Wayland’s Masters of Divinity program off to flying start

December 13, 2013

PLAINVIEW — In only its first semester in operation, Wayland Baptist University’s Master of Divinity program is off to a flying start. With 18 students already participating and 29 more in the pipeline, faculty and administrators couldn’t be more pleased and they see an even brighter future for the online program.

Dr. Paul Sadler, dean of the School of Religion and Philosophy, expressed that joy as he reflected over the past semester.

“We’ve been very pleased to have the number of applicants we did,” he said, adding that the program continues to receive applicants on almost a weekly basis.

According to religion professor Dr. Jay Givens, who is the director of the School of Religion and Philosophy’s online program and chaired the committee that researched and developed the Master of Divinity program, courses began being offered this past fall. He explained that the primary emphasis behind the program was to give ministers and those interested in ministry who did not live near an existing seminary the opportunity to continue their training and education. In particular, he said the university wanted to help students who wanted to become chaplains.

“The initial impetus,” he said, “was we had a number of students at a number of our campuses asking about, specifically, chaplaincy. They were wanting to go into military chaplaincy. Many of them were already military. We did not have a degree that could help the student meet that goal. We began to investigate and look at it and we just came to the decision that it would be good for our school to provide an opportunity for those who are not near a seminary to have some means of honing their skills of being a minister wherever they are located.”

Wayland has 13 campuses, counting the home campus in Plainview, and many are linked to military installations where they cater not only to the military but also to non-traditional students, in general. Givens said that some of those campuses supplement the online offerings with face-to-face courses. He said that many of the participants in the program are Wayland grads, but the school also is seeing some new faces.

Sadler said that the Master of Divinity degree is more-or-less the “gold standard” for ministry, particularly for pastoral ministry, but in many instances people are not in a position to be able to move to a physical seminary. Either they already are involved in a ministry and don’t want to leave it or their spouse has a job and their children are involved in the community and they don’t want to uproot their families.

“We have students who genuinely desire the education but because of various reasons cannot relocate to a seminary. There are a number of factors that make it very good to have it available online.”

He went on to explain that the program has even begun to reach students who are part of Wayland’s Kenya program. And, he continued, it is gaining recognition across the United States, as well.

An example of that is a growing interest in New England, according to Director of Church Services Michael Summers. Summers explained that last fall he attended the New England Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, and had the opportunity to talk about the Master of Divinity program, as well as all of the university’s other online offerings.

“They have no Baptist college up there that offers that,” he said, adding that the M.Div. program availability has the potential to open the door for an extended partnership between the New England Baptist Convention and Wayland.

“The exciting thing about New England is that not only are they excited about the Master of Divinity degree and the other school of religion degrees but their students from their Baptist churches are looking at costs, even in the public school system, the public colleges, that are far greater than what our cost is,” Summers explained, adding “the online bachelor’s degrees, religion and non-religion, is something they just have been thrilled to discover.”

Summers said that excitement is being shared by state conventions across the country, and Sadler agreed.

“We’re excited that people all over the country have become aware that the program is available,” Sadler said. “It’s available through a mainline Baptist institution like Wayland and they can access it online. That’s what is exciting. We think the further we go in the program you will see the same (enthusiasm) happening with our Baptist constituency all over the country and even beyond the U.S.”