We need an accredited institution of higher learning that makes precise and high quality Christian education available to the church, in order to form, build, and multiply disciplemakers to the world and at home. We need this institution to be accepted and revered by mission agencies. The courses need to be affordable and/or free. Mission institutions need to recognize the courses taken through these institutions as more than just adequate to provide precise and high quality Christian education. This institution needs to be similar to what the Physician Assistant education model used to represent, a means to quickly educate and train high-quality professional workers to be rapidly deployed into some of the least reached areas in the world.
When we rely on the seminaries to provide all of our education, we are overlooking a large, capable group of non-vocational disciplemakers. This is not a new problem, but somehow it has persisted for far too long as we tend to think that our western traditional educational model of Masters and Doctors should be what Christians adhere to determine the legitimacy of the ministry worker.
Here’s my example. I followed a non-traditional route into my education. I attended junior college for a couple semesters before going into the military at 19. Upon leaving the military, I needed to quickly find a means to support my family, so I attended paramedic school. After graduating and working as a paramedic for a few years, I went back to the first junior college I attended and got a 2 year degree in natural sciences so that I could have enough of my prerequisites done to get into Physician Assistant School. I attended Stanford School of Medicine’s Primary Care Associate Program, which is what they called the Physician Assistant school. Stanford had an agreement with Foothill College (another nearby 2 year college) to award those in the Stanford program an associate’s degree upon completion if the student did not have a bachelor’s degree upon entering. To those who had bachelor’s degrees already, Stanford offered the option of completing their Master’s of Medical Science through St. Francis University. However, there was no option to attain a bachelor’s degree through this program. So when I graudated, I had two associate’s degree, and nearly 250 semester units of college credits. (Bear in mind, most bachelor’s degrees require about 120 semester units). So I have all of this great education, but no bachelor’s degree, and now about $60,000 of student loan debt.
After graduating, I sought to attain a master’s degree either in theology or a master’s of divinity. I applied to several schools, most wouldn’t even look at my application because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. These schools would have accepted me with my 3.63 GPA if I had a bachelor’s degree in literally anything, but because I didn’t have that piece of paper hanging on my wall, nevermind the fact that my courses at Stanford were graduate level courses that my classmates with bachelor’s degrees already got Master’s degrees for.
So I enrolled in a Christian university to do a bachelor’s completion program. Half way through the first semester I developed a debilitating spinal condition and was unable to continue. After healing from that condition, I was no longer in a position to afford to go back to this expensive program and get the additional 70+ units to have a degree in biblical studies.
But then I heard about this medical school in Missouri, A.T. Still University. This prestigious and highly regarded medical institution had a program for PA’s like me, with tons of college credit but no bachelor’s degree to complete a degree in two years. Not a bachelor’s degree though… a MASTER’S Degree!
Forbes has repeatedly rated a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) as one of the most financially lucrative and beneficial graduate degrees out there. The course was completely online and just as beneficial and challenging as any single course I took at Stanford, but I could work on it and work full time supporting a family of 5 while I attended.
So now, with that master’s degree in hand, I again decided that I wanted to attempt to get a formal theological education, because those college credits mean so much, and that theological or divinity degree means so much in missions, which is where I’m called. You’d think these Seminaries who strive to send qualified people into the mission field would be clamoring for a student like me who had a proven academic record, years of professional experience, experience in all sorts of ministry from bible study teaching and homeless ministry to short term missions who could also afford to pay for classes OUT-OF-POCKET now, but no. I have lost count of how many conversations I’ve had with admissions counselors, vice deans and even a seminary president who all tell me the same thing, “You’re master’s degree doesn’t count. We need to see that bachelor’s degree.”
Explain to me what’s going on here? I mean, I know this has a lot to do with accreditation and that accrediting agencies will not permit these schools to give masters degrees to people who do not have bachelor’s degrees. Every person I talk to at the schools tells me that they’ve never encountered my situation too. This seems odd to me since AT Still has an entire program dedicated to awarding masters degrees to people like me, who have put more than the amount of work expected to achieve a bachelor’s degree, yet still don’t have it. Let me remind my reader at this point that I have enough college credits to have a bachelor’s degree two times over. I don’t know this for sure, but at one point, I may have been one of the most educated people to NOT have a degree.
So Christian academia, let me pose this question to you. If you truly care about educating people for missionary service, and you truly care about educating leaders in theology and ministry, why make it so hard for this process to even start?
And before you accuse me of taking a short cut, let me run down my curriculum vitae:
30 core semester unit before I was 18 years old.
Joined the Coast Guard and served for 4 years active duty and 4 years reserve
Paramedic school (2 years long)
Worked as full-time paramedic for 6 years, while going back to college and getting another 90 units to complete an associates and prerequiristes for PA school.
PA school at Stanford School of medicine, where I earned another 108 units of graduate level education.
Worked in homeless ministry, delivering sermons, discipling new believers, evangelizing to the poor, the mentally ill and substance abusers.
Regularly visiting Haiti for short term medical missions over the course of 7 years.
Worked as a Physician Assistant, where I had roles in clinical medicine and also in hospital leadership.
Taught Bible studies from 2007 until 2017. Was a church elder.
Completed a Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies.
Departing for the mission field to work in Togo as a medical missionary.
All I want is a solid theological education so that I can be better equipped to disciple others and plant churches.
Yet, what I am told is that you want me first to get a piece of paper that I could have earned two times over had I been fortunate enough to have been born near a four-year college or had the funds when I was younger. Instead, you recommend that I spend an additional $10,000+ to get this degree so that I can spend another $10,000 to get your graduate degree, so that I can be better equipped to do what you state is your purpose as an educational institution.
I am so sick of this elitism. It has no place in the church. We scratch our heads at the secularism that is trending in western culture, yet you charge outrageous amounts and place obstacles to those who are willing to do the work?
You can’t call me lazy. You can’t say that I’m trying to find a short cut. Nothing about what I’ve done has been a shorter or easier way than those who went straight to a four year university straight out of high school, got their 120 semester units in 4 years and started graduate school immediately after. I am almost 40 years old, have a wealth of life experience, education and professional credentials. I have worked hard from the time I got my first job the day after I got my driver’s license.
Shame on you!
So here is what we are going to do.
I will start my own school of missions. I will admit those who have a history of work ethic, who have work skills, whether that be in the trades, as a professional, or as a laborer. This school will follow the PA program model in which motivated, qualified people will be given an intense, cost-effective, and high quality education in order that they be prepared and equipped to be rapidly deployed to meet the urgent needs of those who are dying, unreached, unevangelized and undiscipled in the parts of the world that your academic ivory towers mean nothing.
This will be a school for tentmakers, disciplemakers, the men and women that you have arbitrarily determined by your vice for financial capital and academic notoriety to be unqualified, not because of their character or standing before the Lord, but because they have not sought the traditional Western society’s route to education and vocational ministry.