As a pastor in a large local church and a professor with experience in traditional and online seminaries, church members sensing a call into vocational ministry are consistently approaching me. Often these discussions turn to the topic of formal education as part of their obedience to God’s call. Because of my diverse educational background and teaching experience, I am often asked to compare and contrast online seminaries with more traditional Bible colleges and seminaries.
In an effort to put my thoughts into a resource available to a larger audience of men and women being called by God into vocational ministry, I offer the following lists of pros and cons that I have personally experienced.
Baptist Bible College
Bible colleges are typically institutions that prepare students for Church ministry with theological education, Biblical studies and practical ministry training by offering undergraduate degrees, certificates or diplomas. Seminaries typically focus upon graduate degrees offering master and doctoral level training for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree.
- Camaraderie with fellow students through on campus social interactions, especially in residence halls
- Advanced placement in aligned Masters Degree
- Clear licensing and ordination path through a specific denomination
- Smaller faculty teaching multiple courses allowing for a depth of personal relationship
- Well-established placement offices for graduates seeking employment.
- Having to relocate and find employment
- Fewer available paid ministry positions in the area due to concentration of students
- Additional expenses of room and board
- Less flexible class structure and schedule
- Harder to work full time while attending school
- Faculty tend to be more generalists rather than specialists
Online Bible College & Seminaries
Online Bible colleges are typically institutions that prepare students for Church ministry with theological education, Biblical studies and practical ministry training by offering undergraduate degrees, certificates or diplomas completely through an online experience.
- Ability to remain at home keeping current job
- Application of classroom insights immediately in an established ministry position within a home church
- Flexible class structure and asynchronous interaction around a person’s schedule
- Deepening relationships with lifelong mentors
- Larger more specialized faculty teaching from their sweet-spots
- Use of specialized adjunct faculty who are expert practitioners in their field
- More personal interaction required in each classroom
- Thorough written interaction in student forums allow for more concise and thought-out responses
- Diversification of student body
- Older more experienced students who bring great practical insights into the classroom discussions
- Geographically diverse students from across America—west coast, east coast, north, and south as well as urban, suburban, and rural
- Larger more diverse international student population
- Denominationally diverse student body representing the real world of any ministry
- Easier for school to become secondary to work and recreation
- Requires more personal discipline and follow through than a traditional classroom
- More reliant upon technology, Internet access, and computer knowledge
- Easier to remain disconnected from personal relationships with fellow students
Having attended a Baptist Bible college and online college, I can honestly say that each served me well. The main differences come from my life situation while attending each one. The brick-and-mortar campus served me well when I was single with little need for income. It released me from other obligations in order to truly focus upon preparing for serving God vocationally through the local church. Although the lessons learned felt more theoretical than practical at the time, my education has served me well in ministry over the years. After marrying, having children, and working full-time on a church staff, attending school online was the best option. Along with a flexible schedule, it also gave me practical instruction that I could immediately apply the next day at work.
I have also enjoyed the dynamics of teaching at both a Baptist and online seminary. Since I work full-time as an Executive Pastor while serving my wife and three older daughters at home, teaching online as an adjunct professor at Rockbridge Seminary is a practical way that I have found to continue investing in the next generation of pastors.
About the Writer: Dr. Lendell Nolan attended Southwest Baptist University (BA in Bible), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDivBL-Advanced Standing & PhD), and Rockbridge Seminary (MML). He has served on the pastoral staff of churches in Fort Worth, TX and Tulsa, OK before moving to Roswell, NM to serve as the Pastor of Ministry. Over the past decade Grace has grown from a purpose-driven church plant to over 1,000 in weekly attendance as Lendell has transitioned into the role of Executive Pastor. Along with serving the local church, Lendell also works as a Professional Life Coach and Adjunct Professor at Rockbridge Seminary, a fully online accredited seminary.