- Richard Jones
Tuition-free Online Bible Colleges: You Get What You Pay For
Author: Richard Jones, Chief Operating Officer, Maritime Christian College
One of the people I admired when I was starting my professional career nearly 40 years ago was my uncle, an entrepreneur who had started many successful small businesses. Whenever I asked him for advice, he would willingly offer his input. But he had a saying that he always used as a caution for me: “free advice is worth what you pay for it”.
There was wisdom in his words. He was telling me that although he was giving me his best advice under the circumstances, if I would have been paying for his advice, I likely would have received something with deeper research, a broader perspective, and more thoughtfulness. These words from my uncle are wise advice that people should heed when they are considering any kind of training to improve their Kingdom impact as a disciple maker.
For the purposes of this blog, I will use the word “student” to describe the person seeking to get more knowledge and practical training on how to be a better disciple of Jesus. But more specifically, I am really identifying a person who wants to get better at being a disciple who makes disciples.
I am also making an assumption that anyone reading this article is interested in exploring whether a higher education format that a person gets from university-level course is right for them. Of course, there are many other options to get training on disciple making that offer a tuition-free online Bible Colleges alternative that doesn’t involve taking a higher education course at all: reading books (starting with the Bible as the “go to” manual on how Jesus did it), watching videos, attending seminars, and getting personal coaching from another disciple. I have personally used all of these options. All of these have their place in a continuum of learning opportunities, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
There is something special, however, about a well-designed and well-delivered higher education course that can accelerate a student’s learning in ways that the other types of learning can’t.
One important factor differentiating a good higher education course is that it requires a level of discipline and critical thinking that is usually absent from almost all the other alternatives. Investing time and effort in a higher education course is a type of spiritual discipline for a student that can create a deep and lasting impression. In a well-designed course, the other students you are interacting with will create a sense of discipline and motivation, in addition to the instructor's input. Regarding critical thinking skills, a great higher education course should accelerate both the pace and depth of learning.
The online higher education option is especially relevant when the student is not close to a local Bible college to attend in-person classes or is not part of a local church where the DNA is one of disciple making and it isn’t being lived out daily in the programs of the church and through the leaders of the church.
So now that I have hopefully made the point about the unique value of higher education courses, let’s turn to an evaluation of the various options for higher education courses.
As a disciple of Jesus who wants to get better at making other disciples by using a higher education framework, there are a wide range of choices. Every choice needs to have a foundation of solid biblical theology that focuses on teaching the core principles of disciple making, as well as a focus on helping the student translate this knowledge into practical application in their life. Every higher education course on disciple making should incorporate these two elements – knowledge plus application – into their approach. Why? Because this is the way Jesus taught his disciples.
Whether the student is taking a tuition-free online Bible college course at an undergraduate level or a paid in-person graduate level degree, I believe there are four attributes a student needs to evaluate in deciding which kind of higher education Bible college course to take:
The type of learning environment a student will be using.
The quality of the course development process that includes biblical theology and practical application.
The quality of the online instructor in providing individualized “coaching”.
The overall value provided by the course in terms of learning outcomes versus cost.
Attribute #1: This first attribute is the type of learning environment a student will be using. The learning environment for courses focusing on disciple making needs to support the “knowledge plus application” foundation that is critical to any effective disciple making course. Maritime Christian College’s Director of Online Learning, Dr. Jerry Scripture, recently wrote a blog post on this topic that you can read here https://www.mccpei.com/post/practical-theology-pathways.
In his blog, Jerry pointed out that there are several approaches to delivering online Bible courses to students. One approach to theological education is taking courses on campus at a college or university. This requires the student to leave the comfort of their home, take time out of their busy schedule to drive to and from campus and be willing to sit to hear in-person lectures from the professors. Generally, there is very little interaction between students and the instructor due to the larger number of students in the class.
A second approach is taking courses through self-paced modules that have minimal instructor interaction. A person c
an work through the modules whenever and wherever they want, but independent learning is just that, learning by oneself. There is nobody to share ideas or discuss the course material with. This is the most common form of free online Bible college course currently available.
Another approach is called blended learning. This is a combination of online learning with weekly live class sessions. Usually there is a specific time the students need to log into the online course room and the instructor presents a lecture on the material. Usually, the classes range from 2-4 hours in duration. The remainder of the course work is completed online in the form of assignments turned in to the instructor. The challenge is when the specific live course time is not compatible with the student’s busy life schedule or there are time zone challenges. With this approach, there remains minimal interaction between the instructor and peers because the live sessions are usually lectures from the instructors with no class discussions.
Maritime Christian College has a unique approach to providing a practical theology learning environment that supports someone in gaining a robust theological foundation and disciple making/ministry leadership practical real-world application. This approach uses blended learning, where the student can study at a time that fits their schedule. But instead of having to log into an online course at a specific time for live interactions, MCC courses engage the student in an ongoing digital dialog with the other students in course as well as the instructor during the week. This dynamic involves discussing a topic based on that week’s material, and allowing every student to post their response. The power of the engagement comes from requiring other students to comment on each others’ posts. MCC has seen this result in extraordinarily rich insights and sharing and the students build powerful relationships from this open, ongoing, and thoughtful weekly exchange.
Attribute #2: The second important attribute is the quality of the course development process. By way of example, I will draw from Dr. Jerry Scripture’s recent blog post to highlight how Maritime Christian College develops our courses. MCC selects course developers who are not
only experts on the theological information but are living out what they are developing in their personal and professional lives. In other words, they have practical theology where they “walk the talk”. It generally takes several months and numerous iterations before the curriculum meets MCC high standards for quality in each of our online theology courses. Before a course is complete, several theological experts and disciple making practitioners r
eview the curriculu
m to ensure the material and course design is interactive and exceeds the course outcomes. They also confirm that the course is engaging, interactive, biblically accurate, and practical to disciple making and ministry leadership. Knowledge and information are important, but applying what students learn to the real-world challenges is essential. Each course encourages the students to apply disciple making and ministry leadership concepts in their home community.
I would encourage any student considering an online Bible college course – especially if they are advertised as tuition-free online Bible college courses on disciple making – to see if the college provides any details on the process it uses to develop its courses.
Attribute #3: The quality of the online instructor in providing individualized “coaching”. Again, I’ll use MCC’s approach as a way of describing this attribute. MCC is selective about who teaches courses. Each potential instructor is screened to ensure they meet the formal education requirements, but also the practical theology of disciple making and ministry leadership qualifications. On
ce an instructor is selected, they go through an instructor training program which provides up-to-date online instruction techniques, learning management system navigation, grading policies, and strategies to actively engage students in the class discussions.
This focus on making sure an instructor actively engages students in the class discussions is a critical differentiator in whether a student comes away with a highly positive learning outcome using MCC’s unique blended learning approach. Not only is the student getting engaged in an online dialog with other students, the instructor is also acting in the role of a “coach” by providing feedback when marking assignments. Another unique aspect of this “coaching” perspective are the comments that an instructor gets to see when a student submits their Self-Reflection Journal for that week. There is often information revealed in these Self-Reflection Journals that a good “coach” can use to encourage or challenge a student. This is the role t
hat a good disciple maker should be playing in the life of every disciple. I know that I have personally benefitted from the quality of the interactions with my instructor as a “coach” in the MCC online classes I have taken. There is a trust factor developed between the student and the instructor that is extremely rare in any form of online higher education I’ve been exposed to.
Attribute #4: The overall value provided by the course in terms of learning outcomes versus cost. Another way of stating it is this: did I get what I expected at the price that I was willing to pay? If you have read this far in this post, I hope you will have been convinced that Maritime Christian College puts a lot – I mean a lot! – of effort into developing courses and into instructing those courses. That’s why I want to encourage any student considering tuition-free online Bible college courses to critically evaluate whether the learning outcomes you are going to get will be as deep and impactful as courses that require the student to pay some tuition.
As a potential student, you may be thinking that a tuition-free online Bible college course is better than doing nothing i
f you want to be a better disciple maker. I can’t make that judgment for you. But I will remind you there is more to cost than just monetary value. If you are going to consider any form of training, whether it is higher education or another option, there is another cost you need to factor in: your time. In his book “What To Do Between Birth and Death”, Charles Spezzano says that we really don’t pay for things with money, we pay for them with time. Think about that: everything we do, we pay for it with our time. And our time is the one resource that is the most limited in our lives – we can’t manufacture more of it! If you are going to commit yourself to taking a higher education course, then you need to put a high degree of emphasis on getting the most powerful impactful learning outcomes you can out of the time you are going to invest in it.
So to bring this blog post full circle, I want to go back to that quote from my entrepreneurial uncle that “free advice is worth what you pay for it”. It is my hope that this blog post has helped compare and contrast the choices that a disciple of Jesus has when selecting resources on how to become a better disciple maker. If you are ready to invest in higher education as a means to accomplish that goal, but feel that the only option is taking tuition-free online Bible college co
urses, I trust that I have convinced you there may be a better choice. It is a question of value versus cost – and the high value of training and equipping yourself as a better disciple maker from a trusted source with a proven innovative course development and delivery model.
Discover how Maritime Christian College’s online programs can equip you to be a better disciple maker here: https://www.mccpei.com/programs.
If you want to ask a specific question in your search for the best fit for your education, please email Tim Cook at this email address: email@example.com.
He will be happy to set up a call or Zoom meeting to hear your story and offer some specifics to aid in your decision making.