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Distance education presents new options to world changers

Advances in e-learning close communication gap between classroom and Web.

By Ronald E. Keener

Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN, was formed last year from the former Indiana Wesleyan University — College of Graduate Studies in Ministry and has 250 students pursuing programs, including the Master’s Degree in Divinity. [ www.wesley.indwes.edu ] Like many graduate schools and seminaries, online education is a focal point for Wesley Seminary. Church Executive talked about how Wesley uses the online and social media revolution with Nathan Lamb, director of Admissions and Recruitment, for Wesley Seminary, himself in the class of 2013.

What are the trends in online education that enable pastors and business administrators to gain a graduate degree today?

The advances in online learning technology over the past few years have really closed the potential communication gap between classroom and online learning. Many seminaries are taking steps to begin offering at least a portion of a graduate degree online. The programs at Wesley Seminary were designed from the beginning to be offered in a flexible, primarily online format. We have pastors from all across the country and missionaries from around the world in our seminary, creating an educational environment that wouldn’t be possible at a more traditional seminary.

The trend in theological education is certainly moving toward more accessible degrees. Some seminaries have responded to this trend by creating shorter, more focused degrees as an alternative to the three-to-four year traditional M.Div. Other seminaries also have re-imagined the M.Div. to make it work for today’s pastors and leaders. For example, we have a two-year Master of Arts in Ministerial Leadership degree that has been an excellent option for leaders who don’t want, or need, an M.Div.

Do you have students who come from the business world?

One of our recent M.Div. students is an executive pastor at a large church in the Indianapolis area. He comes from the business world where he was the founder of a large company and was called to bring his administrative and entrepreneurial gifts to his local church. He joined our seminary to get seminary training with a practical application to his context. We also have a significant number of church planters in our program, several of who feel called to, and have the gifts and graces to, grow their congregations into large churches.

What is unique about the way Wesley takes its degree programs to the student?

Both our M.Div. and Master of Arts degrees are designed from the ground up as “in ministry” degrees. By offering degrees in primarily online formats, students from around the world can come together and benefit from each other’s unique ministry context. These students begin their program together and move through the sequence of courses as a group, which leads to a strong sense of community despite the geographical separation.

I understand that Wesley was created for the very purpose of empowering the local pastor to change the world. How does that play out in real life?

Students are trained to think critically and strategically about their personal mission as well as the mission of their local ministry. Typically pastors are well-trained in theology, scripture, etc., but are not equipped to actually put this training into practice. We focus on practical application so that students learn to carry what is in their hearts and heads into the world to make a difference for the Kingdom. Our students are already world changers, we simply help them to be more effective.

Social media and online education are changing every six months. Are there ways in which the seminary is working to keep apace and utilize these technologies?

We engage students at each stage of the admissions and enrollment process through Twitter (@WesleySeminary), Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. One of the potential challenges that we face with our online programs is staying connected to students outside of the classroom. Social media certainly aids in that connection.

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