There has been a popular and recurring meme on social media. It is a split-screen image of two guys. On one side is a twenty-something-year-old kid, slouching on a couch. On the other side is a power company employee or telecommunications worker on a telephone pole doing repairs. Each side has its own caption. The “couch-sloucher’s” caption says something like “Went to college for four years, spent $80,000, graduated with a degree in Humanities, can’t get a job and is buried in debt.” The pole-worker’s caption says, “Received vocational training through a trade school, makes $80,000 per year, has a job and is debt-free.”
Are these really the only two choices?
Not long ago, I was shocked to read an article (written by a person in ministry) that questioned the need for Bible colleges. One of the primary complaints was, “What are you going to do with that degree?” He went on to point out that “Most people who do enter the ministry will not pastor large churches, and will probably need to supplement their income.” In other words, he was asking, “How are you going to make a living if all you do is go to Bible college?”
While I picked up that there were some curious beliefs propagated at this gentleman’s college, the theme was really no different than the above-mentioned meme. Why waste your money on Bible college when (a) you may not even get into full-time ministry and will have a worthless degree without having gained any marketable skills, or (b) even if you do enter full-time ministry, you still won’t have any marketable skills for actually making a living?
Here is the problem with this line of thinking. It betrays a growing preoccupation that college is more about making a living than making a life. In other words, college has become more about acquiring marketable skills than bettering the individual so that he can live well. Let me say at the outset that I do not believe that those two ideas (making a living and making a life) are mutually exclusive: it is certainly possible to do both. However, the true purpose of the college experience should be personal betterment, and Bible college is suited to that purpose. (Just consider the purpose of Harvard’s founding.)
With the purpose of personal betterment in mind, here are at least five benefits of attending a Bible college:
- Concentrated Study
Students who attend a solid Bible college will be inundated with daily instruction from the Bible. This kind of systematic and contextual instruction expands the student’s knowledge base tremendously over his time at college. How long would it take for a young person to learn the same material at home via online, or through the regular services of her home church? Certainly, we do not denigrate the faithful teaching ministry of pastors and Sunday school teachers in local churches. I cannot overemphasize that. In fact, it is the same concept of “concentrated study” which operates in local church revival meetings. Besides hearing a different voice (the evangelist), there are multiple services in the week allowing for a greater spiritual impact. The concentrated study that a Bible college provides its students allows them to learn more, more quickly than they otherwise might.
(I have received numerous testimonies from parents about the spiritual growth that they witness in their young people after just a semester at the college. And, students regularly give testimony to their new awareness of concepts and passages that they hear preached while they are home on breaks. The concentrated study also, it would seem, makes better sermon listeners out of students as well.)
- Qualified and Dedicated Instructors
At our small Bible college, I know the qualifications of the teachers we recruit. A Christian school Administrator of forty years, a pastor who served at the same church for over thirty-five years and who now teaches regularly in Bible institutes overseas, and a Christian school teacher of over twenty-five years who is now investing in the next generation of Christian teachers are all part of our adjunct faculty. They hold bachelors and masters degrees and have pursued doctoral work. They are dedicated (in the sense that they feel a personal responsibility), but they are dedicated also in the sense that they teach a very focused subject range. All of this teamwork in one place benefits the students who attend. Plus, their combined years of practical ministry experience affect how they present their subjects, showing students rather than just telling them.
- Guided Maturity
Part of attending a Bible college (as opposed to just taking Bible college classes online) is being a part of its institutional setting. It is within an institutional setting that practical life-skills like time management, interpersonal relationships, self-discipline and self-motivation can be shaped. These life-skills will benefit anyone in the workforce who has them. And, let’s be honest: it takes time to figure out who you are, or even what you should do. A safe, institutional setting can be just what young people need to mature and to develop these skills. (“Praise the Lord we have rules here,” one of my students recently said to me.)
Furthermore, it is in college that lifetime friends and (all things being equal) future spouses will be found. These relationships are a vital component to a student’s self-awareness and maturity. What better place to make these friends and find that spouse than in a controlled environment with likeminded Christians. I know it doesn’t always work out that way, and, in some ways, we may be talking about potential benefits. However, it is a benefit nonetheless.
- Ministerial Variety
At Bible college, there tends to be a variety of ministry opportunities for young people to be involved with. Not only that, but they will meet pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and other visiting instructors that they may not have otherwise met. This connects them to the “larger world” of Christian ministry. Young people who have had this exposure will be even more prepared to help their local church ministry when they return home. As they are “plugged in” to their home church’s ministries, in time they may even be able to bring fresh ideas because of what they learned and saw at Bible college.
- Academic Variety
Courses at Bible college frequently include subjects other than Bible or ministry-related classes. For example, our college includes courses like Basics of Logic, Introduction to Worldviews, Issues: Answers and Ethics, US History, World History, English Grammar, and English Composition. These courses which cover subjects that greatly influence how we think about and interact with our culture are vital for every Christian in our post-Christian era. Even a tradesmen should know his own country’s history, especially if he expects to be a good citizen! Even a UPS driver should have some understanding of his Muslim co-worker’s worldview.
This is why we strongly encourage Christian young people to attend at least one year at a Bible College after high school graduation. (And, I would add “immediately” following high school graduation. Make one year at a Bible college your “gap year” if that’s your plan.) It is the academic variety that a Bible college student can receive that will better prepare him for the cultural engagement he will experience regardless of what he does to make a living. And, this academic variety does not even account for the required reading college students must do: books that they probably otherwise would not have read.
As studies repeatedly show, less than half of college grads actually end up working in their field of study anyway. At the end of the day, we are losing sight of the true purpose of college. The true purpose of college is the betterment of the individual. And, ultimately, as individuals are bettered, this can lead to the betterment of society. Bible college is suited to this purpose, and more Christian parents should be taking advantage of it.