Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Expanding Educational Opportunities for Free Will Baptist Pastors & Church Leaders

 A primary mission for every church and denomination is to teach and train its pastors and church leaders. This is probably more challenging for Free Will Baptists than for other denominations, given that so few Free Will Baptists have an MDiv, the standard ministerial professional degree (see my blog article here: ). Pastors whose detailed study of Scripture or ministry is dependent solely upon their personal experience or upon a previous mentor or pastor (who himself may have not been formally trained),
are typically less capable of training church leaders than their peers who do have formal training for ministry.

This blog article sets forth a plan for the denomination to increase educational and training opportunities to support its churches in its mission

"to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming" (Eph 3:12-14).

This plan is designed to be largely self-supporting and to employ resources already available, more or less, to the denomination. The plan is similar to that already in use by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where I serve as assistant registrar in the undergraduate program. It may also be compared with programs such as Church Leadership Institute offered through various state associations of other denominations, but is adaptable to the needs of Free Will Baptists.

This plan would be spear-headed by the denominational school, Welch College which would offer courses through satellite locations in areas where large numbers of Free Will Baptists are concentrated. Courses would be offered at three levels: Certificate, Bachelor’s, and Graduate.

The lowest level of courses would lead to a Certificate concentrating in some area of Christian training. These could include:

·         Certificate in Preaching
·         Certificate in Pastoring and Church Administration
·         Certificate in Evangelism and Church Planting
·         Certificate in Biblical Studies
·         Certificate in Theology
·         Certificate in Christian Education
·         Certificate in Youth Ministry

The certificate program would not have any prerequisites; even those without a G.E.D. or high school diploma could enroll. Each certificate would consist of eight standardized courses, four to six of which are core to the program (e.g., New Testament Survey, Old Testament Survey, Free Will Baptist Doctrine, and Spiritual Life), allowing 2-4 courses to reflect the specialization of the particular certificate concentration. Each course would meet on a selected day of the week or on certain weekends, for a total of 8-12 hours instruction (e.g., 4-5 Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8:30, or the first and third Saturday of a given month, from 10:00-2:00, or possibly from 10:00-4:00). A student could complete a certificate perhaps in 6 months, or a year or two, depending upon the scheduling set by the college and host site.

Courses would be offered at any location, so long as there is a site host and at least eight students enrolled for the course. For example, the pastor of a growing and active Free Will Baptist Church in Chattanooga might initially contact Welch College about hosting certificate courses, and then survey the church’s membership and community to see what level of interest there is for the courses. If there are 8 or more students committed to the program, then, as the sponsoring institution, Welch College would designate the church as a satellite campus, and begin the courses.

Prior to the start of the courses, Welch College would have to recruit a qualified, dynamic teacher to teach the offered courses, and to establish qualifications for prospective faculty. At the certificate level, academic qualifications would not be as stringent as they must be for the Bachelor’s and graduate levels. So, for example, an instructor with a Bachelor’s degree with extensive Free Will Baptist ministerial experience or specialization might qualify to teach a course on New Testament Survey, even though he may never have attended seminary.

Since Welch College would be partnering with the site host (e.g., a Free Will Baptist Church), there would be minimal overhead expenses. Compensation for the instructor would be paid from the course fees which would be around $100-125 per course. An administrative fee of $25 for first time students should be sufficient to fund administrative work at the sponsoring college.

The high impact of the certificate program on the local church can hardly be exaggerated. The program would afford the opportunity of highly involved members to improve and inform their ministerial skills, as well as an opportunity to reflect deeply on their calling. Other church members who are less involved would be introduced to ministry and Christian studies, and may become more confident about stepping into various leadership roles. Church members would forge closer relationships with each other, and share a common vision of ministry. The program has often been the background for many-a-student’s ministerial calling. The host church would also develop a reputation as providing good opportunities for church members, and become more and more influential in the community and in its local association of churches. This would filter up throughout the denomination and be transformative.

Once the certificate program takes off, local associations might require prospective ministers to complete a certificate for ordination, to increase ministerial competence in the association.

In like manner, but requiring more rigorous standards, would be the Bachelor’s Degree. This degree program would be based on the same courses required by the sponsoring college (Welch College), subject to regional accreditation rules and regulations. Students would be able to take a limited number of courses at the satellite location, but would eventually transfer to the main campus in Nashville. Instructors would have to have higher academic credentials and compensated accordingly. Course fees would be comparable to that of regular campus courses, with other incidental fees as necessary.

The major advantage of this program would be to allow students to take Free Will Baptist college courses for credit at venues that might be more convenient for some students. Many colleges have expanded with great success by offering courses at satellite locations. Once Welch College begins to offer graduate programs, Free Will Baptist ministers might have more opportunities to get Free Will Baptist training at these satellite centers.


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