What You Can’t Get Online

I just clicked a word ad on my gmail inbox page.  “Online Pastor Degrees” made me curious.

I don’t think you can learn to be a pastor strictly through an online program. It makes about as much sense as learning to be a pastor cloistered away at some ivory tower institution like a seminary.

Not to demean the value of theological education, but it seems clear that classes, credit hours, and degree plans are not all it takes for one to be prepared to pastor.

I read recently that my denomination’s University Senate released a statement opposing online seminary training. (I wonder if any United Methodist seminaries had pursued such programs?  I wonder if the University Senate’s opposition is related at all to which particular seminaries had developed and excelled at online education)

“Effectiveness” is the watch word for all things United Methodist these days.  Would you agree that one cannot gain all that is needed to be an effective clergy through an online degree?  Would you agree that one cannot gain all that is needed to be an effective clergy through a degree earned at a brick-and-mortar seminary?

4 thoughts on “What You Can’t Get Online

  1. Having recently graduated from seminary, a seminary that has done well at developing its virtual campus, I am very passionate about this topic!

    While in seminary, I took a few online classes, especially since it is what seemed like the best option after the birth of our daughter, when time was hard to come by. The online classroom seemed more convenient. I could do it at my own pace, and in-between feedings, and when my daughter was sleeping.

    I hated it. HATED it. I missed the interaction with my peers. I missed the personal relationship with my professors. I missed the thrill of actually hearing and seeing a lecture, instead of just watching a videotaped one, or reading one in print. The thing that I missed the most?

    Community. True community simply cannot happen in the virtual classroom. At least, not in my opinion. You just can’t get to know your classmates, when you’re reading through a string of online chat comments, and when you’re worried about meeting your quota for “number of interactions had with your peers” (that is a quota, you are most often graded on. So instead of it being organic and natural conversation– it’s often forced, because all you’re really concerned about in many cases is making the expected number of comments. Even if you don’t have anything real to say!)

    BUT. I get that for many, the online system is the only way to get that degree. Maybe you’re already pastoring a church somewhere, and you can’t leave those churches. Or maybe the only way to pay for that education, is by keeping your job, that your family is depending on, and it wouldn’t be feasible to pack up and move to the middle of nowhere, to get an education.

    So I really appreciate the way my seminary handled that- by requiring that a third of the credit hours for each degree be completed on-campus, even if you were a primary student of the EXL campus. Since this is the case, they have expanded the number of classes offered in a one-week, weekend, two-week intensive classroom setting.

    The online classroom CAN be great– you gain most of your knowledge/education through reading texts. But an important part of pastoring, is being with the people. And you simply cannot be with people behind a computer screen.

    KL

    • Great stuff, Kelly; thanks for such a detailed response. Having graduated seminary before anyone but Al gore knew there was an internet, I have not experienced such online learning.

      I share with you the great value of community, and know it cannot happen the same way online as face-to-face. I wonder, though, how our understanding of these different dynamics will change as more and more of us will have grown up as indigenous netizens.

      Your suggestion of the benefit of online coursework for those serving as pastors is interesting to me, as in my experience actually serving as pastor was every bit as much a learning experience as was seminary.

    • Great stuff, Kelly; thanks for such a detailed response. Having graduated seminary before anyone but Al gore knew there was an internet, I have not experienced such online learning.

      I share with you the great value of community, and know it cannot happen the same way online as face-to-face. I wonder, though, how our understanding of these different dynamics will change as more and more of us will have grown up as indigenous netizens.

      Your suggestion of the benefit of online coursework for those serving as pastors is interesting to me, as in my experience actually serving as pastor was every bit as much a learning experience as was seminary.

  2. Ah yes, I agree. In many ways, seminary doesn’t at all give you what you need, in order to become an effective (to use your buzzword) pastor. It gives you the theological knowledge. But it doesn’t teach you how to say, be an administrator, how to engage with people and really be their PASTOR, and a myriad of other things that you can really only learn, by being on the job.

    Perhaps a better way to have worded it would be, “for pastors already serving somewhere, and whose denominations require a seminary training, the online classroom is a great option.”

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