Last week, we announced that beginning in the Fall 2020 semester, all of our programs will be available online as well as on-campus. This is big news because, previously, only our M.A. Clinical Mental Health Counseling, M.A. Biblical Studies and M.A. Ministry Leadership could be attained online. Now all of our ministry programs, including our Master of Divinity are accessible 100% online in a new innovative format called “HyFlex” (hybrid-flexible).
As the Director of Admissions and Recruitment, I’m excited because these changes will be helpful to more students. Even more importantly, though, I’m thrilled as a follower of Christ. And, I want to give you two reasons why! I think parts of my story will help frame why HyFlex is a win.
MY CALL TO MINISTRY
I grew up as a missionary kid in Lima, Peru. And, I loved it! We lived near the ocean; I made lifelong friends (including my wife, Adriana) through youth group and basketball, and there was no snow … ever! So, after I completed my undergraduate degree at Hope College, I moved back to Peru, got married to my high school/youth group sweetheart and planned on working in business and living there forever. But, after a year or so, my wife and I began to sense that God had something else for us. We decided to leave our full-time, highly demanding jobs and spend a year working less and spending more time ministering in our church and community. God quickly confirmed that this was the right path. We felt confident that we were called to vocational ministry.
In our minds, the next step was clear. If we were going to serve with wisdom and discernment, we needed training. There was and is a massive need for pastors and ministry leaders that have learned how to study, teach and apply the Bible in Peru (and in the U.S. too!). But, here is the thing: In Peru, we all knew that. The average churchgoer has a deep desire to learn, and they want to learn from people that have done the hard work to be equipped. One of my friends in Peru asked me at one point, “Andrew, will you teach me Hebrew when you come back?” He is not planning on being a pastor. He just wants to learn more about his Lord and reading Hebrew is a window into his Lord’s world.
WIN #1: INCREASED ACCESSIBILITY
Anyways, my wife and I needed training, but we had no local options. I wasn’t worried about getting a degree. I just wanted high-level training so I could serve well, and I had nowhere to go. So, my wife and I uprooted our lives and moved to Grand Rapids to get the training that we needed at GRTS. That highlights the first reason HyFlex is a win: HyFlex increases the accessibility of rigorous biblical and theological training.
HyFlex courses are offered in three formats: On-Site, Live and Anytime.
On-Site refers to the traditional residential classroom learning experience.
Live allows students to access live classrooms through videoconference technology so that they can interact with both the faculty and peers in real time!
Anytime connects students to the same course, but they don’t have to connect at any specific time during the week. They have the flexibility to watch lectures and course content and complete readings and assignments when it is convenient for them during the week before the established due dates. Yet, they still get to interact and engage with faculty and peers in discussion forums and other methods.
Not everyone who wants to attend seminary lives thousands of miles away like I did, but some have jobs with no flexibility. Others don’t have the ability to move. And still others have important responsibilities they just cannot give up, even for the good of attending seminary. GRTS’ HyFlex programs eliminate the barriers of distance and time. Students can now get the training they need whether they live in Grand Rapids or in Peru. And, in my book, that is a win!
WIN #2: EXPANDED ABILITY TO SERVE THE CHURCH
When Adriana and I moved from Lima, Peru, to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2013, it was hard! We left friends, family, jobs, memories, our favorite restaurants, nearly all of our belongings and our church community. When we got to Grand Rapids, we had to start over. It took us a long time to feel at home again, and one of the hardest parts was church. We were highly involved with our church family in Peru, leading worship, preaching, discipling and serving in the community. It took us over a year to find a new church, to begin feeling as if it was our new family and to find ways to serve.
As hard as it was for us, it was also tough on our home church. Our pastor had new ministry holes to fill, and the preaching load was now more significant. Beyond that, we were a family, and when a family member leaves, it is not a walk in the park.
That is the second reason HyFlex is a win: HyFlex expands the ability of GRTS to serve the local church. The mission of GRTS is to prepare “biblically and culturally informed ministry leaders for service through Christ’s church.” We do that best when our students are connected in church ministry. That’s why our programs feature a ministry residency program.
For some students, leaving their home church context and starting over is helpful and necessary. It gives them the space they need to learn and grow. But for others that is not the case. Some are so involved in ministry already that it is difficult or even irresponsible to leave to attend seminary. Before HyFlex, we didn’t have an option for those students. Now, we do. Our students can earn their degree in Grand Rapids while serving in their church wherever it is, thanks to our Live and Anytime options. They don’t have to be yanked out of the church context to train to serve that context. Once again, that’s a win.
So, as you can tell, I’m thrilled about HyFlex. It makes our programs an option for students that could never have made a traditional residential program work for them, and it allows us to come alongside churches by training their leaders in a whole new way.