What You Ought To Know About Bible College
There is often a strong push in Independent Baptist churches for their young people to attend a Bible college. Many young people choose to follow this path and I am glad that it is so. They go and spend four years training, usually marry, and then hopefully go out into the ministry. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out that way.
I do believe that if attending Bible college is the path you wish to travel, you should have the facts about it.
I would not dare to discourage someone from attending Bible college, but only after a few conditions are met. First, that they are confident that it is God’s will for them. Second, that it is in line with the direction they wish to spend their lives. Third, that they understand about the type of training they are about to receive.
I do believe that if attending Bible college is the path you wish to travel, you should have the facts about it. I have found that school recruiters and some well-meaning preachers are more concerned with getting you into Bible college that making sure it is a good fit for you.
In this article, I want to address some areas that I feel people are ignorant or misinformed in. There will be a good deal of personal opinion involved, but I tried to base them on fact and honest observation. I realize that some of the “blanket statements” may not apply to your school or experience, but trust me in that they are true in too many cases. The colleges that I am mainly referring to are ministries of individual churches.
Bible college is less about an education and more about practical training.
Bible colleges are more often than not more concerned with work you do in the ministries of the their church than they are about what you learn in the classroom. Earning an A+ in Bible Doctrines 101 is not as celebrated as filling up a bus with kids on Sunday. You’d also better go in expecting to be put to work in the church ministries. Those “ministry opportunities” you saw in the brochure, it’s really marketing lingo for things you will be required to do. Yes, you will be required to work a bus route, run a nursing home ministry, or something every week or you will receive demerits. How successful you are in these ministries has a lot, and I’m afraid in some cases everything, to do with how much aid you will get in finding employment after graduation.
Ministries are being built by young people paying tuition for the privilege to work in that church.
I’m not saying that the emphasis is wrong, it was just something I did not expect and I know others did not either. I’ve heard it called the “apprenticeship model” of education. It does make some sense since the ministry is such a practical field, but it does have its shortcomings.
Let me also add, since it is along these lines, a rumor I heard about the founding of a Bible college in recent years. The story I have heard on good authority is the main reason for the particular church starting its own college was that the pastor was tired of losing his bus workers every year when they left to attend Bible college elsewhere. With their own college, they would be able to keep their young people around longer to work in the church. Ministries around this country are not being built on unpaid labor, they are being built by young people paying tuition for the privilege to work in that church.
A Bible college degree does not guarantee full-time employment in the ministry.
A well-established Bible college will have opportunities for its graduates, if the student of course passes muster. Those that don’t will more than likely be left on their own resources.
What kind of opportunities are these? Some will be inside that college or church. Most will be from ministries that run in the same circles as the college. This is often very regional, so don’t expect a Bible college across the country to help you find a job in your home state.
What happens when no doors open for a graduate? You’ll be forced out of the dorms soon enough (or your parent’s house which may grant you a little more time). Your only option is to find, *gasp*, secular employment wherever you end up, and then expect to be an unpaid, part-time staff member of the church you join. Most college-supporting churches have a group of graduates who stay in the church and never leave.
The people promoting going to Bible college just for one year are wrong.
This has been going on for a few years. You’ve probably heard a preacher or evangelist admonish young people to give at least one year of their life to God and go to Bible college. I guess the reasoning is that once you go for a year that you’ll stay and get in the ministry. If God hasn’t led someone to go to Bible college I find it doubtful that going one year will change the course of their life.
I feel strongly that this is a terrible idea in most cases. A Bible college’s purpose should primarily be to train young men and women for the ministry, not reform students who have no desire to be in the ministry. I can tell you personally that there is a greater likelihood that these one-year students end up being trouble in the Bible college. One-year students will be pressured and coaxed into staying longer.
Ever see the ads for services that are free or discounted for the first month or two? Those companies are expecting you to try the service and then stay on board. Think of the one-year student as in the “introductory period”. Everyone from the school to those that advised them to go for the year are expecting them to go ahead and sign on for the full package.
You will be tied to your school and those that support the school.
It is no secret that Independent Baptists tend to run in “camps” and “circles”. Two Independent Baptist churches in the same town may have little to do with each because they belong to warring camps. It is sad, but it is the truth. Just recently I found out that a town nearby that I thought had only one Independent Baptist church had at least two more that I had never head of.
These camps are often centered around a personality or institution. That institution is often a Bible college if it has been around a while. Those giving you advice on where to attend school will either steer you towards their alma mater or one of the schools in their camp.
When you graduate from a Bible college, you are tied to whatever camp that school, church, or leader runs in. Most of the support you will receive will be from others in that camp. It is not impossible to rise above these petty politics, but don’t expect too many others to do so.
The "MRS" Degree
I've heard people joke that the reason why Bible colleges admit women is to get them married. It's really not that far from the truth in most situations I have seen. Most colleges offer anemic educational choices for ladies. You can either train to be a teacher or a secretary. Two worth while professions mind you, but the training (as in general) is lackluster. Just because you go to Bible college for four years and get a diploma in education does not mean that many doors will be open for you to teach. If the school is unaccredited your diploma is only useful in Christian education. If you were to want to teach in a public or accredited school you're probably looking at going back to college... and starting over.
Bible colleges are dating services. I've even heard an honest administrator or two admit it. People send their kids to Bible college to meet and marry a Godly person. I met my wife in one. I have no big problem with it, except when the college loses its focus on training. Or could I go even farther and say when the young people loses focus on training. I know of numerous cases where as soon as young people are engage or married they drop out of school. They got what they went for.
The true travesty is that unless a young lady gets her "Mrs." degree, she may not gain that much from her education. Opportunities are pretty limited outside of ministries, which may not provide enough to be self sufficient. Also there will be pretty big blow to their self-esteem as they seem to "fail" at getting married. Since there are always more ladies than men in Bible college, there will be quite a few graduating without finding that special someone.
Accreditation matters. Your Bible college diploma is not equal to one from a state college.
You won’t have too look far to find a Bible college president ranting in a sermon about how their school is not accredited because the state has no business telling them what to teach. Classic stuff. If only it were the honest truth…
First of all, the government doesn’t accredit schools but they do recognize the accreditation of approved accreditation bodies. Second, accreditation has practically nothing to do with WHAT is taught, rather HOW it is taught. Accreditation ensures that a college’s workload meets recognized standards and that adequate academic resources are provided by the college. In most academic and professional eyes, an unaccredited college degree might as well be written in crayon. I am glad to hear that there at least a few Bible colleges that are trying to get their academics in line and seeking accreditation.
Most Bible colleges couldn’t dream of being accredited as they now operate.
I could go on forever about this, but the bottom line is that most Bible colleges couldn’t dream of being accredited as they now operate. The academics are too poor, the classes are not rigorous enough, the faculty is not sufficient, and the facilities are lacking. It is not that there is no one that accredits conservative Bible colleges because there are opportunities out there. Most schools just do not have the resources to even attempt it or wish to have anyone checking up on them.
Unaccredited Bible colleges are doing nothing illegal in most states because the state governments offer exemptions for accreditation involving religious schools, usually as long as the diplomas they offer are of a religious nature. This is why the diplomas offered are often “non-standard”. For instance, the diploma will be a Bachelor of Science in Bible - Pastoral Theology which is not a standard degrees that will be found in any accredited school. In some cases a standard degree such as a Master of Divinity is offered in a one year program when traditionally it is a two-year program.
Does it really matter if your ministry degree is not accredited? No, if you are in the ministry. In the “secular” workforce, most employers respect a four-year program and the perceived ethics of a ministry degree. Places that I have worked have been very respectful with my degree, but some career fields such as education have no tolerance for unaccredited degrees. It will matter if you intend to further your education in a traditional college or university as they will likely not accept all if any credits from an unaccredited institution.
There is a major crackdown going on today in regards to so-called “schools” that are churning out worthless degrees. These places are often called diploma mills. Also, many online and for-profit schools are gaining scrutiny. I would not be surprised if legislation attacking those institutions may not also make having and Bible college more difficult. Excellence is the best deterrent to criticism, and if religious education does not adapt to a higher standard it could be legislated out of existence.
How would I run a Bible college?
I'm so glad you asked...
- I would drop all pretense of the institution being a college. I would probably call it something like an institute, school, or training center.
- I would develop a two or three year course of study that is devoted almost entirely to Theology and Ministry.
- I would not award "degrees". I would award some type of diploma or certificate that could not be confused with a traditional college degree.
- I would go for quality over quantity in the student body and have stringent acceptance policies.
- I would focus my attention more on adults than fresh-out-of-school teenagers.
- I would cater more toward married students instead of running a dating service.
- In military jargon, I’d rather run an Officer’s Training School than a Boot Camp.
- Accreditation? What I would create wouldn’t be a traditional school so I doubt I could get it. I would probably tell people to think of it as a form of vocational training.
Would I go to Bible college again?
Yes and no. I don’t necessarily regret the experience or training. After all, I met my wife there and she won’t let me ponder not meeting her!!!
The advice I would have given myself, which may not be proper in anyone else’s case, would be to go to a traditional college and get at least an Associate’s degree. This would get the “basics” out of the way with something tangible to show for it in just about anyone’s eyes. Also, this can be done very affordably by going through community colleges. After I had done this, I would go to Bible college for a couple of years to focus on ministry training. I would be sure and find a Bible college, accredited or not, that accepted at least most of the credits I had already earned (and they should). That’s what I think I would counsel my younger self to do.