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:
- Accept the fact that being a minister is much more than a Bible college degree, and
- 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!