In October of 2004 in his great grace, God saved me. From the moment God saved me, he gave me a seemingly unquenchable thirst for his Word. I have never been able to understand Christians who spend little to no time reading and studying the Bible. The more I studied, the more I wanted to learn, and the more I wanted to teach others what I was learning. In July of 2005, I began to feel an overwhelming desire to teach, shepherd, and minister to God’s people. I suppose this is what most people refer to when they speak of being “called” to the ministry.
I wasn’t really sure what this meant for me, a man who was in his late twenties, working a job that required 72-80 hour work weeks. I knew that for most people, being “called” meant that you then needed to go to school, acquire a few degrees, then going to pastor a church. This seemed near impossible to me. One, there was the job I just mentioned. Secondly, people would think I was crazy. Not only was I a semi new Christian, but I was also very introverted and struggled with a stutter. People would tell me there was no way I was called to preach. Thirdly, I had made terrible financial decisions and acquiring more debt while dropping a pretty well paying job didn’t seem very logical. So, I did what I thought I should and just ignored this overwhelming feeling. I read the Bible as often as I could, read books by great theologians past and present, and tried to educate myself as best as I could. I wasn’t sure what would come of it, as far as ministry went, but I still had the desire to know as much about God as possible. I also sought out every opportunity to share with others what I was learning. Sometimes to their delight, other times, not so much.
In October of 2005 I fell head over heels in love with a pretty redhead and her son. We both knew very quickly we were in love and were engaged exactly three months later on January 1st of 2006. We married, bought a house, and began a family very quickly. Still this feeling of being “called” never really went away. My wife knew about it, but she like me wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Not only did we already have plenty of debt, but we also had a growing family, and were rather short on time.
In God’s providence, he took us to a small church plant and helped us get involved there. I felt a connection with the pastor, and for the first time confided in someone outside of my little circle my desire and feeling of being called to the ministry. Much to my relief he was very supportive, and took me under his wing and mentored me. He gave me the opportunity to teach the children in the church as well as preach several times. He taught me much about theology and introduced me to many great theologians and books. Through this Pastor’s preaching, teaching, mentoring, and encouragement I gained confidence in my calling. I learned how to preach (though that is always a work in progress) and I gained a deeper knowledge of the scriptures. Education was still a desire, but it still seemed like an impossibility. My pastor encouraged me to pursue it, but I suppose I was still fearful and didn’t see how it was possible.
Fast forward a few years, and I was introduced to a mature Godly man who also took me under his wing and encouraged me in my gifts. I was fortunate to serve with him in ministry, and learned much about how to pastor and how to preach by watching his example. He too encouraged me to pursue further education, though again I never did see how it was a possibility.
This blog is already getting longer than I want it to be, and I could give several other details that might give you insight into my journey, but to make a long story short, for 9 years now I have had the desire to pastor and preach God’s word. Through God’s grace I have been given opportunities to do this. Still, as one who lacks formal training the opportunities to be in ministry as a vocation are limited. I’ve also had a desire to pursue formal training, and have been close to taking the leap many times, but I never could make myself follow through.
Recently, this desire has returned in full force. I suppose a big part of it is the fact that I have finally come to the conclusion I am not getting any younger. I’m a couple of months from my 36th birthday. Perhaps I am feeling a bit of “now or never” syndrome. I discussed with my wife these feelings, and she told me to do the research, figure out what I needed to do, and we would make it work. Her support has been an unbelievable blessing.
So this is what I did. I researched. The ability to do class from home was key. There is no way I can travel for school. Both my wife and I work, we have bills, and we are expecting our sixth child. Travel is not an option. At the same, just like it has always been, finances are an issue. Also, time is an issue. Not just the ability to get the work done, but I don’t really want to be in my 40’s still pursuing an undergrad degree.
I looked into Liberty University. They have a great online program. I know many people who have gone there and done well. I even applied there and was accepted. I was very close to going through with it. However the more I thought about it, I realized that at the pace I’d be able to go I’d be looking at probably six years to attain a bachelor degree. This wasn’t very appealing to me. The main issue however is the fact that even with financial aid, I would be acquiring a ton of debt. This too wasn’t a very appealing prospect. This is all simply to attain a bachelor degree, and unfortunately most churches require at least a Masters degree, and preferably a Master of Divinity, which is at least a three year program. This too piles on more debt.
I looked into Southeastern College/Theological Seminary which is pretty much theological royalty in this area. Chances are if you pastor a Baptist church in North Carolina, this is where you went to school. While being somewhat cheaper than Liberty, they don’t offer the same financial aid, and online they only offer an Associate of Divinity, and several Master Degree programs. Again, we are still faced with the same problems. Time and money.
I investigated many other schools, but almost all of them shared these same issues.
In the course of my research though, I came across a little school in Georgia called Andersonville Theological Seminary. I’d heard of them before, and had thought about asking for more info, but never did go through with it. I did an online search of their programs and the quality of the school. There were mixed results. Some people speak very highly of them, while others dismiss them completely. I did find someone who mentioned that the credits from this school would transfer to other schools. So I sent out emails to every major bible college and seminary that I am even remotely interested in to see whether or not they would indeed accept credits/degrees from Andersonville. Much to my delight, none of the schools I inquired of said they would not consider me or a degree from Andersonville. There were some stipulations with some of the schools, but still I would be considered based upon my abilities to do the coursework. I even found a couple of very reputable schools who said they had no issues whatsoever accepting credits and degrees from Andersonville. This was very encouraging for me. Just as encouraging to me, was the fact that in my research, I found several Andersonville graduates that currently serve as professors and faculty at many bible colleges and seminaries, including some very respected schools, Baptist and otherwise.
After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take the leap and sign up for classes from Andersonville Theological Seminary. The major benefit is of course cost. I can attain both an Associate and a Bachelor degree at a fraction of the cost for what I could at another school. Also, Andersonville allows me the opportunity to do the course work at my own pace. I can go as fast or as slow as I want to and am able. I figure if I apply myself, I will also be able to attain a Bachelor degree in a fraction of the time it would take me to at one of the other bigger or more traditional schools.
Like I said, the reviews are mixed from what I’ve read online about the programs at Andersonville. Some have even gone so far as to call it a degree mill. Let me say this, I am currently on my third course from Andersonville, and they are most definitely not a degree mill. I have been pleasantly surprised by the courses, as they have challenged me, and I have already learned much. At times, I have even caught myself wishing the classes were a little fluffier so that I could move through the program faster…I’m partially kidding.
I realize the level of coursework I’m doing probably isn’t the same as what I might be doing at Southeastern, or one of the other bigger schools, and I also realize that some people may not take my degree from Andersonville seriously. Some might snicker that I am doing an online preacher college that only uses the King James Bible. I’ve weighed the options and the pros and cons. I’ve sought the counsel of some very mature and Godly friends whom I respect very much. The best advice I received was that I will get out of the school and degree what I put into it. I think this is true. I was recently reading a biography on Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer. I read about how due to his circumstances and his station in life, he wasn’t able to go to the respected schools of his day. He was forced to go to the schools that the elite tended to thumb their noses at. Obviously, the schools Isaac Watts attended aren’t Andersonville Theological Seminary. Obviously I’m not Isaac Watts, but I do see some parallels in our situations.
Therefore, I have decided this is what is best for me and my family at this time. Once I complete my Associate and Bachelor Degree from Andersonville, I hope to enroll at one of the other more “reputable/respected” schools to pursue my Masters Degree and hopefully at some point an M.Div. Who knows where the Lord will take me, but at this time these are my long term educational goals.
Stay tuned, perhaps I will blog more about my educational journey in the future.