Models established in Phoenix, Atlanta, Mexico City and Chicago
September 22, 2008
Some of the ministers in our fellowship of churches are being educated through nearby seminaries, distance programs through Bible colleges or online courses. They are typically receiving degrees such as masters of arts in Christian ministry, the more demanding masters of divinity or even some form of a doctorate.
Many seasoned ministers are satisfied with their current grasp of God’s Word, ministry and preaching. Their local hearers can confirm or deny the validity of their minister’s estimate of his own level of knowledge and abilities. In any case, this memo is intended to address the ministers who sense the need to fill in what was lacking in their earlier training. It is the aim of the Ministry Education and Teaching Service Team to point to or provide some options. Before we do that, we will describe what is already happening in several places with various approaches being offered for continuing biblical education.
Traditional University Settings
Our fellowship does not possess an accredited school for theological training. In some cases our ministers have attended local schools with various theological traditions to achieve this experience. Universities from our historical restoration roots, such as Harding and Pepperdine, have extended themselves to serve our people. Helpful as they are, getting the full semester classroom experience requires moving to Memphis or Malibu. These schools also offer a hybrid of classroom and offsite online classes—a one week intensified onsite class with four months of online work, which affords more possibilities for our ministers.
As in any university setting, all approaches into biblical and theological education demand that we keep “both eyes wide open.” All forms of education involve both risks and benefits, but these features are not always apparent initially. There are significant considerations of financial costs, course loads, promises and philosophy. Here is a list of considerations for the minister and the local church to consider before enrollment in any accessible university. Following this list, four of our own options for learning are covered.
- Many countries around the world and even some US cities and remote towns don’t have any viable nearby options for formal ministry training. This can make missionaries and remote ministers overly desperate to pursue even low value programs.
- Some renowned universities and colleges have curriculums that are clearing houses for liberal theology or have hidden institutional agendas that hinder biblically accurate learning.
- A minister might not have the time to handle the load of some of the more rigorous programs with higher expectations.
- The expenses of ongoing education, including tuition, books and travel, may be more than some churches are able to afford with their other priorities.
- Some programs make great “intellectuals” but they may be ambivalent to the foundation of all Christian learning—knowing and becoming like Jesus (Acts 4:13).
- Some programs do not include an adequate emphasis of preparation for the feeding of the flock and effective presentation of God’s Word (homiletics).
Four Established Programs
With these caveats in mind, it is still possible for a serious and discerning disciple to gain variable biblical and historical training in the aforementioned schools or other conservative, biblically-based institutions. In all likelihood, the development of ministry skills will have to be obtained in the old fashion way through mentoring and discipling within our own fellowship.
Prayerfully, one day our churches will be able to establish an accredited institution of our own. Until then ministers who deeply desire a respected degree from an accredited institution will have to navigate through the issues listed above. Fortunately, for those who want training but do not expect a degree, there are at least four options among us to fill in the gap of continuing ministerial education. For those whose primary aim is greater competency, manageable requirements and affordable pricing, there are programs out of Phoenix, Atlanta, Mexico City and Chicago.
These four approaches are
• The Asia-Pacific Leadership Academy from Phoenix,
• The AIM program out of Atlanta,
• The Online Bible School for Ministers from Mexico City and
• The Ministers Development Academy out of Chicago.
Some of these programs have been in existence for some time and others are relatively new programs.
While we are covering the most developed programs, we want to mention that there is staff training efforts derived from A.I.M. in Los Angeles, Kiev, West Africa and Western Europe. There is also a European Bible School serving churches all over Continental Europe. The Denver church is teaming up with Lincoln Christian College for credited courses. More information on these programs will come later.
Two of the primary concerns in our academies that we will need to closely monitor are retention and practicality. Teaching our students to have an improved retention rate is one of our concerns because the seminar approach (intensive programs of several consecutive days) used in some of the current approaches is not naturally conducive to long term retention. However, the seminar approach is easier to implement with limited resources. We have made it our goal to adjust and resize our approach as time goes on by comparing notes with each other. In the end we will probably all land where the greatest success in learning, retention, formation, communication and feeding becomes evident.
In all these programs our primary concern is to give solid biblical foundations to those who will be leaders in practical ministry. While we believe in training those with a teaching gift in deeper theological issues, that sort of training is best reserved for the few who have the biblical foundation and emotional stability and maturity to handle it. These few can serve as guides for the many, but all ministers – whether teacher, evangelist or shepherd – must realize that they must stick to the basics of training others to be church builders and servants of the gospel. We definitely do not want to produce academics who love deeper theological issues but are lacking the same love for practical ministry based upon a true demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
It would be accurate to say that our current approaches at education are works in progress. Annual reviews will help us continue to grow and develop more and more effectiveness.
I. The Asia Pacific Leadership Academy from Phoenix
The approach of the Asia Pacific Academy is a hybrid of several types of learning situations. The Academy more or less mirrors a training school rather than a seminary. However, it will be more rigorous in requirements than a seminar model, and hopefully will lead to better retention of material learned.
Assignments include reading from a primary book on the subject, written assignments of various sorts, formal reviews of assigned material, guided group discussions via the Internet, and tests taken on each section. After these are completed there will be a seminar (length depending on the subject) and a final cumulative exam.
The Asia-Pacific Academy consists of three tracks:
Ministry Track — basic biblical focus—for leaders supported by their church
Shepherding Track— practical ministry focus—for more mature disciples who can be trained to fill shepherding roles, some of whom will ultimately be appointed elders
Elective Track—individually customized—for those serving in a variety of roles.
Old Testament Survey
New Testament Survey*
Homiletics Church History*
Romans Christian Evidences Paul’s Ministry and Message*
Old Testament Survey
New Testament Survey
Sound Doctrine and Church Discipline
Marriage and Family I
Marriage and Family II
Regaining Emotional Health
Building Healthy Relationships
The Elective Track is individually adapted to meet the needs of each participant. Each track will be well-defined and a diploma offered to all who successfully complete the required courses (eleven total for the diploma for those in the Ministry Track, and eight total for those in the Shepherding and Elective Tracks). Additional elective courses will also be offered in the future once the basic required courses are completed.
Gordon Ferguson, who has experienced both types of training mentioned (ministry training school − Preston School of Preaching, and seminary − M.A. in New Testament Studies from Harding Graduate School of Religion) serves as the dean of the academy and does much of the teaching, especially in the early stages of this program, which began earlier this year.
In time, other well qualified brothers will also be asked to teach in the academy. Gordon’s main colleague in the development and administration of the academy is Rolan Monje, evangelist and teacher in the Manila church, who oversaw the AIM Program in the Philippines and is currently working on his doctor of ministry degree (pastoral theology) at American Bible College. The academy has been formed and is directed by a steering committee of respected brothers based in both America and Asia, including Frank Kim, Chris Jacobs, Cesar Lopez, Ken Chau, Koko Enrile, Rolan Monje and Gordon Ferguson.
NOTE: NOTHING SAID ABOUT COSTS
II. AIM (Athens Institute of Ministry), Atlanta, Georgia
The Athens Institute of Ministry has been running since January 2004, but an earlier version of this program has been underway since 1995. The main teachers are Douglas Jacoby, Sam Laing and Joey Harris, although a dozen others regularly serve in guest roles for their expertise.
AIM is committed to helping preachers, older Christians, staff and non-staff, men and women alike – anyone who wants to strengthen his or her biblical expertise in the two-year program. The objective: “to increase biblical expertise, while also enhancing all-round competence, confidence and credibility.”
The program includes about 3500 pages of reading, several field trips, 160 class hours, some 400 scripture location memory passages, and 20 examinations.
Classes are offered four times annually at various centers: Atlanta, Manila, Lagos, London/Stockholm, Kiev, and San Diego. Sessions cover Old and New Testament survey & interpretation, church history, apologetics, counseling, marriage & parenting, homiletics, worldviews, Holy Spirit, church building, and spiritual life. The primary focus is on sound exegesis and application.
Participants from 27 nations are involved in AIM, either on-site or through at-home use of DVDs, submitting papers and tests through the distance wing. Each unit may be taken separately. As the program is always “rolling,” students can join at any point, and even blend on-site attendance with private DVD viewing. In addition, the “Open Track” allows many students to attend sessions of special interest to them, but without taking the examinations. This high degree of flexibility is one of the most attractive features of the program.
The cost is $2000 a year for four sessions, monitoring, and examinations. The two-year program comes to $4,000. The distance program is 10% more. Scholarships are available for most Third-World students.
A handsome diploma is presented upon completion. For more information, go to www.athensinstitute.org and download the Information Document.
III. Online Bible School for Ministers from Mexico City
For the last five years this track has been available for Latin churches. The OBS offers three different one-year courses that result in a “Diploma in Ministry”— is focused for staff members, emphasizing hermeneutics, shepherding and homiletics. The “Diploma in New Testament” — is open to all members. And the “Diploma in Biblical Studies” is open to all, including non-members.
The whole structure of the OBS relies on Internet technology and distance E-Learning resources. We have substituted the regular classroom for An electronic learning environment (using a professional E-Learning software), and the physical teacher presence for a professional videoconference system designed for on-line training (WebEx Training Center) where the teacher teaches from his own home simultaneously up to 29 groups of students worldwide. In this way, we have been able to defeat the geographical and economical barriers typical of the third world churches.
For every course in every program we want to search the best teachers available to us through the videoconference technology. Until now, our teachers include Dr. Douglas Jacoby, Gordon Ferguson, Dr. Steve Kinnard, Foster Stanback, Dr. John Oakes, Jeff Chacon, Edward Anton, Tom Jones, Dr. Jaime De Anda, Steve Staten, Joey Harris, Dr. John Wilson, Dr. Robert Kurka, Sam Laing, Roger Lamb, Glenn Giles, Steve Brown, Alejandro Nava (the OBS sub-director), two Mexican evangelical teachers (both of them with masters and doctoral degrees), and Arturo Elizarraras (the OBS director). Every English class includes simultaneous translation into Spanish for all the attendees.
Until now, ministers and members from many churches in Latin America and even Spain have been enrolled or attending our programs: many Mexican churches, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Belize, Honduras, Madrid (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), Chile, Puerto Rico and Latin ministries from Nashville. Since 2002 we have graduated 274 students.
About the annual costs for every diploma:
1. Diploma in Ministry – $300.00 USD plus books.
2. Diploma in New Testament – $300.00 USD plus books.
3. Diploma in Biblical Studies – $200.00 USD.
All our programs are fixed in time, you need to begin in a specific time and finish on time.
It’s important to add that some OBS graduated students who have searched for a higher theological degree in some evangelical seminary, they have presented our diploma and our curriculum, and they have received official credits validation up to 50% or their theological degree. Some of those institutions are FLET (www.flet.edu , the best on-line Spanish theological seminary) and Vision Internacional University.
Arturo Elizarraras is midway in the Master of Arts in Biblical Studies, with a concentration in Christian Education from Trinity Theological Seminary and Bible College.
IV. The Chicago MDA (Minister Development Academy)
Chicago’s MDA launched in late February. It is a five year, twice a year program geared towards competency. Our goal is to achieve the most affordable means for learning at a Bachelor’s level of testing competency for minister. It assumes that all students are regular readers and users of God’s Word.
The ten two-day sessions or workshops include one year in each of the Old and New testaments (including overview, exegesis and theology), one session on the lives of major Biblical Figures, one on Church History and World Religions, Pastoral Counseling, congregational health, and a session on homiletics and presentation Methods.
There are 250 points possible for each two day session, which we expect to require three weeks of study or work on each side of the workshop. There requirements are that each enrolled student will read one well respected and comprehensive resource (for 50 points), write an assigned paper (for 50 points) and a take a comprehensive test (for 150 points).
Every class is recorded and following the class the sessions will be posted in a synchronized audio/slide presentation at a private web location. To observe this technology check out the Who is My Brother? presentation at www.chicagochurch.org .
The bi-annual workshops and yearly seminars will be taught by either the base of Chicago staff receiving their advanced education or outside professionals. Currently the Ministers Development Academy is free for Midwest ministry staff and is mandatory for all ministry staff in Chicago that speaks or teaches regularly before the church. Others in the church, on a case by case basis have been able to enroll. This is a seminar approach but with the added advantage that most of the students will see each other and the other teachers on a regular basis. There will be follow up at staff meetings for feedback and evaluation.
This material will be available as an open source mechanism of learning for no charge. The tests will be available for regional educators. By mid-2009 any students overseas will be able to back into the program or follow along Online may do so. If students outside of the Chicago & Midwest ministry staff who would like to be graded along the way, the recommended pricing is $100 per bi-annual session payable directly to capable teachers. The Chicago program is no-charge and not-for profit but for those who wish to receive grades to certify their competency a list of certified teachers will be made available.
The Chicago MDA is guided under the leadership of Steve Staten (firstname.lastname@example.org ) who received his Masters of Arts in New Testament Theology from Wheaton College. Currently there are four other ministers in Chicago who are well on their way to completion of their Masters or MDiv. The Chicago MDA is under the umbrella of the Chicago Church of Christ.
Between these bi-annual workshops there will be a yearly one-day seminar tackling a subject from pressing matters such as multicultural studies, postmodernism, women’s roles, etc. Or a seminar might entail valuable exposure to Restoration Movement history, our Boundaries, Christian Evidences and Apologetics, Missions, Leadership and Conflict Resolution tools.
Each of the four endeavors is getting new lift with fresh technologies. We will continue to employs the benefits of Internet communication, the seminar classroom and other tools until the best approaches are evident.
Meanwhile, we seek more qualified teachers and specialists whose lives exemplify Christ and who desire more than just an academic faith to join our efforts. And as more brothers (and sisters) develop formal and/or proven credentials we expect that there will be way opened up for our own an accredited school.
Brothers on the Ministry Education and Teaching Service Team
* Shared authoring of this article after a meeting on June 5, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois