The combination of acquiring education and experience at the same time
The old model is “go to seminary and prepare for ministry, then do ministry when you graduate.” The new model is “stay in your God-called setting and further develop your skills for ministry while you are doing ministry.” Both are accomplished at the same time now. In the past, the prepare now and serve later was a rite of passage. A pastor would be ready to serve and would deserve to serve after graduation. This paradigm has shifted radically since the birth of online education. A minister now can get both education and experience simultaneously.
The cost of online education in comparison to residential campus is cheaper
The cost of the residential experience has risen. Associated costs come with moving to the campus and community. The cost of the online experience is usually not cheap, but it is cheaper than the residential campus costs when it is all totaled up. The savings are not just financial, but also emotional. Relocating can have a tough effect on the family. With online education, not having to relocate can make the online experience worth much more than the residential campus.
The nature of learning has shifted to benefit the online learner
The old model of learning is to go listen to a professor lecture in a class. The new model is to engage the student in the learning process guided by a professor in every area of the course. I am thankful for the professors who taught me, but online education is streamlined and targeted to get the content into the student. People of all ages and roles in ministry are becoming online learners. YouTube is a great example of this. Many people get “do it yourself” classes from the Internet. Discussions happen daily in Facebook. Online learning is here to stay. It’s now the norm. One of the benefits of online education for church leaders is they can identify with and understand how the culture learns.
The impact of online learning on the family
While at a residential campus, studying takes much time and it’s visible to the family. The academic demands of an online program are the same as residential programs, but learning is incorporated into ministers’ church and personal lives. Seminary studies are viewed as part of ministers’ church lives and study can take place at the church or ministry office. Families pay a price to get loved ones through seminary. Online learning reduces the sacrifice of families. Seminarians still need to make time to study, but not at the expense of their family. Again, families take a hit when they relocate to a residential campus. Online learning is focused, yet adjustable. Pastors can schedule class activities around the family with much more ease in an online program, than through a residential experience.
Doing it again
Online education is not for everyone. It takes a unique discipline and style. Yet for today’s world and today’s pastors, online education from a seminary or Bible college is the new pathway for equipping. If I were doing it all over today, I would get my degrees online and experiences at quality specialty conferences twice a year. I would maximize the mentor opportunities. My mentors helped me unlearn and flesh out the education I have received so I could apply it in my local church setting.
Questions remain. Are churches accepting online degrees or are they still wanting the traditional, residential experience? Are pastors and alumni of residential colleges and seminaries willing to push students to online learning instead of a campus? While these questions linger for another day, one thing is true. In 2002, I could name you two schools that provided quality online education for the pastor. Since then, most schools, although late, have jumped into the online community. So, again, online learning is the future for Christian pastors and ministers because the angles of online learning outweigh the angles of residential experiences.