The following student perspective was written by P.J. Oswald. P.J. has a B.A. in Classical Civilization from the University of California, Davis. He completed his M.Div. at Western Seminary's Sacramento Campus. He and his wife Erica planted a simple church community in their neighborhood, called the Mustard Seed Community.
"I find myself perplexed each time I hear people (including some seminary graduates) complain about the obscurity or irrelevance of seminary training. This is probably because my phenomenal experience at Western Seminary was such a relevant and humbling journey through studies of God, his Word, and practical ministry skill.
I am a Master of Divinity graduate, and I completed my training at the Western Seminary Sacramento campus in the early 2000′s. I was already involved in youth ministry when I began seminary, and was looking for a way to build scriptural understanding and leadership skills without having to leave my job. Classes were scheduled conveniently for folks with careers and families, which allowed me to hold down a full-time job while I made my way through. And the flexibility of my “open track” training allowed me to add church planting and coaching electives to my degree.
What I hadn’t expected was such a pragmatic focus in coursework. The professors Western employs love God greatly, and they have a great grasp on how to put skin on the gospel. Many are pastors, missionaries, counselors, coaches, and church planters, in addition to those who are long-time professors who travel in from the Portland campus. These profs led class sessions and mentored field ministry with great passion and skill. They left me with a greater love for God, a desire to understand the Bible, and a growing desire to build the church (my wife and I lead a organic church with a heart for neighborhood-based multiplication).
I can and do recommend Western Seminary to my friends time and time again as a community where you can train for ministry without leaving ministry."
B.A. in Christian Ministry with Pastoral Studies & Student Ministry Minors: A Former Student's Perpective
This student perspective is the second from Austin McCann. The last one concerned his current graduate work, this one concerns his undergraduate program. Austin just finished his B.A. at Piedmont International University. He is currently working on his Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary while starting in full-time student ministry. You can find more of Austin’s thoughts on his website. Here are his thoughts on his undergrad program:
"Recently I just finished my BA at Piedmont International University. At Piedmont, I studied Christian Ministries. At Piedmont, like most colleges and university, allow you to pick a minor or two. I decided to do two minors with my BA. My two minors where student ministries and pastoral studies.
Many people have wondered why I chose to study student ministries and pastoral studies. Most people assume if your wanting to be a youth pastor than just study student ministries or if your wanting to be a senior pastor why not just do pastoral studies. I decided to do both for one main reason: a youth pastor should be just as educated and well trained as a senior pastor. Just because you work with students does not mean you should not know how to preach and do pastoral duties. I believe a youth pastor should be just as skilled at preaching the Bible as a senior pastor. A youth pastor is a pastor and should be just as serious about ministry, the church, and the Bible as the senior pastor.
There are several reasons other reasons I chose to do two minors that have nothing to do with my view of youth pastors and how they should be trained. First, two minors allows you to study another area of ministry that you may want to do later on down the road. I am not sure if God will keep me as a youth pastor my whole life. I would love to one day be a senior pastor or church planter and because I have studied pastoral studies I feel more prepared to pursue that one day. Second, two minors allow you to take some classes that may interest you that are not in your first minor. There where a few classes in the pastoral studies minor that where not in the student ministries one I really wanted to take. I was able to take more classes with two minors and was able to get ones that I really wanted outside my first minor. Third, two minors allow you to gain skills in another area outside your vocation that may come in handy. For example, I took expository preaching and was honored to receive the expository preaching award that year. I learned and gained the skill of expository preaching because I chose to do a pastoral studies minor along with my student ministries one. Having that skill allows me to be a better preacher and teacher in the area of my vocation-student ministries.
I hope this has helped you if you are wondering how many minors you should take on. If your school allows you to, I would recommend you take two. It may seem like adding two much to your load, but it will be worth it."
Master of Arts in Religion at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary at Liberty University: A Current Student's Prospective
This student perspective is from Austin McCann. Austin just finished his B.A. at Piedmont International University. He is currently working on his Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary while starting in full-time student ministry. You can find more of Austin’s thoughts on his website. Here are his thoughts on that particular school and program:
During my last few semesters at Piedmont International University, I started to think about seminary. I thought, "Do I even want to spend a few more years in school? Or, if I do attend seminary, do I want to work on a M. Div. or shorter Master’s program?" Eventually, after a lot of thought, prayer, and wise counsel I decided to attend Liberty Baptist Theological Baptist Seminary and decided to work on a Master’s of Arts in Religion with a specialization in Christian Leadership online. I wanted to take a few moments and explain how I decided the seminary track I am on and hopefully help you if your on the fence about seminary. Before I share my thoughts, I want to make one thing clear. I do not believe the way I am doing seminary is the only way to go about doing seminary work. There are many options and ways to go about it, but here is why I chose what I am doing.
Master’s of Arts in Religion. As much as I respect the M. Div. program and the practical, pastoral education it gives you, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that many more years in school and if seminary was even going to be a good fit for me. So I decided to start a MAR that is somewhat smaller than the M. Div. If you want a good, professional seminary degree that is not an M. Div., go for the MAR. One of the reasons I chose this route is because at most school’s the MAR can roll into an M. Div. that you can finish in another year or two. The MAR is a great degree because it allows you to continue in seminary if you’re financially and willing to do so.
Christian Leadership. Like the M. Div., when you take the MAR, you get to choose a particular specialization. I decided to specialize in Christian Leadership because I believe leadership is an extremely important part of church ministry that we do not focus on a lot. If you’re planning on being in local church ministry in a pastoral role you need to focus on leadership. Our churches need people who are trained leaders. Even if you’re not going into church ministry, leadership is an important aspect in business and family. I am going into full-time student ministry. Part of having an effective student ministry is building a team of leaders to help you serve students. Studying leadership in seminary is helping me become a better team builder, how to handle conflict in leadership, and how to be the right kind of leader in a local church.
Liberty Theological Baptist Seminary. There are so many good seminaries and graduate schools to choose from these days. I decided to go with Liberty for a few reasons. First, I love the legacy of Jerry Falwell and what he did with Liberty University. I respect the school and what the school has and continues to stand for. Second, they are extremely well-known. I went to a relatively unknown school for my undergrad. I wanted to go somewhere more well-known for seminary. I know we shouldn’t judge people by where they went to seminary, but a lot of churches will look for candidates that are from particular schools or schools that are more popular. Third, I went with Liberty because of their great online education.
Online. If you enjoy the classroom setting and learning in person from a professor, than make sure you attend a seminary on campus. Online education is not for everyone. If you can learn well and stay motivated by online work, than look into doing seminary online. Doing seminary online through Liberty is the most affordable seminary you will find. I went with online for two main reasons. First, it was cheaper and I didn’t want to spend too much on seminary. Second, I wanted to get into full-time ministry. If you want to jump straight into full-time ministry after undergrad, than do seminary online. It allows you to work on your education while doing what you love, ministry!
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's Master of Theology program is designed for those that have already completed a masters in a theological field. It's particularly attractive for those wanting to teach in a particular area since it will give you the graduate hours in whichever concentration you choose (in case you didn't get 18 hours in your previous masters).
This student perspective is brought to you by Tim Decker. Tim did his BA and MA at Piedmont Baptist College and is completing his ThM at the aforementioned Southeastern. Tim has been a pastor and is currently teaching in Honduras. His blog is Unpluckable. Here is his perspective on SEBTS and their ThM:
"Looking for a solid theological/biblical studies education in North Carolina and the surrounding area is quite simple. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS for short) is one of those seminaries that has an outstanding and diverse faculty that will challenge students to think deeply and critically. My situation coming into SEBTS was a desire for the academic side without the “ministry classes” to go with it. Part of that is based on the fact that I had completed a BA in Biblical Studies with a concentration in pastoral ministry along with three years of pastoral ministry experience. Therefore, an MDiv was not attractive whatsoever. My choices were to do the university MA to PhD route or find a seminary that would accept my MA into their ThM or PhD program. SEBTS was that seminary.
The PhD program of SEBTS is a completely separate post, but needless to say I felt that more preparation was needed before I pursued a PhD. Studying under men like David Alan Black, Maurice Robinson, Jonathan Pennington (a Southern Baptist Seminary prof who taught a class at SEBTS), and (hopefully in the future) Andreas Köstenberger is the chance of a lifetime for any aspiring NT student. These scholars are by no means slouches either. I knew that I would have to step up my game with these men. And so I entered their ThM program, and I have not regretted it since.
SEBTS’ ThM is fairly unique in a couple of ways. First, it is only a 24 credit degree on top of the MDiv (or equivalent). Most are 30 credits past the MDiv, so this smaller load is easier to complete in a year. The MDiv equivalency is part of SEBTS attraction as well. They base their equivalency on certain classes taken and not so much the amount of total graduate hours. For instance, in my case I met much of their requirements for MDiv equivalency with my MA and other postgrad classes I had completed at another institution. However, since most of my Greek was taken at the undergraduate level, I had to make up 6 credits of Greek exegesis classes to show that I was up to snuff. So now I am basically taking 30 credits for a ThM. I also had to do 2 more intro classes as well since part of their MDiv equivalency is 6 credits for OT intro and 6 for NT intro. Having only 3 in each, I was required to do 3 more in each (both online). They were amazing classes, even though they were not directly part of my ThM.
Another unique feature of SEBTS ThM is their 2 different routes: thesis or non-thesis programs. The non-thesis program is the entry level track where the student can take 4 advanced graduate level classes (or a post-grad class or two with permission). Instead of a thesis, the student has 2 guided reading classes (3 credits each) that allows a lot of interaction between the student and his/her faculty mentor. The culmination of the non-thesis track is a 40-60 page “mini-thesis” worth 3 credits. Therefore, those desiring advanced education and enjoy studying but lack the research capabilities for a publishable thesis, this route is excellent. There might be other extenuating circumstances that would prompt a student to this route also. I am still considering it since I am outside the country at this time and the 2 reading classes would allow me to continue my stay in Central America.
The thesis route must be approved by the ThM office and faculty mentor, usually demonstrated by a previously written research paper showing one’s capabilities at a higher academic level. The differences between the two programs are minor. Instead of 4 advance graduate level classes, the student takes 2 advance graduate classes and 2 post-graduate classes or seminars. Instead of the guided reading and mini-thesis totaling 9 credits, the student labors on a 9 credit, 120 page thesis (mine happens to be on “The Form and Structure of the Pauline Euloghtos Sentence of Ephesians”). Perhaps the nicest thing about these two different routes is that it offers flexibility for students. In case you were doing your math and realized that only 21 credits have been accounted for, both routes require a bibliographic class towards the beginning wherein the mentor can guide the student into the school’s library and research capabilities. It is a beneficial (maybe “tedious” would be a better word) class for the exposure of research materials, but it also proved very helpful for thesis or mini-thesis research down the road.
The faculty mentor is another wonderful feature of the program. Considering the stellar teachers that the school employs, finding capable mentors is not difficult. My first choice was David Alan Black, who gave me his own application that was a bit lengthier than the school’s. He has been extremely encouraging and a wonderful testimony of what it means to serve Jesus in his kingdom. In fact, the faculty is part of the reason I so highly recommend a Southeastern degree. Along with this is the school’s gold-standard accreditation (SACS and ATS). This leads into a negative, however. Having ATS accreditation leaves it nearly impossible to do any kind of non-residence studying for a post-graduate degree. For instance, directed studies are virtually non-existent, and you can definitely rule out online classes that go toward the ThM.
There are a few unattractive features of SEBTS’ ThM. For instance, I feel that it is one of their better degree programs, although it is rarely advertised. Many profs will encourage their students to do the MDiv to PhD/DMin route as most of them did. But the ThM is a well respected degree and will prepare the student for future PhD level work (especially a European PhD) or simply give the student a good terminal degree if a PhD is not an option.
Unfortunately, the PhD program at SEBTS (and 4 of the remaining 5 SBC seminaries as far as I know) do not accept the ThM credits into their PhD programs. They are separate and distinct from the ThM, which makes the degree a bit superfluous if the PhD is one’s ultimate goal. In my case, a ThM was attractive because I do not have an MDiv, did not want the extra ministry classes for an MDiv, and may desire to do a PhD later thus needing an MDiv or ThM. Yet knowing that a PhD is another 60+ credits at the same seminary is a bit disheartening. At least it also opens the doors for schools outside the SBC and even opportunities to study at the university level if so desired.
Besides these few issues, I have found my studies at SEBTS to be very fruitful and enriching. Anyone in the southeast looking for a quality, advanced education should seriously consider SEBTS’ ThM (and for that matter the ThM degree, period!). The interaction with scholars like the ones mentioned above is reason enough to study at SEBTS. But a ThM from SEBTS will look very attractive on a resume and intensely prepare the student for future ministry, academic or otherwise."
One thing I want to do in this blog is to present real students/graduates from different seminaries, colleges, and universities and have them comment briefly about their degree program and school. The first is Dr. Jerry Hullinger, who is currently a professor at Piedmont International University. He completed his undergrad work at Moody Bible Institute and Colorado Christian University and then underwent the Master of Theology and Doctor of Theology programs at Dallas Theological Seminary. Here are his thought on their Th.D. program:
"As I think back on my time at Dallas Seminary working on the Th.D., I can honestly say that I don't regret one moment of it. I'm sure most people say that about where they attended, but I honestly would not change a thing. After I had finished my Th.M. at Dallas, I wanted to leave and get my doctorate from somewhere else to get a different perspective. However, as I looked at the various programs, I ended up staying at Dallas because of its emphasis on the Scriptural text rather than peripheral topics related to Christianity in general--my feeling was that I wanted to know the Bible as well as humanly I could which is why I don't regret the time invested at DTS.
One of the things which turns people off from Dallas' program is the need to learn, in addition to Hebrew and Greek, French and German. I remember the late Harold Hoehner (who was director of the program when I attended) asking me if I knew I would have to do this as if to try and dissuade me from continuing. I took that as a challenge and was able to survive.
The stated purpose for the program is to produce those who are capable of doing research at the highest level. Though we all have a long way to go, I feel that the program was critical in helping me along that path."
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.