Defining Goals and Limits - Part I

Friday, August 12, 2016

Back to School, Now What?

Deciding to go to school was kind of the easy part.  The challenging part is deciding which schools to actually apply to.  It became pretty obvious right up front that there is no magic solution to finding the ideal school.  However, having made the decision to go back, it's relatively easy to put a little extra work into choosing the right school.

Besides, schools are like shoes; there are many different kinds that appeal to people with many different needs and many different tastes.  I just had to start ‘trying some on’ to see which one would be the best fit.

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together.

I needed to formulate a methodical plan so I could target my research and quickly narrow my choices down.  As a basic framework, I came up with a series of questions that would help me analyze which schools would be potentially right for me.  I focused on both practical matters, and matters of  importance.

  1. What goals do I hope to accomplish through study?
  2. What kind of programs are right for me?
  3. Is school accreditation an important consideration?
  4. Can I complete a degree program entirely online?
  5. What tools or platforms am I going to use for online study?
  6. How much is the program going to cost and can I afford it?
  7. How much time can I commit each semester to my studies?
  8. What are the doctrinal positions of the schools I'm considering?
This is not an exhaustive list but I think it characterizes the main points I considered in planning for this endeavor.  I’ll address the first four questions in this post and cover the remainder in the next.  After that, I'll detail how I went about researching schools.

What goals do I hope to accomplish through study?

Diving into the heart of the matter, my primary goal in attending seminary is to bring organization and structure to my study of God’s Word.  Reading the Bible, reading books about biblical topics, and listening to good exegetical sermons online is a great way to learn.  But I want to grow by developing habits and practices that will allow me to discover the richness of the Bible for myself.  And I want to do this in a structured environment that will safeguard me from error. 

Second, I want to grow in my knowledge of Jesus based on His Word.  Not an academic knowledge, but an intimate knowledge.  I don't want to know about Jesus Christ, I want to really know Jesus Christ. 

And finally, I want to grow in my ability to serve the Lord and share the gospel.  Knowing how much I am forgiven and how merciful God is to me, I desire to learn how to share the good news so others may also experience the wonderful grace of God through the hearing of the gospel. 

What kind of programs are right for me?

Finding the right program was a little trickier.  I know I’m not being called to be a pastor and I am very certain of that.  So I did a real quick search to look for programs where I could achieve my goals and be better prepared to serve my church and everyone around me.
Turns out there are a lot of options in this space.  Different schools use different degree names, but basically there are whole categories of Master level offerings for lay church members and people who work in professional settings. 

I decided right away that a Master of Theology (ThM) degree was larger commitment than I can make at this time, so I zeroed in on programs such as Master of Theological Studies, Master of Biblical Studies, Master of Arts in Christian Studies, Master of Arts in Biblical Studies, and Master of Biblical and Theological Studies.  The point is, there is a variety of choices and I knew I’d be able to find the right program.

Is School Accreditation an Important Consideration?

The answer to this question really comes down to a matter of personal choice and careful research.  For me, accreditation is an important consideration.  Personally, if I’m going to invest my time and resources in pursuing an academic degree, I want that effort to be broadly recognized academically and professionally.
I think accreditation is also a commitment that a school also makes to its students.  That’s not to say there aren’t many fine non-accredited schools where I’d certainly be able to meet my goals.  I just personally feel more comfortable seeking an accredited degree.  But I know for others, this isn’t a major consideration.

Can I complete a degree program entirely online?

I still have a family to support so picking up and moving to a school to attend seminary just isn’t an option for me.  Nor do I feel overly compelled to put myself back into a campus setting. The good news is that I found many schools which offer entire degree programs online.

A few years ago, even the thought of taking a degree program entirely online was ludicrous.  But technology has really advanced in the recent past which makes this feasible.  For example, in my work, I manage remote teams of individuals all over the globe remotely without any significant challenges.
Working remotely does force you to learn how to communicate in slightly different ways and using different tools.  But it can be highly effective.  In truth, everybody knows that a significant amount of our communication is done online these days.  So I have a high degree of confidence in pursuing an online degree.
Having said that, I still do believe that face to face interaction in a classroom setting is ideal and advantageous.  But for me and people in situations like mine, I’m certain I will be just fine in chasing my goals and communicating with my teachers and fellow students.

That's a Wrap... for Now.

I could explore all of the questions above in far greater detail, but I merely wanted to present a high-level overview of my personal considerations.  Different people will, of course, have different perspectives, and by no means is my entire list exhaustive.  Next time I'll pick up with the second set of queries in the same manner.  Then I'll be able to shed some light on how I came to choose a school.

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