It is the task of the Commission on Education for Christian Ministry to encourage all who are called to some form of Christian ministry to use every opportunity to prepare themselves for effective service. This includes not only those who are called to vocational ministry in the life of the church but also lay persons who live out their faith in a secular context while seriously engaging in the life and mission of the church. In twenty-first century America this preparation ought to include some college work and preferably a four year college degree. The opportunities to achieve that educational goal are available now as never before.
As early as 1950 at least one conference in our convention required two years of college for ordination to vocational ministry. At that time our Convention had no college but there were many other church colleges in this state where one could receive such preparation and some who felt called to serve as pastors were determined to graduate from college. The availablility of higher education has increased dramatically since those days. The establishment of Mount Olive College (now University of Mount Olive) is part of the rapid development of institutions of higher education in North Carolina in the last sixty years. Still, not one of our conferences has taken the necessary action to make graduation from college an absolute requirement for ordination to vocational ministry. The Cape Fear Conference has come closest to that goal. In its 2010 session it approved the report of its ordaining council which included the following: “Motion was moved, seconded and passed to strongly encourage all future Licensed Ministry candidates to seek a four year degree or program.” We wonder why the ordaining councils are so hesitant to embrace this idea of requiring candidates for vocational ministry to complete a four year college degree, which will enable them to develop better communication skills - reading, writing, and speaking. Pastors today need more knowledge and skills than was expected of them two or more generations ago since most of them are now serving full-time churches rather than the part-time churches of an earlier generation. Churches today expect more of their pastors and the level of education of the laity in our churches has certainly increased during the last sixty years. One way by which to increase the level of education among our pastors is for the churches to insist upon it. Another way is for those who are called to vocational ministry to examine themselves as to whether or not they are fully prepared to do the work of ministry in our time and place that the Great Shepherd expects of them.
We now have a fully accredited program of study for those preparing for vocational ministry at our college in Mount Olive with similar programs at New Bern and Washington, North Carolina. The Commission has also discussed with the chair of the department of religion the possibility of offering a certificate program in Christian Education for laypersons serving the churches in some capacity. In addition, our college has an agreement with Campbell University Divinity School whereby OFWB students are eligible to receive a special partnership grant of $75 per semester hour and may be considered for scholarship assistance available through the Divinity School’s Scholarship Program. They can also apply for scholarship assistance through the NC Foundation for Christian Ministries.
The Commission works closely with the NC Foundation to encourage OFWBs to take full advantage of opportunities to prepare themselves for effective ministry. Figures obtained from the office of the Foundation reveal that a total of 38 students have received financial aid. Six of these were undergraduate students at UMO and one at Barton College. The others were enrolled at graduate seminaries and divinity schools, a majority at Campbell Divinity School. The total amount of funds for scholarships provided by the Foundation since 2006 is $178,074.88. We are very pleased that in recent years many who are called have seized the opportunity to continue their education in graduate seminaries and divinity schools.
During the past year the Commission has invited representatives of two of our denominational ministries to meet with us to discuss their programs and to ask how we might assist them in their work. They are the Free Will Baptist Press and the Sunday School Ministry. It is our hope that the personnel of all of our ministries will recognize the important contribution that higher education can make toward the achievement of their objectives.
The Commission members include: Dr. Michael Pelt, Chair; Dr. Tommy Benson, Secretary; Rev. Dr. John Hill; Rev. Stephen Prescott; Ms. Marci Rollins-Smart; Rev. Josh Whitfield.