After a few years away from children’s ministry and returning to her calling at a different church, Jessica Bates wanted to learn as much as she could.
“I felt very equipped to do some of the parts of what it takes to be a children’s minister, but not all of it,” said Bates, now working at Winfield First United Methodist Church.
That’s why she entered an online certification program through BeADisciple.com, a program of the Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship at Southwestern College.
Bates is about halfway through the six-week certification process in children’s ministry, with a combination of online classes, homework and message board exchanges.
“It’s been fun to chat with people in different parts of the country, and it’s been great to have that collaboration with other children’s ministers,” said Bates, whose course was part of her salary package from the church. “I’ve done a lot of learning and growing.”
The BeADisciple certifications are based on education requirements from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said Lisa Buffum, director of online education.
“They really happened organically,” Buffum said. “We took a look at what GBHEM was offering, and we modeled on that, so we could partner with them.”
Six practical ministry certifications will begin Aug. 26: children’s ministry, spiritual formation, rural ministry, Christian education, Christian care and counseling, and youth ministry.
The certification, Buffum said, is for laity who have begun to discern a spiritual path to help their local churches.
“The certifications are intended to be sort of that next-step process for someone to kind of discern, yes, this is the right path,” she said. “They can get a little more training, and maybe that’d be enough, and maybe they receive a further calling.”
Each certification consists of four online courses, $125 each. The youth ministry certification is a 12-week practicum led by Youth Ministry Institute, an additional $325.
Three of the certifications are new, Buffum said. A potential list of 12 new certifications was considered earlier this year, she added, but there was not enough personnel to cover them.
“We’re just waiting for God to provide an overseer for them,” she said.
Laity becoming certified through BeADisciple, she said, benefits both the individual and the church.
“Certification gives them four to five more classes that are educating them to do that job. If you have that on your resume, it’s noticed that you’ve had training in these things,” Buffum said. “We’re undergirding them with support, theological support, and two practical classes to kind of give a little foundation to their ministry.
“They get a little more understanding of United Methodism or what the Bible says about their role,” she added. “It just strengthens the ministry in that area not only for the one person, but their outreach. We talk a lot in the Methodist Church about the training of our laity, and that’s why BeADisciple exists.”
Although BeADisciple, the Wilke Institute and Southwestern College are all United Methodist entities, Buffum said the courses are open to all denominations. A United Methodist emphasis can be added to any certification with one additional course.
Classes are conducted through the asynchronous software Blackboard, with flexibility for whatever time of day the student is available. A six-week program, Buffum said, equals 30 contact hours, or an hour every weekday. Class members are surveyed for the best days and times for required live lectures and discussions.
Buffum said she is pleased with the instructors, both clergy and laity, who have made themselves available to teach the classes.
“That’s the way BeADisciple has always grown,” she said. “It’s just like God has brought the right people at the right time.”
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