The Opened Bible Academy: Bringing Seminary to Church

The Opened Bible Academy: Bringing Seminary to Church August 17, 2023

Pastors, have you ever wanted your church members and volunteer leaders to have a more thorough theological foundation? We need more than adults who have never moved past the Bible stories and moral lessons found in children and youth ministries. We need leaders who know their Bibles, their orthodox theology, and practical ways to live and model mature spirituality.

The answer is not “send everyone to seminary.” But what if the seminary could come to you? For free?! Let me introduce you to the Opened Bible Academy (OBA), a robust program for lay (non-professional) church leaders. Board member and instructor Rick Hale spoke with me to explain what the organization offers and to describe why it is attractive to pastors, in particular.

What is the Opened Bible Academy (OBA)?

OBA is an academic institution that offers free seminary-style Bible and theology classes, taught by seminary graduates, to anyone who wants to take them. Not only are OBA classes free, but students are also provided with free textbooks, so the total cost to the student of attending OBA is $0. Our first classes began in 2015. We offer in-person classes in Houston, Dallas, the Diboll Correctional Facility, and Ireland, as well as live virtual (i.e., not recorded) classes. We currently have approximately 230 students and 345 alumni, including 31 men who completed our Foundations Certificate at the Diboll Correctional Facility. Although 230 students sounds small, that headcount makes us larger than two-thirds of the seminaries in the U.S.

Rick Hale, OBA board member

What courses does Opened Bible Academy offer?

Our comprehensive curriculum consists of ten courses. The first three courses are foundational courses and include Story of the Bible, Bible Study Methods, and Basic Theology. The remaining seven courses cover all sixty-six books of the Bible. In addition to these ten courses, all students take one-day workshops. Students planning to attend Bible college or seminary after graduating from OBA take workshops in writing and research. All other students choose between Effective Bible Teaching and Evangelism.

What kind of time commitment is it?

Each course lasts eight weeks and meets one night weekly for two hours. Students take one course per quarter, so it generally takes two and one-half years to complete the ten-course curriculum. Students spend two hours per week in class and several hours outside of class completing required reading, projects and studying for exams.

Who teaches the classes?

OBA instructors have earned a minimum of a Master of Arts from an accredited seminary. They volunteer their time to serve OBA’s students. It is noteworthy that OBA does not pay its instructors because it means the instructors teach simply because they love to teach and love the students. In 2017, OBA was invited by Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) to offer its certificate programs at DTS’ Lay Institute. To honor the tradition at the Lay Institute, OBA uses DTS students (under the supervision of a seminary graduate) to teach classes. Most OBA classes are co-taught by two instructors. In addition to instructors, each class includes an OBA graduate who serves as a Community Classroom Leader (CCL) to foster community and model discipleship. CCLs serve the same cohort for the full 2 ½ year program.

You don’t pay your instructors. Explain why they are so willing to volunteer their time.

I can only speak for myself, but I feel quite confident every instructor would answer this question in a similar way to how I answer it. When I started teaching at OBA in 2018, I was unsure I had an interest in teaching. Though somewhat skeptical, I agreed to teach a course. Within a couple of months, I realized I absolutely loved the students I taught. The highlight of my week was being with my students. Our students are not at OBA to acquire a credential that would qualify them for a new vocational ministry job. Instead, they are at OBA for the very simple reason that they want to increase their knowledge of God and learn how to serve Him and their church better.

Most of our students will tell you they wanted to attend seminary or Bible college most of their adult lives but could not overcome the financial obstacle of doing so. They are incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to study God’s Word in depth. As an instructor, I get a front-row seat to watch the dedication and growth of our students. I also get to see them love and serve each other in very significant ways. So, while I receive no monetary remuneration for teaching, I would argue I am overpaid.

What sort of students do you have? Where do they come from geographically and background-wise? 

Most, but not all, OBA students have had some college; some are college graduates, and some have advanced degrees. What all OBA students have in common is a desire to serve their families, communities and churches better. They are at OBA to become better equipped lay leaders. Many students are Sunday school teachers or small group leaders that simply want to increase their knowledge of Scripture. Instructors frequently hear stories from OBA students about utilizing something they learned one week at OBA in a class they taught the following week at their church. OBA also has a lot of bi-vocational pastors that go through our program. Historically, our students have come primarily from locations where we offer in-person classes. COVID-19 resulted in OBA offering live virtual classes and has enabled students from anywhere to enroll.

Where do you find instructors?

Finding OBA instructors is one of the most fun things I get to do because I meet so many interesting and dedicated believers. A lot of our instructors are referred to us by other instructors or volunteers. As a DTS alum, I sometimes find instructors utilizing their alumni directory. Other people hear about us and inquire about teaching. There are a surprising number of seminary graduates who are not in vocational ministry. Frequently, these graduates are under-utilized by their churches and are thrilled at an opportunity to teach what they were so fortunate to have studied in seminary.

Are you affiliated with any denomination?

No, we are independent. OBA has approximately sixty active instructors (taught within the last year). Those active instructors collectively have degrees from eight different seminaries. The teaching at OBA focuses on Scripture with the understanding that we are supplementing the broader teaching of the pastors where our students attend church.

Opened Bible Academy graduates
OBA students at the Diboll Correctional Facility

You have both live virtual classes and in-person classes. Where do the in-person classes meet?

Our in-person classes meet in various churches scattered throughout Houston and Dallas, plus at the Diboll correctional facility. Our host churches generously allow us to use one or two of their classrooms, one night each week.

Since you don’t charge tuition, where does your funding come from?

We have a lot of generous donors, many who have been with us for a long time. Several churches have also been generous with us. For the past few years, we’ve been the beneficiary of a grant from the Stoller Foundation, who not only has supported us financially but has also been gracious with their time and expertise and has helped us become a better institution. Last, but certainly not least, we get a lot of donations from our graduates who are appreciative of the opportunity they had to learn for free and want others to have that same opportunity.

How does a church and/or pastor benefit from OBA?

While our mission is to teach others, we understand the most effective way to accomplish that mission is to work in partnership with local pastors to increase biblical literacy in their churches. As students increase their understanding of Scripture, they become more confident church leaders and teachers. Pastors in our host churches tend to love us. Frequently, they are the ones asking us to begin another cohort in their church because they have seen the impact formal biblical education has had on their members who have attended OBA.

For instance, A. W. Colbert pastors Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Galveston. Our first Galveston cohort included some of his church leaders. Now that these leaders have graduated from OBA, Pastor Colbert is very vocal about telling anyone who will listen that OBA trained his entire lay staff—and did not charge him or anyone else one penny to do so. Macedonia became, and has remained, one of OBA’s largest institutional donors. Pastor Colbert joined the OBA board a couple of years ago.

What do your graduates say about their experience at OBA?

Our graduates’ reflections on their time at OBA have caused us to use the tagline, “Transforming Hearts, Changing Lives.” Here are some quotes from recent OBA graduates:

“I do not know if there is enough space to share how OBA is impacting my life. First, there is intense hunger to know and understand God’s word. My free time is spent listening to the Bible and reflecting, and my decisions are put forth to God first. My sense of urgency to share the Gospel and God’s grace is heightened. I am reminded of how great God’s love is for me and I can’t fathom being loved so much. From a sharing perspective, I am learning to succinctly communicate key messages in a meaningful and impactful way. Most importantly, it has widened my circle of believers. Thank you for investing in me and the work that God has planned for me.  It is truly having an eternal impact on my family and my circle of influence.”

“Since we [she and her husband] started the OBA class, we have been feeling more confident about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing the Unified Redemptive Story of the Bible helps to start conversations that eventually lead to the salvation dialogue. Through this class, we both have had more peace as we now comprehend the sovereignty of God. He has a plan that will happen in His time. Also, this class has imprinted in our hearts to be even more intentional to accelerate the pace in serving others as Jesus Christ did. As a result, we are now leading the Outreach Ministries at (our church) and are bringing several of our OBA classmates into that umbrella to make an impact for time and eternity.”

“OBA continues to empower my husband and me to share biblical truths with our children, our nieces and nephews, our church families within our specific ministries, and with friends!  We are experiencing the power of the Lord as we watch our children and family come to know Him for the first time and watch them work out their salvation with fear and trembling.  We are so thankful and give God ALL the glory!!”

How would a prospective student, instructor, or church contact you?

We are always looking for students, instructors, and partner churches. Prospective students can go to our website and click on ‘admissions’ to sign up for an information session. Pastors, churches, and prospective instructors are encouraged to email us at, and we will respond promptly.

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