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FIRST-PERSON: Three benefits of my distance learning seminary experience

Nick Hartman addressed fellow graduates at Gateway Seminary's commencement ceremony May 3.

Editor’s note: Nick Hartman is associate pastor of students and discipleship at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cross Plains, Tenn., and a recent Gateway Semiary graduate.

On May 3, I was humbled by the chance to stand in front of my peers and share how the Lord had used my seminary experience to grow me. This was a unique opportunity because it was my very first time on the Gateway Seminary campus and my first time meeting the men and women with whom I had taken classes.

My seminary experience took place 1,995 miles from Gateway’s Ontario campus. Still, through the extension campus option, I could minister faithfully in Tennessee while obtaining my Master’s in Divinity. By no means am I alone in pursuing a degree online; according to the 2023 Book of Reports, more than 2,500 students in the Southern Baptist Convention obtain various degrees from a distance. Through my experience, I have discovered that the distance learning that Southern Baptist seminaries offer is a gift.

Distance learning gives students the ability to minister where God has called them.

Through remote access and online classes, distance learning at Gateway Seminary and other Southern Baptist seminaries offers a place where what you learn in the classroom benefits the church, and what you learn in the church benefits the classroom. I believe this mutually beneficial relationship can transform churches and mission work across our Convention because I have seen it firsthand.

While I was diligently and faithfully working through classes, the Lord was diligently and faithfully working in our church. One year into the seminary experience, we moved to Cross Plains, Tenn., to join in the work of the Lord at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. Over the last three years, the Lord has brought a significant harvest in our youth ministry and church. Our youth ministry has had the chance to baptize 28 students, seen our average attendance grow from 17 to 35, and our church has produced new ministry leaders that will serve other churches in the future. The ability to minister and accomplish the task of seminary side by side truly has elevated both experiences.

Distance learning gives access to a network of SBC professors and ministry leaders.

Our seminaries recognize that not every student can pick up their lives and move to their campus. Creating greater opportunities through online classes also allows students to access the extensive network of accomplished professors and ministry leaders in the SBC. Through the remote connect and online courses at Gateway Seminary, I was provided the opportunity to take preaching classes with Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention. In Dr. Adams’s classes, we connected beyond the scope of preaching and developed a lasting relationship. Likewise, I took courses with Jeff Iorg and Adam Groza, discussing ministry strategies, apologetics and philosophy. They supported me in the classroom, and I am grateful to support them as they take on significant roles in our denomination.

Gateway Seminary provides just a few examples of what all of our seminaries offer through distance learning, which is a chance to connect with ministry leaders from across the country whom you may otherwise never have met.

Distance learning allows students to connect with others around the country and the world.

Perhaps the most meaningful opportunity distance learning provided me was the chance to make friends with missionaries, church planters, pastors and youth pastors from across the country and the world. This is one area where I had to apply myself because when you see people only on a screen, it can be challenging to connect the dots. But I worked to make a friend with one to two people in every class, and it paid off. Through the distance learning landscape, we supported our church-planting friends in Los Angeles, had a classmate join our students virtually to discuss ministry to Jewish families, connected with missionaries in Burma, and worked to help grow a network of youth pastors nationwide.

Had it not been for the chance to join the Gateway community online, I am not sure I would have had these opportunities afforded to me so easily.

If you are considering seminary but are unsure if you can move to a physical campus, distance learning may be right for you. Our SBC seminaries are equipped to give you a unique experience that will allow you to minister, connect and grow in incredible ways.

    About the Author

  • Nick Hartman

    Nick Hartman is the associate pastor of students and discipleship at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cross Plain, Tn.

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