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Choosing a Bible College: 4 Factors to Consider

So you want to go to Bible college? Great! Studying scripture and theology can be utterly life-changing. But there are a lot of Bible colleges, schools, and institutions out there to choose from. And there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which one to choose. So while weighing up your options, here are four important things to consider: denomination, destination, qualification, and vocation.

1.     Denomination: What’s the best theological fit for me?

Some Bible colleges and theological institutions have a denominational affiliation. It often makes sense to choose a college that aligns with where you see yourself denominationally or theologically. Indeed, some denominations may require that you attend their preferred college in order to serve with them.

On the other hand, going to an interdenominational college may sometimes offer a richer educational experience, stretching you through exposure to theological diversity. So don’t assume that you should go somewhere that will simply affirm everything you already believe. Some people want a Bible school that will just rubber-stamp their pre-existing beliefs. That’s a pity. One of the great gifts of theological study is the chance to engage with ideas, traditions, and people from the wider church outside your own theological bubble. But, in New Zealand, even denominationally affiliated Bible colleges usually warmly welcome Christians from across the spectrum, regardless of denomination.

There’s an x-factor to consider too. Different Bible colleges have their own distinct flavour. Big. Small. Conservative. Progressive. Confessional. Academic. Traditional. Edgy. So ask yourself: Which college feels like “me”?

Moving houses

2.     Destination: Should I move?

Education has changed rapidly in recent decades. With the proliferation of flexible study options, theological study is no longer just for the young and the restless. Family, work, and church commitments don’t need to be a barrier to Bible training any more. A lot of Bible schools now have major online programmes, meaning you can access high quality theological education even if you live out in the wop wops. Plus, staying in your current ministry context lets you apply the classroom theory to real-world ministry instantly that isn’t always possible when you’re far from home.

But if you’re relatively unfettered by ties to a particular place, you might like to consider moving to do a residential programme. It may be old school, but there’s still something special about being in a brick-and-mortar classroom, where you can personally interact with your instructor and classmates. The benefits of this traditional type of education are intangible, but also incalculable. You might even consider broadening your horizons by studying abroad.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to live near a quality theological institution, then you can access their top-notch course offerings while staying in your current context.


3.     Qualification: How advanced do I want to get?

Good news: there’s a lot of flexibility here. Many degree-granting institutions have shorter courses available for those looking for something less time-consuming. That means you can go to a major theological institution without committing to a full degree programme. On the other hand, many diploma courses at non-degree-granting Bible colleges can be cross-credited into a degree at another institution. So you can start in a diploma course at a Bible college and then, if you really like it, finish off an entire degree at another institution. Be aware, however, that the “higher” you want to go, the more important it is that your qualification is accredited (e.g. in New Zealand, you will want to look for NZQA-accreditation).

So what kind of qualification are you seeking—diploma, undergraduate, post-graduate, or maybe doctorate? It’s an important consideration, but even if you change your mind while studying and decide you want more (or less), that’s totally feasible.

4.     Vocation: To what is God calling me?

Perhaps this biggest consideration in choosing a Bible college is vocation. To what is God calling you? Those looking to enter into pastoral ministry often pursue a degree, whether at the undergraduate or post-graduate level. Indeed, some churches or denominations require this of their ministers. The breadth and depth of a degree in theology and ministry will provide a solid foundation for years of effective service as a leader in the church.

But Bible or theological study isn’t just for those heading into professional ministry, i.e. those training to be pastors or parachurch leaders. Any legitimate career or calling—whether politician, stay-at-home-parent, nurse, farmer, or CEO—may be “ministry” and the church badly needs leaders in all spheres of society. Therapists, scientists, teachers, social workers, artists, scholars, lawyers, and businesspeople—those heading into these (and other) professions will benefit from having a sturdy theological foundation for their work. Most of these marketplace vocations don’t require a theological qualification, so you’re free to choose a course of study that provides the best overall fit for you.

And that fit will be determined by what you’re looking to get out of your studies. Some Bible colleges may excel in spiritual formation, nurturing your personal faith and helping you to become more Christlike as you study scripture and Christian faith. Other institutions may emphasise academics, giving you a rigorous scholarly education in biblical studies and theology without majoring on personal piety. Some institutions manage to combine both. But, as always, different strokes for different folks.

Conclusion

Big decisions can feel overwhelmingly complex. Choosing a Bible college is no different. But there are four major things to consider:

1.     Denomination: What’s the best theological fit for me?

2.     Destination: Should I move?

3.     Qualification: How advanced do I want to get?

4.     Vocation: To what is God calling me?

I encourage you to make this decision in prayerful consideration and conversation with your Christian community. Yes, this can be a tough choice—but it’s an exciting one. An exhilarating journey into better understanding God, the world, and your place in it awaits!



 

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