When I first decided to pursue my certification as a lay minister, one of the first hurdles I needed to overcome was the hesitation I received from district leadership when I said I wanted to take my courses online. Our district superintendent wanted me to take the classes locally. They were being offered on the first Saturday of every month from September – May about 20 minutes from my home.
The argument he made was sound, it’s more than just the coursework that is important in this process, it’s the connection with other people going through the certification as well.
Being a mom of 3 children under the age of 6, taking an entire Saturday off to take a class is a lot to ask. Because of my commitments with the church on Sunday, Saturday is the only full-day that I have with my family all week and I do almost everything in my power to give my family that time. Even just one Saturday a month could mean that I would have to make the choice between my commitment to my calling or my commitment to my family.
It would be one thing if there wasn’t an alternative, then I would need to make the hard choices with my time. But with online courses available through BeADisciple (and they are approved by our conference) I don’t have to make those choices and I can balance my life and my calling.
But the truth is that there is more to my decision that has little to do with schedule and more to do with my commitment to this process.
Benefits of taking online courses
When taking the courses online, there are very high expectations that all participants actively be a part of all discussions on a daily bases. We are expected to provide our own perspective and to contribute to other conversations as well.
This level of accountability makes an incredible impact because I am completely immersed in learning. I am thinking about and acting on my lessons every single day (and someone expects me to). Because of this, I have learned so much more than any local class I have ever taken.
Everyone’s Voice is Heard
Because everyone is expected to participate it means that everyone’s voice is heard. There is no one person who can dominate a conversation like there is in a classroom setting. And because we are not held to any time limit we can dive much deeper into subject areas that would be cut off in a classroom setting. BeADisciple uses Blackboard as its software to manage its classes. So through that system, you can see where conversations have continued well past the initial day it was asked.
Doing more than required
In order to become certified in any of the lay ministries, there is a required time commitment. I have found that by taking the courses online through BeADisciple I invest almost 2x as much time in the study than I do when it’s an in-person class. The reason for that is that I am not only reading the study text but then I am thinking through the questions all day, responding to the questions at night then reading all of the other participant’s responses (as well as any comments to their post) before thoughtfully adding my own comments as well.
In this case, I also spent more time in the certification because online required more classes than the in-person coursework does. To become a Certified Lay Minister we were also required to first take a course in Spiritual Gifts.
More Points of View
Have you ever found that working with people within your own church doesn’t always provide the widest set of opinions or ideas? One additional benefit I have found from taking the courses online through BeADisciple is that it is not so homogeneous.
The people who participate are from all over the country – some from very large successful churches – some from very small rural ones. Since we are not all part of the same conference we share different opinions on how conference plays a role in their communities and I’ve gotten some amazing ideas on what other churches in other parts of the country are doing. I have also met with people who are very familiar with having these roles in a church and how they are utilized. While I know it’s great to create a local community we all tend to have the same thinking because we are all fed the same information from the same source — online that’s different and I find that growth is just as important.
Alternatives for Building Community
I do agree that having a local community with those that are going through certification is a great idea.
However, I don’t believe that the only way to make that connection is through a once a month meeting where the focus is on learning. So I offered up these alternative suggestions to our Certified Lay Minister District Coordinator:
- Assigning local accountability partners where the expectation that we meet up and support one another outside of the once a month that classes meet
- Create other group meetup times that are outside of the scheduled classroom time. Maybe for a mission project.
- Set up a Facebook group for everyone who is in the “CLM Class of 2020” for us to stay connected with each other as we move through course. We could use this space to stay connected between the monthly classes, ask questions, and pray for each other.
Broadening our view of how we create connections is one of the callings I feel I have in ministry. By doing so I believe that we would make moving into lay leadership more assessable to more people.
Tips to Be Successful in Online Courses
Make the online course part of your everyday
For the courses I have taken through BeADicisple students are required to participate 5 days a week through assignments that can include reading/videos/journaling/discussion boards. One of the things that I like to do in advance is to check out the day’s assignments first thing in the morning. Especially the discussion questions. That way I have all day to think about the ask and pray on how I want to respond.
Be sure you are willing to set aside 1 – 2 hours every day to do the course work. For me, I plan to work on my courses after the kids have gone to bed at night. It’s important that you be as consistent as possible and not miss a day or try to do everything on the weekend. You would be surprised how much of a bond is formed between people and you don’t want to miss out on developing those relationships.
Respond before you Read
Maybe you are not as easily influenced as I am, but I have found that I am most honest and provide my own original thoughts when I sit and respond to the daily assignment first before I see what anyone else in the class has had to say.
This way my response is not influenced by what anyone else said. Either to confirm my own thinking or to make me doubt my response. The goal that I have in these courses is to learn and have my voice heard, that is why I want to take the course online and not through the class. So I feel as though I would be missing that goal if I didn’t first respond with my thoughts.
Give more than you take
Writing does something funny to people. No matter if its email, text message or discussion boards. When people don’t have to look at you, they will share more and become more open. Take the time to read everyone’s comments and thoughts and then take some time to respond – thoughtfully. Keep in mind that some people in the class want to be heard and acknowledged too. It takes a lot to open up and share your opinions. Be sure to support that in every way you can.
I’m happy to say that after presenting my reasoning to the district they did approve my request to take my coursework online through BeADisciple. After working through my pre-req course on Spiritual Gifts I found that there are 4 other people on the same certification track that I am. So we will have our own community and support as we move through this together.
If you have never joined an online class before I highly encourage you to do so. BeADicisple has some amazing courses – even if you are not in a leadership certification course.