Fully online TEDS MA/TS degree connects Deerfield and Australia
Trinity CommunicationsMarch 06, 2019
As the crow flies, it is about 9,000 miles from Coffs Harbour, Australia to Deerfield, Illinois.
Coffs Harbour is located roughly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. The pastor of nearby Sandy Beach Baptist Church, Terry Allen, has never set foot on the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
But academic records show Allen is to receive a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MA/TS) from TEDS in May 2019, earned completely online from his small office in Coffs Harbour.
Allen’s interest in TEDS dates back more than 25 years, when now-Emeritus professor of New Testament Don Carson’s writings first captured his attention.
“I noted on the dust jackets of professor Carson’s books that he taught at TEDS,” Allen says. “When I discovered Ravi Zacharias studied there in the 1970s, I thought ‘wow, this has to be some Bible seminary!’”
ATTENDING TEDS BECAME AN ACHIEVABLE DREAM
Allen earned his living as a radio and television news reporter, but also devoted much time and effort to the congregation at Sandy Beach Baptist. Years later, Allen accepted a call to become their pastor. He admits he struggled with sermon preparation in those early days.
“I basically fumbled my way through week after week,” Allen recalls. “I knew there were some huge gaps in my theological understanding.”
His attempts at self-education included reading as many Carson-authored books as he could acquire. He would also pick up books mentioned in the footnotes of Carson’s works, and the top recommendations for each New Testament book in Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey. His understanding was growing, but still incomplete.
When he discovered TEDS offered a fully online MA/TS degree, Allen applied immediately. He had dabbled in a few theology courses at Moore Theological College in Sydney. He hoped his record there would be sufficient to meet the TEDS admission requirements.
Once accepted into the online program, he mapped out a course plan achievable from Coffs Harbour.
“I was made to feel so welcome by everyone at TEDS,” Allen says. “My presence in the class gave us all the feeling that it was truly an international educational facility.”
TEDS director of masters programs John Simons took on the challenge of bridging the cultural gaps. Allen had difficulty understanding the TEDS class schedule.
“In the first year, I had no clue as to how it all worked,” Allen recalls. “For example, Australians do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but TEDS almost seems to shut down for a week during that time.
“John kept me in the loop with deadlines for each semester and guided me through course selection,” says Allen. “Without John, I would have messed up so many important things.”
Some would question the need for such efforts, given the options for theological education available in his native land.
“There are Bible seminaries in Australia offering equivalent courses now,” Allen says, “but I wanted to study through the organization which had fed me all those wonderful books.
“It was one of the best decisions of my life.”
The time difference between Coffs Harbour and Deerfield also proved challenging on occasion.
“It was particularly nasty when both our countries went in and out of daylight saving time in the same week!” Allen recalls.
But that difference also produced some unexpected benefits.
“The live online class forums were usually in the early evenings, which, in Australia, is morning coffee time the following day,” Allen says. “A Monday night Hangout for you is Tuesday morning for me.”
Because classes started his day, Allen could get right to work on new assignments while his American classmates were sleeping.
ONLINE FIRSTS FOR TEDS
Several students have graduated taking a majority of their classes online.
Associate professor of educational ministries James Moore says the first online TEDS student who earned a degree without setting foot on campus was Robert Attaway, who earned a Master of Arts in Educational Ministries in May 2018. But it appears Allen is the first such MA/TS graduate.
“We did have a student graduate from the online MA/TS in May (2018),” says Simons. “However, she was based in Minneapolis and came to Deerfield to take one modular course.”
That student was Kirsten King, director of youth discipleship and training at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota. She quickly became a close online friend for Allen.
“Kirsten and I did virtually every class together and we got to know each other along the way,” Allen says. “Each semester, we would wonder how we managed to choose the same course yet again, but it kept happening for three years.”
“I grew to appreciate his perspective as a brother, a fellow minister of the Gospel, and an Australian,” King says. “I pray that God would continue to use him to expand His kingdom as Terry seeks to serve God.”
Allen and King shared challenges beyond the class assignments. In one semester, King’s father-in-law and Allen’s father both experienced serious health problems.
“My father-in-law passed away and Terry’s dad recovered,” King says, “but the reality of heaven and the reality of the body of Christ that crosses 9,000 miles was evident on a very practical level.”
A HEART FOR PASTORS IN NEPAL
In addition to his work in Coffs Harbour, Allen encountered a ministry opportunity that he embraced with enthusiasm in Nepal. It was a need to train pastors new to the Christian faith – pastors who suddenly found themselves leading midsized congregations with little or no training upon which to draw.
“It lit a fire within me,” Allen says. “I could see the opportunity.”
The congregation at Sandy Beach Baptist raised money for a trip to Nepal, which came as Allen had just completed an online TEDS class in homiletics. He immediately applied that training to the preparation of 200 pastors in Nepal.
“They desperately needed to know how to prepare Bible studies and sermons,” Allen recalls. The need he observed prompted plans for a second Nepal trip.
That second journey, in September 2018, enabled his TEDS capstone project, but it required taking a semester off from online classes. He wrote the curriculum for training more Nepalese pastors, and then started the training with the help of an interpreter.
“I had them preach to me, and attempted to give them feedback through my interpreter,” Allen says.
Faculty members in Deerfield were impressed.
“Terry was a delight to have in class,” Moore says. “He evidenced immediate application of his online educational ministry classes both into the life of his local church and his cross-cultural mission context in Nepal.”
Moore stresses opportunities to apply classroom knowledge in ministry contexts – something he observes frequently with his students.
“This is the genius of TEDS online education courses,” Moore says, “to equip the rooted learner to make direct application of their class insights into their ministry that very week, not merely at a later date.”
The timing of Allen’s project had less to do with academic calendars and more to do with politics. He sees the church planting opportunities in Nepal to be limited at best.
“We feel a sense of urgency in Nepal because the doors appear to be closing,” says Allen. “By the time they do, God willing, the Nepalese Christians won’t need us any longer.”
Allen identifies so easily with the Nepalese church plants because pastors there simply do not have the opportunity to attend a bricks-and-mortar divinity school.
“I have always felt frustrated that I have not been able to attend Bible seminary in person,” Allen says. “Now I am in contact with another group of Christians who cannot attend Bible seminary and I know I can help them.”
Allen never planned to attend his own graduation ceremonies in Deerfield. One day, perhaps, he will visit the campus where he earned his MA/TS degree. For now, Allen’s travel plans point to Nepal.
“I believe it is a calling on my life to go to them and to give them, free of charge, what I have been so fortunate to receive from TEDS,” says Allen.
“Like never before, I am aware of how great the harvest is, but also, how few the number of available workers.”
Story by Mark D. Kahler, vice president for university communication