Have you thought about Bible College?

So you’re finishing school… HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT BIBLE COLLEGE?

It’s that time of year, when you may be finishing school and looking to do a degree at a Christian college. Perhaps you are going into vocational ministry or cross-cultural work at home or overseas. Maybe you just want to study theology and be better equipped for your current situation.

You may be surprised to know that there are many evangelical Colleges offering a variety of courses. As well as the traditional full-time format, many Bible colleges offer courses part-time, by correspondence, or in evening classes.

I want to go to Bible College, but where do I find them?

Well, a great place to start is by visiting www.ukbiblecolleges.com, which is an online directory of UK Bible Colleges produced by the Association of Bible College Principals, and consists of most of the leading providers of evangelical theological training in the UK and Ireland.

Some of the colleges have been in existence for more than a century, while others have developed more recently. Some of the colleges are linked with particular Christian denominations or groups of churches, while others have no denominational affiliations. The majority of colleges offer academic programmes in theology and related areas, validated by a public university.

Membership of the Association is an indication to prospective students and the wider world of a college’s evangelical commitment; its good standing in the Christian community, and of the integrity of its academic and administrative processes.

All of the colleges are committed to theological training that prepares people for Christian service in a variety of contexts, including church-based ministry, international mission, community and charitable work, academic careers and other professions.

So which college is right for you?

The first and constant thing to do, of course, is bring it to the Lord in prayer. Chat with your church leaders, and ask advice from friends and family. But how can you get a feel for a college? There are a number of ways:

Check out the college website

Have a look at the profile on the UK Bible Colleges website, and follow the links through to the college’s own website. Consider: What courses do they offer? Are there news stories that give you an insight into life there? Are there links to blogs by students, alumni or staff? Do they use social networks like Twitter or Facebook that will give you a flavour of the college community? Is there a promotional video?

Arrange a visit

Most colleges will have at least one open day during the year for prospective students to look around. Sometimes these days are big events involving the whole college. Sometimes they are more low-key, offering you the chance to sample the college on a more ‘ordinary’ day. As well as these organised open days, most colleges will be happy for you to visit informally, but do ask them in advance, rather than just turning up!

Talk to former students

Do you know people who have been to the college? Chat with them about their experiences. Remember, a college can change over time, but colleges often find that their alumni are their best adverts!

Which course should I choose?

As you will see from the UK Bible Colleges website, there are numerous courses to choose from. But which is the most suitable for you? Here are some factors to consider:

Your Christian tradition

You may have strong convictions (for example, Reformed, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Holiness, Charismatic, etc.), which might affect your choice. Would you prefer a college which is sympathetic to your views, or would you prefer to study with others holding a wider variety of beliefs? Many colleges are interdenominational, while some, directly linked with a confessional group, are mainly denominational, although they welcome students from a wider spectrum.
Your educational background
Most colleges welcome people with a wide range of abilities, recognising that some have not previously had opportunities for study. Highly motivated Christians who come later to study often do very well. Even colleges with the highest academic standards usually have Diploma and Certificate courses open to all, because they are committed to train at all kinds of levels. However, most Degree courses require some A-levels for school leavers, just as at University.

Your future ministry
This will certainly affect the length of the course you will take. Many denominational churches have particular requirements, and most mission agencies recommend at least some formal cross-cultural training for prospective workers. Do you want a practical element in your study programme (eg. a ministry placement) or would you prefer to have an exclusively academic focus?

The key thing is to ask questions. Most colleges will have someone who you can talk to about these and other issues, so drop them a line and talk it through.

Funding your studies

So you’ve decided to go to Bible College? Great news! Now you just need to think about how to pay for it…

Everyone knows that education isn’t cheap, but there are some great tools at your disposal to help you raise the funds and budget effectively. Before you start to plan, take a look at someone who’s done it before.

Before you go…

Ready to get started? Before you go to Bible College, take an honest look at your finances. Whether you’ve got a year or just a few months to save, it’s worth taking the time to work out your income and expenditure, so that you have a realistic picture of your finances. Identifying a sensible goal from the start will help you to stay on track.

Check out this great Budget Builder tool – visit www.budgetbuilder.stewardship.org.uk. It’s free, comprehensive and easy to use. It has been built with the Christian lifestyle in mind, and takes into account all kinds of expenses: from tithing to utility bills, entertainment to childcare costs.

Once you’ve worked out your budget, you can begin to think about short and long term ideas for raising support – have a look below for some ideas.

It’s important to think about updating and maintaining your budget once you’re at Bible College, too.

Two-Step Process

In the short term, before you start Bible College, it’s worth thinking about the different grants, loans, gifts and fundraising activities available to you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

• Check out the Directory of Grant-Making Trusts at your local library, and look for potential trusts that might be willing to support you.

• Ask your church if they would be willing to fund part of your studies, or if they could consider letting you give a short presentation on a Sunday morning to help raise funds.

• Do fundraising activities: a sponsored walk, run, sky-dive or climb. Or, for those less willing to jump out of planes, why not bake cakes, wash cars or hold a computer gaming marathon? There are thousands of fundraising ideas on the Internet, so there will be something to suit you. Advertise your event on your Facebook profile or via Twitter; you never know who may be willing to help you out.

• Apply to your Local Education Authority (LEA) for a financial assessment – you may be eligible for support or a student loan. Have a look at the Student Finance website, and be sure to ask them about any extra allowances you might be eligible for.

Once you’ve raised some initial funds, unless you’re blessed with a rich uncle who will sponsor you through college, you’ll need to think about maintaining your support. Your long term plan should include setting up a dedicated account, so that people who want to support you regularly can do so easily.

Stewardship offer a fantastic online account for Bible College students, which means that your friends and church family (but not your close relatives) can give tax-efficiently and regularly (or just a lump sum at the start of term if they like!) to help support you in your studies.
There is no charge to open an account, and because Stewardship can reclaim tax on your supporters’ gifts, you could potentially receive even more support.

Another long term consideration is part-time employment, or full-time work during school holidays. Perhaps look at job boards at your college, or look online for local vacancies, but be realistic about the amount of time you can spend working while studying. It’s worth bearing in mind that some colleges discourage working alongside your studies, so check with your college before you pursue this.

Using social media, you can keep people updated on your progress at Bible College. Perhaps you could consider starting a blog, where you can keep a public journal, and provide information about how people can support your studies. You can also use Facebook to organise events, start a group or discuss fundraising ideas.

Ultimately, remember that God equips those who He calls. Don’t be discouraged into thinking that you can’t afford to go to Bible College before you’ve explored the options available to you. Instead, pray, plan and be pro-active in your approach to fundraising, and you’ll be sure to see results.

For more information, tools and help, look at the resources below.

Stewardship – For more information, visitwww.stewardship.org.uk or give them a call on 0208 502 8566 to find out if a Stewardship account might be right for you.

Funding the Family Business – Myles Wilson distils his extensive experience of training people to raise their own ministry support in this comprehensive manual, including a section on Bible Colleges. For more information, visit
www.fundingthefamilybusiness.org/

Credit Action Student Manual – a must-read guide for all students, covering everything from budgets to benefits. To download the manual, visit
http://www.creditaction.org.uk/helpful-resources/moneymanuals/students.html

Student Finance Website – a Government website with the latest up-to-date information about loans and grants. For more information, visit: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/index.htm

Keep The Faith would like to thank the Association of Bible College Principals and Stewardship for this article.

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