Faith development

The Mid-Faith Crisis: Introducing Evangelicals to the Dark Night of the Soul

Thomas Sweeney M.A.
The mid-faith crisis is a qualitative shift in our faith experience as God weans us of the spiritual delights lavished upon us in the initial stages of faith and leads us on an inner journey of awareness, repentance, and surrender. This typically occurs in middle age and often in the midst of successful ministry, so it is often misdiagnosed as falling away from faith rather than progressing in faith. Such strong medicine is necessary because it addresses a serious affliction: the false self which has smuggled itself unseen into the Christian life and forms the great obstacle between us and God as well as us and those around us. Through the mid-faith crisis, God invites us to lay aside the false self and its tools for navigating life, accept who we really are, and to grow ever more into our identity as the beloved of the Father. While the mid-faith crisis is divinely initiated and sustained, there is room for human participation in the work.
This research portfolio explores the author’s own mid-faith crisis, proposes a model for the phenomenon and reports the results of an action research project to develop and deliver a curriculum that introduces conservative Evangelicals to the mid-faith crisis. It concludes by identifying further potential development of the model and the curriculum.


Jonathan Nielson D.Min.
For this major project, the study participants were Princeton University undergraduate
students who were actively involved in the ministry of Princeton Faith and Action, which is
staffed and resourced by Christian Union. Students were observed, studied, and interviewed at
the beginning (fall) and conclusion (spring) of their freshmen years at Princeton, with the goal of
determining to what extent this campus ministry was contributing to their spiritual growth. The
research and study focused on five main metrics to measure the growth in spiritual maturity of
these students: Bible and theology knowledge, spiritual disciplines, personal holiness and
godliness, evangelism and gospel witness, and understanding of and involvement in local
churches. Conclusions were drawn about the strengths and weaknesses of this campus ministry
at Princeton University and its effectiveness in helping undergraduate students grow in spiritual

The Fear of the Lord: Its Meaning and Use as a Motivation for Christian Living

Bradley R. Sickler D.Min.
The fear of the Lord is a multifaceted concept. Rather than trying to narrow down the definition to one concept, this study defines the concept in terms of four broad vantage points: first, the fear of the Lord as an emotional experience with the living God; second, the fear of the Lord as an objective truth which can be taught to people; third, the fear of the Lord as a motive for behavior; and finally, the fear of the Lord in relation to the love of God. The study was motivated by a realization that it was rarely specified as a motive in Christian decision-making or Christian behavior among the congregation. To address this problem and pastorally respond to it, this study makes use of the discipline of biblical theology, tracing the theme of the fear of the Lord and its development from Genesis to Revelation (chapter 2). Four main concepts pertinent to understanding the fear of the Lord are then examined from the perspective of systematic theology (chapter 3), in order to define the meaning and purpose of the fear of the Lord from both a biblical and systematic perceptive [sic]. In order to help the congregation understand and live in the fear of the Lord, an assessment of what the congregation currently believes about the fear of the Lord is also needed. Chapter 4 presents the results of field research undertaken to assess these belief’s utilizing ‘Q methodology,’ a research technique that allows the researcher to conduct a qualitative study using quantitative methods. Chapter 5 concludes with a summary of the results of this study and offers reflections on how to move forward in light of those results, as well as a discussion of ways in which the field research might be improved.

Authority of Scripture in Today's PC(USA)

Peter David Jones D.Min.
For this project, a small group of dedicated adults studied the Authority of Scripture using historical, theological, confessional, and experiential methods seeking to better understand scriptural interpretation and application to daily life. Of specific interest, the group ended with a case study of scriptural approaches to the topic of homosexuality, seeking to understand how biblical interpretation affects daily life.

Below is an excerpt from the project report:
"Too often, clergy treat some information gathered in seminary as secret knowledge reserved for those deemed worthy enough to obtain it. This must emerge from either too high an opinion of oneself, too low an opinion of congregants, or an addiction to the power of knowledge, but the end result has been a highly educated clergy speaking to relatively ignorant congregants. This, of course, is no indictment of congregants, but rather a commentary on the ineffectiveness of clergy in appropriately and clearly providing people with the tools necessary to grow in their faith; to grow beyond the children’s sermon understanding of the Bible itself. This project is one example of ways in which the clergy can engage with congregants on a more level playing field, trusting in their abilities and Spiritual maturity to guide the process of learning. I have often heard it said that people enter seminary with strong faith, have their faith shaken, then emerge even stronger than when they entered. Why do we not believe that congregants can and should follow that same pattern in their faith journeys?"


Scott Fouts D.Min.
The purpose of this study was to discover in what ways did spiritual growth occur in a congregational based Holy Land tour. The research also sought to determine to what extent spiritual growth occurred. The tour visited the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Jordan Valley.

The intent was to capture the participants feelings, perceptions, and actions about the tour experiences. They were surveyed, observed and interviewed to assess their perceptions of the encounters they were experiencing.

There were twelve themes which emerged. The participants expressed being touched by observing the spiritual growth of others and wanting more experiences in the Holy Land at a noteworthy level of intensity. They experienced the Holy Land encounter with a substantial level of spiritual growth throughout, seeing what they perceived Jesus saw, walking where they perceived Jesus walked, experiencing the ancient world coming alive, the impact of previous tours and worship through singing. The participants encountered geographic relationship, praying, the sacrament of baptism, the sacrament of communion, the self-perception of spiritual change and the hope of sharing their own experiences with others major spiritual ways. These themes caused the participants to grow in their faith at different levels.

Glimpses of Heaven among Friends: The Utilization of Film to Draw Interest in Small Group Studies at the First Baptist Church of Albemarle

Roger William Thomas
A small group study about heaven in scripture and contemporary film was developed in order to create interests in small groups. Believing small groups, discussions of the after life, and the power of storytelling are affirmed throughout scripture, individuals were recruited and led through the study. Surveys measured opinions on heaven and small groups among the entire congregation and the small group participants. Following the study, the participants were surveyed one final time on both subjects. Ultimately the study did not always change minds with concern to the afterlife, but the overall opinions of small group experiences seemed to be broadened.

Enhancing expository preaching skills to increase congregational awareness of selected spiritual disciplines at First Baptist Church, Stigler, Oklahoma

Daniel Milligan D.Min.
The purpose of this project was to enhance the project director's expository preaching skills to increase congregational awareness of selected spiritual disciplines at First Baptist Church, Stigler, Oklahoma. The project began by researching the fields of expository preaching and spiritual disciplines for the purpose of communicating selected spiritual disciplines from the book of Philippians. The research resulted in an annotated bibliography in the field of expository preaching and a report of selected spiritual disciplines. The project director used the research to develop a sermon series intended to raise the congregation's awareness of selected spiritual disciplines. The sermon series was delivered and thereafter evaluated using pre- and post-series surveys and response sheets provided to the congregation. Each phase of the project was evaluated using expert feedback.

Awana Together: Empowering Parents as Spiritual Mentors for Their Children

Sara-Jane Heacox Sosa D.Min.
The post-Christian culture in the United States presents a significant challenge to the spiritual growth of adults and children. At Plymouth Covenant Church, ministry leaders recognized that young parents often lacked a biblical foundation. Many did not feel competent to lead their children spiritually. These parents needed a vibrant personal faith as well as good role models. As a result, ministry leaders designed a more effective way to empower parents as spiritual mentors for their children. They created a new ministry that would provide personal faith development for parents, a supportive faith community, family-focused programming, and solid biblical teaching. This new ministry was a family version of Awana that they called Awana Together.

The problem that this project addressed was the need for a family ministry model at Plymouth Covenant Church that fostered a partnership between the church and families that empowered parents as spiritual mentors for their children. It used an intrinsic case study approach to evaluate Plymouth Covenant’s unique ministry, Awana Together, to determine if it provided a pathway for a better partnership between the home and the church in empowering parents as spiritual mentors. The research included evaluations of biblical passages and current scholarship, surveys of past and present Awana Together participants, focus group discussions with ministry leaders, and in-depth questionnaire responses from three different families. The research revealed that Awana Together was successfully designed to meet the goal of empowering parents as spiritual mentors for their children.

A Study of the Exegetical Conversational Bible Study for Spiritual Growth and Formation in Korean Immigration Church Small Groups

Hyunkee Bae
The purposes for this dissertation are to investigate the small group for the efficient Bible study to impact on spiritual growth and formation and to suggest a practical and efficient teaching method for organizing and operating small group Bible studies that can help the churches implement effective Bible studies. To accomplish these two goals, the exegetical conversational Bible study, which is a small group and interactive Bible study, was conducted at two Korean immigrant churches in the United States. Two surveys and group interviews and individuals were implemented. As a result, this project concludes that the exegetical conversational Bible study positively influenced the spiritual growth and formation of the participants in the small group.

Developing a Battle Plan for Spiritual Warfare with the Men of Crossroads Presbyterian Church

Donald Sampson D.Min.
The purpose of this project was to investigate the topic of spiritual warfare and assess the level of understanding of it among the men of a Presbyterian congregation in order to develop a plan to enable the men to engage in spiritual battles with the world, the flesh and the devil. The project included a biblical and theological study, followed by interviews with a select sample of men from the congregation. Qualitative analysis revealed some confusion over the phrase “spiritual warfare.” Additional themes that emerged from the interviews included a high degree of awareness of temptations of the flesh as an ongoing source of spiritual struggles and a strong belief that Satan is real. This latter belief was tempered by widespread uncertainty over the relevance of Satan, or any demonic influence, due to a very high conviction about the sovereignty of God. A recognition of the importance of enlisting other men for help in fighting spiritual battles was also a significant theme. While the men interviewed identified the value of having “battle buddy” type relationships, they readily acknowledged the absence of such relationships. Quantitative research via a confidential, online survey confirmed a low level of self-disclosure among the men of the congregation.
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