Transformation: Christian Ministry in an Age of Secularism (1993, Lectures of the College of Churches of Christ in Canada. Published by the College of Churches of Christ in Canada); A History of the Restoration Movement in Canada (2008, as in Foster, Blowers, Dunnavant, and Williams, The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Eerdmans); Ron has also written numerous articles for the Christian Standard from 1989-2002 and the Alberta Bible College Evangel from 1982-2011.

His ministry activities include Alternative Dispute Resolution; Mediation Training and Peace Education; Ecclesial Leadership and Equipping Education Workships including Inspiring a Shared Vision through Appreciative Inquiry, Group Needs Assessment, Strategic Planning, Team Building, Growing and Empowering Influencers, etc.; Preaching.

In his spare time Ron enjoys hiking, woodworking, visiting with people.

Other articles by Dr. Ron Fraser: