It is obvious that so many places are relying on distance education—virtual distance education. After all, it is more convenient for all parties in many ways. People who would never have the option of going to seminary are now being trained by the best teachers the church has to offer. Institutions are able to stay afloat because of the minimal overhead that they have to sustain, all the while providing the same courses by the same teachers. Soon, seminaries may not need campuses at all. It will simply require a virtual campus. No one has to travel…not even the professors!

Not only this, but think of the students in other parts of the world who certainly would not have this opportunity. As well, what about the isolated pastors who have shepherded their flock with not much more than a Bible. They are now able to join with the church worldwide and feed from some of the most gifted members of the Body of Christ.

However, with all of these benefits, I don’t think we (the Church) should be too quick to rejoice to the detriment of the better option. I believe that traditional on-sadite training is by far the best option and I think we need to recognize this before we celebrate ourselves to the point of the demise of one of our most important and valued assets—the local seminary.

A couple of, side-notes, caveats, or whatever:

1. I know that I am going against the grain here. I also realize that I am going against the grain to, what some may believe, is my own detriment. Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, of which I am the founder and president, exists in large part due to our virtual constituency. We are facilitating the training of thousands of lay-people, ministers, and ministers-in-training all over the world. I think that we do online education just as good as anyone out there. However, we have never purported to be a seminary or a substitute for seminary. At best, we are a stepping stone for those who might go into seminary. However, in reality, we are here to make theology accessible to those who may never have a chance to get the type of education that a seminary provides. We do not encourage our students to use our ministry instead of seminary training. As well, one of our main thrusts is to get people to use our curriculum locally. We have thousands of churches who have used or are using The Theology Program in their local venue. This is part of the reason why we built the Credo House and why I still teach at local churches.

2. I am going to use somewhat of a heavy-handed conversation stopper (or at least primer). I have been to local seminary. I have experienced the rigors of being on campus at an experienced institution that knows what they are doing. I took 126 hours of courses on campus at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have also experienced online education in many different forms. Since 2001, I have been engaged in utilizing the power of the internet to educate people in theology. I will continue to do this. Therefore, I speak from experience. I know what both are like. (Here comes the heavy hand): One simply cannot compare the level of training—the type of training—that is available onsite to that which does not come readily or easily online. Onsite training from a good institution that knows what they are doing is simply much more effective. Those who have not experienced onsite and online training like this do not have the experience to make effective arguements otherwise.

Okay, now to a few particulars:

RE: Online Ed vs. Onsite Ed

“But online education is just as good as onsite education. Michael, you need to get with the times.”

One thing that you have to understand about my thinking here is that preparation for ministry involves much more than education. If education is all you seek, I agree that online venues can provide such. But preparation for ministry goes beyond education in the proper sense. Besides many intangibles, the primary thing I speak of is mentorship that includes particular encouragement, shaping, fellowship, and discipline. Is it theoretically possible that these things can happen online? Maybe. But not only are they much much more difficult, it simply is not happening.

It is like the debate about virtual churches vs. traditional churches. There is simply no way to argue that online fellowships provide the same intangibles and commitment as being there in person. It is the same with seminaries. It comes in the after class discussions, the group projects, the lunches with the professor, the office meetings where your professor looks at you in the eye and tells you that your paper was an irresponsible mess and you had better take things more seriously (and you crying afterword!). Its about the library as you view all the theological material that is out there on certain subjects. Its about standing in front of your peers (scared to death) giving a sermon (and then being ripped apart by both peers and your professor who truly want you to grow). Its about the encouragement you receive as you are walking down the hall from a classmate who says that your presentation was great. And a thousand other things that simply do not happen to the same degree online.

One further disclaimer:

I am all for using the internet when necessary. Please don’t hear me saying that online training is completely worthless. When there is absolutely no other option, it is most certainly a hundred times better than doing nothing. I am simply saying that we need to get back to promoting the need for and value of  local seminaries. Face-to-face discipleship, discipline, dedicated professors, fellowship, and the mental seriousness that is involved in taking your family and moving away to concentrate on your studies and preparation are much more available in local seminaries. And they are much more effective at producing serious and well-prepared pastors and ministers.

RE: Local Church vs. Seminary

“Shouldn’t the local church be training its ministers, not seminaries?”

I would be inclined to say that local churches can provide a better preparation for ministers than online education, but they have their weaknesses as well. You have to remember, there is a reason why the seminary got set up the way it did—increased effectiveness in training. They certainly are not in it for the money!

Think about this: Could local hospitals provide a better place for training than medical school? Not really. Why? Because that is not their focus. They are there to practice medicine. There is a reason why a different type of venue needs to be set up for both—effectiveness in all things pertaining to the training as well as a concerted effort with a very particular purpose. The local church and hospitals serve for residencies, not the primary training venue.

It is like people who ask me after a theology class: “Why isn’t this stuff taught from the pulpit?” My answer is that it is not very likely that teaching systematic theology (along with all the reading and work that is involved) would be as effective from the pulpit. Sure, we are to teach good theology from the pulpit, but thinking that the pulpit can be used as both a place where the word of God is preached with the primary purpose of exhortation and where systematic theology (not to mention the original languages!) can be taught with the primary purpose of educating is simply naive.

At Stonebriar Community Church we knew that since we were so large there were things that we could provide that other churches could not. We had a greater pool of resources, both financial and people, to draw from to accomplish certain things. For example, because of our size, we could provide a biblical counseling ministry that was focused only on helping people who are struggling with addiction, having problems in their marriage, or suffering from depression. Smaller churches from all over would send their people to us because the pastor knew he did not have the time, training, or experience to deal with many issues. We were glad to be there. But even then, we knew that there were certain cases where we had to “outsource” to others who were even more qualified to deal with particulars. These were Christian agencies that focused on certain areas and had even more experience.

The local church cannot expect to do all things and do it well. The local church needs to know where to send people, not attempt to be a “be-all” place that arrogantly thinks it can handle everything. Wisdom is involved here. The same goes with seminaries. Sometimes local churches can provide very good education for their people. Sometimes they might have The Theology Program or The Bethlehem Institute. But most of the time even these will lack what local seminaries can provide.

Even Paul, in the early church seems to have set-up different venues for different types of training. Sure, he did not call it a seminary in Ephesus, but the principles about which I speak were present.

In the end, seminaries provide a particular venue where certain types of education can be done with greater effectiveness with professors who are devoted and gifted differently. The local church should stand behind, support, and facilitate the seminaries. This is not a competition folks.

RE: Foreign Christians without the opportunity of a seminary

“What about all those people who do not have access to a seminary overseas?”

This is a good question, but we must put it in perspective. Many people often don’t have the opportunity to learn from the full complement of the Scripture either. Some places only have the Gospel of John translated. Since they are deprived of these important books, does this mean that we should not talk about their need for Romans, Revelation, or the Old Testament? Of course not. The church should come to the aid of those who don’t have a full canon, translating all the Scripture into their language. We should also come to the aid of those who don’t have opportunities to educate through seminary type of training. However, one thing is certain, in the case with the canon and seminary training we don’t bow to the lease common denominator. It is not about being politically correct saying to the next person, “Well, you have a good heart and are working really hard with what you do have. We don’t want to act like we are better than you so we will just say that we are even.” Again, it is not a competition. It is about being faithful to the Great Commission, making disciples of every nation. Discipleship, training, and education can be better and it can be worse. Let us strive for the better, understanding that many will still not have these opportunities.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    51 replies to "Why Traditional Onsite Seminary is Still (by Far) the Best Option"

    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: I normally suggest that people do their undergraduate work from a University and their masters from a seminary. After that, depending on their vocation, either a University again or a seminary for their PhD (pastor can do either, educators should go to a University.)

    • C Michael Patton

      As well (!), I also believe that for certian subject online education can be just as good (if not better) than onsite. For example, computer programing.

      What I speak of here is limited to educating ministers online.

    • Mark

      Interesting. I got my BBA from a university. Currently, I am in seminary working towards an MDiv. It’s a seminary Hub, but we have actually classrooms with more than just a few people.

      CMP, what do you think of a research doctorate from U. of South Africa, Greenwich or something similar?

    • JohnO

      Let me add my voice in support of the issue of fellowship, or at least peer scrutiny, that you get at a campus-based education centre. There’s nothing quite like a lively debate over coffee (or a beer) with classmates to hone one’s understanding. And it’s especially true if your lecturer is sitting there with you as well.
      I would also emphasise the issue that university (in my case) training is not substitute for practical experience. My own denomination’s training programme consists of an honours degree (4 years university, if you have no previous degree) alongside two, 8-month, part-time, church placements, one 10 week full-time placement, five, 5-day conferences, four 3-day conferences, many, many half-day seminars with associated assignments, then topped off with a 15-month full-time probationary placement.
      Try doing that lot by distance learning.

    • Jeff Young

      Michael,

      Thank you for a point well made.

      Specifically regarding response (1.)…Would you discourage those considering a future PhD in NT, etc., from getting an accredited M.A. or M.A.R. through a virtual program at an evangelical seminary? If so, would it be because of the perceived institutional bias of some top-tier programs against applicants with Evangelical post-graduate degrees, or because of the ‘virtual’ nature of the degree, or worse yet, both? What if the applicant also pursued an M.A. in Philosophy and/or History from a University in addition to a virtual M.A., or M.A.R. (with original languages, Latin, and German, of course)?

    • Jay

      On your last point I would, in most cases, discourage a foreign pastor/ministry leader from receiving their theological education from a seminary in the states (distance or in residence).

      I got an MA in a distance program. I sacrificed some things by not moving to campus. I also gained some things.

      I advise those without families to GO to seminary, I advise those with a family and established ministry to GO if they can pull it off, but doing a distance program is not a bad option. These programs are good and getting better all the time.

      For ATS to approve the degree program 1/2 of the hours have to be residence hours.

    • Richard

      Michael, I graduated from…a well-known L.A. area Christian University (a double major in Biblical Studies and Koine Greek ; and double minor in Philosophy and German). At the time I was newly married. One year into my studies we expected our first wonderful daughter, and I had to do the work-full-time-school-part-time thing for a year (Savings and scholarships enabled my full-time-school-part-time-work afterward). This is all to say that I absolutely confirm your take on the invaluable experience of an onsite (and real life) education. It’s the pressures and the encouragements and…life with all its exigencies that are important to a “full” education. Even the onsite risk of a cry fest (or an ego building congrats fest) over an important paper or mid-term is irreplaceable. That said, I have completed your online theology course—twice. And I still go back occasionally for…reminders. I cannot say enough good words about your online classes. Those who have a strong academic background in biblical studies and theology and those for whom theology is a new subject can both greatly benefit from your program; I know I have. In sidebar, I had never seen co-teaching before. But you and Rhome Dyck are such (Spiritually) gifted teachers that you seem to somehow complete each other’s thoughts, even sentences at times. It’s amazing to watch and listen to you…express each other. Now the caveat (a small one): You said, “One thing that you have to understand about my thinking here is that preparation for ministry involves much more than education. If education is all you seek, I agree that online venues can provide such.” I respectfully disagree with this. I believe (and I, arrogantly, think I sense you agreeing here) that education of any kind—in preparation for ministry or not—is best experienced, and earned, within an onsite environment. Of course, this is in “the best of all possible worlds”. And that’s where Reclaiming The Mind Ministry comes in.

    • C Michael Patton

      I have not had the chance to know that much about PhD extended studies so I would not be able to comment on this with much knowledge. However, I would not suppose that it is going to be as bad since most traditional PhD studies involve other things that a campus is not necessary. This is true even before the coming of the internet.

    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks Richard. Rhome is a lot of fun to teach with.

    • MikeB

      Thanks for following up your other post with these details.
      I would like to offer up the following thought – take it for what it’s worth… despite the heavy handed conversation stopper… 🙂

      I think in the post you evaluated the what was missing from seminary and the church vs. seminary, here I would like to propose the combination of the two (seminary and church). If the online seminary option is capable of delivering the education portion and the local church is capable of providing the fellowship, accountability, mentorship etc. then it would seem most of the problems posed are solved by combining the two.

      Also not sure what DTS is like but the “inperson” seminary student could opt out of the fellwship/mentoring opps and be no better off than doing the work online.

      BTW: That said I think that all things equal – inperson does provide a better learning experience than online having taken classes in both formats.

    • C Michael Patton

      Well, the mass majority of stuff such as group projects, manditory meeting with professor, spiritual formation goups, sermon presentations and evaluations by prof and peers in preaching class, teaching presentation and evalutions by prof and peers in Teaching Process, as well as the individual buzz groups and such in class fellowships could not be opted out of. These create a basis and foundation for many other things that I suppose, theoretically, one could forgo, but most do not. Either way, most of these types of things a good seminary is going to capitalize on the opportunities and make the manditory.

    • Alex Jordan

      “For ATS to approve the degree program 1/2 of the hours have to be residence hours.”

      This is definitely not the case with Reformed Theological Seminary’s ATS accredited MAR virtual program…

      I agree that on-site seminary is likely to provide a richer and more well-rounded seminary training and experience. I’m just saying that some who are otherwise qualified and called may be in situations where they are not as able to take advantage of the ideal.

      I agree with MikeB’s point that on-line seminary education when combined with local church fellowship, accountability and mentoring helps make up for some of the drawbacks or weaknesses of off-site training. Also again I think you’re speaking of an ideal– but some may be going into ministry as a 2nd career or perhaps are already in ministry but want to sharpen their theological skills. Such can benefit from the flexibility of on-line training because they may not need or may not want to sever themselves from current responsibilities to attend an on-site seminary.

      Also a major drawback regarding the on-site option that you don’t mention here is the huge expense. Given that ministers typically don’t command a large salary, it becomes a bit difficult to justify attending seminary and incurring major debt. Of course if you can attend a good on-site seminary and figure out a creative way of financing it, or if you find that God provides for it somehow, this is wonderful.

    • Lisa Robinson

      “the lunches with the professor, the office meetings where your professor looks at you in the eye and tells you that your paper was an irresponsible mess and you had better take things more seriously (and you crying afterword!).”

      Ha, I have yet to have that happen 😉

      Seriously Michael, you make some good points.

      As to Mike B’s comment about the students that squirm their way out of mentoring/fellowship, there is only so much you can do this. The onsite experience will not let you escape this completely. We have to do 4 semesters of Spiritual Formation, which is akin the “small group”. Each semester has a different curriculum focus, complete with at least one interactive presentation we have to make to our group. I have had to give my life story (ouch!), write my own screwtape letter (double ouch!) and now am preparing a ministry voyage for a presentation in 2 weeks. Additionally, we have to attend a certain amount of chapels per semester.

      Another thing Michael brought up that I want to expand on is getting training from the local church. Not only do you get personal interaction/feedback/critique/fellowship from the onsite experience, but you also get a relatively objective learning environment. Now some seminaries will do this better than others depending on their philosophy, doctrinal persuasion and values. Unless a seminary is only interested in training denominational henchmen, you will be forced to examine your theology and ministry philosophy in seminary in a way you probably never could in a church.

      DTS also offers a significant portion of coursework on-line (30 units max), but also recognizes that the onsite has no equal. I have taken a few. While they are very good, they can’t compare to the in-person classes and on campus interaction. Besides, if you’re training for the pastorate, you will not have a virtual congregation. People are messy and learning to deal with them in person, onsite is probably the wisest thing to do.

    • mbaker

      I’m in agreement on this with you, CMP, simply because there are on line seminaries that aren’t seminaries at all, but quick and easy ways to ordination for those who who aren’t willing to make a real commitment to the life long rigors of pastorship, and promoting Christian doctrine correctly.

      As far as cost goes, and being able to have this kind of training through local churches, I also agree with others here that this problem is a crucial oversight facing the future of our churches across all denominations. No matter how much one thinks they individually are called by God, there are still real and practical financial obstacles that need to be shared by the churches if they expect these folks to be called upon to minister effectively as well. If these churches have money for other programs to engage unbelievers in the here and now, (i.e. coffee cafes and the like) they should also be looking to the future welfare of funding their pastorates as well.

      If not, we are all going to be in trouble finding qualified leadership.

    • Richard

      Lisa,

      To me you are a valuable conundrum. I agree with most of what you posted–I think. But….Ok, one thing I disagree with and one thing I do agree with:
      1. (disagree): You say, “Another thing Michael brought up that I want to expand on is getting training from the local church. Not only do you get personal interaction/feedback/critique/fellowship from the onsite experience, but you also get a relatively objective learning environment.” Perhaps it’s only my personal experience (a Calvanist in a Southern Baptist environment), but do you really find true (even”relative”) objectivity in a local church learning environment?
      2. (agree): “…if you’re training for the pastorate, you will not have a virtual congregation. People are messy and learning to deal with them in person, onsite is probably the wisest thing to do.” A great point well said.
      Thanks.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Richard,

      Gee, a valuable conundrum? Not sure if that’s a compliment or not.

      As to your point #1, I think you missed what I was saying because I omitted the word “seminary” before “onsite”. So I’m saying the local church is far less likely to provide the objective learning environment that a seminary offers UNLESS the seminary has such a strong denomination leaning that circumvents the objectivity. You are more likely to learn a diversity of doctrinal leanings and traditions in the seminary than you will at the local church. This makes you examine, why you believe what you believe because by and large, the seminary shouldn’t be in the business of telling you exactly what to believe.

    • Richard

      Lisa,

      “Valuable conundrum” was meant as a compliment (No arrogance involved here). I just love a challenge wrapped in mystery. But now you’ve gone a spoiled it, because I fully agree with you. Thanks for the clarification. Darn! 🙂

    • Matt

      “Simply because there are on line seminaries that aren’t seminaries at all”

      Sorry, but that is a weak argument. To lump all online seminaries in with the bad ones does a serious injustice to those that are providing a quality seminary education online. Sure, there are some pay and graduate schools online out there, but I would argue that can be said for brick and mortar schools as well.

      “Another thing Michael brought up that I want to expand on is getting training from the local church.”

      Some people are already working in a local church, some have even been pastors/ministers for years and the only real option they have is online education. While I would agree that those who have no experience are best served in a brick-and-mortar class, those with years of experience already can find the education and additional depth they need in online courses.

      “Besides, if you’re training for the pastorate, you will not have a virtual congregation”

      Not really an accurate statement in this day and age. With churches like Lifechurch.tv springing up, there are more and more virtual congregations coming online. While this may not be the best way to have true fellowship within a body, it is a reality and one that will not be going away.

      Having said all of that, I can appreciate the value of a brick-and-mortar school and how it may be the preferred method for a seminary education; however, I don’t think that you can discount online seminary completely – especially for those that really don’t have the ability to pack up and move, nor the resources or calling to do so.

    • Jay

      Alex Jordan,

      The campus intensives that are apart of the RTS MA program fulfill the on-campus/residence requirements.

      Trust me, they don’t get around the requirement…they just pack into intensives.

    • Ed Kratz

      As I sit reading this post and comments while on a missionary trip in El Salvador it is quite obvious to me that no matter what the topic is live is better than online.

      I was here last April and gained many face book friends afterwards, and it’s great to keep up with them through that arena, but nothing beats sitting at the prayer meeting with them feeling your spirits connecting in common prayer, or sitting outside the apartments and having the locals come by and spend a few minutes chatting.

      I will cook a few meals for us while I’m here and we have 15 of us total, yet I prepare for around 35-40 because our door is open and we encourage the community to come and share with us.

      Ultimately I believe that whether it’s ministry, education, business, or planning a hockey schedule, face to face is always, always, always, more fruitful, though not always necessary.

      I can and will learn a lot of Spanish through software and online, but having mi hermanos laugh and turn beet red at the way I destroy their language cannot be substituted for.

      Let’s face it, live is better than Memorex,

      Nice post Michael, I do appreciate it especially in light of you having a predominantly online ministry.

    • Richard

      Mr. Kratz,

      I have, in an earlier post, agreed almost entirely with what Michael has posted here. But I’m slightly torn. I do agree with you: “live is better than online”, and “Ultimately I believe that whether it’s ministry, education, business, or planning a hockey schedule, face to face is always, always, always, more fruitful, though not always necessary.” Well said! But (always a but, si?) having spent 4 years in China teaching English, I praise God for pastoring websites like “Truth For Life” (my favorite) and “Insight for Living” and “Growing Thru Grace”, etc.–and for a teaching website like “Reclaiming The Mind Ministry” (with this interactive blog). During my years in China, the internet was my church and best access to on-going theological learning and spiritual formation. So, I agree that onsite learning is always best, but I can never “discount” online resources to spiritual or educational growth. And I suspect you agree.

    • Don

      Your comments are interesting, but what , besides the historical, educational model, has formed the modern Theological education?

      Disclaimer: I am a a Antioch School, BILD, Masters student; with previous background in Plymouth Brethren writers ministry for a number of years.

    • Borden S.

      Having recently finished my on-site seminary education, I’ve seen the difference between those studying on-site and those who are tackling programs in some combination of on-site and distance, or those who are essentially finishing degrees without visiting campus much. Basically, I’m glad I studied on-site.

      When it comes to pastors, if I were on a local church search committee, I would absolutely prioritize candidates who attended a local seminary on-site. The institution is known, the professors are known, and the students are known to the institution and professors. Seminary should challenge a person’s preconceptions, and make them wrestle with different beliefs and perspectives. In my experience, this is much easier to avoid from afar. Being with a group of students from different backgrounds and denominations and training alongside them was a huge educational experience in itself, and one I would be poorer for having missed trying to get my education primarily through a computer.

      Some seminaries have good means (cohorts, on-site intensives, etc…) to get students together, but nothing replaces the ability to phone up a wise and trusted professor and find out from someone who knows a student personally. Is this a person with the right gifts, the right heart for ministry, the right temperament, a truth-worthy hermeneutic?

    • Bryan Catjer,am

      Michael,

      1. Education, either traditional or distance, is what a student makes of it.

      First, my bias and background: I earned an A.S., A.A.S. and a B.S. on campus at a traditional college and a university (both secular public schools). I was enrolled in an MPA program at a traditional, public university until I realized that career field was not my passion. I also worked for the Utah Higher Education Board of Regents distance and on-line education wing (2002-2005) which regulated and managed the 9 public school’s on-line education curriculum. I am now enrolled full-time in a distance ed M.Div program at Liberty.

      Now, I was in a political science program and graduated close to top of my class having earned 2 B’s and all the rest A’s. I did all the work, went to the meetings with the professors, had debates over coffee and beer (but not at the same time) with fellow students, managed a local campaign, and gave people high-fives and received some myself for strong debates and speeches. However, everything I did was purely for a grade, not the experience or educational development. I was striving for a high GPA so I could go to grad school.

      My early campus years living in the dorms or with fellow students, I’m not proud to say, were more about motorcycles, girls, and the various non-academic social activities.

      In the traditional environment of the university, I was able to move through a class without engage with the class other than a question here and there. I could get an A and not even know any of the other students and hardly ever meet with the professor. Obviously, the same thing can happen in an on-line environment, and even easier. However, I believe this is true no matter the format of the education.

    • Mike

      I still see your entire argument as personal: based on human interaction. I’m not discounting it as ministering the gospel is personal. The problem is that the classic onsite model is based on premises that don’t exist anymore for the overwhelming majority of serious ministry students. The sooner we tailor it to the needs of those students, the better off we will be.

    • Bryan Catherman

      Continuing from my previous argument.

      When I worked in distance ed years ago, the programs were not that great. However, things have come along way.

      I my on-line seminary program, I watch the lectures, read the same books, and do the same assignments, but that’s not the issue here. We have discussion board requirements each week. We answer a prompt, usually with an initial 200 or 300-word requirement and cited sources. Then we have to reply to 2 or 3 student’s initial threads, also with a minimum word-count and sources. Students have to engage each other for credit.

      Also, I’ve had Skype study groups, live, just not in the same location. I’ve made an effort to connect with my students outside of class via, phone, e-mail, or other social medium. And I’ve done the same with some of my professors.

      And here’s a major difference I’d like to point out: Most of the students on campus are Baptist. There’s a HUGE diversity of students in the on-line program, coming from every walk of life, age, ethnic background, geographical location, denomination, and ministry level. I’ve also spent lots of time meeting with many pastors in my local area (in Salt Lake City where there is no seminary). I’ve spent time chatting with graduates of many different seminaries, including Dallas. I have access to a huge library at BYU library of religion (which puts Christian material in the “other religions” section. And a door is always open to chat with an LDS person about the book’s I’m checking out that never get checked out!)

      If a student chooses to make something of his or her education, the format is only a format. A sub-par student will get a sub-par education on campus or on-line. It’s what the student does with what is available to him or her that makes all the difference. (I would guess that you, Michael, make a lot of your education.)

      Thanks for your thoughts and the good post. I love what you’re doing with TTP and Reclaiming the…

    • Tom D

      CMP,

      Your arguments are valid, but I don’t think you give sufficient credit to the online experience, when it is structured properly. You present a similar model in TTP to that which I experienced in my online courses at DTS.

      That is the forum, where papers are posted and the participants engage in critical interaction over the posted work, and are graded on the quality of the participation. I did my Business Management undergraduate work online and the experience was dull and dreary, Zzzzzzz. The process at DTS was dynamic and interesting.

      The interactive forum requirement forced the envelope, and in those groups where my classmates were engaging with vigor, I gained at least as much from the interaction as I did from the Professor’s class video.

      I will say that the quality input from the forum groups was inconsistent from one course to another, depending on the level of engagement from other group members, but it was never a bad experience. Trying to draw out the bashful members was a useful part of the experience, and helpful in learning how to engage and draw out other people when face to face.

      In closing I will say that the DTS requirement for 2 years on campus training, to be certain that you are of good character and not just smart, is reasonable. It is also frustrating for one like me in PA, not yet successful at finding gainful employment in DFW. BooHoo!

    • Richard

      Mike,

      You wrote, “The problem is that the classic onsite model is based on premises that don’t exist anymore for the overwhelming majority of serious ministry students.” Can you flesh this out a bit more? I think I’m missing something here: What onsite “premises” to theological studies are now non-existant as a model to any serious ministry student–let alone a majority of them? What is the “classic model” you’re refering to? Thanks.

    • Wilson Hines

      What about the option of using a “satellite” campus, such as DTS at Atlanta and Knoxville? What is your opinion on these types of learning mediums? When I move, I fully intend on MOVING to Dallas. If I’ve got to pack and unpack, I can’t see stopping in Atlanta or Knoxville, even though I have seriously tight ties in K-town (including family, 3 years of undergrad work, a fantastic church, and tons of friends) and my resources in ATL are getting more complex by the month. Mercy, I am driving down to ATL next week to meet with a potential business partner on a small possible investment in a small business; it would be great to be close by the project. However, again, if I’ve got to move – let’s move to Dallas and finally, the wifey agrees – which further cements the idea in my head.

    • Amy Jo Garner

      I got a BA and MA through onsite programs (20+ years ago!) and an MAR through an online program. I’ve also taught classes both onsite and online.

      My observation is that onsite provides certain advantages, namely the ones CMP mentions. Students have easier access to professors and the opportunity for greater peer interaction. However, as others have mentioned, not every student will avail themselves of these opportunities. Onsite also is an immersion experience. You learn much about yourself and others as you navigate the educational process. If I was 20 again, I’d choose onsite for the same reasons I chose to go off to campus 30 years ago — I wanted the experience that an onsite education provides.

      The advantage I see in online seminary is that it makes training available for those going into ministry as a second career. Rarely can an adult with a fulltime job, family, and financial obligations just pick up and move in order to go to seminary. A well-run online program can be quite rigorous, requiring local mentors, hands-on ministry at a local church, and projects that require the student to be out in the community. I know the program I participated in had all of this — I never got to just sit in my jammies checking off the assignments in Blackboard! I did miss being able to really get to know my classmates and professors. But, the flexibility of the schedule allowed me to get an education that I otherwise would not have been able to achieve.

      Since I’m not 20 anymore and have obligations that extend far beyond my own needs, I doubt I will ever again have the chance to attend a fully onsite program. Next year I want to start on my MDiv and then a Phd. I’m looking at programs that combine onsite intensives with online work. Not necessarily ideal, but the best of both worlds for a middle-aged student.

    • Richard

      Michael,

      Amy Jo Garner posted a remark moments ago: “A well-run online program can be quite rigorous, requiring local mentors…” (BTW, thank you, Amy Jo). I’ve followed RMM for several years, so I should know the answer to this question, but…Does RMM have nation-wide “local mentors” for it’s online (paying) students–other than the mentoring teachers who lead local church RMM studies? Have you ever considered a “mentoring arrangement” for those with only an online connection with RMM? Local–qualified–teacher/mentors for your online students would probably be very effective. It could enhance your Theology Program, and benefit eager and committed students by adding a more onsite experience to their online studies. I’m just say’n…

    • Bryan Catherman

      Richard and Amy,

      You both raise great points with the concept of local mentors. When I went through my homiletics and preaching labs, I had to have a senior pastor coach me besides the fact that all the sermons were sent to the professor on video for grading. I also gave evaluation form out to people who I would know would be honest with me in order that I could use their evaluation to improve. In a discipleship ministries, I had to conduct a number interviews with the community of leaders in ministry. I would think that this kind of mentoring would be valuable in many other educational ventures.

      Bryan

    • Mike

      Richard,
      Church history provides the answer to your question. Seminaries as an institution were created to maintain a certain denominational dominance in the world using unmarried clergy. The church financed them.

      Save for that same denomination, none of those criteria really apply anymore. Yet here we are, about 500 years later, thinking that the same cloistering has a demonstrable superiority, but it has nothing we can quantify. While I see its role in a mentoring capacity, it wouldn’t last 10 minutes as a business model. I see the next generation of training as online with some onsite mentoring and training where it’s necessary such as homiletics, evangelism and the like.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet

      For those who feel no calling or inclination to formal ministry I would say that on-line is vastly preferable to on-site simply because it’s cheaper and doesn’t force you to relocate. I considered seminary for years but ultimately decided against it for a few simple reasons:
      1) I don’t feel called to formal ministry
      2) I don’t have the money
      3) I’m not willing to relocate away from friends and family
      4) Having a physical handicap that is not a formal disability means that even if 1 and 3 were not issues it would be foolish to go to a city where public transit is weak or questionable at best.

      Obviously 1 and 2 were the big factors. So for someone like me on-line learning is a valuable way to keep learning about the scriptures and interact with people I wouldn’t be able to interact with. That said, it takes certain types of people and peculiar disciplines to bridge the gap that appears normally for those who don’t do on-site education. A friend of mine did on-line seminary work but the more seriously he considered his plan to become a pastor the more seriously he has taken getting an on-site education instead. I just last week finished writing a strong recommendation of him to the seminary of his choice.

      As to the idea that the old model somehow doesn’t apply, I know just enough pastors at Mars Hill in Seattle that used to think that that changed their minds as they continued developing in their ministries that I’m skeptical about that. Mars Hill leaders used to think open copyright was the wave of the future because “old” copyright was outdated. Both in terms of old copyright and more traditional formal seminary education Mars Hill leadership in the last fourteen years has been slowly leaning toward accepting things like on-site education and more formal training. Perhaps the larger and more established a church becomes the more unavoidable the necessity of formalizing development and growth.

    • Tom D

      WenatcheeTheHatchet:

      In my area the public transportation provides the best coverage in the metropolitan area, tapering off as you spread outwards in a hub to the various suburbs. I would think that to be the case in most cities.

      Your other points I agree about completely, except that in my own experience, the fees per credit hour were no different online than they were for on-site. Still expensive, you just didn’t have to pull up your roots.

      Mike,

      You make an excellent point on survivability in a business model. Major corporations do most training locally, using tele or video conferences or the Webex as needed. Following a similar model (plug for TTP intended here) would open the doors of high quality theological training to many more willing servants and strengthen the local church.

      I think for this scenario, TTP fits perfectly if sponsored by the local church and with the oversight/participation of local leadership. It is a no brainer in my book. I can think of many cases where the Pastor of a small church has no formal training, and would benefit tremendously from such a program as an individual, then as a teacher (watch one, do one, teach one) Everybody wins

    • Mike

      I’m still not entirely sure why we look at pastoral training as a master’s level deal. We’ve mostly swallowed the world’s criteria for education. Pastoral training could be readily folded into a bachelor’s program without sacrificing anything. There might be a track for those seeking to teach or research in academia, but the needs of the church are ignored for educational gingerbread.

    • Tom D

      I think the training level is more indicative of the need for a Pastor to continually seek after knowledge and impart that to the flock. Certainly it isn’t required that a Pastor have any degree bestowed by man at all, and I know some with degrees who are totally unqualified to handle the Word in any but the most rudimentary manner.

      That is the case in secular world education as well. But in both instances it represents the exception, rather than the rule. I don’t believe anyone who is content with their knowledge of the Word belongs in a Pastor’s office, their previous academic achievements notwithstanding.

      We should keep in mind Paul’s words to Timothy “study to show yourself approved…” and follow that principle (all of us) If the Pastor doesn’t lead the charge, I think there is a failure to understand his responsibility to do so. Why should or would the flock follow a person who isn’t going forward? Should we gather together and mill about in a circle?

      That charge is into the Word, not necessarily to the seminary. However, like an auto is a generally more effective means of transportation than a bicycle, so is a seminary a generally more effective means of education, than a solo study.

    • Mike

      Tom D makes a good point. Maybe what we need is more of continuing education like in other endeavors. A lot of ministers go soft on their language studies and other exegetical skills when they should be doing the opposite. Academic milestones do not impart a Berean mentality.

    • […] recently wrote a lot about the pros and cons of online seminary from a student’s perspective (link).  I wanted to take a different focus.  Looking at this issue from the eyes of the educational […]

    • Wilson Hines

      I’m still wondering why I didn’t get a response to my question. I must be retarded or something.

    • Tom D

      Wilson,

      I don’t think Michael replies to every question, and you sort of answered yourself by revealing your plans. Your last reply makes you appear thin skinned and impatient, which will not serve you well in ministry. There are no limits to the way people will mistreat you when you are serving God.

      Here there was no harm done to you at all. You have to let it slide off or it will control and consume you. I say this humbly, as I have fought that battle, and still must on occasion. I’m 58 now and that makes it easier, because I have all those years of mistakes to guide me. Rom 12:18-19 is my guide when the pressure valve is about to release.

      Tom

    • Wilson Hines

      I’m not planning on being in the ministry, so the assumption hasn’t served you well.

      The question was not answered by me, simply because even though I have stated my opinion and intentions, rarely do any of us follow through exactly how we plan.

      The opinion was still wanted.

    • C Michael Patton

      Wilson,

      As far as I know that satallite campuses you are talking about are local venues, so this is good. Of course, with any satallite campus, it is going to lack some of what the main campus lacks as well as the “cream of the crop” profs. I imagine that that satallite campuses will have adjunct profs? If so, they are not going to be as engaged in some of the areas of discipleship that others would.

      Having said that, I assume that it would much much better than the online stuff.

    • Richard

      Tom D,

      Ironically, this is a reply to your reply to Wilson’s posted discouragement about not having received a reply to his… contribution here. (and BTW, please forgive me if I’m treading on well-trodden ground, but I just woke up after a 2nd night of 2Hrs sleep and haven’t had the energy to read any of the other posts). Actually, it’s probably enough to just say, “Well said, Tom D”, and “Amen”. I’ve found that when people give with an expectation of return, they are best adised to expect disappointment–but when they give unconditionally, they immediately receive a wonderful gift they were not expecting–if that makes any sense. (Way too tired here!) Smiles to y’all 🙂

    • C Michael Patton

      Tom is right though. I rarely reply to posts that are more than a day old. I just don’t have time. Sometimes when the first word in the reply is “Michael” I will at least read it more!

      Otherwise, the moderators will look to it.

    • Wilson Hines

      Pardon any typos, as I’m doing this on my HTC Touch Pro

      Well, everybody, now that I’ve upset everybody without intention, let me first ask for forgivness.

      Second, again, not a real good way of saying this, but IMHO contrary to popular opinion, it is ok to “take” at times, too. I don’t have anything to give here, so if I take my time to post here, it will almost always be a question; unless, as right now, I’ve turned into an apologist of myself. The reason I don’t have anything to contribute here is because I know nothing. I am a 36 yr old sophomore in a foriegn language program so I can prepare myself for a DTS ThM and hopefully a PhD from somewhere out in the ether. In four years, I will have something to give. I don’t have anything to give right now. Today, I was asked what I was going to do with so much education. I told the friend simply “I will prepare with the educational goals that I’ve put forth, but I refuse to have any plans about occupation. I could pump gas for all I care. I seriously doubt I’ll be a pastor, as I don’t have a heart for people. That said, I enjoy learning, the Bible, and languages. So, the chips are learning, the Bible, and languages; may the chips fall where they may.

    • Tom D

      Wilson

      Sorry if I upset you, you didn’t cause me any harm. I think you have more to give than you are aware of, as our God doesn’t leave you unarmed in the world. He is preparing you to serve him, and you won’t need a degree before He will find you useful, as long as He finds you willing.

      Moses told the Lord he was weak of speech, and God gave him Aaron as a mouthpiece, and also loosened Moses tongue. He had a lot to say after that, as you know. Keep at it, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

      Tom

    • Richard

      Tom D and Wilson,

      Tom..again, Amen and well said. I fully agree. Wilson: I don’t think you offended anyone here; certainly not me. Try dealing with my Christian realitives (and perhaps me, come to think of it) if you want to know about people who give offense. You have nothing to ask forgiveness for…except perhaps, as you point out, your typos. But I constantly offend people with my horrible typos (not my spelling, you understand: it’s just the types!)–and I’m an advertising/PR writer!! Humility doesn’t come cheap 🙂 Also, Wilson, you said, to paraphrase, that “taking is good sometimes…and I have nothing to give….” I can’t agree with you for two reasons: 1. I feel more comfortable with the word “receiving” instead of the word “taking”–It’s all in the motivation. And 2. Questions are a valuable contribution in almost any venue. Most people come here to contribute by their questions, because they know that hard truth is hard to find–and sometimes hard to accept. I will always side here with those who believe that onsite education is better than online learning. But…I know from experience that the online learning provided by Micael Patton and Rhome Dyck on this website is an important, valuable experience for any Christian–B.A., MDiv, Phd or not. For example, I have a strong background in Biblical studies, but I’ve completed the online RMM theology program twice. And I still come back occasionally. It just never gets old. Actually, the only thing I don’t like about this website is that I have to post a comment without immediate access to Spell-check! Oh well…. 🙂 Love y’all

    • […] Patton, “Why Traditional Onsite Seminary is Still (by Far) the Best Option”; available from http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/03/why-traditional-onsite-seminary-is-still-by-far-the-be…; Internet; accessed 10 March […]

    • Stuart

      A little late to this party. The one thing I didn’t see addressed here (unless I missed it) is career-change pastors. Is it essential that someone with a couple of degrees and many years of work experience go back to seminary? Not that it’s unheard of to do that, but the college-freshman dorm discussions have already been done a couple of times. You get to a point of diminishing returns. Secular example: Someone has a degree in, say, computer science. After 10-20 years working in industry, they decide they want to get a Masters in software engineering. Is an online masters as good as an on-campus degree? In that case, probably so. Someone who has been in the workforce for 10, 20, or 30 years, and has been attending and/or leading in church, has probably already experienced a lot of the non-education-related on-campus events that add to an on-campus degree. Is it necessary to repeat them? Seems like the advantages of an on-campus degree accrue mostly to those who don’t already have degrees and/or are in the under-30 age range. At some point, life experience replaces a lot of the relational things that happen in college.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.