Fixing Our Universities: Harding and Abilene Offer Free Ministry Training

For a while now, I’ve been complaining that our Christian universities burden our future ministers and missionaries with heavy tuition, while giving away free educations to athletes, who sometimes have no interest in the things of Jesus. It’s a strange set of priorities.

But things are getting better. Harding now offers 16 free rides under its Center for Advanced Ministry Training program for ministry students. Students must be at least 24 years old (22 1/2 if military or international). Harding recruits these students from areas where the Churches of Christ have been weak — the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, North Central, among other areas. 15 of the scholarships are funded by the school itself, with the 16th being privately funded.

Also, Abilene Christian offers 50 full-tuition scholarships for graduate work in ministry, thanks to a $10,000,000 gift by Lacy and Dorothy Harber.

Things are getting better, and these schools and private donors should be thanked.

But we’re still a long way away from where we started or where we need to be. John Mark Hicks, in a recent post, makes the following keen observation —

On an interesting sidenote, Lipscomb and Harding extended their “doing good” to their educational enterprise which began as the Nashville Bible School (1891) but is now known as Lipscomb University. They saw their school – in contrast with Vanderbilt Univeristy in the late 19th century – as a ministry to the poor. “We differ from many other schools,” Harding wrote, “in that we freely admit all who are not able to pay free of charge. Our Master preached the gospel to the poor; we are trying to imitate him” (Gospel Advocate 39 [3 June 1897] 338). Lipscomb noted that “the gospel is to the poor, for the poor, and they are the chief helpers of God in carrying forward his work in the earth…The school is for the benefit of the common people.” In fact, the 1898 catalog contains this statement (p. 8):

When a student cannot pay tuition and his friends cannot or will not do it for him, we receive him without it, with the understanding that he will pay it, without interest, as soon as he becomes able to do so. If he never becomes able, our service to him is a gift.

My, how things have changed. Perhaps they had to change. But the ideals of Lipscomb and Harding are worth a second look as well as a recontextualized application.

By “a recontextualized application” I imagine Hicks means finding a way to help our ministry and missionary students finish school without a ton of debt. It’s getting better, but our universities are still thinking too much like their competitors in the world.

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: Harding and Abilene Offer Free Ministry Training

  1. odgie says:

    Amen! Thank you for addressing this issue. Have you written anything else about it?

  2. Jay Guin says:


    Here are a couple of related posts:

    The second one is the more extensive.

  3. Chris Buxton says:

    I have been blessed with a church that paid my way through my MDiv program. But many others aren't so blessed. With a typical minister's salary, I don't know how very many of them can afford to do it. Thank you for addressing this issue!