The Gospel Coalition recently asked a number of well known professors and scholars the question “What one thing would you change about seminary?” While each scholar offered his own thoughts, many of the answers spoke of the importance of the local church and the practical ministry experience that many seminarians fail to get during their academic pursuit.
We are not a well established seminary with hundreds of students, nor do we have nationally known professors; so unless you already know Faith Baptist Church, you won’t recognize us. But we do have a very different way of offering seminary training.
The Core Problems
The congregation at Faith Baptist Church of Lafayette, Indiana, pastored by Steve Viars, introduced a revised version of seminary training in 2007. The church attempted to minimize three basic challenges with the current seminary structure.
- The high cost of seminary training resulting in some students graduating with significant debt.
- A lack of practical ministry experience.
- The significant pressures on any wives or children due to the heavy seminary and job workload.
A New Approach, In Action
In order to minimize these weaknesses, Faith Bible Seminary created a three-year intern-based M.Div program. Each student in the program must either be a pastor in full-time vocational ministry or a paid intern in a church. This requirement allows every student to be directly involved in various aspects of pastoral ministry during their entire training. Interns at our church are required to spend about 20 hours per week being part of the ministry (counseling, discipleship, teaching preparation, pastoral staff meeting, deacon meetings, etc). Our classes meet one day per week with some one-week modules occasionally built into the system to allow students from surrounding communities to participate.
The cost challenge was minimized by providing the tuition free of charge for students involved in an internship at a local church. In our church’s view, since our partnering churches are providing paid internships for three years it would have been very burdensome to expect them to pay tuition. Our church family covers the overhead costs with contributions and graciously allowing our pastors, who either have terminal degrees or are candidates for terminal degrees, to dedicate their time to training students.
This model also allows a very structured curriculum to develop. Instead of students taking classes that most easily fit into their schedules, the entire three year curriculum, semester by semester, is already set by the institution. The advantage to the structured curriculum is that the both biblical languages can be taught in the first year allowing for more opportunities to focus on the original languages in both exegesis and biblical theology classes.
In 2007, Faith Bible Seminary enrolled 14 men and in 2010 ten of those men graduated. Of the 10 men who received their diplomas this June, eight of them are placed in full time vocational ministry including one serving in as a pastor in England, one in the church planting network with Harvest Bible Chapel, one in pastoral ministry in Brazil, one working for a Christian school, and four others in pastoral ministry in the States. Our 2010 class began this week with 19 students.
FBS does not have a long track record, nor thousands of graduates like the larger schools. Time will tell whether this system is sustainable for the long term. In addition, this model has weaknesses and challenges of its own. Maybe, however, it can be an encouragement to other churches that have been challenged by articles such as the one published by The Gospel Coalition or by their own convictions to help strengthen seminary education.
Finally, it may be that in the scope of seminary training there might be several models that can seek to help prepare men to glorify God by serving in the church of Jesus Christ.
Rob Green is the Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries at Faith Baptist Church.
For more on this topic, you can see Rob’s thoughts with additional commentary by Dr. Bob Kellemen of RPM Ministries at the RPM Ministries blog and at EverydayChristian.com.