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Planning for Ministry and Still Unsure about Where to Go to College?

Let me give you my recommendation.
Planning for Ministry and Still Unsure about Where to Go to College?
Image: Brendan Jones

Choosing a college can be a daunting task.

If you are going into ministry, you don’t just have to decide the college, but you have to decide the type of college. And there are all kids of options out there.

You have to consider majors, locations, costs, student activities, school reputation and more in order to make one of the biggest decisions of your life. It was a while ago, but I remember making that decision myself. And, then making it with my daughters not too long ago.

But, if God is calling you to ministry, there’s a whole new set of questions you will likely ask yourself. You’ll be considering the school’s view of Scripture, denominational affiliation, areas of expertise, and how your time spent in college will be used for kingdom purposes.

Since I blog here at The Exchange, let me share my thoughts on why you should consider Wheaton College for your undergraduate degree.

First, Wheaton College is continually ranked one of the top colleges in national publications both in academics and affordability. With its long history of training some of the world’s most known religious leaders like the late evangelists Billy and Ruth Graham and missionaries Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Wheaton College has demonstrated its commitment to educational excellence and solid Christian values.

That’s one of the reasons I love working here.

If you are planning to go into ministry, let me also tell you about the degree in the school where I serve as dean. It is the B.A. in Christian Formation and Ministry.

So, here are some reasons to choose a Christian school, and some reasons to consider studying with us.

First, I think there is value in studying at an evangelical school.

When you’re deciding if a Christian college is a good fit for you, you have to think about the school’s mission and vision to make sure it aligns with your convictions regarding the calling God has placed on your life.

I studied at a school affiliated with my denomination. It was a good experience and it can be a good choice.

Wheaton is a evangelical school where we’re working to show Christ in every aspect of our lives, and we’re gearing students up to make Christ known wherever they go after graduation. Your professors will not only teach you the practical elements of a subject, but also how God plays a role in that subject in your everyday life and career.

By studying at Wheaton, you’ll also be surrounded by like-minded students, faculty, and staff in regard to their evangelical faith, but also different backgrounds and ideas from their own tradition, culture, and spiritual journey.

Second, I think there is value is studying in a multi-denominational school.

At Wheaton College you’ll learn from some of the top evangelical scholars. Like at many other top Christian schools, the faculty are experts in their fields with countless hours of research, methodologies, and best practices that spread across different evangelical denominations.

As a multi-denominational school, the students, faculty, and staff bring a wide array of experiences and passions that can challenge and equip you for ministry in the future. The deep discussions and dialogue you will have at Wheaton will stretch your views and understanding, and give you a better picture of our society outside of your own tribe or denomination.

I recently interviewed Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church and a current graduate student at Wheaton. This is what he had to say about studying at an inter-denominational school, when many might have assumed he would have studied just in his own theological stream:

I think it's a massive plus. To me, that was one of the things that was most exciting about this. For 20 years I have devoured just about everything I could in my stream. And whether I agree with everything or don't agree with anything, I can talk about it. I can critique it, apply it, take it apart, and put it back together. Now I get to interact with different ideas than my predominant stream, and that's a plus.

Read the full interview here.

Third, I think it is helpful to study in a liberal arts context.

I explained in a recent article that,

I’m increasingly convinced that if you are going to pastor a congregation in many places, particularly in a well-educated context, you would do well to consider a liberal arts education before you go to seminary.

By studying a liberal arts degree, you get the experience (at Wheaton and at similar schools):

  • Smaller class sizes
  • Dedicated faculty who invest in student’s lives
  • Christ-centered values and teaching
  • Emphasis on spiritual formation and growth

These are all important distinctives to consider when choosing a college. College helps form our critical thinking abilities, as well as our views of society and the world. The liberal arts push us out of our comfort zone of conformed thought processes and into a deeper and wider understanding of truth. The liberal arts can also challenge our political and religious thought, while at the same time show us the artistic beauty of God’s design.

As I wrote in another article,a liberal arts college degree is not for everyone. Actually, college is not for everyone. But, it should be a consideration if you are going to teach, preach, or lead a congregation with members in multiple spheres of society.”

Every family needs to consider the costs and value in their educational decisions. But, if you can, consider a Christian liberal arts education. It might be a valuable part of your training.

Finally, and most personally from me, you can engage our Christian Formation and Ministry program.

Our Christian Formation and Ministry degree was specifically designed to prepare Christians for a variety of jobs and opportunities in ministry. Students develop skills in biblical understanding, teaching, counseling, and discipleship. To grow in these areas, they will study with an amazing and world class faculty.

Our course work involves both inward focus to strengthen your own walk with Christ (spiritual practices and spiritual discernment) and an outward focus (teaching, discipleship, and care and compassion).

After completing the degree, our students have gone directly into ministry positions in churches, national and international ministry, teaching positions, and missions with NGOs. They’ve also gone on to complete M.A. degrees in the Wheaton Graduate School programs and M.Divs at seminaries.

Our strong desire is to prepare ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for whatever context He calls them. Reaching all for the gospel is a core component of our vision and mission.

Dine with the Dean.

Before I close, let me introduce “Dine with the Dean” that starts in the fall. This is a new way that I’m excited about connecting with our students and wanted to share with you!

Now that I am serving as the dean of the new School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership, our Christian Formation and Ministry undergraduate major is part our school. And, as a new dean, I want to pour into those students.

So, starting this fall, I will be setting aside time each month to have lunch with our Christian Formation and Ministry students at our cafeteria. I want to hear how things are going and want you to be able to share and connect with me and other students. It will be an informal time to get to know one another, learn about what God is doing, and more.

So, pray as the Lord leads as you think about where to study. We’ve all been called and challenged with the same task: to know Christ and advance his Gospel to the nations. If we can help, we’d love to be a part of that journey.

I am convinced that to lead well is to prepare well!

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Lorenzo Pablo contributed to this article.

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