FIRE Chicago’s strategy for training Christian leaders consists of three areas of emphasis: (1) Spiritual Formation, (2) Academic Study, and (3) Ministry Experience.
Spiritual formation is a way of defining the process of discipleship that emphasizes the way the Holy Spirit shapes the character, values, and urgencies of individual lives. Students at FIRE Chicago have personal interaction with instructors, and other mentors, that will contribute to their growth. Our goal is not simply to get people through a program; it is to train the heart and soul to be responsive to the voice of the Great Shepherd! Truly fruitful ministry is a product of a holy, faithful and mature life, cultivated through nourishment, water and pruning. Our goal is to facilitate this Spiritual work in our students, realizing that it is God alone who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7)!
One way students are formed Spiritually is through our FIRE groups. These are small, gender-based groups that meet weekly with core faculty members for the purposes of character formation, encouragement and accountability. This relational approach ensures that students are not simply accumulating data about God and His Word, but are internalizing the truth so as to produce the fruit of changed lives.
Academic study is very important at FIRE Chicago, because we believe that the shaping of the mind is an imperative of discipleship and an expression of worship. Our academic strategy places significant emphasis on careful study of Scripture, Christian thought and history, and contemporary cultural contexts. We reject the separation of Spirituality from intellectual growth, because it is inconsistent with Jesus’ own teaching that Spirit and Truth work together in the lives of disciples to produce authentic worship (John 4). Our goal, however, is not simply the communication of knowledge. Instead, we seek to develop wise Christian leaders, who understand the correct application of truth because they have “trained their senses to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
Our commitment to academic study is evidenced in our selection of faculty and curriculum, as well as the texts that form the basis for study. A significant component of each student’s course load is devoted to biblical and theological studies, using some of the best resources available. In addition, we seek out instructors who have committed themselves to academic growth, in order to provide a model of the integration of faith and learning for our students.
Ministry Experience is designed to equip and test students whose call to ministry must be demonstrated in the crucible of real congregational life. FIRE Chicago aims to cultivate a network of partnering churches where students can gain invaluable preparation for the fulfillment of their ministry callings. Because a call to ministry deals not only in theory, but also in navigating the peaks and valleys of caring for people, supervised ministry opportunities are essential for shaping a praxis that is consistent with the truth of the gospel, and the nature of one’s own gifts and identity in Christ. In this context, students benefit from the safety of wise and compassionate oversight as they begin to work out the implications of the idea that they, too, are “sent” to do the work of the Lord Jesus (John 20:21)!
One of the ways we equip students for practical ministry is by including them in opportunities that faculty have to speak in a variety of settings. Students are frequently invited to travel and minister with FIRE Chicago’s leaders as they visit churches both near and far. In addition to this, the school’s chapel services provide a regular context in which their gifts and ministries can be demonstrated and developed.