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.