I keep my eye out for exciting initiatives and ideas in the Christian community. Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis, MN has recently ramped up its Bethlehem Institute (TBI) to make it Bethlehem College and Seminary. That’s exciting.
One of the answers to FAQ on the new website caught my eye. It relates to a question I constantly turn over in my mind, namely, what the ideal relationship is between the local church and ministry training programs. Check it out:
“11. How much will the Bethlehem College and Seminary degree programs cost?
One of the motivating factors behind Bethlehem College and Seminary is our concern for the increasing costs of education and the increasing amount of debt future pastors, missionaries and Christian leaders are incurring. Our prayer and desire is to be able to provide both undergraduate and graduate degree programs at a fraction of what most institutions of higher learning charge. We are praying toward having our facilities and our core faculty funded by outside donors so that those costs don’t need to be factored into the amount of tuition we charge.Therefore, the program fee for the entire M.Div. program (equivalent to approximately 100+ semester units of graduate study), beginning Fall 2009, will be $14,000. This program cost does not include miscellaneous fees for conferences, required textbooks, housing, and living expenses. Applicants accepted into the M.Div. program will confirm their acceptance with a $200.00 non-refundable deposit, which is applied toward the program cost. Program payment will be due in eight $1,725.00 installments (due September 1 and January 1 of each academic year). Please note that program costs can change without advanced notice.”
Why is this answer significant? Because it touches on one of the most difficult aspects of the traditional mode of theological education, the seminary: its life costs. To go to a seminary requires, oftentimes, that families uproot, seminarians take full-time jobs, and life gets very busy. The model proposed by BCS could go a long way to minimizing the life costs of traditional seminary experiences.
Of course, this model has its own weaknesses, resources not least among them. But I am personally encouraged by this development and hope that it leads to good things for the church of God.