by Dr. Randy Millwood

Did you know the word seminary is actually an agricultural term? It comes from the Latin for seed and essentially refers to the plot &process whereby seeds grow.

My sweet wife is a gardener, so, over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about that world – things that surprisingly relates directly to the question of why you (or anyone) might attend to seminary online!

1. The Richer the Environment, the Healthier the Seed

The soil is crucial! Dark, rich, nutrient packed, aerated soil. That’s the environment in which seeds spring to life.

I taught for over a decade for a brick-and-mortar seminary. So, I know the give-and-take of coffee shop conversations with peers on a similar journey. As wonderful as it can be, there is also a secret weakness to that environment: the absence of a real world perspective.

While it is true that seeds can be manipulated in a laboratory, the setting for which they were made is the real world.

Students who attend seminary online with Rockbridge do still engage in those thought-provoking conversations with people on a similar journey (and not just those of your tribe, but people from around the globe). However, they get to do so while living and serving in the real world – that place where new things actually do spring to life!

In that real world students carry those stimulating dialogs from the laboratory into wisdom-laden coaching sessions with mentors and immediate application in their place of service.

2. The Healthier the Seed, the Healthier the Plant

The seeds themselves come in all shapes and sizes. They can come from healthy or not-so-healthy sources.

For an apple tree, it’s an apple seed. For a tomato plant, it’s a tomato seed. And, for an online seminary, the seed is the curriculum plan.

Rockbridge has carefully and thoughtfully brought together what is often two separate departments at many schools… a truly integrated approach to theology (our thinking about God) and theopraxis (our life in Christ and service in God’s Kingdom).

While apparent at every turn of a Rockbridge learning journey, no place is it more evident than in our core courses – The Theology and Practice of… worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, and discipleship.

Classical, departmental approaches to seminary education are often built on the expertise of excellent faculty. However, the student is left with figuring out exactly how something applies in life and ministry – and often they don’t even get to wrestle with this challenge for years after the content was taught!

The online seminary world of Rockbridge keeps the excellence in faculty. Yet, the courses are shaped so both sides of this unspoken coin (theology and theopraxis) are explored in the same setting. And, as if the course and faculty were not enough, the addition of a field mentor and ministry-setting/project-type assignments alongside of research and reading only serves to enrich the health of that seed!

3. The Healthier the Plant, the Healthier the Fruit

Precisely because online students are integrating their learning and doing so in the rich soil of their place of service, the fruit starts maturing during the seminary journey, not just after you graduate.

Our Rockbridge online seminary students begin their journey (Touchstone) with an intense time of self-discovery, resulting in a learning path with student determined objectives and goals. Then, in the end (Capstone) they reassess those very same items, asking others around them to make that assessment more objective by offering their input.

Through a combination of guided reflection, deepened self-awareness, informed review of ministry-based projects completed, and discovery dialog with those who have watched their lives up close during their seminary journey, our students are able to actually see how they have grown over the course of their seminary journey.

The fruit of an online seminary model are too many to count with any degree of accuracy…

The external – new ideas and strategies for their church or ministry.
The internal – a more life giving walk with Christ.
Worldwide friendships – using small classes you are not a computer I.D., rather a person who engages thorough forum-posts and makes generous responses, helping Rockbridge students build lifelong relationships.
There are even financial benefits – from reasonable tuition to e-books to an online pace that expects ministry-based students to take a term off here or there; the vast majority of our students graduate without incurring student debt.

Healthy environment.
Healthy seed.
Healthy plant.
Healthy fruit.

Each one builds on the other.

An online seminary education gives you an outstanding opportunity to shape “the plot/process where seeds grow” and that, after all, is what seminary is all about.

About the Writer: Dr. Randy Millwood has served as planter, pastor, and in a variety of pastoral staff roles with local churches; as full time Church Health and Spiritual Formation faculty for one of the nation’s largest residential theological seminaries; and as a national Church Growth consultant for a Christian publishing house. He is currently the Team Strategist for Church Strengthening with the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, and an adjunct faculty member in graduate and doctoral programs with several seminaries, including Rockbridge Seminary.