Saturday, March 13, 2010

Restarting when you fail

Those of you who know me, know that I once attempted to attend seminary at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.  Due to a variety of circumstances, many of which were my own choices, I didn't finish.

That's been a frustration for me for the 6 years since I gave up.  It just feels like failure when you aren't able to finish something you start.  Especially when you can see all the ways it was your own fault you couldn't do it.

So, I've been trying to find ways over the past few years to finish my education.  I had a false start with Gordon-Conwell Seminary, but UPS decided not to pay the tuition reimbursement benefit on it, so I couldn't afford to keep going.

Ann and I considered going to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and had gathered information about it.  The biggest hitch?  Well, I'm a pastor in Monticello, Arkansas.  Louisville's a beast of a commute from here. 

We started looking at all the options that involved doing distance learning, so that we wouldn't have to leave.  We feel it's important to us that we honor the calling to serve our church where we are right now.  That's not to downplay residential study, but one thing we feel Calvary does not need is another pastor for less than 24 months.  They didn't call us here to be a place filler for that length of time.

So, we wanted something we could start via distance.  Even better would be something that could be finished via distance too.  Except that you can't get a well-respected degree without setting foot on campus.  It's just not allowed.  That, and we want at least part of the community experience.  So, that greatly reduced our options.

Into the picture comes the influence of Dr. Emil Turner, the ABSC Executive Director.  He and I were discussing my lack of degree, and he strongly encouraged me to look back at MABTS.  Then there came a few meetings at various conventions with Duffy Guyton, who is now the Dean of Admissions at Mid-America.  Between the two of them, they convinced Ann and I to look back at the idea of MABTS.  Then, MABTS strengthened their distance option, allowing for the possibility that not only could I start, but I could finish my degree with only being on campus for a certain number of 1-week intensive terms while taking online classes the rest of the time.

So this leads to me having to swallow my pride and return to the scene of my failure.  This was not an easy step for me.  However, we've now gone through the process of praying through this, of considering other options, of hoping for other options, and then I applied.

To be honest, I was kind of hopeful they'd reject me.  Really.  Because that would let me off the hook for making the difficult choices about school and I could just pass the blame onto someone else for my not having a degree.  The choices to study, to make the personal financial cuts to pay for it, to take the responsibility for my own success or failure.

Well, now that's shot.  This week I received my official acceptance letter from the Registrar's Office.  On top of that, according to the website, I can do 43 of the 89 hours I need via online courses.  If I can still count the 20 I already took, that makes 63 out of 89, so I will only need 26 hours in intensives, which comes out to 9 weeks on campus.  Of course, now I've got to figure out how to balance the cycles of what classes are offered when, and splice it together.  Plus, I've got to find tuition money, book money, and some software money (those of you who think MABTS is backwards: they require people to learn how to use Logos Software, which is the leading Biblical Studies software.  Of course, leading=expensive).

All that to say, I'm back near to where I left off.  I think sometimes, while there is grace for failure, the only way to actually move forward is to go back to where you left off and start again.  Why?  Because in far too many ways we people want to blame others for our failures, when we really didn't hold out when we should have.

Why go back?  Because if you were doing what God called you to do, and you quit, you've got to pick up the pieces and go finish it.  That's part of being his disciple.



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