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Online education is growing as seminaries expand their programs to reach students who are unable or unwilling to uproot their lives for a traditional on-campus experience.

11 Comments

  1. I understand contemporary pressures; however, when I attended Bangor Theological Seminary in the early Eighties, huge amounts of my learning took place through personal contact with other students, teachers, visiting clergy and judicatory heads, speakers and–let’s remember what we’re doing here–chapel! Seminary is less about transferring blocks of information from A to B than it is about ministerial formation and discernment. Even with all of that, and denominational oversight, a few people that had no business in ministry attained degrees and were inflicted on unsuspecting churches, to mutual pain. On-line only is not a good idea! The Rev. Stephen Cook

  2. We provide education with some of the foremost instructors in the country – both for Continuing Professional Education for Ministers and Education for Ministerial Competency. We are happy to partner with institutions seeking ways to advance the ONLINE EDUCATION you desire while providing the highest quality of instruction, student interaction, learning and outcomes measurement, and records management – and our mission is about TRANSFORMING THE CHURCH for God’s Future for us.

  3. The Rev John Hartman

    I can’t help but wonder about “formation.” How does that happen online?

    Being part of both a learning and worshiping community in seminary was invaluable in my formation as an Episcopal priest. I’m sure it can be done, but I’m so grateful that i was afforded the opportunity to live in a faith community for three years, sharing closely my discernment with others.

  4. Forgive me if my suggestion misses the mark of dealing with the concern directly, but I wonder if there isn’t a methodology available that would deal with the concerns that I’m seeing voiced here regarding the individual character and spiritual growth of students. If established pastors with live congregations were willing to act as “character sponsors” for applicants to participate in online study, it would be possible to gain some measure of accountability by establishing required goals for these students in local bodies. Applicants to these study programs could be required to gain mentoring and congregational participation oversight commitments from local pastors with a requirement to maintain them throughout the education process. They could act as the local “Paul” to monitor the “Timothys” within their congregation and report their observations as required by online educators in order to receive credit for their studies.

  5. One aspect that is very much a part of this debate is cost. We expect priests to get heavily burdened with enormous debt and then pay them poorly. Not only is that immoral, it adds undo stress into their lives that reduce the power of their ministry.

    An online degree allows them to pursue the education slower while paying as they go.

    If we collectively as Christians believe residency is important, we need to bring the costs dramatically down.

  6. It is easy to find criticisms to dole out to online education. But it is just as easy to find praise for those who seek online education (and those who provide it). Can you find examples of students who did not grow or learn yet still received a degree? Undoubtably yes. Will you find online programs that are not worth their salt? Again, undoubtably yes.
    As technology changes, we have to have faith and look for what is good and can be good: the opportunity for those who are unable, for what ever reason, to grow spiritually. These individuals are in a position to pass on their wisdom immediately to the communities that they serve–that is, they are immediately teaching rather than remaining absent from their community.
    These individuals also come to know the digital landscape and thus position themselves to bring Christ to others who communicate primarily through online technologies. We are here to teach about Jesus’s love to those who haven’t heard of it as much as remind those who have of its power. There are so many who can be reached through the web and we need experienced individuals to reach them. We cannot pretend that there are not opportunities to save at least one person through the web. Likewise, if an online education only adequately prepares one person and that person only brings one soul to know Jesus, then isn’t it worth it?

    Am I biased? Yes, but no more so than those who have studied at a brick and mortar location who argue for a brick and mortar education. I love the education that I am getting at through Colorado Theological Seminary (http://www.seminary.ws). The biggest challenges that I face are that I must hold myself accountable–no one will come knock on my dorm room door if I stop turning in assignments. I have to come to terms, in a very real way, that I have to chose to complete my degree and I have to ask God for the help, strength, and wisdom to do it. I have to trust that He will lead me and reveal Himself to me in the world and life that I think I already know so well.
    I also have to get comfortable learning from individuals whom I may never meet during my life time–I have to have faith that they will come through. It helps me to get more comfortable with a similar learning situation that all of us live everyday. No, I don’t meet all of my classmates, but even during my brick and mortar undergraduate days, though I may have known all 200 of my classmates by face, I did not have intimate relationships with all of them. God gives us the friends we need when we need them–and sometimes we have to trust that He can do it even in an environment that we are unsure about.

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