Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

In the Free Methodist Church – USA, pastors preach the gospel while holding “unwaveringly to our conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and our final authority in all matters of faith and practice” (God-Given Revelation, one of the values of The Free Methodist Way). But who guides the denomination’s 22 annual conferences in implementing an outcomes-based ordination process that ensures pastors have been properly taught and trained in orthodox theology, church history, spiritual disciplines, and practical principles of church leadership?

Enter the new Center for Pastoral Formation based at Greenville University near St. Louis in Greenville, Illinois, and under the authority of the Free Methodist Church – USA Board of Bishops. The Rev. Dr. Steve Tungate serves as the center’s director. He began the role Feb. 1 and took on the responsibilities previously held by the denomination’s director of ministerial development and credentialing. Since his orientation at the World Ministries Center in Indianapolis, much of his time has been spent connecting with conference superintendents.

“We’re looking at establishing a flexible baseline to make sure we have high standards for equipping and training our pastors and doing it in a way that allows each conference to contextualize it into their own culture,” Tungate said in an interview with Light + Life.

Tungate also is connecting with the presidents, deans and ministry department chairs of colleges and universities in the Association of Free Methodist Educational Institutions. The AFMEI has five member institutions — Central Christian College of Kansas, Greenville University, Roberts Wesleyan College, Seattle Pacific University and Spring Arbor University — and one affiliate, Azusa Pacific University. The denomination also offers scholarships for post-college training at several seminaries through the John Wesley Seminary Foundation.

“We will continue to partner with all of our AFMEI and John Wesley Seminary Foundation schools to be able to resource and network together to provide excellent ministry training,” Tungate said.

The center also is investing in technological improvements to enhance the ordination process.

Chief Diversity Officer and Special Advisor to the President Terrell Carter, Bishop Linda Adams, Bishop Matt Whitehead, Bishop Keith Cowart and Greenville President Suzanne Davis meet last year to finalize arrangements for the Center for Pastoral Formation.

“One of our critical needs has been a tracking system to be able to track the progress of our ministerial candidates, and there’s been a lot of investigation and study for a proper software to use for that,” Tungate said. “We’re already putting together a beta test shell for this tracking system, and we’ll work with a couple of our conferences to try it out before we make it public. … This software will also be a course development platform, so we’re looking at really developing and expanding our online options for courses for ordination.”

The FMCUSA currently has a system for endorsing chaplains that includes mentoring, education and practical ministry experience beyond ordination. In the future, Tungate said he’d love to see specialized endorsement processes developed for people in areas such as church planting, bivocational ministry, youth ministry and pastoral mentoring.

“There are so many different opportunities to offer credentials that could be stackable beyond ordination to help someone hone in on a specific calling that God has for their ministry,” Tungate said. “Those may be available for lay people as well to serve in ministry in a greater capacity in a specialty area without going through the ordination process.”

The center also will provide training and materials for Ministerial Education and Guidance (MEG) boards that have both clergy and lay members.

“It’s not just for the pastors but also for those serving on the conference MEG boards. We ought to resource them as well,” said Tungate, who has served on MEG boards under five superintendents in two conferences. He identified “one of the big needs right now” as “having resources in multiple languages, and that’s something we’re hoping to develop in time.”

Tungate has 23 years of Free Methodist ministry experience serving churches in Michigan and Illinois. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in theology (church history) through the University of South Africa. He also earned a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Michigan State University. He grew up in another Methodist denomination, and he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Rachel connected with the Free Methodist Church as Michigan State undergrads.

“We knew our relationship was headed toward ministry and marriage, and we were looking for a church and a denomination in which we can serve for the long haul. We visited the Lansing Central Free Methodist Church and immediately felt at home there. Within a few short weeks, we were offered positions on staff to get our feet wet in ministry,” he said. “That was really our introduction to Free Methodism, and it’s been our home ever since.”

Greenville and the Bastians’ Support

The center’s establishment at Greenville is made possible by the Bastian Family Fund for the Center for Pastoral Formation. The university already has been home to the Donald N. and Kathleen G. Bastian School of Theology, Philosophy and Ministry, which honors the ministry of Bishop Emeritus Donald Bastian and his wife, Kathleen (pictured in the top photo of this page).

“The Bastian family is deeply committed to both the Free Methodist Church and, with eight Greenville graduates in our extended family, to Greenville University. All of us are deeply interested in a stronger tie and deeper relationship between the FMC and GU/all of the AFMEI institutions,” wrote Dr. Robert W. Bastian, one of the couple’s children and a physician who serves on Greenville’s Board of Trustees, in an email interview with Light + Life. “We have applied funds God has put into our hands to strengthen the FMC-GU relationship in several exploratory directions across at least a decade, looking for a way to accomplish this deeper connection.”

The Greenville location will allow the use of the new SMART Center for resourcing and training events in person and via video conferencing.

“With this partnership, I’m excited about the opportunity to be able to connect the resources of a university with the training and equipping of our women and men called into ministry,” Tungate said. “We’re still sorting out what this partnership will look like, and it’s going to evolve over time, but I’m excited about the resources and the collaboration between the university and the Free Methodist Church – USA.”

In a phone interview with Light + Life, the bishop emeritus and his wife — both age 95 — expressed excitement that the center is based at Greenville University.

“We have a great fondness for the community. It’s a quiet community,” said Bishop Emeritus Bastian, who first arrived in Greenville as a married transfer student at age 25 and returned eight years after graduation to become the pastor of the Greenville Free Methodist Church. “It’s a good place for people to reflect.”

The Bastians like the current bishops’ selection of Tungate as the center’s director. “He’s been very carefully searched,” said Bishop Emeritus Bastian, the author of “The Pastor’s First Love” and “Does Doctrine Matter?” who currently publishes online articles via his Just Call Me Pastor blog.

The couple revealed that they’re still actively interested in the vitality of the denomination’s current pastors and the next generation.

“I think there should also be a very strong emphasis on systematic theology. You know you get so many things going that the pastor maybe isn’t introduced to how systematic theology embraces the whole of the Scriptures,” said Bishop Emeritus Bastian, who also warned of the danger of pastoral plagiarism. “There’s the problem of taking sermons off the Internet and reading them to congregations.”

Kathleen noted her desire “that this center be blessed by the Lord,” and her husband added “that it’ll be a spiritual center.” She agreed and then said, “I’m anxious about the Free Methodist pastors. I really am. This is something that we have put our lives into, and we’ve put our finances into. You can see that we are really very serious about this.”

“We should have certain things that tie us together as a church, and one of them is our ordination and the ministers’ use of our rituals,” added the retired bishop, who emphasized that pastoral formation “should include very careful training and practice of prayer as a basis for the ministry. I know how ministers can get so busy running after people and so on that their prayer life ends, and there’s no real Christian ministry unless there’s a systematic prayer life.”

Pastoral Formation Administrator

The Rev. Jennifer Wilson began April 19 as the denomination’s new pastoral formation administrator. She has been busy sending out more than 100 grade reports for online courses and connecting with conferences’ staff members along with pastors in the credentialing process.

“I really enjoy digging around and organizing things and making good systems,” she said. “Steve has a really strong vision for where this can go and how all the pieces can be woven together even better. I’m excited to work with him.”

Wilson has served Church of God congregations in Michigan and Indiana — including 10 years of working with Jim Lyon who is now that denomination’s general director (similar to the Free Methodist lead bishop). She also served as co-host of the Church of God’s radio program. She has Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees from Anderson University, and she served that university for two years in the spiritual life and counseling office and for 14 years as the chaplain of the women’s volleyball and basketball teams.

She moved to Greenville four years ago when her husband, Scott, accepted a coaching position at Greenville University, and they became part of the Greenville FMC. She worked in the university’s advancement office as the corporate foundation relations manager and then transitioned to campaign management before staying home with her children for a year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I worked on campus for three years and became very familiar with the systems, the people, and the Bastians and their desire to really pour into pastoral formation through the university setting,” Wilson said. “They have been extremely steadfast in holding to their hopes for what this endowment could do, and they’ve been flexible in these last couple of years to create a center and have worked really well together as a family to make this happen.”

Tungate said that Wilson’s job includes focusing on “the nitty-gritty details,” and with “her education, her ministry experience, as well as working at Greenville University and that experience, she’s very capable with the details and the bigger-picture systems that we’re working towards developing.”

Contact, Give and Pray

To contact the Center for Pastoral Formation, click here and fill out a form or call 317-244-3660 ext. 275 (Wilson) or ext. 273 (Tungate) via the World Ministries Center switchboard.

To donate to the Center for Pastoral Formation Endowment Fund, click here.

“We know we’re not going to be here much longer, and so if we can do this for our church, we’ll be very happy,” Kathleen Bastian said. “I’m just so anxious that people our age — and younger, of course — understand that this is a wonderful way to invest their money. We know that we’re going to get back a hundredfold or more investing in young people.”

According to Dr. Robert W. Bastian, the target funding of the center is nearly $3 million, and he stated, “We are halfway there! Imagine the impact the center could have in growing the Kingdom and serving the cause of Christ our Lord via deeper theological and other training of pastors everywhere in the denomination.”

When asked how people can pray for the center, Tungate replied, “Please do pray, because it’s big, and there are a lot of moving parts. … It’s a heavy mantle to carry. We’re looking at training and equipping the next generation of ministry servants to impact the world, so we need prayer, partnerships and networking.”

Bishop Emeritus Bastian concluded, “If our people of prayer and people of means would shoulder this challenge together, who can guess the increase in young people who would answer the call to full-time ministry?”


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light+Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.