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“Where the Remnant Comes to Train”
“Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.” 2 Tim 2:15 AMP
You have felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to start or continue your education for ministry. That is one of the reasons you contacted Biblical Life College & Seminary. You know you must start working on getting that degree, whether it is an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree. You know that it is a tool that you need to take you to the next level in ministry.
I want to take a few moments to examine these words of encouragement from the Apostle Paul to young minister Timothy. I also want to use them to debunk some of the trends in nontraditional theological education that is not only grieving my spirit, but I believe, the Holy Spirit as well.
First, most scholars agree that 2 Timothy was the last epistle the Apostle Paul ever wrote. Some even believe that he finished it the night before he became a martyr for the sake of the Gospel. Paul was not writing this letter at the beginning of Timothy’s training for ministry. Timothy was already a graduate of Paul’s School of Theology and had ministered with Paul for years. These words serve as a reminder to Timothy (and to us) that a call to ministry is a call to a lifetime of study. I love how the Amplified Bible brings out the shades of meanings in the original Greek text. “Timothy, study, be eager to study, do your utmost in filling yourself with the Word . . .” These words were written to a man that had been mentored by the Apostle Paul. Who could have asked for a better mentor, save Jesus Himself! Yet, at the end of that mentorship, the Apostle says “be eager and do your utmost in your studies.”
One of the things that we have missed in becoming so Greco-Roman minded in our Western culture is we believe that when we receive a degree we have arrived. Our words to describe those that gain graduate level degrees in ministry or theology are: scholar, master teacher, and theologian. All of these are high sounding words that place the individual above everyone else. In our Hebraic heritage, a Jewish scholar is called a “sage.” Sage means a “master learner.” When he arrives, if you will, he arrives at a place to really start learning. What a difference!
This Greco-Roman mindset has permeated education, especially nontraditional theological education. Many schools boast of not how much you will learn or how much the courses will transform your life; rather, they boast at how fast they can get their degree on your wall. It is an injustice to all true theological education AND an injustice to all the saints that have gone on before us.
The abuse of life experience credits is rampant in our industry. I do not care how long you have been in ministry; the rule of thumb is a maximum of 30 semester credit hours (SCHS) at the undergraduate level. Anything more than that is cheating you and anyone you minister to. Now, if you have written books and taught extended series (10 sessions or more), those things can be examined and additional credit can be give. There is a difference. Concrete accomplishments are measured, evaluated and converted to credits. These credits are not just looking at a resume. Let me share with you a true story to prove my point:
At BLCS, we offer LECs based on documented ministry, credits for works completed such as books and extended teaching series. We also offer an Experiential Exam. This exam is one big bad bear of an exam to take - 160 essay questions. It is designed to find out what the individual knows and doesn’t know. It also helps us fill in the educational gaps he has. About ten years ago, we had a seasoned minister that was a regional director for a small Pentecostal denomination contact us. He wanted to complete his undergraduate degree. He presented an impressive looking resume documenting 25 years of ministry with his denomination. He had not written any books or audio taped any extended teaching series. He wanted more than just the 30 SCHS that could be given for his documented ministry. We set up a time for him to take our exam locally under the supervision of a proctor. When I scored his exam, I could not believe my eyes. Out of 160 questions, he only got two correct. He even missed, “Who wrote the book of Exodus?” This essay question was one of the easiest questions on the exam (all lengthy exams should have a freebee or two). After reviewing everything, I designed a 110 SCH program for him. I told him that with his low score that he should not even receive the full 30 SCHS based on his resume. It would be an educational blunder on our part and an injustice to him and anyone he ministered to. I really strived to design a course of study that would enable him to have the wealth of knowledge that someone in his position should really have. I did not hear from him for about three months. One day I received an envelope from him in the mail. Naturally, I thought it was his enrollment form. “Surely he prayed through and God placed it upon his heart to really get the education that he (and all those he was leading) needed,” I thought. To my surprise, all it contained was a photocopy of his brand new Bachelor degree from a well-known nontraditional seminary in Florida. As I prayed about it, the Lord reminded me of the fig tree that He had cursed. Why did He curse the fig tree? Because it was presenting itself as something it was not. This man was like a fig tree full of leaves (i.e. a degree certificate hanging on the wall), but no fruit (of a real education) in his life.
The second abuse is open book exams. Come on friends! Even in High School, closed book exams are the standard! Open book exams render the education to an institute level – not college or seminary. I don’t care what they call the school or who they are accredited by; it is institute level training, plain and simple!
The third abuse is not requiring a thesis at the Master’s level or a dissertation at the Doctoral level. These are standards with hundreds of years of tradition. The thesis or dissertation is the proof that you have gained the knowledge and competence to receive the degree. When someone tells me they have a doctoral degree, it is not the certificate I want to look at, it is the dissertation. I want to see and read through the documentation of what God has spoken into their lives.
Finally, let me answer the question on why you do not want to speed through the process. A valid college or seminary degree should do several things:
1. It should stretch you intellectually and spiritually. Easy courses do nothing for you.
2. There should be spiritual dynamics that transform your life as you go through them. [If the education does not transform you, what are you going to use to transform others with?] This is also the reason we have developed courses with audio lectures. You can listen to them again and again to get them into your heart. That’s where the transformation will take place!
3. The education should build within you the tools you will need for a lifestyle of study and research.
The study and research does not end when you graduate. Your graduation marks a place in your life where you are really ready to begin the research of a lifetime. That’s what Paul was reminding Timothy of. That is what I want to stress. You are beginning an educational journey that will take you the rest of your life to do correctly. You need it. Everyone that you will ever minister to needs you to have it. Don’t get caught up in the worldly idea of rushing to get the degree on your wall. Why not strive to get every ounce of knowledge, spiritual transformation and research skills possible from the school you are going to study with. Make sure you do not just have the leaves on your tree. Instead, be sure you are loaded down with the fruits of your education.
Copyright 2008 by Michael K. Lake, Th.D.
Michael K. Lake, Th.D., D.R.E.
Dr. Lake is the Chancellor and Founder of Biblical Life College and Seminary. He is an Internationally respected authority on nontraditional theological education, educator, author, and serves as a Bishop on the International Board of Directors for the Restoration Fellowship International.