Virtually known

For cbook iconhurch executives who are considering continuing education, the value of relationships can’t be overestimated — not only between them and those to whom they minster, but also with their educators.

And herein lies the biggest question many potential students have about an online study model: Can it truly be as personal as in-class coursework? It’s a concern borne of necessity; after all, leaving a full-time church post to dive headfirst into an on-campus program isn’t a viable option for everyone.

Nor, as it turns out, does it need to be.

Take, for example, Samuel T. Koshy, a chaplain and Director of Student Life and Ministry at the Centre for Global Leadership Development in Bangalore, India. Koshy didn’t want to leave his ministry context and family for a protracted period of time, so he’s pursuing his D. Min. from Regent University online.

To date, Koshy has completed two semesters of the required coursework. Three of four classes were taken online, from Bangalore. The fourth was a “hybrid” — though it included a week of a modular residency, he and his cohorts interacted outside of class via blogs and through a closed group on Facebook.

“In my experience as a student, degrees that are offered in humanities and other areas that involve personal reading and reflection are best suited for the online education format,” Koshy says. “I believe that after getting some good foundations in place, self-directed education is possible — particularly for higher degrees in these fields.”

Another student for whom online education made the most sense is Stan Zerkowski, director of stewardship and development at Historic Saint Paul Church in Lexington, KY, and a Villanova University online student. “Instructors became mentors, confidants and colleagues,” he says. “Initial questions regarding how interaction and relationship-building would be accomplished faded quickly.”

The same was true for Carolynn Thompson, director of budget / financial liaison for Parishes and Schools, Diocese of Camden in Camden, NJ. The first time she logged in to her online Villanova University classroom, she panicked — mainly about technical glitches and not being able to gauge the other students’ reactions in person. But even more concerning, for Thompson, was her 28-year departure from continuing education. “I was one month shy of my 50th birthday when I started the Masters in Church Management program,” she recalls.

After the first week, those fears disappeared. “It became very easy to imagine what was happening on the other end of that microphone,” she says. “It was like a gift from God to be able to pursue this opportunity, and to do it from any room in my home.”

Old story, new era
Of course, a meaningful relationship takes two people: Educators are likewise embracing the digital learning platform.

Among them is James Flynn, Ph.D., associate professor of practical theology and director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Regent University’s School of Divinity. As Flynn explains, digital technology and the advent of the Internet means people can just as easily communicate with someone on the other side of the world as they can with their next-door neighbors. And, information is no longer bound by time and space to library shelves in certain locations; it’s now available, online, to anybody with a smart phone and an Internet connection.

“Because of digital technology, this generation doesn’t think of relationships the same way,” he says. “They’re adapting as have past generations to reading letters on a page rather than hearing a human voice, or talking over a telephone and hearing a human voice without seeing the person.

“Yet — like their predecessors — they still create and maintain relationships.”

Learn more (not surprisingly!) online
The three online students — Koshy, Zerkowski and Thompson — have a lot more to say in Considering online education?, available only in our digital issue. (While you’re there, check out All things being equal … .) And, here in our print issue, you’ll want to read Learning by heart on page 14.

Because we know how critical a lifelong-learner mentality is for effective church leadership, we’ll keep a continuing-education focus in up-coming issues, as well as in a dedicated digital supplement in November.

All the best to you and to your ministry,

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