The training of Christian leaders for future ministry poses unique challenges, which are foreign to other educational programs. Christians are to develop intellectual understanding of the faith’s doctrines, as well as a love for God and his people.
To help people prepare for Christians for service, seminaries and Bible colleges have tried to balance student’s intellectual development and their emotional growth. There are generally four different modes of training that are used to develop future pastors, missionaries and leaders: church discipleship, distance learning programs, modular classes and traditional classroom instruction.
Church discipleship programs take on many forms. They can be Sunday school classes, Bible studies, personal discipleship programs or fellowship groups. Even preaching during a church service is a form of church-wide discipleship.
With regards to the growth of future Christian leaders, church discipleship usually involves a close, personal relationship. Typically, a pastor or other leader in the church will take a burgeoning person in the church under his or her wing. The leader and disciple develop a mentoring relationship.
Church discipleship is certainly biblical and appropriate for everyone. It is how the church is edified and grows in Christ. When considering it as a mode of Christian preparation for future leaders, church discipleship has several advantages.
- It follows the biblical model of mentoring, where the older generation is encouraging the younger in Titus 2.
- It provides the most intimate setting of preparation for Christian service.
- It can be tailored to individual needs.
- It is free.
Everyone agrees that discipleship should be a part of every future leader’s development; however, it has some shortcomings. In many cases, it is necessary to couple discipleship with another mode of education, such as training through a seminary or Bible college. Here are some disadvantages of church discipleship.
- It provides limited chances to meet other people who are preparing for similar service.
- No matter how well trained a mentor is, he or she cannot be an expert in every field or discipline.
- Books are often used to supplement a mentor’s knowledge, but reading a book is not the same as learning from the author of that book.
- Often, disciples have access to only a limited resource, as church budgets are never inexhaustible.
- Disciples are often influenced by their mentor’s biased views, which every person has.
- Church discipleship is not standardized; it varies from church to church.
Online Seminaries and Bible Colleges
Distance education programs, like church discipleship, can take on different forms; however, there are some common aspects to all distance education programs. There is a proscribed curriculum, and the student works with two supervisors. The on-site supervisor overseas practical ministry opportunities, while the off-site supervisor helps the student work through the curriculum.
In general, students enrolled in a Christian distance learning program learn via one of two modes of instruction. They either complete coursework online, or they submit their work through the mail. The traditional correspondence courses are rapidly being replaced by online seminary and bible college programs, but there are still some cases where people do not have a reliable internet connection.
These degree programs try to compensate for the disadvantages of church discipleship training, without losing discipleship’s advantages. Through the top online seminaries and Bible colleges, students can complete an entire degree online.
- Future Christian leaders do not need to leave their local environment, where they have grown and could minister in the future.
- People who cannot attend a traditional classroom can still have access to formal Christian training.
- The off-site supervisor(s) are well trained in their fields, and can compensate for an on-site supervisor’s lack of knowledge in an area.
- Accredited distance learning programs can issue degrees and adhere to strict standards.
- The cost of earning a degree either online or through correspondence is significantly less than attending a traditional school.
- Students still have limited opportunities to interact with others preparing for future ministry.
- Reading through a curriculum, or even participating in an online forum, is not the same as being in a classroom with a professor and classmates.
- Students often do not have access to all the resources a traditional seminary has.
- It is extremely difficult to learn a biblical language, without having in-person instruction.
Modular classes can either be held at a bible college or seminary’s central campus or at a satellite location. In order to meet accreditation requirements, these classes meet for the same number of hours as a traditional class would. However, modular classes compress the instruction into a handful of long days. They may last for a week, or they might be spaced out over several weekends.
Modular classes are designed to integrate all of the advantages of a traditional classroom with those of church discipleship. They try to provide the personal interaction between students and professors that physical seminaries and bible colleges afford. At the same time, these classes allow students to meet their obligations at home, work and church.
- Small schools can bring in highly respected professors, which they would otherwise be unable to afford, on a part-time basis.
- Students who cannot commit to class that meets regularly can find modular classes that fit into their schedule.
- Students and professors have an opportunity to interact with one another in the classroom setting.
- Students do not have to leave their current environment for long periods of time.
- Costs for tuition can rival those of a traditional program.
- Although students do not have to pay for a semester’s room and board, they will incur travel expenses.
- Since the curriculum is condensed into a short timeframe, students often have trouble processing all of the course’s information.
Traditional classrooms are still respected today as the most rigorous academic programs. In general, they provide the most thorough academic Christian education. Proponents of other modes of education will point out, however, that the Christian faith and Christian ministry require more than an intellectual knowledge. Although many seminaries and Bible colleges try to incorporate practical ministry requirements, these are not the same as growing in one’s home church. A list of schools that have traditional classrooms on a campus is available here.
- Traditional classes afford students the most opportunities to interact with fellow students and professors.
- The most academically accomplished professors often teach on traditional campuses.
- Students have access to library materials and other resources.
- Although many scholarships are available, the cost of tuition, room and board can prohibit some people from attending a campus-based program.
- Unless a seminary or bible college is nearby, people must leave their home and relocate to the school.
No matter what type of training people are seeking for future ministry, one of these modes of Christian education will meet their needs. All of them have advantages, as well as disadvantages. Yet, no matter how you decide to prepare for Christian service, God will mold and shape you for his purposes.
For schools that have each of these programs, continue to:
- Christian Distance Learning Programs
- Modular Seminary and Bible College Classes
- Traditional Seminaries and Bible Colleges
Other Options for Viewing Schools
Looking for a seminary school that is in your area, associated with your denomination or offers courses based around your schedule? You can also look through:
- Seminary schools by state or region
- Seminary schools by denominational association
- Seminary schools by degrees offered