Just some random musings I thought I’d share…and it turns out this is the 100th post on the new blog too. Nice!
When I first entered Bible College at Luther Rice University in 2009, I was extremely new to applying for college, registering for courses, etc. I didn’t understand the difference between undergraduate and graduate courses, college credit hours, etc. (in fact, I still don’t completely understand it all!). It would have been great if someone would have given me a guide explaining how to transition into the college registration process and how to understand exactly what I was registering for.
In addition, upon entering Bible College at Luther Rice University, I was handed a “status sheet” listing all of the courses I needed to take in order to complete my degree program. The goal of the “status sheet” was (and is) basically “Complete all of the courses on the sheet and when you’re finished, you graduate. You can complete most of them in any order you wish, but as long as you fill up the sheet, you graduate with a degree”. That’s how I’ve taken all of my classes through the past few years in Bible College.
This is also how pretty much every college and seminary functions today, and how every college and seminary has functioned for years. When students enroll in college, students are handed a sheet a paper with a list of required courses. They are told to go out there, complete the courses, fill up the “status sheet”, and once all of the required courses are completed, the student graduates. With the exception of a few courses that require prerequisites, most students can take their courses in any haphazard, fragmented order, as long as they complete them and pass them.
That’s not to say there’s absolutely no organization to current college course degree programs. Most college degree programs have some form of basic structure and organization to them (lumping all the Theology courses together and all the Ministry requirements together, etc.), but organization is still very basic, and students are still taking courses in a very jumbled and disjointed order. In some cases, the status sheet may not even be fully clear to students new to college life (I didn’t realize I had to take a series of electives in order to graduate and have been scrambling around the last few semesters cramming in additional electives).
While this is method most colleges and seminaries use to organize courses (and I am certainly not trying to knock Luther Rice or any other college or seminary. I have much respect for the leaders at Luther Rice and for college and seminary leaders in general.), I recently asked myself, is this the best method of organizing courses? Could there be a better way of organizing college courses and revamping the tried and true “status sheet”?
I discovered the fundamental principals behind what I’ll be explaining while reading a book from Thom Ranier (President of Lifeway) entitled Simple Church. I was consulting with a pastor friend of mine, and I was looking for ways to assist him in church planning, growth, and administration, and I stumbled upon Simple Church on sale (on the Vyrso bookstore which integrates with Logos Bible Software). I decided to pick up a copy of it and give it a read. Upon initial reading of Simple Church, I was thoroughly enjoying the resource and didn’t want to put it down. I was clearly seeing how the principles outlined in Simple Church made perfect sense in the church and how more churches should adapt a simple process for discipleship. I was agreeing with the author and simply going about enjoying reading about simplifying discipleship in churches.
Then “the light bulb” came on. At that moment, I realized that the principles outlined inSimple Church had a much broader application than simply in the church (no pun intended). I then realized the principles outlined in Simple Church could be applied to my personal life (in fact, Thom Ranier has written a sequel book entitled Simple Lifewhich is exactly applying the same principles to a person’s life. I’m reading through it currently.), my business, as well as I could also see how these principles could be applied in an educational college/seminary setting as well. That’s the purpose of this discussion. I want to show you how one can achieve a simple process for better training college and seminary students.
Simple College: The Process
1. The purpose of a college: “make students”
When reading Simple Church, we can sum up the purpose of the church in two words found in the Great Commission: “make disciples”. The purpose of the church is to make disciples. It sounds extremely simple, and it is. Churches are to exist to lead people through a process in order to become disciples. Likewise, we can sum up the purpose of a college or seminary with two words: “make students”. The purpose of a college or seminary is to make students. It again sounds simple, and indeed it is. Colleges are to exist to lead people through a process in order to become students. A student is not merely confined to a classroom setting in which their learning ends in the classroom. On the contrary, learning begins in the classroom. Colleges should be whetting the appetites of their students to become lifelong learners, especially Bible Colleges and seminaries which should be producing lifelong students of the Word of God.
2. The mission of a college: A process for “making students”
Once a college realizes its mission is to “make students”, the college should then ask itself with each degree program it formulates “what kind of students do we wish to make?”. That is, “What should our students be capable of doing upon graduation? What primary functions should our students be proficient in upon graduation?”.
The answer to these questions forms the basis of a process for making students that matches the mission of a college’s degree program.
For example, if Luther Rice were to re-design part of their Bachelor of Arts in Religion/Ministry program (the degree I’m currently working toward) along a simple student process, their mission could be the following:
Students at Luther Rice University completing the Bachelor of Arts in Religion/Ministry degree program should be:
1. Skilled in the area of Biblical exegesis
2. Effectively communicate God’s Word through Biblical exposition
3. Be an effective witness in evangelism
Such a mission statement for the degree program does two things:
First of all, the mission statement provides clarity. Students clearly know what functions they should be proficient and capable in at upon graduation, provided they were successful in completing their courses and assignments effectively. Looking at the statement above, upon graduation, a student should be proficient in three functional areas upon graduation: exegesis, exposition, and evangelism. There is no mistake as to what courses are required, and students clearly understand the roadmap of their journey through their course degree program.
Second of all, the mission statement provides movement. Upon close examination of the mission statement, once can discern that the mission statement is a process. The process begins at a foundational level of study and builds successively into other functional levels, each requiring knowledge of the level before it and advancing students to the next level. There is a clear entry and exit point in the process. Students begin with exegesis, then move onto exposition, and conclude with evangelism. One cannot effectively evangelize without solid exposition. One cannot be an effective expositor without first being grounded in exegesis. There is no room for stagnancy or fragmentation with such a process. Students are moving and flowing through the process on the way toward graduation.
In order to ensure movement is consistent at the individual course level, such a process also needs alignment. Upon formulating the mission statement process above, Luther Rice could sequentially align each of their courses along functional areas in the process, ensuring students are accessing the courses at the exact sequence in the process that students need to learn the information. Here’s an example of how such an alignment could look:
Biblical Research Methods/Inductive Bible Study
Old Testament/New Testament Survey
Bible Book Classes (Genesis, Acts, etc.)
Homiletics (Biblical Exposition/Biblical Communication)
General Speech Classes
Theology Survey/Bible Doctrines/Systematic Theology
Upon examining the exegesis section of the process, we see three types of courses presented. The first type of courses presented are the Biblical Research Methods or Inductive Bible Study courses. Before one can get a grip on exegesis, it is important that one first knows how to study the Bible. Therefore, the entry point into the exegesis section of the process would be a course showing students how to study the Word of God.
Building upon Biblical Research Methods would be the Old Testament and New Testament Survey courses. Before one can tackle individual Bible books or tackle hardcore exegesis, gaining a good survey and overview of the Bible as a whole is key. Seeing how the individual books of the Bible come together in the whole context of Scripture ensures students have a solid overview of God’s Word. Building upon the survey courses, Luther Rice could choose a selection of individual Bible book courses (or even allow students at this point to choose which Bible books they wish to study in-depth), allowing students to get into hardcore exegesis and finely examine individual Bible books for greater proficiency in these books.
Once one has mastered the area of exegesis, students now need to be able to take their exegetical skills and utilize them in the area of exposition. A good exposition track will include at least two main course types. First of all, the Hermeneutics class would form the foundation of the exposition point in the process. Knowing how to effectively interpret the Word of God is key to sound Biblical exposition. If one cannot interpret the Word of God correctly, one’s exposition is going to suffer immensely.
After students are trained in the area of Hermeneutics, students would then go on to be trained in the area of Homiletics, taking their solid exposition and interpretation of God’s Word and learning how to create sermons and Biblical messages. Couses such as Principles of Biblical Exposition and Principles of Biblical Communication could go here. Students are effectively learning the steps on how to become sound Biblical expositors.
In some instances, general Speech courses could also be appended in this section of the process. Such would be an ideal time to bring up general Speech courses, allowing students to sharpen their speaking/presentation skills in order to become effective Biblical communicators.
Once students have become skilled in the area of exposition, it is then time for them to move into the area of evangelism, taking their Biblical messages and using them to evangelize and take the Gospel to the world. In order to become an effective evangelist, students must first be grounded in Theology and Bible Doctrines. Therefore, Theology Survey/Bible Doctrines/Systematic Theology courses would form the basis for the evangelism section of the process.
After students are grounded in Theology, the next step in the process would be to train students in the area of Apologetics, or pre-evangelism. Before one can witness and evangelize to individuals, one must learn how to pre-evangelize, drawing from their foundation in Theology. Therefore, Apologetics would be the next step in the evangelism section of the process, helping students learn how to pre-evangelize to people.
Once students tackle pre-evangelism through Apologetics, students would then move onto full fledged evangelism courses. Personal Evangelism, and even World Missions courses would be ideal here. Students would know how to evangelize to individuals, as well as take evangelism across the world through missions.
Such a process not only provides clarity, movement, and alignment, but it also provides focus. Students would only be focused on the courses pertaining to the section of the process they are in. Instead of having haphazard, disjointed, fragmented courses where students must direct their attention to different subjects at different times, since each step in the process and each course builds upon one another, students are focused on completing the courses and tackling the information in that portion of the process. Students are learning to complete courses in order to function in certain areas, not merely completing courses to fill up a status sheet.
Colleges and seminaries would have more focus in their course schedules as well. Instead of simply including courses just to add something to fulfill the status sheet, colleges would be selectively including courses that would be a part of each step of the process. Courses that are not part of each step of the process would either be eliminated from the course in its entirety, or provided as an optional elective for students still wishing to tackle the subject. Degree programs become focused on training students to function in specific areas upon graduation. Students aren’t just walking away with a degree and head knowledge. Students know how to function in their given field.
How would such a process be beneficial to future ministry course programs such as Mobile Education from Logos Bible Software? Logos Bible Software is already revolutionizing the education program by providing access to quality, seminary-level courseware in the field where ministers and ministry leaders are functioning and serving today. Logos could easily formulate each of its Mobile Education packages of courses around various functional areas prospective students could purchase and complete. For example, Logos could bundle a Theology Survey, Apologetics, Personal Evangelism, and World Missions course into an “Evangelism” bundle, allowing students to purchase the “Evangelism” bundle and complete those courses in order to become effective evangelists. Since Logos is starting the Mobile Education framework from a clean slate, Logos doesn’t have to be limited to the old tried and true “status sheet” format of organizing and selling courses. Instead, Logos could choose to organize each of its courses into various functional areas, each with its own mini-process of courses in order to become proficient in that functional area, and market their courses in a way that allow people in the field to truly learn to excel in how to function better in the ministry.
Through applying the principles found in Thom Ranier’s Simple Church in the college, seminary, and electronic courseware setting, colleges and seminaries could better equip and train their students to graduate from Bible College and seminary to not only complete a degree program, but fill fully equipped to function in the ministry. That is the idea of the Simple College.