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The Death of the Bible College (and what it means for the Church)

A major player in the Restoration Movement Bible College/Christian University market made a startling announcement last week. Cincinnati Christian University will be terminating over 20 professors and staff at the University. This comes on the heels of the President resigning.  As alarming as this is, what’s even more alarming is the plight of Bible Colleges everywhere:

  • Florida Christian had to be bought by Johnson University just to stay afloat.
  • Nebraska Christian merged with Hope International for further financial security.
  • Louisville Bible College suspended classes for this semester and is desperately clinging on to the hopes of keeping her doors open.

At a Q & A following CCU’s announcement of layoffs it was mentioned that “the market has changed.” Indeed it has. Some colleges seemed to have abandoned training ministers altogether, while others have been forced to terminate programs dedicated solely to preaching ministry (like my Alma-Mater, Mid-Atlantic Christian University). While these still train ministers, there is no minor offered in preaching ministry any longer, largely because no one goes there to be a preacher.

It must be said, some of our Colleges are in decent shape. Johnson University, for one, is consistently graded well by Forbes for financial security. Unfortunately, these seem to be the exception and not the norm.  What we are seeing is the slow death of many Bible colleges, universities and seminaries.  The reasons for this are just as varied as the colleges themselves.  I won’t pretend to know or understand all of them. It could be a symptom of living in post-Christian America. Some say financial irresponsibility. Others blame the slow seepage of liberalism into our colleges. Still others lay the fault at the feet of forgotten missions and loss of focus. I think all of these may have some kernel of truth. I also believe it is difficult to get a young man to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt just to enter an occupation that is grossly underpaid in our brotherhood.

What I am more concerned about is how will this affect the local church.  For so long the first qualification listed by a pulpit committee has been “must have a degree from a Restoration Movement Bible College.” What will churches do when there are no more Christian/Church of Christ colleges offering degrees in ministry? Where will they find the next generation of preachers?

The answer is literally right under their noses. The death of the Bible College may be a good thing, because it will force churches to take religious training a little more seriously. The burden of educating a man for ministry should rest squarely on the shoulders of the local congregation. Timothy was a direct disciple of Paul, as was Apollos, and Acquilla.  Our preachers and elders need to be more serious about taking young men under their wing and training them for ministry.

But this means that the local church needs to do two things:

  1. Accept the fact that being a minister is much more than a Bible college degree, and
  2. Be willing to recruit from within their own congregation as well as other congregations for ministerial candidates.

We need to be pro-active in doing these things now.  If we wait until the last Bible College closes its doors, it will be too late. I am not anti-education or training. I am very much pro-education in the area of ministry, and that education can and should take place within the church. This is a much more sustainable and financially responsible model for training ministers than sending a man off to borrow thousands of dollars for a degree from a dying school that may not be there in four years.

So, I am saddened by the decline of our universities because I am grateful for the education I received and am indebted to the men who gave me that education. But I am not worried.  The Church can, and must, rise to take this responsibility back. And who knows? Maybe the local church will do an even better job of training preachers than our colleges ever did!

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8 thoughts on “The Death of the Bible College (and what it means for the Church)

  1. I’ve been watching this trend over the past few years myself. Fewer colleges are maintaining the pure reason for their creation in the first place. More churches, and larger ones at that, are not requiring a solid Bible College education any more. I am not a Greek scholar by any means, but I was required to take it in order to graduate. More guys are being “hired for a job” to lead a church with no Greek and a MA at most on top of a secular degree. No I am not saying that a man cannot be called to preach unless he’s gone to a Bible College and guys like Moody and Spurgeon are easy examples. I’m simply noting a trend where fewer people are even concerned about such things and likewise see some danger coming on the clouds.

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  3. These are very good, yet dismaying thoughts about the state of the Bible College. Those left standing continue to strategize and navigate and exceedingly different realm in the academia than has ever occurred in our history. As an alumnus of ACC/Point University and a local pastor who is actively involved in training Worship and Biblical Studies Students from Point in ministry-related internships in our congregation, however, the statement that “training ministers altogether” is simply untrue. Please check their online catalog: http://point.edu/traditional/biblical-studies/. I know there is sometimes a difference between what is in a catalog and what is actually happening. But I can guarantee that this statement is not accurate because I, and many others in this community, are heavily involved in mentoring, training, shaping young ministers.

    You are absolutely right that the Church MUST embrace the opportunity to train, shape, teach, and form new, young Christian preachers, teachers, and leaders. For a thought-provoking and robust conversation on this topic, check out James K. A, Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works, especially his forward on the relationship of the Church to the Christian University.

    My wife is a professor at Point University, and I am a pastor at a church located a mile away from it. We are grateful to be working in a congregation who is deeply burdened by what you have described, and who feel called to invest in the lives of budding Christian leaders. We need many, many more congregations who are willing to walk hand-in-hand with our colleges and universities in an Acts 2 kind of way. Thank you for your words.

    • Thank you for the time taken to reply and the correction. I will see to it that I amend the article to reflect a more accurate portrayal of Point U. And thank you for your service to the future leaders of our brotherhood.

  4. As a Johnson University grad, educator, and youth minister’s wife for 34 years, I have to say the local church and family is responsible for the spiritual attitude, heart, and foundation of a child, but without the in-depth teaching that my husband and I received at JU and even learning how to dig deeper into the scriptures, we would not be able to do ministry for all of these years. I do think that ministry has gone soft on our kids today and thinks that they aren’t mature enough to handle the bigger issues. We don’t challenge our kids/adults to follow Jesus into ministry. They are able to handle it. In the broader sense, our colleges have realized that we can be the salt and light wherever we go–which is good. As a teacher, I have had more influence on kids than my youth minister husband has ever had. Another issue that Bible colleges have failed to address is the stress that ministers and their families deal with. The physical, emotional, and spiritual stress is enough to break most people, but this is barely passed over in most Christian educations. However, it is why most people live the occupation. The stress that ministers face are unbelievable to the average Joe, confidential, and sometimes explosive and so there is no one that the family can usually share their burdens with. This takes a toll on the whole family. Christian Universities need to offer more advance education for handling this stress and counseling services for their ministry families to avoid burnout.

    • Candy…this is well said. My wife is a Psychology Professor at Point University, my partner in ministry in the local church, and also a clinical counselor. A big part of what we are seeing with our students is a deep need for emotional & mental healing, and retooling, before entering ministry. When I was a student of youth ministry at Fuller Seminary, it was [oddly enough] an Episcopal Priest who counseled us to “seek counseling before entering the ministry” because of the way the pressure can magnify the things a leader has not dealt with, and because we would need to be as healthy as possible beginning this calling. I think a part of what Christian Universities are grappling with is how current American culture is not at all the culture of our parents. Matriculating into our schools are a mixture of young people from wonderful, faithful families, and those who have encountered unimaginable brokenness in other families, and everything in between. We are witnessing college students at Point baptizing other college students who now desire to serve Christ in ministry or in their careers, yet who have “work to do” before they can be effective. Thank you for your work and ministry, and for the investment you are making in students!

  5. Just a few extra really practical, relevant things the Church can do (if I may add to your list). As one who has a foot in the church and the college, these are especially for churches/people who live within the vicinity of a Bible College or Christian University:

    1) Get yourself on campus. There are scores of events where you can mix and meet the students there. Have a presence. Churches, offer to handle the refreshments at a reception. Bring bottled water to the choral program, or their athletic event. Find some practical way to bless them. Make an appointment to meet specific faculty. Ask them about their students. Get to know them. Need a youth pastor? A worship leader? Do not hang a help wanted ad on the bulletin board. Take your physical self onto campus and start developing relationships, and pray that the Lord will reveal who you need to assist in spiritually forming your congregation. For too long, the Church has shipped kids away to Bible College expecting the institution to graduate a crew of stellar ministerial candidates from which we may cherry pick to provide us with whatever “Christian services” we desire.

    2) Adopt a student, or students. Ask their Student Life Office about this. Maybe a program already exists. Tell them you are interested in developing preachers, student or children’s ministers, worship leaders, etc. Invite these young people into your home, life, etc. Invest in them. Meet them for lunch. Cheer for them at their basketball game or recital or worship concert or their sermon. Let them see your life of faith. Share what Christ is doing in your life. Let them see how you are parenting. Give them permission to ask anything. Pray over them. Love should be spelled “C-A-S-S-A-R-O-L-E.” They will come. They will love you for it. They won’t even realize how much you accomplished in their lives for another 10-15 years. That’s ok.

    3) Older people (and I am getting there myself)…please get over your feeling that you don’t have anything to offer, and that the above suggestions are for other people to do. I know these suggestions can be as intimidating as trying to find a spot at the High School lunch table. Are you afraid they’ll think you aren’t cool? Sorry, the secret is out. You aren’t. And neither am I. Jesus did not call us to be cool, he called us to be his witnesses. Are you retired? If so, your best years of ministry investment may be the next 20. Please don’t waste them on golf. Too much is at stake. We need you.

    4) Pray for the faculty, trustees and administration at our Bible Colleges and Christian Universities. Many of them are under severe stress, trying to balance “keeping the doors open” and initiating multiple means of income, raising the student population and keeping Jesus Christ the center of everything moving forward. Don’t just pray at a distance. Tell them…face to face, or an email, or a card, or something. Let them know you are in this with them. The power of life and death are in our words. At least Proverbs says…

  6. Nebraska Christian College is not being “bought” by Hope International University. NCC is not in financial distress. The two schools are merging and both will be stronger because of it. The situation is not the same as Johnson U and Florida Christian College in any way.

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