I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was a time of transition. I was straddling multiple jobs, including one with a church plant still in its first five years that my wife and I helped start. If this were not enough, we were also preparing for the birth of our first child and there was a restlessness growing more and more within me — a calling to step out in faith and take on what felt intimidating and seemed nearly impossible: go to seminary.
The act of “going” anywhere seemed daunting and unnecessarily painful for our growing family. How would I attend classes while working more than 40 hours a week? How could we possibly afford another degree program without taking on debt and still pay our bills? How could I stay invested in my local church context but get the education I desired and encouraged to pursue? Suddenly, the traditional paradigm of going to seminary was becoming an impractical endeavor and a significant roadblock to fulfilling a new calling.
This was almost ten years ago. At that time, seminary classes online were more of an accommodation for institutions with hybrid residential modules. Few, if any, seminaries were offering fully accredited, completely online degree programs. When I stumbled upon Knox Theological Seminary, I thought I had struck gold. They were clearly ahead of the curve and it was the flexible and affordable solution I needed.
In the end, not only did I receive an incredible seminary education that better prepared me for the theological and cultural challenges of today, but I also became even more convinced that the future of the seminary belongs to the institutions that embrace the technological age. Here are six reasons why:
Your church will benefit.
Unless your church is privileged to be situated within commuting distance of a theologically aligned seminary, emerging leaders often have to uproot their lives to attend a traditional seminary. However, with a completely online education, not only does the church keep a leader close, but that leader can now actively pour back into the church community through his or her education.
Your community will benefit.
Staying connected to the relationships that matter most during your seminary education should not be understated. Who are the people that know you best? Who can speak into your life or provide other perspectives as part of your education and training? And who will benefit most from your seminary experience as part of your calling to engage your community with the gospel? When you are able to stay grounded in your community while earning a seminary education, your community immediately gains an influential and well-reasoned voice pertaining to matters relevant to them.
Your family will benefit.
Most seminary students are married, have children, and have a full-time job that contributes to the financial stability of the family. Even if this category doesn’t directly apply to you, a thoughtful online seminary education will provide you with a unique level of flexibility that allows you to maintain your priorities with little compromise. Not only can you stay fully engaged with those closest to you, but they will benefit as you begin to flourish in new ways spiritually and academically.
Your employer will benefit.
Employers celebrate when an employee takes it upon themselves to pursue additional education and training. When you can pursue an advanced degree program without quitting your job, it’s a win-win for everyone. You will benefit from a steady and predictable income stream and your employer gains an emerging leader with new skills in research, writing, and critical thinking, even if a seminary degree doesn’t directly relate to your industry.
You will benefit.
Seminary is often criticized for producing graduates that become disconnected from their congregations. In other words, the assumption about seminary is that it hasn’t always provided a healthy balance between academics and practical application for its students. But the reality is, a healthy seminary experience will emphasize both academics and application as part of an intentional strategy that seeks the spiritual formation of the student. In my experience, this is best practiced with an online seminary experience that keeps the student fully engaged in his or her local church, not away from it.
The Church will benefit.
Finally, not only does your local church benefit from your online seminary education, but the global Church benefits. The heart of an online seminary should empower local leaders like you to be equipped to declare and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ in your current calling and context.
The days of the seminary as an institution exclusive for clergymen are over. The seminary is meant for everyone. It exists in service to the global Church by partnering with local congregations to equip them in their calling as Spirit-filled partners in the great commission. This is precisely why the future of theological training and leadership in the local church is one that doesn’t send people to seminary but invites the seminary to them. Thankfully, the future seminary is already here for those who’ve embraced the technological age.