6 Great things about online seminary distance education

For those who have read about my experience with taking distance education seminary classes you might think that I am not a fan of them… Quite the contrary. I think they are great. In fact, here are 6 things I think are great about online and distance education programs for seminary:

  1. Time – Are you a morning learner? A night owl who like to read at 2 a.m.? Well, the beauty of online and distance education programs is that you can take the class whenever works best for you. No longer are you bound to the school’s schedule. 8 a.m. class… Be gone! You now have the ability to chose when would be the best time for you to learn.
  2. Pace – Taking seminary classes online or through distance education allows you to set your own pace. Most programs allow you up to 7 years to finish your degree… so, you set your own schedule. This is especially great if you are trying to save some money as you can put off the next class until you have the funds to pay for it… but be careful… 7 years will fly by before you know it. However, it is nice to know you have some time.
  3. Money – Now, tuition and books will cost the same, but taking online an distance education classes for seminary will allow you the ability to study around your work. On a traditional campus the schedule is set by the school and your work must be set around that… not always good when you need a job to support your family. Taking distance classes allows you to work the hours your job gives and take classes when the time works for you… thus, you’re ultimately saving/making more money. Along with this is the fact that you are taking less classes at a time, so when tuition is due it is a much easier pill to swallow.
  4. Context – If you’re like me there isn’/wasn’t a good seminary in your current town. This, most likely means that you are going to have to move… and that means leaving your church. The beauty of online or distance education is that you can continue to be involved and minister in your local church context. In fact, your classes will often open many new and exciting ministry opportunities in your church and community.
  5. Focus – Unlike on a traditional class, most distance programs are done one class at a time. This allows you to focus all your energy on the information you are learning in the one class… theoretically leading to a greater retention of the material.
  6. Relationships – Most distance programs (as best I understand) require that you have a mentor through your seminary experience. It is truly amazing to have a person (or couple people) who have been down this road and are seasoned in the ministry to help you along the journey. I cherish all the coffees and lunches I had with my mentors as I discussed the challenges and triumphs I experienced in my classes. If you’re program doesn’t require it, I highly recommend you get one on your own initiative… trust me, it will make the classes that much more rich!

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Ryan Burns
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  • Based on my responsibilities for providing and caring for my growing family, I ended up taking a break from the traditional graduate school route and am now going to try distance learning through the virtual program at Reformed Theological Seminary. To pay the bills, I work in tech support for an educational software company. That being the case, I have spent a lot of time assisting distance learners. It will be a good experience for me to be on the other side of it all. God bless!


  • If you know you’re not going to pursue a Doctoral degree from a solid school, then distance ed. is the way to go, just for the same reasons you mentioned (don’t have to move, stay at current church, don’t have to go to that awful seminary located in town, etc). However, the real consensus, at least for now, is that online ed. is second class at best, even (sadly) if it is from a good school. Looking at the history of the relationship between the Church and Seminary, there was a time when a Church would “send out” a prospective pastor to seminary, reserving a spot for him or her upon returning. Wouldn’t that be nice.
    Nate Savlu

    Quick BIO:
    M.A. from RTS online (good school as you know, but it was primarily online);
    rejected from four competitive PhD granting schools, and counting (e.g. Fuller Seminary, Boston, Indiana University, Westminster) and even rejected for a ThM at Gordon. (All this with a 3.9 GPA, positive references from professors, and great GRE Scores: Verbal = 700, Quantitative = 500, Writing = 5.0) All this b/c of the online degree. Be careful!

  • Nate, I wonder if the problem was more the issue with the type of degree than the source. An MAR is not a typical degree to get into a PhD program. Did you try any other ThM’s? I know most ThM’s will require MDiv or passing language proficiency exams (Greek & Hebrew). I’m pretty sure Fuller (depending on the PhD) and I’m sure Westminster have those requirements. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Westminster requires a ThM in order to get into the PhD program (I know it is that way at RTS).

    What PhD’s were you going for at Boston and Indiana?

    And, yes, it would be nice to have a position waiting… but you went to RTS, so as a good Calvinist don’t you believe that there is a position already waiting for you 😉

Written by Ryan Burns