Since 2001 the International Reformed Theological College has been providing biblical education by means of the Internet, post-secondary education in Portuguese, that is true to the Reformed faith. Sometimes people are curious about how we do this. Can a student really become a good minister just by reading materials online? How can he become a good preacher this way? Doesn’t he have to preach sermons and get good critiques from a professor? Don’t theology students have to do other practical assignments in evangelism and pastoral counseling? What about mentoring, where students have informal conversations with their professors and receive wise counsel that addresses their specific, personal needs and concerns? In the Bible, the leaders were formed by learning from the example of Jesus and, later, of Paul and the other apostles. How can one really do justice to this biblical approach when distance education is used and the students never meet their instructors personally? In future articles, I plan to give you some more perspective on how our education is done.
Our training is not the best answer for everyone, but traditional seminary education isn’t either. Is it not true that those who graduate from such seminaries may also be lacking in some areas, especially in pastoral practice? Both Internet learning and the seminary training we are all familiar with continue to search for ways to become more effective in forming pastors and other leaders for the Church.
The IRTC is addressing the needs of churches with students that, for many reasons, are unable to follow classroom lectures in schools with face-to-face teaching. We are not promoting the idea that all theological training should now be done online. We help those who, otherwise, are unable to take courses or can do so only with much difficulty.
Our education is not for everyone, but it is also not simply a system of online readings. The teaching environment is rich in features that provide interactivity between students and their professors, sometimes even in real time as they meet through videoconferencing. Partnerships are also most important. Each student must have a local mentor and the local church is expected to take the lead in discipling and providing oversight for the students. I will expand more on these informal partnerships in the future.