Lynn Jost, seminary dean and vice president and dean of Fresno Pacific University, is directing the creation of a two-step online program. First will come eight courses students can take for 3 units of credit each, or audit them. (These courses will fulfill Mennonite Brethren denominational credentials for pastors.) Part two will consist of making these courses part of a 39-unit master of arts degree in ministry.
All instruction will be geared to student needs. "The words that we've heard are that students want accessibility, affordability and accreditation," Jost said. FPU is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Plans are to offer the first two courses in fall 2012 and two more the following spring.
"Anabaptist" and "evangelical" are not just historical terms referring to particular Christian groups and traditions, according to Jost. The university is affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren Church, but courses are open to everyone interested in a focus on faith in action that brings people together—conversion leads to discipleship, which happens in community and leads Christians to make peace between enemies. "Christians work together to carry out God's purpose," he said. "Reconciliation is part of the evangelistic mission."
The first group of classes—MB The Old Testament for Today, MB The New Testament for Today, Confessing Our Faith, The Mennonite Brethren Story, Mission of the Church, The Gospel and the Modern World, Ecclesiology and Discipleship and Ethics—will have a Mennonite Brethren denominational focus. The second group will look at Christian spirituality, pastoral life, congregational dynamics, biblical interpretation and world religions.
A team of 16 university faculty, teachers of similar courses elsewhere and people involved in ministry are designing the curriculum. "Their role is to see that the assignments are immediately practicable," Jost said.Both sets of courses are partly funded by $500,000 from MBBS Inc.
The new program will join the two seminary classes already online: Church and God's Mission in the World, by Tim Geddert, professor of New Testament, and Discipleship and Ethics, by Mark Baker, associate professor of mission and theology.
Potential master's students are people from anywhere who are involved in ministry but can't come to campus. Tuition will be similar to seminary programs, and financial aid will be available.