NEW ORLEANS (BP) – New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees have approved a number of academic initiatives likely to have a worldwide reach.
The board approved three online undergraduate certificate programs and four online graduate certificate programs. In addition, three new graduate certificates will combine online and traditional classroom training.
One church-based undergraduate certificate program also was approved during an April 15 trustee meeting.
NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said the online certificates were designed primarily for individuals who cannot attend a residential seminary campus, such as church planters and missionaries in both North America and internationally.
“Our aim is to make theological education accessible to anyone in the world, wherever God leads them to serve,” Lemke said.
The undergraduate online initiatives include certificates in Christian ministry, biblical studies and biblical ministry. Though designed for students not enrolled in other types of seminary training, the courses can be applied to later theological training. The courses in each of the 18-hour certificates are fully transferable into a bachelor of Christian ministry program available through the seminary’s Leavell College.
“The online certificates provide a great opportunity to make short-term training available for every person with access to the Internet around the world,” said Thomas Strong, dean of Leavell College. “These certificates are designed to encourage those seeking initial preparation as well as those who want to be strengthened in their current ministry positions.
“We are excited to join hands with the local church to aid in preparing their leaders, particularly in Sunday School, to grow in their effectiveness as they fulfill God’s calling upon their lives,” Strong said.
The four Internet-based master’s-level initiatives, meanwhile, include certificates in Greek studies, Hebrew studies, biblical languages and biblical studies. The certificates range from 17 to 19 hours of course work (six courses). Up to half of the Internet-based courses may be transferred into one of the seminary’s master’s degree programs.
The Greek and Hebrew graduate certificates provide an introductory language course, an intermediate language course and two advanced exegesis courses in the particular biblical language. The biblical languages certificate provides an introductory Greek grammar course, an introductory Hebrew grammar course and one exegesis course in each language. The biblical studies certificate focuses on biblical backgrounds and history and provides Old and New Testament exegesis courses in English.
In addition to aiding individuals who do not have access to theological training in their area, Lemke noted that the certificates in biblical languages can benefit individuals who have earned a seminary master’s degree without courses in biblical languages. The certificates also could help those who are considering entering seminary at a later date.
The additional graduate certificates in theological and historical studies, pastoral ministry and leadership, and practical church leadership combine online learning with training classroom learning in a “hybrid” program offering more flexibility than classroom-only programs. These certificates range from 17 to 28 hours of course work.
In addition to the online and hybrid certificates, trustees approved a church-based biblical ministry certificate on the undergraduate level to provide development of lay leaders.
The ability of the seminary’s faculty to offer online courses arose in part when Hurricane Katrina made the New Orleans campus inaccessible for many months. NOBTS President Chuck Kelley told trustees that, while he will never say that Katrina was a good thing, he has seen God redeem and use the tragedy. The time away from campus forced the seminary to look for new ways of training students.
“Katrina has taught us that it is possible for us to deliver some form of theological education to any God-called man or woman on the face of the earth,” Kelley said. “With the Internet, we have an opportunity to provide theological education to people who thought that [training] was impossible to get.”
During the hurricane’s aftermath, NOBTS professors redesigned their courses for the Internet. Kelley said this “outside-the-box” thinking helped the seminary understand the possibilities and the limitations of Internet learning.
Online learning initiatives, Kelley said, are not designed for current seminary students but rather for those who have no other training options. He said individuals benefiting from the online initiatives will include missionaries serving overseas, pastors in newer work areas of the Southern Baptist Convention and bivocational pastors.
“Our great concern is making theological education as accessible as possible to as many people as possible,” Kelley said. “This is filling in the gaps for people for whom traditional theological education is not available.”
In other action, the board re-elected Rudy Gray, pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., as chairman. Craig Campbell, an insurance company owner from Russellville, Ark., was re-elected as vice chairman and Phil Hanberry, owner of Hanco Corporation, was re-elected as secretary-treasurer.
The trustees also:
— approved a budget of $19,540,305 for the coming fiscal year.
— approved as certificate teaching sites: Treasure Coast and Royal Palm Baptist associations in Florida; First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla.; and Community Bible Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.