After guiding a generation of students through the master of divinity program at Bethany Theological Seminary, Professor Tara Hornbacker will retire as a Seminary faculty member on July 1, 2018. Throughout her tenure at Bethany, she has been instrumental in developing and teaching the core curriculum for the MDiv, known as the ministry formation sequence of courses.
Hornbacker began as assistant professor of ministry formation in August 1998 and was tasked with reconceiving and reformulating the program. She developed a series of courses and experiences that emphasize a holistic approach, addressing the spiritual, intellectual, and practical aspects of ministry. Believing that spiritual discernment is essential to the life and practice of ministry, Hornbacker incorporated this practice into all aspects of the program, balancing elements of Pietism with those of Anabaptism, as she says.
In the introductory course Hornbacker created, Exegeting the Culture and Call of Ministry, students participate in spiritual disciplines and group sharing, the latter of which is found at all levels of the program. The practice of ministry is emphasized in two required field placements, whereas many seminaries require just one. The importance of communication and relationship extends to placement site supervisors and lay committees, who meet with ministry formation faculty for training and participate in the students’ discernment process.
The appreciation that Bethany alumni have for the program’s format and content reflects Hornbacker’s influence, and they continually rank their field education experience and ministry preparedness higher than the average in surveys by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Liz Bidgood Enders, MDiv 2000, was in her second year when Hornbacker came to Bethany. “I had heard her as a candidate and thought that she was the most extroverted and charismatic pastor/professor I had encountered. What I discovered was that her passion also took the form of deeply-centered spirituality, and her enthusiasm for ministry blended with a gifted ability to help students find their voice and pay attention to the Spirit’s leading. Her teaching, mentoring, and listening had a profound impact on how I view my life in ministry and how I encourage others to discern the shape of their call.”
Hornbacker’s consistent participation in professional guilds and continuing education has helped her effectively evaluate and adjust the program curriculum as students’ needs change. When Bethany launched its Connections distance education program in 2003, Hornbacker adapted the ministry formation program to this new learning environment. Hybrid courses—a combination of on-campus and online class sessions—and online group interaction were incorporated. She was also awarded two grants from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, to rework the capstone MDiv Review course and to research preparation of effective ministers in a twenty-first-century context. Her work has put Bethany at the forefront of ministry formation distance education, a program that other schools look to for guidance. The program’s strength was also noted by ATS in Bethany’s recent accreditation process.
“Tara Hornbacker has demonstrated excellent in her teaching and her administrative work for the Seminary and in resourcing the denomination during her years at Bethany and in ordained ministry,” says Steve Schweitzer academic dean. “She developed the ministry formation program into a robust set of courses that anchors the MDiv curriculum in ways that are beneficial for student learning. Her deep commitment to students is also evidenced in her implementation of a distance education model for ministry formation. Bethany has been rewarded by her presence on the faculty.”
After earning a Training in Ministry certificate from the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, Hornbacker completed her MDiv from Earlham School of Religion in 1994 and her DMin from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2003. She was granted tenure at Bethany in 2005 and promoted to full professor of ministry formation, missional leadership, and evangelism in 2013. Prior to her Seminary employment, she was ordained in the Church of the Brethren in 1989 and served nine years as pastor of the Pleasant Hill (Ohio) congregation.
Throughout her tenure, Hornbacker has been active in the Association Theological Field Educators and since 2001, in the Evangelical Association of Theological Field Educators, serving as chairperson from 2010 to 2012 for the latter. She has written articles for professional and denominational publications as well as several book chapters, and her numerous presentations have included ministry training, keynote addresses, retreats, dinner speeches, insight sessions, workshops, and Bible studies. As a member of the Church of the Brethren Ministry Advisory Council, Hornbaker assists with oversight of ministerial education in the denomination and the recent revision of the Ministerial Leadership Paper. In her own Southern Ohio District, she is an educational advisor for the Missional Church Task Team and has served on district committees.
Hornbacker and her Bethany colleagues anticipate that she will continue to teach Seminary courses as availability and opportunity allow. “As she transitions to retirement, says Schweitzer, “her impact on us, our students, our graduates, and the denomination will continue well into the future. May God richly bless her in whatever good work she accomplishes in the coming years.”