I had the conversation again. The guy had a job, but was hungry to level-up his theology and Bible knowledge. The sermon wasn’t advanced enough and his church didn’t have other options (yet one more argument for bringing back the Sunday school).
“I’m thinking about maybe doing semimary.” He finally concluded.
I had to tell him the truth: “Look man, a [single] seminary class is going to cost you $1,500 and honestly, the stuff you’re getting online for free is better.”
I hate having to say that, but after spending almost a decade in ATS accredited schools, I’ve been forced to embrace the fact of the matter: the quality of formal Bible education is inconsistent and hardly (if ever) rises to the premium of its price tag.
What’s more, most churches are equipped to offer the same level of education at a fraction of the tuition charged by formal schools. And I think they should. Here’s how.
WHAT’S ACTUALLY IN A BIBLE DEGREE
Bible colleges and seminaries all teach the same classes. Visit the website of any evangelical Bible college or seminary and look at their degree programs. You’ll find something like:
- OT Survey (two classes)
- NT Survey (two classes)
- Church History (two classes)
- Theology Survey (two classes)
- A Biblical language (two classes of either Greek or Hebrew)
That’s a total of 10 classes that make up the “Bible core”. Every accredited Bible degree basically offers these classes. (If you’re skeptical, check out schools like Dallas, Fuller, Bethel, Liberty, Grand Canyon, CCU, and, for my NW readers: Multnomah, Western, and George Fox. They all offer basically the same classes.)
A typical accredited class meets for three hours each week, meaning they’re worth three “credits” and will include around 1,000 to 1,500 pages of reading, a form of assessment (quizzes plus a midterm and a final), and some sort of writing assignment(s) (6 to 20 pages or so).
Eight classes of Bible core (not including languages) worth 3 credits each equals 24 credits.
Most of the above mentioned schools will charge around $550 per credit. So those 24 credits will total $13,200.
To put that into perspective, a Masters Degree in Christian Studies (a non-academic MA that’s a good, general ministry degree) requires around 50 credits. So The Bible core is about half of that degree (adding languages puts it over the half way point). It’s also all the courses you’ll need to major in Biblical Studies for a bachelors degree.
So here’s my thinking: If a person doesn’t need an accredited piece of paper and just wants to get a advanced Bible and theology training, anybody can do that without the school and without the school price tag.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN SEMINARY
If you attend a church of any size, there’s a chance there are at least a half-dozen seminary graduates not working in the field they trained for. Most of those men and women are capable of teaching one or more of the Bible core classes because they were all required to take them and some of them may have done further, specialized study.
And, if my experience is any indicator, they would love to teach a class; it’s just that nobody ever asks them. So if we can find those people, we’ve got our instructors.
Then we need to pay them something. We shouldn’t muzzle the ox while it’s threshing and, let’s be real, we value things we invest in.
Most people who want to get serious about their Bible Studies would be willing to pay $10-$20 to have a 3 hour class at a high, academic level (I mean, we’ll pay $35-$50 for a Saturday conference that only has 6 hours to 9 hours of content —and we’re sharing the instructor with 200-5,000 people). So, if we can get 10-20 people together (a typically class size in a private Bible school) willing to pay $10-$20 per class, we can pay the passionate instructor $200 a week. I don’t know any seminary grad who would want to turn down that kind of side gig.
But it won’t be the same as a “real” seminary education, right?
Well, that depends on what you mean by “real”.
If you’ve paid any attention to seminaries in the past 10 or so years, you know they’re all moving their degree programs online. Visit any one of their websites and the above-the-fold banner will be advertising a shortened degree that’s completed without ever having to step foot on campus.
What they don’t tell you is that most of these courses are developed by FT faculty, but the classes themselves are actually taught by adjuncts, that is, seminary graduates who are “teaching” (it’s actually more like supervising) as part time or spare time gig. In other words, the seminary is going to charge you a 7x mark up just because you’re taking the class through the seminary instead of working with the seminary grad directly.
It seems to me, if you don’t really need them, why not cut out the accredited, administrative middlemen? Why pay a premium to take a course online when it’s being supervised by someone with the same level of credential and expertise as the seminary graduate sitting next to you in church?
HOW TO SCHEDULE THE BIBLE CORE
Thankfully, the Bible core is really easy to schedule. If we wanted to go all the way with it:
|Torah and Writings||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|History and Prophecy||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|Gospels||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|Acts and Letters||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|Church History: 90 AD – 1500 AD||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|Church History: 1500 to Today||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|Theology: Scripture, God, Mankind,||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
|Theology: Sin, Salvation, Church, Last Things||15 Weeks||$150 per person|
Again, if we don’t care about getting a degree, we can take a fraction of the money would have put to the immense cost of a formal degree, pay a hometown prophet, grow our local community, and get the knowledge for about 12% of the cost of a traditional, accredited program.
That’s doable, right?
And If You Prefer Online
I think a learning community and doing the work of assignments for meaningful feedback are important, but there are some who prefer sitting alone with your computer. So I should mention that there are a good number of Bible and theology professors have put their lectures on YouTube. And if you don’t mind shelling out some cash, Credo House has a good chunk of the Bible core available for purchase (and they frequently run sales).
Putting Honorless Prophets to Work
Nobody wants to say this out loud, but there is a group of people who had a conversion experience that led them to an on-fire highschool and/or college ministry experience, then they turned their attention to their higher education obligations and thought, “I want to do this ministry gig for the rest of my life!” and they signed up Bible College and/or seminary. Then they graduated, some with huge debt loads (M.Div students with over $40k in debt has gone from 15% of graduates to 24% in the last 10 years). And it was during the post-graduation-panic job search that they learned the truth: hardly anyone pays a full-time wage to a minister.
We can have a conversation about calling, vocation, and career counseling for FT ministers some other time, I’m just pointing out the reality of our current situation: Those graduates, if they actually land a FT ministry job, limp along in an associate position until the economics stop working and then they retrain into a technical field that pays a living wage. Some will try to keep the bi-vocational engine running, some will leave ministry work altogether. And a lot of the ones I’ve talked to have a cloud of disappointment perpetually overhead.
This means there’s a great opportunity to mobilize the giftings and formal training laying dormant in the local congregation — if the serious bible students in the church will have the initiative and diligence to pull it together.