Imagining An Alternative to Bible College

Ryan Hayden • September 23, 2022

bible-college churchlife ministry

In my last post, I talked about the problems with Bible College, and why I was glad I went there. In this post, I want to lay out an alternative based on the conversations I've been having with other pastors and Christians and on the changing nature of ministry.

There are no Bible colleges in the Bible. The closest thing is the school of the prophets in 1 and 2 Kings, but nothing like Bible college is mentioned, never mind prescribed, in the New Testament.

That means, that Bible colleges, while potentially good, are not necessary for flourishing Christian churches. It also means that, if it's not something prescribed in scripture, we are free to innovate and imagine alternatives to our current system.

What is talked about in the scripture A LOT is the local church. It is prescribed. It is God's plan.

Local Church Pastoral Training

So what if, as opposed to Bible college, the work of training for the ministry was done by a local church? What would that look like?

[!note] I'm fleshing out ideas here presented to me on twitter and facebook by others. Special thanks goes to Stephen Burrell and Mike Bird.

Here is what I am imagining:

1. A man would be identified as called to ministry.

The process would start as it usually does, with a man sensing a call to service and having that calling confirmed by the church. This man would then seek a pastoral apprenticeship either in his own church or in a an affiliated church.

2. The man would undertake an extensive apprenticeship under the guidance of a local church.

This pastoral student would then formally enter an apprenticeship program and agree to stay in the program for a period of several years. The man would not have to pay for this training, but would be expected to find employment and/or housing in the community while he trained.

3. The program would follow a set timeline and set curriculum.

Much like a traditional Bible college, this student would have a prescribed curriculum to study. He would be assigned reading and papers on various subjects including:

Instead of learning these in a classroom, he would be expected to study under the direction of the pastor/elders at his church and be tested at the end of each subject to prove his knowledge.

4. The pastor would set aside multiple hours a week to mentor/guide their studies.

In addition to his coursework, the student would spend time every week discussing theoretical and practical aspects of ministry with his pastor. As problems came up in both the pastor's and the student's ministry, they would be discussed, and the apprentice would go with the pastor on hospital visits, deacon's meetings, weddings and funerals, etc..

5. As his studies progress, he would be given more responsibility in the church.

A big part of this apprenticeship would be serving and teaching in the church. As the apprenticeship progressed, more and more opportunities for service would be given. Eventually, if gifting is apparent, the student would be given an adult Sunday School class or even allowed to regularly preach during evening services at the church. All under the watchful eye of and with the feedback of the pastor.

6. Difficult subjects will be handled offsite or online courses.

In depth training in difficult subjects like Greek/Hebrew could be done via online courses, or in some cases, offsite module courses. Alternatively, a group of local pastors could identify a pastor in their midst who is gifted in these areas and he could teach a weekly night course.

7. A person's studies culminate in ordination and formal recognition of his studies and gifting.

At the end of the course of study (multiple years) the student/apprentice would go through a formal ordination ceremony where they would be questioned by a committee of pastors. Afterwards, he would be encouraged to seek ministry opportunities in churches looking for a pastor.

Benefits

1. Local churches wouldn't lose their best workers to Bible college.

A lot of churches lose their best servant-minded young people and young adults to Bible colleges already awash with these people. In this local church model, that wouldn't happen.

2. Students would save the expense of Bible college.

Bible colleges often require relocation, cost tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life. Students in a local church would see none of those expenses, and only pay for books.

3. Students would gain real-world experience under the watchful eye of a pastor.

Students would get experience in ministry and behind the pulpit and would get feedback in real time from their pastor/elders. They could also gain valuable work experience in a trade that wouldn't be possible with a traditional Bible College schedule.

4. Gifting (or lack thereof) would be seen and addressed sooner.

There is a reason "apt to teach" is listed as a qualification for the pastorate - some people don't have it. Some people cannot preach. Some who do have the ability to teach have bad speaking and study habits that need to be addressed and often aren't addressed under the current system.

5. Students would get a more real-world perspective of local church ministry.

Going to a mega-church to learn about ministry sometimes seems counterproductive. Megachurches do ministry in completely different ways and often, what works for the megachurch doesn't work for normal local churches. Students at these schools often come home thinking they know better than their faithful pastors and disdaining normal ministry. The local church model saves them from that.

Disadvantages

Such a course of training would have disadvantages too. I can think of three.

1. Students may miss out of the opportunity to make friends and date potential spouses.

I made many good friends in Bible college from around the country. I also met my spouse in Bible college, as did hundreds of other people in ministry. This may be hard to replicate in a smaller church.

2. Students may miss out on the opportunity to expand their horizons.

I went to Bible college in Tennessee as a yankee from New Hampshire. I experienced culture shock and met many friends from other parts of the country. This was a good thing and expanded me as a person. If a person is trained in the church where he grew up, he may be tempted to be a small minded person. Local church training may result in a kind of cultural inbreeding which would do disservice.

3. Local church training may be despised by future employers and churches.

This scenario is best suited for some one who already has a secular degree or who is working in a trade. If this is seen as an alternative for vocational training, it may leave the student in a place where he cannot provide for his family.

4. The pastor may not be equipped to do this training.

The pastor may not be well trained himself, and may not be equipped to train others. Perhaps he disdains study and doesn't "give attendance to reading" - in that case he would be depriving a student of a good education.

Conclusion

If you are reading this and are interested in this kind of ministry training, I may have a place for you at Bible Baptist. Our church has an apartment we've talked about making available for this purpose, and it is something I've been praying about for awhile. Talk to your pastor about it and consider reaching out.

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