Definition of Service-Learning at DTS
Service-Learning at Dallas Theological Seminary is an empowered learning and reflective process whereby students integrate biblical and theological instruction with compassionate, sacrificial service by habitually living-out the love of Christ, offering students opportunities to apply classroom instruction by meeting real individual needs in a relational, empathetic, and scripturally-based manner.
The definition can be explained through an examination of its phrases.
"Service-Learning": Service-learning in theory is compatible with Christian morals and values such as having a love for neighbor (Matt 22:37-40) and the concept of leading others by sacrificial service (Matt 20:25-28). Dr. Regan Schaffer has noted that service-learning in a Christian institution can be instrumental to spiritual formation as an active expression of one’s faith (personal communication to Daniel Thomson, August 2, 2013).
"At Dallas Theological Seminary": This definition has been specifically molded to fit the mission and purpose of DTS in equipping servant leaders “ for the proclamation of His Word and the building up of the body of Christ worldwide” (DTS 2013–2014 Catalog, p. 8). Teaching truth by and through academic instruction and loving well by the incorporation of service-learning go hand-in-hand.
"Is an empowered": DTS is a Christian, Bible-based institution that believes in equipping servant-leaders to help fulfill God’s mission (Matt 28:19-20). Fulfilling this mission cannot at all be accomplished by human effort alone. God in and through the intimate work of the Holy Spirit is involved in the equipping process—molding, guiding, and shaping the compassionate and Christ-like hearts of DTS students.
"Learning and reflective process": Service-learning can help to link the Seminary campus to the realities of life within its community. The hyphen between service and learning (hence “service-learning”) represents this connection of understanding, while also emphasizing the role of student reflection. Service learning (sans hyphen), omitting the understanding gained through reflection, is just the learning of doing service. Having experience in and of itself does promote some understanding; however, the depth of potential understanding would likely be significantly diminished if opportunities for reflection were not intentionally encouraged and/or provided as part of the service-learning program design (Eyler & Giles, 1999). “Repeated application opportunities coupled with coaching and reflection are necessary to increase the ability of students to use what they have learned” (Eyler & Giles, 1999, 66).
"Whereby students integrate biblical and theological instruction": The integration of biblical and theological instruction into the present and future ministries of DTS students is considered foundational at DTS. The descriptive phrase, “biblical and theological,” captures the essence of DTS instruction. Other aspects of the content of each individual course flow out from a biblical and theological foundation, such as, the content of teaching from Christian Education and Leadership, Biblical Counseling, New Testament, Old Testament, Missions, and Pastoral Ministry departments. This emphasizes the cognitive element of DTS as a strong Christian academic institution.
"With compassionate, sacrificial service": The element of compassionate, sacrificial service is aimed at the heart of adding service-learning to the DTS culture and is aimed at the heart of our students, particularly with the affective side of learning. Compassionate service is a balanced counterpart to biblical and theological instruction, the two together fulfilling what it means to equip servant-leaders from a Christian worldview who, “Teach truth; Love well.”
"By habitually living out the love of Christ": Jesus Christ is repeatedly described as demonstrating His love by having “compassion” towards those in need (Matt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:34, 8:2). Jesus often responded with healing as a witness to His power, authority, and identity, but healing was not His primary objective. Rather preaching the good news of the coming Kingdom of God while showing compassionate, sacrificial love to others was His focus (Mark 1:38; John 3:16-17). Likewise, Christians are called to bear witness to the good news in making disciples of Christ (Matt 28:18-20); and to do so habitually through and by Christ-like love (Matt 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:30-31, 12:33; Luke 6:27, 6:35, 10:27; John 13:34, 15:12-13, 15:17; 1 Cor 16:14; Eph 4:15-16; James 2:8; 1 Pet 3:8, 4:8; 1 John 3 and 4). As DTS is charged to equip future pastors and Christian servant- leaders in helping to fulfill the mission of God, having students teach truth while habitually living out the love of Christ by serving those in need, proves to be an essential balance in the servant-leader developmental process. This priority of discipleship is developed in "The Gospels' and Jesus' Disclosure of the Need for Service-Learning" in the Biblical Theology of Service-Learning.
"Offering students opportunities to apply classroom instruction": This transition in the DTS Service-Learning definition reiterates, reinforces, and reemphasizes the role of classroom instruction (with its biblical and theological foundation mentioned earlier) and the goal of valid application. As "the purpose of [Paul's] commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5 NKJV), so the goal of learning is application in real-world contexts. “The purpose of learning is to use what is learned” (Eyler & Giles, 1999, 66).
"By meeting real individual needs": Eyler and Giles defined community voice as, “ service that was responsive to needs identified by the community” (1999, 56). Essentially, when students felt that they were meeting legitimate and community identified needs, student personal growth and intellectual stimulation increased (ibid., 178-79). Students desire to know that what they did made a difference. When students see the fruit of their labor, personal satisfaction and a motivated interest in community issues can result. And as already discussed, from a Christian worldview, meeting individual needs is a testimony to someone living out the love of Christ towards others. The requirement of the Christian to show love in deed and truth is expanded in "The Epistles Declare the Need for Service- Learning" in the Biblical Theology of Service-Learning.
"In a relational, empathetic, and scripturally-based manner": Relational, empathetic, and scripturally-based service is a progressive element that DTS students will prayerfully develop through service-learning during their academic journey as they intentionally develop relationships with ministries and individuals over time. This final addition of “ relational, empathetic, and scripturally-based” wording to the DTS service-learning definition was influenced in part by the work of Corbett and Fikkert (2012) with their relational, biblically- based approach to helping the poor without hurting them, as well as common missional approaches to local church ministry that emphasize relationally-based evangelism and church life (Stetzer & Putman, 2006; Minatrea, 2004). And as noted by Stetzer and Putman, who highlighted the difference between evangelism and mission, “Evangelism is telling people about Jesus; missions involves understanding them before we tell them” (2006, p. 3). Understanding people through the progressive development of relationships will be a priority with the DTS service-learning approach.