NEW ORLEANS – In an effort to make theological education more accessible, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) trustees approved three fully online graduate degrees during their fall meeting Oct. 9.
The board also voted to launch a new master’s degree extension center, a doctoral teaching site and four certificate training sites.
Until recently the main accrediting agency for seminaries and divinity schools, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in the United States and Canada, had not accredited fully online degrees. In a historic move this summer, ATS voted to approve online delivery for narrow types of graduate degrees. The three degrees approved by the NOBTS trustees, the master of arts (biblical studies), the master of arts (theology) and the master of theological studies, fit the ATS requirements for online degrees.
“We have a passion to make theological education both useful and accessible,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said after the meeting. “With the decision of our accrediting agency to allow entirely online degrees, we are now able to add these options to our ministry training cafeteria.”
Kelley reiterated the seminary’s commitment to offer a wide range of training options designed to fit the needs of God-called men and women. He said the seminary hopes to continue developing new accessible training options.
Two of the degrees, the master of arts (biblical studies) and the master of arts (theology), already are offered at NOBTS in a traditional classroom format. Many of the courses currently are available online and since ATS has already approved NOBTS to offer these degrees, the seminary can begin offering an online-only version immediately.
The MA (biblical studies) and MA (theology) degrees are not for everyone. They are advanced degrees and require significant prerequisites to qualify, including an earned undergraduate religion degree. Because of its rigorous academic quality, it is designed to prepare students for doctor of philosophy studies.
The third online degree option, the master of theological studies (MTS), is a different type of degree. It focuses on general biblical, theological and historical knowledge and is designed to offer a basic level of training where no other option exists. NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said the degree was developed for missionaries, pastors in pioneer areas and church planters who are far from a seminary or a seminary extension center. Lemke emphasized that the degree is not a replacement for more comprehensive ministry training degrees like the master of divinity. The MTS does not qualify students for doctor of ministry or doctor of philosophy studies without significant academic leveling work, Lemke said.
The MTS degree is new at NOBTS and will require ATS approval before it can be offered. Seminary officials hope to obtain approval in time for a fall 2013 launch.
Trustees also approved a revision in the urban ministry specialization in the master of divinity program to provide more options for students to receive practical urban missions training through internships and mentoring.
In other curriculum actions, trustees approved a partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi which will allow NOBTS students to be dually enrolled in a seminary degree plus, through USM, a master of social work (MSW) degree.
The seminary has been working for years to establish its own MSW program. While it will take several more years and significant funding to establish a program at NOBTS, the partnership opens the door for NOBTS students to earn the MSW degree that is required for licensure in social work. Pending final approval by USM administrators, NOBTS students will receive priority acceptance to the USM program and will be able to take courses at the university’s Hattiesburg, Miss., campus on Mondays or on Monday and Tuesday evenings at USM’s Gulfport, Miss., campus.
A partnership with William Carey University, a Baptist college in Mississippi, also was approved to offer alternative teacher certification courses on the NOBTS campus. While the program will be conducted by WCU, NOBTS students or their spouses will now have the opportunity to obtain a teaching license during their time at seminary and will receive a significant discount in tuition from WCU. This will assist bivocational ministers and church planters by supplementing their income from small churches.
Trustees approved a new graduate extension center in Olive Branch, Miss., a doctor of ministry/doctor of educational ministry training site in Spartanburg, S.C., and four new certificate training sites.
Longview Heights Baptist Church will host the graduate center in northwest Mississippi just south of the Memphis, Tenn., metro area. A group of pastors in that area requested NOBTS to provide training, offering both the standard master of divinity and the newly revised urban missions specialization.
First Baptist Church in Spartanburg will host the new doctor of ministry and doctor of educational ministry training site. Classes will be delivered to the Spartanburg site through compressed interactive video (CIV). Kelley said these degree programs help pastors and church staffers hone their ministry skills and promote excellence in ministry.
“The professional doctoral program at our seminary is designed for pastors and church staff members who want to kick their ministry up a notch by strengthening and enhancing their ministry skills and knowledge,” Kelley said. “We are grateful for a new partnership with Dr. Don Wilton and the people of First Baptist Spartanburg. When the seminary and the local church work together, everyone wins.”
Two new certificate sites in Florida will offer the church leadership certificate. The Pasco Baptist Association site will meet at two locations, the associational office in Lutz, and Lighthouse Baptist Church in Holiday. The other Florida certificate training site is hosted by the Church by the Glades in Coral Springs.
Trustees also approved two Georgia certificate training sites – one at New Calvary Baptist Church in Atlanta and another at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Jonesboro – to offer the church leadership certificate.
Trustees voted to approve the next step in the development of the seminary’s archaeology program. Thus far, NOBTS has excavated the Gezer Water System through partnerships with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. To obtain its own permit and to meet credentialing standards for the Israel Antiquities Authority, NOBTS must establish a partnership with an archaeology lab. To that end, NOBTS trustees approved a plan to seek a cooperative agreement with the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University. The non-binding agreement, pending approval by Mississippi State, will include access to the lab at the Cobb Institute and opens the opportunity for future training and research collaborations between the two schools.
Kelley announced the three appointments during the meeting. Jody Dean, instructor in Christian education, will serve on the faculty as a presidential appointment. Norris Grubbs was appointed to serve as associate provost for extension centers and enrollment management and Ron Pate will serve as director of the seminary’s Birmingham extension center.
Dean, a current NOBTS doctor of philosophy student, brings significant church ministry experience to his new role. Before coming to NOBTS at the start of the fall semester, Dean served as minister of students at First Baptist Church in McComb, Miss. He earlier had served in various church and ministry roles before joining the FBC McComb staff in 2009. He also served as an adjunct faculty member for the seminary’s Leavell College.
“Mr. Dean has demonstrated his ability to effectively lead in the classroom environment during the years he has been at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and as such is an excellent choice as a presidential appointment,” said Bob Welch, chairman of NOBTS’ division of Christian education ministries. “He is the first faculty selection that has completed all his post-secondary work at NOBTS and will bring to the Christian education division a unique perspective of that odyssey as well as the multiple ministry positions he has held during that time.”
Trustees also approved initial planning for construction of a 3,500-square-foot homeschool/community building. The administration may now commission an architect and begin feasibility studies for proposed locations. Trustees will give final approval on the design, location and the cost of the building at a later meeting.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)