Last week, I wrote a post entitled “Bible College or Church?” that sparked some great discussion about how the church trains and equips her leaders. This week, I’m expanding on some of the ideas generated in the discussion.
Where do we go from here? Bible colleges…
I got an email on Tuesday morning from “Koffijah”, one of the commenters, and he saw where this series was going. His email was really cool on where things can go from here. Check out this paragraph:
I don’t think it is necessary to “fail” one model in order to “pass” another or justify coming up with another model… I do strongly believe if all we end up saying is that we need to do things better, especially students coming in, then we won’t end up changing much of anything. Those in charge of setting things up, I believe, are responsible for the strengths and weaknesses of the model–not all those who might sign up to be a part. So, I think the best thing to do is to start a new model, somehow, somewhere. We don’t have to condemn the Bible college model all together to justify a new, albeit better model. I think it would just be best to start doing it. Let all the other things continue on. Let people continue to go to Bible college if they want to. Let churches continue to do things the way they’ve always done them if they want to. Don’t sign them up to be obstacles by making them our enemies or by opposing those models, just do something new. Then, if what we do is successful (if our activity is not of human origin, but of God) then over time it might grow to replace old models which have become obsolete. Though, I do admit it will be difficult because the traditional church workplace and the Bible college educational place mimics our setup in secular society of people getting degrees from colleges in order to get jobs with offices and companies. But perhaps not as difficult as trying to change/reform existing structures. As one of those famous church-growth gurus once said, “It is easier to give birth to a new baby than it is to raise the dead.”
Well said, Koffijah. Having served in both established churches and having planted a new church, I know what that last sentence means. Instead of trying to totally rework the system in all places (which would probably cause much more harm than good, and take decades if not a lifetime), the best thing to do is to let the existing model keeping chugging and, for those of us who choose to do so, start a new model… which will likely vary from church to church. Having said that, here are some thoughts for those who wish to continue with the Bible college model:
First, more responsibility needs to be taken by both college administrations and supporting churches. Robert (a former Bible college recruiter) left this comment:
…perhaps Bible colleges and churches alike need to change the expectations of education for church leadership. Seems like the most damaging con is the lack of real-world experience… Might be more beneficial to expect a couple years of the college experience to be spent doing what is being studied with a partnering church, rather than a few weekend hours with random congregations. If churches are going to allow bible college to be a viable discipleship outlet, the relationship needs to change from financial backers to a more purposeful one.
Right now, churches send dollars and warm bodies. Some of the warm bodies are called to ministry, and some see it as an easy job. Church leaders and staff may need to take more responsibility for who they are sending–not everyone who goes to Bible college is cut out for professional ministry. For some kids, it’s easy to tell that from the start. Send them for a year or so for an associates degree in Bible, and then let them transfer to another school for a different major. Colleges can take a more active role in this as well. I remember going to school with guys who were in the Preaching track… and had no business preaching. For some, it was a skill thing (even after several years of “practice”). For others, it was a maturity thing. Yet, the college let them go right on through, and now they’re not in ministry at all (at least the paid kind). Is there a way for colleges to put some stop gap measures in place for those who aren’t going to cut it, and direct them to another career path while at the same time giving them a good Bible education they can use in whatever career field they go into?
Churches need to also take a more active role in equipping guys for ministry. The weekends teaching Sunday School and preaching one sermon to different tiny churches isn’t cutting it. Guys need to be mentored, coached, critiqued, and encouraged. That can only happen effectively in long term situations. Churches, especially those in close geographical proximity to the college, can do this. Robert’s suggestion for “splitting” the Bible college years into the classroom and the practical is a good one. What could it look like?
Second, the Bible college model has a shelf life. It has served us well for many years, and will continue to serve us in coming years, but the times are changing. Supporting congregations are aging. Supporting individuals are, for the most part, aging. Income streams may well start to dry up (some already are). There are glaring flaws in the system. As many congregations are closing their doors, down the road there will be colleges that will be forced to close their doors. What will happen then?
Third, the colleges must evaluate what they’re doing and how they’re operating. It will take guts for administrators to evaluate the quality of the education they’re producing. What innovations can be made beyond a mere name change or a few technology upgrades that will truly improve the education of the students involved, especially with the practical “real life” side of ministry? How can they work together with churches to improve things for their students?
Finally, don’t look at those of us starting new models as second class citizens. Guys without degrees tend to be ostracized–from job opportunities, and even from conversations. The perception is that if you don’t have a Bible college degree, you’re not really “in ministry.” Please don’t do this–there are people doing tremendous kingdom work who do not have an hour logged in a Bible college class. Those of us who are starting models, in turn, need to not bash those who continue using the first. We can point out flaws and encourage change without getting nasty about it.
Tomorrow I’ll wrap the series by looking at some things that those of us who want to start a new model can consider doing.