Bible College or Church?

I read an interesting blog post yesterday about Bible colleges.  That post got me thinking about how we’re preparing people to serve as followers of Jesus.  I graduated from a Bible college ten years ago.  It was a great experience.  I made a lot of friends there with whom I still keep in touch.  I got a good Bible education.  Best of all, I met my wife there.  One of my professors, however, uttered one sentence that has stuck with me for ten years.

“95 percent of what you need to learn about the ministry won’t be learned in the classroom.”

No kidding.

I’m grateful for my four years of Bible college, but they did not help prepare me for the everyday rigors of “professional ministry.”  Yeah, I learned how to parse Greek verbs.  But how does that help a woman who just lost her husband in a tragic accident?  I learned all about the pseudopigrapha, but how does that help a brand new Christian battle an addiction?  I could go on, but hopefully you see the point:  Bible colleges are great for Bible education, but most are terrible for practical ministry (even though there are degrees in practical ministry).

I’m wondering why we insist on sending guys who want to be preachers and church planters off to Bible college and seminary for four years (or more).  Would it not be more beneficial for a guy to be mentored and coached by the staff of his local church?  He could learn the ins and outs of ministry on the field instead of in the abstract theories of the classroom.  And he wouldn’t amass a huge amount of college debt that will take him at least a decade to pay off… and the chances are high that he’ll be out of “professional ministry” a few years before he gets his education paid for.

Some of us would object, “But our preachers need good theological training.”  True… and so does every other Christian.  There are tremendous resources available to any person who wants a basic theological education, and even those who want to “go deeper.”  Not only that, but a theology that isn’t practical isn’t really theology.  God is not abstract.  He is not a theory.  He is alive and well, working among His people to transform the world with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What are your thoughts–especially those of you in “professional ministry” who read this blog?

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About Aaron

Aaron is a follower of Jesus. He's married to his smokin' hot wife Laura and is the father of three adorable girls. He enjoys a robust cigar, a complex root beer, a good movie, writing, football, thought-provoking books, and rousing discussions about subjects you're not supposed to talk about (like theology and politics). Religious people irritate him (because he once was one). He's on a quest to find the perfect dry rub and sauce for ribs.
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44 Responses to Bible College or Church?

  1. David says:

    I think things will change in the future to a model you’ve suggested. The current system will not be sustainable much longer especially in light of trends. We will need a new paradigm and technology will aid in this transition. I think it will ultimately be good for the kingdom. It may happen when we are old men, but it will happen.

  2. justin dunn says:

    hey. congrats on the house offer. since i work at a bible college, i am really interested in the blog you read. could you give me the link?

  3. Rob says:

    Good thoughts. I think it’s a default that needs to be reconsidered. Most church job postings require a four year degree, and I think that’s evidence of cultural influence more than anything. I think it belies a weakness in general standards of discipleship in the church. The bar of expectation probably needs to be raised. I would never trade my bible college experience because of the structure and direction it gave to my studies, in addition to some life experiences. I’d suggest that there are few enough self-motivated learners that could structure an appropriate curriculum for themselves. That’s not an argument for bible college though, more for discipleship in general. Not many Christians take the time to deepen a mentoring relationship for this to take place naturally, which is a shame. Philosophically, I don’t think Bible colleges should have to exist. I’m glad they do, although I think practical ministries should be approached differently.

  4. Aaron Cross says:

    Hey Aaron, it’s been a while.
    I’ve wrestled over this tension before without a solid conclusion. My time at Bible college has forever altered my life, I believe for the good. I wouldn’t be in the ministry with a young church right now. But is it the best way???

    Here is one thought, most Bible Colleges I presume are supported by a large base of churches in addition to tuition. In a past generation this was the churches way of training ministers. They supported a college and sent their “Timothy’s” to this college. The real question is, should this be our generations way of training ministers???
    In short, I’m asking the same question as you.
    However, what about those students who desperately want to go into ministry, but have no resources/funds to make it. Instead of weaseling a way to get to Bible college it would be much easier to get on board with a church.
    ac

  5. Aaron says:

    Wow. This post has generated some great discussion. Nice.

    @ Dave:
    I think you’re correct. Not sure what it’ll look like, but I think you’re right.

    @ Rob:
    I’m right there with you. I wouldn’t trade my time at college for anything (hey, I wouldn’t have met my smokin’ hot wife if I hadn’t gone). I think this is a discipleship issue. As we work to make disciples of Jesus, I think we’ll see some leaders rise to the top and (I know this is a loaded term) emerge. I’ve seen this happen in my situation.

    @ Justin:
    Just sent you the link via email, dude.

    @ Aaron:
    Dude! Whazzup? I’m hearing really good things from the work in P-town. You’re right on the money about the current paradigm. And, since you’re in a new work, you have a great opportunity to actively do something about it. Here’s what I’ve done…

    I simply looked for potential among the guys in our church. Several seemed to rise to the top, especially after I announced I was moving. I’d been mentoring/coaching them for awhile. After around two years, they are now our first elders. The dude who is replacing me–same deal. I’ve been mentoring and coaching him for about two years. I challenged him to plant a microchurch (he did), and I challenged him to step up and take my place when I leave (he will–we ordained him two weeks ago, along with our elders). These guys emerged as leaders, and I mentored and coached those who emerged. It wasn’t near perfect, but these guys are now all on the same page and their chemistry is great. They’ll do well when I leave.

    In your situation, do the same thing–invest whatever time you can in guys for leadership. Maybe call around to some churches with young guys who want to go into ministry and offer an alternative to Bible college–let them work under you (they may have to tentmake, but that’s a sign they’re in it for the right reasons). Holler at me sometime, and we’ll chat some more (especially after I get to G-Vegas).

    @ All you guys:
    The whole “hire and fire” paradigm just plain sucks. It’s handicapping guys, it’s burning guys out, it empowers bad (even evil) established leaders, and it continues to promote the clergy/laity distinction. In order for the church to get back to training her own leaders, we need to stop hiring guys from the outside and start grooming guys from the inside to replace us. I’m not 100% sure what this will look like, but it is possible, especially in new church plants.

    Thanks for the discussion. Keep it coming if you’ve got more thoughts.

  6. richard says:

    not only do i think the bible college model is inadequate (dare i say incapable) of independently preparing someone for “professional ministry” (i am so thankful i got plugged into a good place to be mentored while attending bible college to supplement that), but i’m not convinced it is even a good way to do the theological training. your examples of thing learned in bible college were likely learned on your own initiative. (i hope i am not assuming too much. i can only project onto you from my own experiences.) in many of my classes, i felt like we were rehashing mediocre sunday school material. this is not a reflection of my feelings about the professors i studied under (i have a great respect for them!), but rather on the poor preparation most of us had coming in to bible college. as everyone else stated, i loved my time in bible college (and it shaped me, met a great woman and married up, etc.), but i often gained more biblical insight and grew deeper in my faith from late night discussions with my roommate than i did from my classroom experience. maybe if there was a way to channel the late night, coffee fueled discussion of young, reckless dreamers into a model of discipleship, we’d be onto something. i don’t know.

  7. Koffijah says:

    Hey Aaron, I really love this post. You know what I love most of all? That you are able to rise above your own experience (good experience, too) and think about better ways! That shows a lot of things like maturity, like commitment to Christ before all else, and, I believe, that you are allowing God to lead your thoughts. Great stuff to get the discussion going!

    One of the hardest things for people to do is to give an honest critique of something that, in effect, supports them. People often feel a need to legitimize what they are doing or what they have done, so they often “don’t go there.” You are going there and we need more people to do it. Our legitimacy is in Christ and that will never move.

    I have more ideas I haven’t yet shared in the Koffi House. I will soon. But I do like your idea of people training at churches. Your comments about parsing Greek words sounds very similar to something I said at the NMC last November.

    Our lives were changed in amazingly good ways at Bible college. You know what? My life was amazingly changed in the same way at the University and in a campus ministry. That time of life (18-22, just moved out of parent’s house) is prime time for amazing things to happen. These things will happen in other types of scenarios, too.

    More later. Thanks again!

  8. Koffijah says:

    In regards to some of your thoughts on my blog… Have you seen this site?

    http://insidework.net/

    Check out the $347,000 per baptism article.

  9. Aaron says:

    Nice, nice, NICE!

    @ Richard:
    Dude! It’s been a long time. That line, “Maybe if there was a way to channel the late night, coffee fueled discussion of young, reckless dreamers into a model of discipleship, we’d be onto something,” is classic. You grew up in a good church, and even though it is really old school, there’s something to be said about their leaders–they keep up with their “Timothys” (at least that’s been the case with me). Now… how can they build on that and not just send them off, but train them? To me, it all comes down to mentoring and coaching. That’s what Jesus did; that’s what Paul did. There’s some of this kind of taking place now with internships, but it’s still in the traditional, expensive model of church… and it still requires that seminary degree.

    There are some things about Bible College training that are hard to replace–especially original language stuff… yet there are new innovations all the time that can help. Distance learning, online classes (I don’t know if there are any for Greek and Hebrew), software like Logos, etc.

    Good thoughts, Richard.

    @ Koffijah:
    As always, awesome stuff. And that article… what?!? Insane! I know the rebuttal–there’s no price tag for a soul (and the article mentioned that), but I also agree that there is a lot of waste going on. Stuff is beginning to change, my friend… exciting stuff is going on.

  10. richard says:

    @Aaron, i agree. i owe a lot to south mills. they have been (and in many ways still are) a big influence on me. and, because of them, i felt i was a lot better prepared than many of my compatriots. (i do have found memories of you leading bible studies by the way). i also know mentors have influenced me (and the whole biblical model thing is a +).

  11. dave says:

    Good post Aaron.

    I think to answer this questions, one must observe the mission and purpose of a Bible college. I’m gonna grab 3; RBC, JBC, and KCU.

    RBC: “Roanoke Bible College is an undergraduate institution of Christian higher education whose mission is to impact the world by transforming ordinary people into extraordinary Christian leaders.”

    JBC: “The purpose of Johnson Bible College is to educate students for specialized Christian ministries with emphasis on preaching and provides programs in Christian leadership and community service.”

    KCU: “The mission of Kentucky Christian University is to educate students for Christian leadership and service in the Church and in professions throughout the world.”

    Ok, that took a minute. So, lets evaluate these statements. It seems that Bible colleges have an overall theme: Bible colleges exist to educate Christian leaders.

    Obviously, this means for service. JBC is very clear its training preachers and specialized Christian ministers. RBC is stating that it hopes to impact the world. KCU says “for leadership and service.”

    So, Bible colleges are setting their mission to train for practical ministry. This being the case, you’re absolutely right. A Bible college student cannot get a practical ministry experience in the classroom. One step above a classroom is a summer internship, which is also not the best case scenario for ministry experience. Therefore, I would argue that Bible colleges cannot, by nature, train for practical ministry.

    What Bible colleges can do, though, is educate in the Bible. By bringing together educated and brilliant minds, these schools can instill a strong Bible education in their students. You’re completely correct: a Christian go learn as much/more on their own as well. After all, in Bible college we used books, and books are open to the public. The right kind of Christian with the right motivation can get the same books, read them, dialogue with other Christians, and have the same education as us Bible college graduates. I personally can’t say I know or have ever known someone willing to do this. That is unfortunate.

    Anyway, Bible colleges REPLACE the work that the local church should have and has failed at doing. Ideally, a “Timothy” would be raised up in his local church; trained and sent out. In our society, though, how many churches would consider a guy who had no Bible college / seminary training?

    I guess what I’m getting at here is (and here’s the big can of worms) that American churches have become cooperate. Churches, whether any of us want to admit it or not, are cooperate, even down to the suits and ties. In the cooperate world, degrees get jobs. It’s the same in the church. Bible colleges must exist to fulfill the road the churches quit fulfilling generations ago. When the church went cooperate (which I will argue really started happening in the 90’s, but that’s another discussion), a “Timothy” could not get a job without a Bible College degree. Thus, people go to Bible college for 2 reasons: learn the Bible, and to get a job.

    I think the mission of a Bible college should focus on the Bible education, and to develop the skill set of ministry. They just, by nature, can’t prepare someone for full time ministry unless they have full time ministry as part of the curriculum. All of us in full time ministry I’m sure can agree that we’ve learned alot outside of the classroom. I’ve dealt with some CRAZY situations as a youth minister, and even CRAZIER situations as worship minister. I’ve had to make some really tough and painful decisions. I have learned so much about mankind, human nature, and “church people” that I had never heard about or thought of in Bible college.

    Am I grateful for Bible college, heck freaking yes. It changed my life. It grew me up. It gave me my Biblical education, which I use daily. Could I have done it on my own, h no. I am not “that guy.” I’ll keep singing RBC’s alma marter “may we ever love and trust thee, may we faithful be, to the gospel thou has taught us, hail to rbc!” hahaha. That’s probably not right.

    I wrote this over the course of an hour while I did other office work, so if it doesn’t flow, my bad.

    • Aaron says:

      @ Dave:
      Dude! How is Charlotte? We’ll be in Greenville soon (we sold our house today… literally–they’re signing the contract).

      Great thoughts on Bible college, the church, all that stuff. I agree with what you said about how Bible colleges should stick to educating people on the Bible. We both went to the same school, and had many of the same profs, and I think we got a decent Bible education. Here’s the thing… I don’t know about you, but I left college saddled with debt (which, incidentally, I just paid off this morning). There’s got to be a better way for guys to get the practical ministry experience and the Bible education without carrying the burden of college debt. And like I said, the average dude sticks with professional ministry for seven years before he gets out–and that still leaves him with at least three more years of loan payments and a degree that won’t suit him for too many other careers.

      I do have some ideas:

      First, churches need to start grooming guys from the inside instead of hiring from the outside. That’s what I’ve done here at Discovery as I prepare to move. I’ve mentored and coached a guy who became a Christian in our church. He’s learning his Bible on his own, and I’m hoping to provide him with as many online tools as possible. Here’s the thing… look at how messed up the churches in the NT were at times, and the apostolic leader had to correct some things. In my case, the leaders I trained will always be able to contact me if they’ve got a problem they can’t solve or a question they can’t answer. Imagine several years of being mentored and coached by the staff/leaders of the church, learning the ins and outs, experiencing the ups and downs. That’s an education in practical ministry. I’m not sure this will happen in established churches, but it could definitely happen in new church plants.

      Second, there are other creative and innovative ways to get a Bible education. That can be part of the mentoring process. But with the advances in technology, there are other ways this can happen. One example is The Resurgence (spear-headed by Mark Driscoll)–it’s a deep well of content out of the neo-reformed tradition. And everything is free (which is how it should be). Online collectives like this can be where the educated and brilliant minds can get together and help guys get some good Bible education, even with the deeper stuff. It does require someone to be a self-starter, but if a person isn’t a self-starter, should they be looking into church leadership or “professional ministry” to start with?

      Third, we must reconsider “professional ministry.” I won’t be paid a dime to plant churches in Greenville–I’ll be working full time as a hospice chaplain (HUGE opportunities with that), and making disciples and watching churches sprout “on the side” (for lack of a better term). In this economy, churches are being squeezed financially, and it’s leading to layoffs and pay cuts (I’ve had to take a large pay cut, but God has been tremendously good). Professional ministry in the church setting creates a dependency, and a mindset that (unfortunately) is driven by money–we wonder if we’re going to get paid. Instead of burdening churches, can guys support themselves in other ways, which will lighten the financial load on churches and build integrity in the community for the person in ministry. I also realize what this means–so much of our time is spent on creating a memorable event on Sundays, and we put much of our ministry time into that… it may no longer be possible. Which means…

      … we may have to reconsider how we “do church.” But this reply is long enough, and that’s another post for another time.

      Good stuff, Dave.

    • thnidu says:

      What’s wrong with being cooperative? Or do you mean “CORPORATE”?

  12. Billy Dyer says:

    I agree with ur idea of learning the art in the field. I mean the Teacher of Teachers Jesus Christ himself used this model of education. In the Gospels as im sure u know u sent his disciples out on a couple preaching tours after teaching them some stuff. Giving them some simple directions and telling them what the preach and then they came back and had a debriefing. He didnt just run to the hills with them 3 years come to Jerusalem and die and say good luck fellas. He spent time preparing them by giving them a little experience at a time and teaching them along the way.

    • Aaron says:

      @ Billy:
      The great Billy Dyer has visited my blog. What’s up, dude? I’ve heard a lot about you, especially from Willis. Thanks for stopping by.

      Good stuff on Jesus’ training model. Teach them a little, send them out with instructions. I think we can do something similar. If I’m right (and correct me if I’m wrong), you’re doing some stuff through Summit, right? A great example of getting a quality Bible education (and Faull’s stuff is definitely quality) outside the traditional classroom setting.

  13. Gman says:

    WOW. This discussion has gone further and interesting thoughts about the Traditional Bible College setting. Now how does one change it, or in its context?

    I think we can hire within’ but also I think we also need scholars in the field of High Education as well … to combat the false teaching that is out there. So how do we balance the 2?

    I know I am thankful for the foundation of the Bible education but also think the School of Hard Knocks helps as well.

    Though here is a thought … how uneducated were the disciples? Should we look at our ministry context as that of the Jewish context …. that of having a Teacher and disciples? Didn’t all Jewish young men have to know some sort of the scriptures … thus maybe the Apostles weren’t as uneducated as we’d like them to be?

  14. Aaron says:

    @ Gman:
    What’s up, my Canadian friend? How’s MD treating you?

    Some great stuff. I agree that we need the smart guys. I’m just not sure the Bible college setting is the best place for them to do their thing. Bible colleges require a ton of money to operate, and they saddle regular dudes like me with a lot of school debt (and I only had to pay room and board). I’m convinced the smart dudes need to do their thing, not in the classroom, but on the front lines in the midst of the church community.

    Nice thoughts about the apostles and their educations. All Jewish boys (with some exceptions–and I think Jesus was one; I don’t think He went to school) had to go through the Jewish education system, but most had “flunked” out by the time they were teens. Yet, they still knew their stuff. Matthew was a really smart guy who could handle the OT with the best of them. Yet, because the apostles were blue collar guys, they weren’t considered the best and the brightest.

    Your Teacher/disciples comment is relevant–I totally see the mentoring/coaching thing as a form of that model.

    I also think we sometimes blow the “false doctrine” thing up a little bit. Sure, there are many dangerous false teachings out there and we need to know how to address them (and help our folks address them), but sometimes we equate false doctrine with “not agreeing 100% with me.”

    Some good stuff, G.

  15. Here is my two cents worth. I attended Bible college and was in the “minstry” for over 7 years before opting out. I now work a “secular” job and actually enjoy it more than ministry because I feel this is my ministry, to be in the world but not of it. My passion for Christ is hotter today than when I was in the pastorate but if I could go back and do it over again, I would not attend Bible college. I would attend a secular school and be involved in various campus ministries and possibly pursue ministry through a discipleship model ministry sort of like the old ICOC model. Either way, I spent thousands of dollars on an education that while I am grateful for it, it does not serve me nor the kingdom much apart from my passion for Jesus and His Word which I could have had at any college.

    Great subject though and I hope I did not offend you.

  16. Aaron says:

    @ S. D.
    Thanks for stopping by the RTL.

    Absolutely no offense taken, because I’m in the same boat (and many of the others who’ve made comments have similar questions). I am also opting out of “professional” ministry in the very near future (not from burn out or scandal, but by choice) and am going into another field, although it will be in an industry which allows me to use my skill set (so my degree actually will be useful to me outside of working professionally in the local church, although my education didn’t prepare me for the practical ins and outs of what I’ll be doing).

    This is something more Christians, I think, need to understand–their jobs aren’t just for makin’ coin. They’re for influencing those around us with the gospel–to redeem our workplaces and co-workers for the kingdom of God.

    Good stuff, S.D.

  17. David Willis says:

    Good to see Seeking Disciple here. He is of the Arminian Today blog – one of my favs. Also, good to see my boy Billy in the house – he’s got mad Bible skills! Anyway, I think it’s good see you all reflecting the same sort of thinking. It is encouraging to me. I appreciate my time in Bible College, but i do think there must be other options going forward. Stewardship will demand it. The current model has served many well for generations but it will have to make room for other models as time goes on. We will have to get leaner and more nimble. We will have to use technology and mentoring. The church will have to disciple. The hold brick and mortar institutions will fade. I think it will be an awkward transition for some but it is for the better IMHO. It is especailly difficult to persuade many of these needed changes becuase so many (& so much $$$) are vested in the our schools. Many also mistake these new ideas as undermining our colleges. So what will become of the our colleges. Some may consolidate and endure for a while. Some will close. Some larger ones might continue on as Christian liberal arts schoools. Others will embrace the change and perhaps morph into something viable and valuable to the Kingdom in the future. The times they are a changin.

    • Aaron says:

      I think you’re right, Willis. I know that the colleges are mainly supported by established churches. I don’t know too many new churches supporting colleges (I may be wrong on that).

      Having looked at all the feedback (which is AWESOME), I’ve had a chance to continue thinking about it. I think new church plants have the best chance to make a change.

      The consensus seems to be that things need to change, but we’re resigned to keep them the same, because we need the colleges for guys to get jobs and to get theology. I’m not convinced that is necessarily true. I think there are some cool innovations going on–this discussion is one of them. Some great ideas from some really smart guys have been put forth in the comments to this post. A few have posted stuff on their blogs linking to this post. Something like this can be a catalyst for change.

      I also think things like The Resurgence will play a huge role. Mark Driscoll and his Neo-Reformed crew have done a killer job at collecting a massive amount of content on that site, and are adding stuff all the time. Why can’t we do the same? Hmm….

      I’m thinking about expanding some of my ideas in some posts next week. We’ll see. In the meantime, keep it coming, guys.

  18. David Willis says:

    The Resurgence is a model we need to explore. I look forward to more from you this next week.

    • Aaron says:

      There’s another one called Shapevine that’s more geared toward “missional” stuff. Some good things on there, including some online courses from really smart guys that are minimal in cost and can be done anytime.

  19. Pingback: The Future of Ministry Education | epicdialogue.com

  20. Doug Talley says:

    Hey everybody! This is my first reply on Aaron’s post, and I’ve LOVED reading all of your thoughts! I attended RBC for a year, however I did not apply myself (I majored in ping-pong and minored in pool), so I am totally at fault for not reaping any benefits that a Bible college education could give, for better or worse. Here’s a thought, and I wold love to glean from the wisdom and experiences of you all…..how about the elders spear-heading the preaching, and appointing others within the body for the same. Seems to me it would help the economy of each congregation (no “senior minister” payroll), encourage more participation within each local body, eliminate the “hire-and-fire” problems, and negate any “overloading of jobs” on one particular person. And all of this would still allow the interior mentoring of Timothys within each body.

    • Aaron says:

      @ Doug:
      What’s up, dude? It’s been a really long time! I also did my fair share of ping-pong and pool. Good times, good times.

      This is a great suggestion for relieving some financial stress on a church, allowing guys to use their gifts, and having the elders of a church be more proactive than just meeting once a month to decide how much money to spend.

      I see two barriers to this (but they can be overcome, but with some difficulty)….

      First, for established churches. Established churches are much more likely to have elders in place, but in many churches, elders are elected with little training or desire to ever preach… after all, that’s what we pay the pro for. This would be an enormous change that would require a lot of time, patience, and willingness to endure some criticism. It can, however, be done. The church that ordained me does have one of their elders preach one Sunday a month, and they have other guys who preach on some Sunday evenings. For this to happen in established churches would require great focus and intentionality from the staff and leaders.

      Second, for new churches (which I’m much more involved with). New churches do not have elders in place (at least they shouldn’t). In the New Testament, a long time elapsed between a church sprouting and elders being recognized–sometimes years elapsed. It took eight years for elders to emerge in the church I planted, and I was very proactive in looking for guys to develop.

      Your suggestion is good, even great. Now… how will we get there? I’ve got some posts coming next week that will expand on this.

  21. Doug Talley says:

    After I posted my comment, the new church thing came to mind. Maybe the local elders of other congregations could fill that vois in that situation, however that’s assuming there is another local body with like-minded leaders.

    As for the established congregations, it would certainly be a laborious venture, and the mindset of many current leaders would have to change dramatically.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my post! I’m starting to get into this blog thing, and I’ve got one I’m trying to get off the ground too.

    P.S. I personally can’t stand the whole congregational vote thing for many issues…..thoughts?

    • Aaron says:

      Hey Doug,

      Another good suggestion that would especially work if the new church is a “daughter” church of the established church. If it isn’t, then it would be harder to do. And here’s where I think the traditionally structured church has a weakness (among many)…

      I’m not sure if you know this, but the church I planted back in ’01 is now a network of microchurches (AKA house, simple, organic churches). We’ve been in this structure for two years, and it has paid big dividends. Without taking up a ton of time and space, our structure allows us to spend a lot more time on mentoring/coaching of leaders instead of spending so much time on a Sunday service. I’ve been able to spend those two years mentoring and coaching guys who are now our elders and a guy to replace me (we’re moving back to NC in the next six weeks, and we’ll be starting a new microchurch network). The guy who’ll be replacing me is “home grown”–he became a Christian in our church, planted a church in our network a year ago, and has grown and matured very quickly. These new leaders are already taking much of the leadership responsibility off of me, and when I’m gone, I’ll check in every now and then, visit when I’m in town, and if necessary, help them solve any problems that come up.

      As to your comment about congregational votes, I’m not a fan of them in the traditional church structure. But in the structure we have now allows each church to decide for themselves on many issues–what their time together looks like on Sundays (or whenever they meet), how often they get together, where they’ll serve the community, etc. The elders oversee and shepherd the network by staying in contact with each of the churches. What keeps our churches networked is Jesus, and our DNA (love God, love people, serve the world).

      Let me know if you’ve got any questions about what we’re doing.

  22. David Willis says:

    To Doug’s suggestion… I think Alexander Strauch’s “Biblical Eldership” book would be right in line with Doug’s comments. A major problem, of course, is that many paid guys would have to go get jobs elsewhere. Combine that with the “just pay somebody else” mentality and we have mountains to climb. But they can be climbed.

  23. Stuart says:

    For good or ill, I believe if the Christian voice is to be heard in the intellectual community, the ones doing the talking have to be educated in some higher schools of learning. Currently I’m pursuing a Master’s and ideally, ultimately a Ph.D. so that I can teach. I think the letters behind my name aren’t really what qualify me, but our society recognizes them as lending a degree (forgive me) of credibility. And rightfully so. I feel more comfortable with Ben Witherington III’s and Craig Blomberg’s representing Christian foundations more in the public square or the world of academia than Rick Warren’s and such.

    Also, schools provide a sort of standard. The apostles’ teaching is still king, but it has to be interpreted. I’m not calling for control like the RCC or anything, but I cringe at the idea of interpretation regressing to poor hermeneutics. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins book sales would skyrocket, hehe (I’m not demonizing preM D’s; I’m just poking fun). You mentioned, ‘ There are tremendous resources available to any person who wants a basic theological education, and even those who want to “go deeper.” ‘ How many of those resources are available because of Christian schools?

    That all being said, I agree that there is room for improvement in church discipleship and, if it is to continue, Christian education. I’m a bit of a Christian college fanboi (it may help that I had scholarships and we’ve already paid off my wife’s school loans), but I’m also not giving them a free pass. I think Christian education fails in many ways just like secular education fails; we don’t need to wait for the secular system to make improvements so we can mimic them. The classroom experience needs to be more than a Sunday school lesson on steroids with more outside reading. It needs to be engaging and (I hate this word but…) relevant. The aspect of the on the field training should probably be reconsidered and beefed up.

    And the same results are not necessarily incapable of being attained in the local church.

    The current way of doing things has many shortcomings. Revamping is a must. It’s easy to see those shortcomings too. The challenge is to be able to see the solutions. Institutionalism seems to be a part of every movement’s life cycle, even if we don’t like it (schools, imo, are evidence of that process). Personally, I know something is not right. However, I only have a vague idea of how things should be different. I don’t really know what that would look like. What needs to be left as is? What needs to be tweaked? What needs to be overhauled? What needs to be jettisoned? I wish I knew.

    • Aaron says:

      Hey Stuart,

      I agree that in the intellectual community, it helps to have the letters. But outside of the ivory towers, a Ph. D and $1.49 will get you a Coke. What I mean by that is that the vast majority of people who don’t have any letters behind their name might be wowed for a short time by the degree, but what really lends credibility is a life changed by the power of the gospel. I’ve got guys in our network of microchurches who aren’t Bible college educated, who have no letters behind their name, but they command enourmous respect with Christians and non-Christians alike because of the obvious life Christ-empowered life change. The intellectual guys (and I have mad respect for them) definitely have their place, but a majority of the battles are fought, not in lecture halls or debate forums, but in everyday life.

      I’m also not convinced that schools provide a sort of standard. Let’s not forget that the same Holy Spirit that resides in a Christian guy with an Ph.D also resides in the Christian guy who works at Wal-Mart. Yes, false doctrine has always been around. Yes, we need guys who can combat it when needed. But, again, I know guys without the Bible college degrees who are rock solid. It can be done. Again, if someone wants to pursue the advanced degree, that’s awesome. Totally cool. But I think that when we say the schools provide a standard, we shortchange people who didn’t go to school, and we even shortchange the Holy Spirit.

      I also think that the Bible college system has totally promoted, without meaning to do so, the clergy/laity distinction… but that’s another post for another time.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Stuart says:

        Yeah, I wasn’t trying to say that we have to get the letters to be reputable as bearers of the gospel. Nothing replaces a genuine Christian life. I just meant that if we are to be respected in most intellectual communities on intellectual grounds, a high school diploma won’t go far. I’m not saying that it would necessarily be horrible if we chose to not worry with fighting that battle. Paul was pretty well-educated yet seemed to have some of his least success when interacting with the intellectual elite at Athens; he didn’t have to appease the wisdom of this world to change countless lives. Maybe it is not worth all the time and resources. However, I think that having a strong presence on that front is valuable. I also think that Christian universities closing up shop will result in some vulnerability. Yes there are resources out there, but many are the fruit of Christian scholastic endeavors. We can’t talk about how the schools ultimately fail and we need to move on, yet champion the availability of resources that they provide like they will always be there.

        I’m all about some congregational autonomy, but in the NT I see plenty of times where various congregations needed someone keeping tabs on them (be it Paul, the Jerusalem Council, or Jesus himself). Maybe I’m not trusting the HS or Bible enough in the hands of the laity (hehe), but in my admittedly limited experience, a lot of churches fail at producing members whose theology goes beyond “Well my pastor says…”. The critical thinking is absent. Maybe revamping the way churches operate would address this, but I fear that having no sort of outside influence will result in a bunch of mixed up theology (that pours over into real life). Pop Christianity will become the standard.

        Also, regarding the shortchanging the Holy Spirit, that obviously is not my intent. I’m just going on what I’ve seen in the past. The Holy Spirit has been inside of people who were led astray by false teaching.

        I’m a libertarian at heart, so if you want to get me to back down off this idea, you may want to talk about me wanting a nanny state, hehe.

      • Stuart says:

        Oh, and btw, I imagine from the looks of it I come across as someone defending Bible colleges and bashing any nay-saying. That’s not my intent at all.

        I think churches fail in many ways. I think schools fail in many ways. (I think people fail in many ways.) I am all about looking at something from a new angle. Superficial changes (e.g., teaching a new class, changing the music, etc.) are not really what are needed. Some foundational things about how churches and schools operate should be considered, scrutinized, dropped, adopted, etc. And maybe, when all is said and done, certain institutions or practices will have run their course and need to be let go. But I think we have to be careful in making the diagnosis and deciding the best treatment.

  24. Koffijah says:

    I think that if at the end of this discussion we only come up with, “We need to reform our Bible colleges and do it better,” and “We need to change our churches and do it better,” then in the end nothing will change very much. Guys, we aren’t the first ones to see weaknesses in both Bible colleges and churches. People have been saying these things for years.

    I think what is needed is a new model. Both for Bible college and for church. (Aaron understands new models for church!) I think we should start new churches that have in them a training (discipleship) program. In fact, I think that “program” might just be the way to start a new church. I wrote a lot about Jesus’ model for discipleship in my blog, The Koffi House. I won’t repeat it here in the comments of Aaron’s blog, but you can check it out if you like. I do think that a good discipleship training program should have a major focus on our behavior, understanding and ability and a minor focus on academic knowlege, not the other way around.

    Yes, we will always have our Christian liberal arts schools and other colleges that are progressing in that direction. Some may want to study theology and get their PhD’s from those institutions. God bless them. We don’t have to dismantle those things in order to start a new model. But what we are going for here is something that will

    1) Be reproducible (meaning virtually every church could copy it)
    2) Demolish the clergy/laity distinction that is uphelp by our current models of both church and Bible college
    3) Be accessible to all kinds of Christians, in any location, who aren’t quitting their jobs to go to Bible college
    4) Train people to live, love and talk like Jesus, not like the Pharisees.

    • Aaron says:

      KABOOM! Koffijah has hit the nail on the head, y’all. The four things (well, there’s 5–he listed another in another comment) he mentions are right on, and it means that whatever we do must be simple. If it isn’t simple, it won’t be reproducible, etc.

  25. Koffijah says:

    5) Infiltrate non-Christian communities with our disciples (and disciplers) rather than isolate the disciples from the larger non-Christian community, only sending them on “forays” into that world.

    • Aaron says:

      If you’ve been checking out this series of posts, look at this one. It’s really good, and has some really good, differing thoughts. Good on ya, Chris.

  26. Koffijah says:

    More comments from Koffijah about a new model… sorry…

    I do think that something like BAM could be started to support a discipleship program for young people (who would typically be entering college) where they work in the business and actually get paid a stipend rather than having to pay for their education. The business would then support itself and the training program.

    I’m planning to talk about this more in the Koffi House in upcoming posts… But I will say one more thing here: I think the BAM ministry should be an effective one (meaning, having impact in the non-Christian community) BEFORE using it as a training method. More later.

    For now, you can check out Alliance World Coffees at the Muncie Alliance Church to see something of where I got my ideas, but I think it could be done even better than that. Just Google them to find them on the web.

  27. Pingback: Bible College or Church (Part 3)? «

  28. Aaron says:

    @ Stuart:

    Some more good thoughts. I also don’t want to come across as a Bible college hater. There’s still a place for it (I do think the Bible college model needs some revamping), and I think we can be innovative and creative enough to get Bible college students better real world experience combined with good Bible college education before they graduate into what is a shameful attrition rate. But I personally believe that is still only a patch. However (as Friday’s post will show), I think we can let the current institution continue while some of us work on something new (we don’t have to ditch the old before starting the new).

    As to the fear that if we don’t have the schools then false doctrine will gain a foothold, I’m just not buying it. False doctrine has always found its way into the church. When we look at what Paul and John did, they dealt with it as best as they could through inspired letters and personal visits. The question is this: is the current system the best way to combat it? I say no, some others say yes. Fine–let’s agree to disagree, realizing we’re on the same team.

    My experience is pretty varied–I’ve worked in two older, established congregations (one as a summer internship, another as a preacher), I’ve planted a new church, and I’ve transitioned that church from a traditional structure (big Sunday AM service, small groups during the week, etc.) to a microchurch (house church) network… and that is where I’m seeing the greatest potential for banishing the thought that if we don’t have someone from the outside “covering” us, then false doctrine will take place… and the best chance for developing some new ideas for training guys for leadership.

    If you haven’t done so, check out the rest of the posts…. more great discussion going on!

    Thanks for hanging out, Stuart. You’ve added to the great conversation that’s taking place.

  29. Pingback: Bible College or Church (Part 4)? «

  30. Pingback: Coworking: Shared Space, Collabrorative Creativity, Low Overhead and the Future of Christian Education | epicdialogue.com

  31. Pingback: Bible College or Church (Part 6)? «

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