Fixing Our Universities: Distance Learning, Two-Year Degrees, and Vision

There’s more good news. Harding’s Master of Ministry is now available for online learning. The course is fully accredited. Students may accelerate the classwork by attending some classes at Harding, but online work is sufficient.

Details are at this site. And partial scholarships are offered for those in ministry.

Now here is why this degree program is so important. The most conservative, indeed, the most legalistic of our churches have countless schools of preaching spread across the country, which are often unaccredited but are also very low cost. They typically offer night and weekend course work for men wishing to go into ministry as a second career. Some now offer distance learning.

Until recently, the more moderate and progressive colleges have had nothing to offer to provide such men a better education. It’s all a bit snobbish and not very smart, as we are giving legalism a monopoly on students who can’t go to a four-year college either due to the cost or their inability to take enough time off work to earn a four-year degree.

Harding is further helping by offering its Bachelor of Ministry by distance learning, but it’s still a 128 hour curriculum, which is four years at over 15 hours per semester — a pretty tough load for someone with a fulltime job and a family.

Abilene offers distance learning as well, but not in Bible or ministry.

What we need is distance learning with a two-year degree program that goes head to head with the preaching schools. I know that our colleges are colleges and not junior colleges, and they love thinking of themselves as liberal arts schools and not preacher schools — but a well-taught, progressive two-year degree focusing on ministry would be a great blessing to the Churches of Christ and the Lord’s Kingdom.

And who wouldn’t rather have a degree from a Harding or Lipscomb or Abilene than some school of preaching? Men go to the preacher schools for lack of a better choice.

Not many churches care whether their minister has taken a liberal arts core curriculum in British literature and calculus. Rather, they need men who deeply understand Romans and Matthew. And you’ve got to figure that 60 hours well taught would be enough to build an excellent foundation for a career in ministry. I know some fabulous ministers who took much less Bible than that!

But I’ve not been able to find where any of our universities is willing to offer a degree to anyone unable to obtain a four year degree. This, of course, makes a Bible education very expensive ($60,000 or better) and impossible for many a second-career man supporting a family.

I’m not a fan of the theology taught at the Sunset International Bible Institute, but I have to commend them for doing exactly this. They offer two year degrees by distance learning across the country. I’ve corresponded with men who disagree with their theology but nonetheless take their classes because Sunset at least offers classes at times, places, and prices that work for them. SIBI even offers on-campus child care!

Oh, and the tuition at Sunset is free!

You see, it’s all about vision and mission. Our precious, wonderful universities were all founded as schools of preaching with a vision to equip the Churches with ministers and missionaries trained in Bible and ministry at a low cost, even for free. From there they grew into junior colleges, and then to liberal arts colleges, and then to universities. And somewhere along the way, they forgot their original mission.

Now, I’m a major advocate for our universities. Two of my sons attended Harding. I may yet send another one. And it’s not as though they’ve completely lost their way. They haven’t.

But the Churches of Christ will never fully escape their legalism until our universities find a way to effectively compete with the preaching schools. As much as I disagree with much of what they teach, at least the schools of preaching understand the importance of providing the churches and mission fields with trained men and women not over-burdened with school debt.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Fixing Our Universities: Distance Learning, Two-Year Degrees, and Vision

  1. Donna says:

    "You see, it’s all about vision and mission. ……..And somewhere along the way, they forgot their original mission."

    This statement could sum up many of the problems of the CofC in a nutshell!

  2. Josh says:

    Jay,

    I understand the frustration and where you're coming from. There is no doubt that ministry training is cost and time-prohibitive for many. However, by saying that our ministers would be well-served by a two-year ministry program and that such a program would be a fine grounding for ministry, we're letting our denominational friends outshine us. Most of them have 4 years of college +3 years of seminary. Now, some might say this is too much prep, but I definitely see the value in extensive training. If "medical" doctors require many years of school, why should we expect much less from our "spiritual" doctors?

    Yes, it's expensive to do it. No, ministry doesn't pay a whole lot. But a two year degree done online without a classroom learning community to contribute to the student's spiritual formation is not a substitute for several years spent in the classroom and with peers. I've taken traditional and online courses in my ministry training. The traditional courses were much more enriching and contributed much more to my ministry formation.

    My proposed solution is much harder: get churches to see ministry as a respectable profession, worthy of the time and money invested in education. Then, maybe ministers will get paid better and their education will be valued by their churches. Pipe dream, I know 🙂

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Josh,

    Thanks for those thoughts. I'm sure you're right — getting the extra degree and personal study is better — a lot better.

    On the other hand, do we really need to make a four-year degree at a liberal arts college the minimum requirement for missions or a career in ministry among the progressive churches? Are we going to refuse fulltime ministry to all others?

    My church is very well staffed by truly wonderful ministers none of whom has a graduate degree. Two don't even have Bible degrees! They have lots of good sense and many years of personal Bible study — and exemplary walks with the Messiah. I wouldn't trade a one for 3 D.Min.'s!

    I see the legalism that infects the Churches as a major problem — a problem that jeopardizes souls and the mission of God through the church. And so I'm looking at different battlegrounds and ways to help God be victorious.

    One battleground is the mission field, including mission churches, which typically hire a preacher school preacher who teaches a false gospel.

    How do we help the members of these small churches and mission outposts learn the truth of God's grace? By sending them M.Div's and asking for $100K salaries? It just won't work.

    Why not offer them better trained men who know the truth — men with a 60-hour Bible degree who don't have time or budget for the core curriculum but who love the Lord and can do a much, much better job than the competition?

    There may be a better solution. I'm open to ideas. I'm just not willing to cede the smaller churches to the schools of preaching.

    And, yes, you're right. We don't pay ministers like we should. But reducing tuition is a more efficient way to address the problem. I mean, where is the money better spent — on a college football program or a local congregation's mission budget? For that matter, I'd rather the preacher get to enjoy his raise than have to pay it to the universities.

  4. Jon Shelton says:

    For me, this is an interesting discussion. I went to Harding University, got a degree, and am now going to a 'preacher school' 🙂 <– that's a good one Jay. I though, am not here at preaching school to be indoctrinated, and for the most part, that isn't what they do here, but they do provide us with a great amount of bible knowledge and the ability to study more on our own and to be able to teach others.
    Our family moved here for this school, and as with most of the brotherhood preaching schools – we are having to support ourselves and raise support. What I found as a hard thing was the fact that SO many churches do not help at all with those that are wanting to be preachers – the ones that will be able to help impact the church. We had congregation after congregation say that they don't help support any preaching students. I'm not sure, our family has always helped to send preachers through these type schools in other countries, where have we drawn the line on who needs to go to school.

    Thanks for your discussions.

    Jon

  5. Nick Gill says:

    I am currently enrolled at Nations University.

    http://nationsu(dot)org

    It is a fully accredited all-online university (offering 1 yr, 2 yr, 3 yr, and 4 yr degrees, as well as graduate work) affiliated with the churches of Christ. The coursework is completely free for foreign students, and $100 per year for US students.

  6. Nick Gill says:

    I forgot to say this: distance learning, coupled with taking an active role in a local congregation, has been extremely beneficial for my ministry formation.

    I fear that the typical university setting is too much like a hothouse – conditions are perfectly arranged for optimum growth of perfectly shaped flowers, but those flowers are not prepared for life in a hot and dusty or cold and damp or soggy and starving world.

    I spent much time in the classroom, but I've learned more about ministering to different people by being away from school.

    What I'd like to be able to do is short periods of intense classroom time, followed by extended periods of practice.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Very interesting stuff.

    Let me be clear where I'm coming from. (Sometimes it helps to remind myself!)

    The Galatian heresy damns souls and destroys the mission of the church. Therefore, we need as many preachers and missionaries taught the Truth and as few as possible taught the Galatian heresy.

    Some of our universities teach heresy and some don't. To my knowledge, every school of preaching is guilty of the Galatian heresy.

    Now, some are hateful Zealots. Others are nicer, more moderate types. But all teach a salvation based on works. They just disagree about which works.

    For example, even though SIBI has moderated its theology quite a lot over the last few years, it still sees the instrument as damning the worshiper, which partakes of the Galatian heresy. As a result, they've refused to participate in the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop, which considers those in the Christian Church as brothers. They aren't nearly as narrow minded as some others, but they nonetheless have a works-based theology.

    Optimally, their theology would change. Failing that, those schools that teach salvation by grace through faith should make their teaching available to men and women who can't go the four-year full-tuition route. Otherwise, a very large portion of our ministers and missionaries will necessarily have been taught a heretical view of the gospel.

    Now, some will find the Truth on their own, but many will not. And the Churches — and God's mission — are suffering as a result.

    And I'm open to ideas for how to persuade those that run these schools to give up their works-based teaching.

  8. Kent says:

    Having gone through 7 years at ACU I agree with Nick that universities are great for some things and not conducive to others. Our universities know this and they do as good a job as they can but there are just some things that you can't learn in a classroom. That is true, though, of every profession. I am sure, Jay, that there are some legal things that you didn't learn until you went into practice.

    The best thing that my degrees did for me was help me to think theologically. I would imagine that our schools of preaching are not doing this with their students. Instead, they are equipping people to combat "error".

    My education is important and I am proud of what I earned. But I realize that it's not everything. And cost should never be prohibitive. You know I am by no means wealthy and I have a lot of debt from my education but it was worth every penny. My grandmother, bless her, as a single mom put my father through ACU and she always told me if she could send him there then anyone can afford to go if they really want to.

  9. Jon Shelton says:

    Jay, I hope to be able to move some of those "walls" while I'm here at SIBI. I will be able to give you an update of what is actually taught, and what is just kind of perpetuated by not really dealing with things. I totally did not come here to be indoctrinated, I came here with a 'clean slate' to study the scriptures for myself, and that is one thing that I've been able to do, now I do disagree with some of the professors on some things, and I guess soon, will be able to find out if those disagreements are acceptable, or if I am out of luck.

    To me, having attending Harding University also, It is sad that we have such knowledgeable men of the bible that can not move past their viewpoints. I think that my upcoming paper on MDR will be a good test on that point.

    I am however, greatly encouraged that bigger universities are turning their motive back to the evangelism side, as many had become nothing much more than an overprice state school with more rules and a bible class or two (oh, and chapel).

    Jon

  10. Josh says:

    Jay,

    You wrote:
    —–
    "How do we help the members of these small churches and mission outposts learn the truth of God’s grace? By sending them M.Div’s and asking for $100K salaries? It just won’t work.

    Why not offer them better trained men who know the truth — men with a 60-hour Bible degree who don’t have time or budget for the core curriculum but who love the Lord and can do a much, much better job than the competition?

    There may be a better solution. I’m open to ideas. I’m just not willing to cede the smaller churches to the schools of preaching."
    —–

    I think the larger problem is that ministers with progressive theologies – whether they have a two year preaching degree or have an M.Div. – don't WANT to go to these smaller churches, because they are typically much more traditional in their theology and would eat a progressive minister alive. It's not the salary ($100k – are you kidding?? I'll be happy to make $40 with an M.Div.) that scares us off. It's the toxic atmosphere of many of the small, rural churches.

    Now, you may say, "Well, someone needs to fix the bad job done by the previous ministers and elders." I suppose I would agree, but I'm not willing to risk my and my family's sanity and financial stability (meaning I could get fired at any minute) to do so. It's just too risky.

    So I guess I'm saying that the problem isn't so much about education – there are well educated traditionalists and uneducated progressives. The problem is that progressives – the kind you say you hope can be trained better and cheaper – don't want to go to toxic places for ministry.

  11. Joe Baggett says:

    I know how you feel. Two times I have been naive enough to try to help a small rural church. Don't know if I will ever do that again. The first time in Hillsboro TX it sobered me up to what a full time preacher would have to go through and made me change my career path to engineering eventually left ACU after the first two years. The second was two years ago in Vicksburg MS and my wife almost lost her faith because of the preacher's wife who was the self appointed thought and doctrinal police. Young men and women are not equipped through the education they complete at the University or Preaching school to deal with the emotional and mental stress level of working in the typical cofC where everyone is your boss.

  12. Gary Cummings says:

    As far as preaching training goes. I took a preaching class when I was 18 or 19 under Roy Deaver at Ft. Worth Christian College. Now that was a theologically toxic place, but I did not know any better then, as I did not grow up in the COC. However, Roy was an excellent preacher and teacher. I then took a preaching course at ACC (now ACU), and it was all high tech and high theory preaching, and the theology was still rancid.

    What taught me to preach was standing before a congregation and teaching the Bible and preaching. I then took 2 preaching classes at a Friends/ Quaker seminary. Both were good courses, and the theology was better, but leaned toward higher-critical liberalism. I took heat for being an evangelical, but that was OK with me. I went there a Neo-Orthodox liberal, and came out a Neo-fundamentalist evangelical. I have attended ACC/U, Brite Divinity School (which was refreshing), Anderson School of Theology and Earlham School of Religion where I finished my M.Div. All in the liberal schools taught me to think. I thank them for that.
    Actually, I think the idea of a single person (male or female) is not effective, and there should be opportunity, as taught in Corinthians for all believers to contribute teaching or preaching and the elders should be doing more of this. To focus on a high tech hot-dog preacher is just not the right way to go. I was a team-minister at a small country Mennonite Church. There were 3 of us, and we all took turns preaching. One month, one of us preached twice. It worked fairly well, till one person made it a competition. Anyway, just my random thoughts. Check out Trinity Seminary on line. It is non-accredited, but excellent. I did do 18 hours of D.Min work there, and there was a lot of intellectual freedom, as many Christian denominations were represented.

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