Louisiana College’s new program designed for busy ministers
The Rev. Gregory Coates serves as pastor of two churches — Of The Way Bible Church, a mission of Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, and of St. John the Baptist Church in Dorseyville, where he has served for 16 years.
Those two churches keep him busy full-time, but he still must make time for studying and attending classes.
“Everybody in my house is in school,” the 43-year-old married father of three said, chuckling as he noted his wife is a doctoral student at LSU.
After finishing an undergraduate program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, “I noticed that the mission work that I had was suffering with the way that I was going to school traditionally there,” Coates said.
He said he found a solution through a program offered through Louisiana College’s new Caskey School of Divinity.
Louisiana College’s new Caskey School of Divinity enrolled 63 students last year, more than double what was initially anticipated by the school’s dean for the first year, and has nearly 90 students this year, said Charles L. Quarles.
In addition to being dean, Quarles is vice president for the Integration of Faith and Learning and research professor of New Testament and Greek at Louisiana College.
“In keeping with the primary mission of the school, our most popular program is the Pastoral Ministry program,” Quarles said in an email, explaining how pastoral ministry degrees are available at the master’s, associate’s and certificate levels.
“These programs all focus on the needs of the smaller church or bivocational pastor,” he said. “The leaders of the Caskey School of Divinity recognize that busy pastors, especially bivocational pastors, have little time to pursue theological training. Thus, we have attempted to develop a curriculum that enables students to receive good training without sacrificing time normally devoted to their pastoral duties.
“The heart of the curriculum is a series of six courses on Proclaiming the Bible,” Quarles said. “Students are guided each week through the process of preparing an expository sermon from both the Old Testament and New Testament. Thus, their ‘schoolwork’ prepares them for the challenge of preaching God’s word each Sunday morning and evening.
“Some might wonder if one can receive serious biblical training utilizing this approach. I have no doubt about this,” he said. “Most of what I know about the Scriptures I learned from the process of studying the Bible in preparation for preaching and teaching. I have discovered that I forget, unfortunately, much of what I merely read.
“But when I carefully study a biblical text, prepare a sermon on that text, and then preach or teach that text, I become gripped by that text and easily remember its teaching. Good biblical scholars may not necessarily become good Bible preachers, but good Bible preachers will become good biblical scholars.”
Coates said the program is a great opportunity for pastors such as himself.
Coates was licensed to the ministry when he was 19 years old and started pastoring when he was 26, he said.
“I’ve tried to shape my education around those things that are most practical to pastoring, and this program, being a master of arts in pastoral study, really does that for me,” he said. “It gives me that opportunity to really just get further educated and trained and to actually put into work exactly what I feel I am called to do.
“It’s much easier for me to come here (to Pineville’s Louisiana College) those one weekends a month, which is what it comes out to be a semester, as opposed to showing up Tuesday-Thursday or Monday-Wednesday-Friday in a traditional setting,” Coates said.
Likewise, the Rev. Joe Weaver, 34, serves as a bivocational pastor for Chappapeela Baptist Church while teaching seventh- and eighth-grade math at Oak Forest Academy in Amite City, parish seat of Tangipahoa Parish.
“Being bivocational in a church, I really can’t go to school during the week because I work, and so the convenience of this (school of divinity) is tremendous for me,” Weaver said.
“The men that are here as teachers are some of the brightest minds that I’ve seen,” Weaver said, adding he is “really excited to learn from them.”
Eight faculty members teach in the Caskey School of Divinity, Quarles said. The students in the school’s Pastoral Ministry program visit campus three weekends each semester for intensive Friday-Saturday sessions. “Professors supplement this face-to-face instruction with weekly online assignments,” Quarles said.
Quarles noted that “generous donors cover the students’ hotel costs during their weekend stays,” a fact that is not lost on Coates.
“I’m going do the very best I can to be a good steward of what they’ve given,” he said.
The students involved in bivocational ministry are engaged in a wide range of professions including forester, security officer, bookstore employee, truck driver, teacher and pest-control worker.
“Mine is a strange case, in that, in my bivocational situation, it’s two ministries,” Coates said. “I discovered a long time ago that it was easier, if you could, to pastor two ministries than to work a job and try to pastor a ministry, because churches are more understanding about the other ministries’ emergency situations than sometimes a job might be.”
While Coates described his bivocational situation as a “strange case,” Weaver said his has been “a wild journey.”
A native of Gloster, Miss., Weaver said he has a computer science degree from Concordia University and finished his bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries at Leavell College, the undergraduate program of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“I was a schoolteacher and a coach, and then when I was called into ministry in 2005, I retired from school,” Weaver said, commuting to New Orleans for seminary.
“When I finished down there, I got back into schools, and now I’m continuing my education and doing school at the same time,” Weaver said.
“I had to commute back and forth to New Orleans from Amite, and now that I’m back into school, the convenience, the education that’s provided at this level, has just been tremendous — it’s been a blessing,” he said. “I have two small children, so I don’t miss three days a week with them.”
Weaver said he was in youth ministry for five years and has pastored at Chappapeela Baptist Church for 17 months. He teaches about 55 students at Oak Forest Academy.
“Each of them are special to me and so I get to spend extra time with them and continue with my church family and with my family, and I’m not burdened by school — by no means is this a burden but this is a blessing,” Weaver said.
Louisiana College has devoted the ground level of the Norton Library and designated sections of the ground level of the Guinn Center for Religious Education for the use of the Caskey School of Divinity, Quarles said.
The ground floor of the library has 3,554 square feet which was completely renovated last year to provide offices for the dean, associate dean, one professor and two assistants.
This area also houses the new library collection for the School of Divinity and study carrels for 24 students.
Since the program in Pastoral Ministry is designed for bivocational and smaller-church pastors and will hold on-site classes after noon on Friday, the entire ground level of Guinn, which has about 16,500 square feet and contains eight classrooms of various sizes, is at the disposal of the program, Quarles said.
Additionally, the Divinity School renovated the historic Bolton Chapel, he added.
The chapel contains 2,492 square feet and was converted into a preaching lab/lecture hall with state-of-the-art technology and comfortable seating for more than 100 students, Quarles said, noting the space devoted to the Divinity School “should be adequate for the first several years of the program.”
“The foundation that has underwritten the costs of the Divinity School has reviewed proposals for a new permanent site for the school,” Quarles said. “We expect to begin construction in several years.”
The nontraditional and traditional students attend separate classes so they do not have much interaction with each other, Quarles said, however, the Divinity School is sponsoring several events this year, a Founder’s Day celebration, and some Distinguished Scholars lectures, to provide the students with more opportunities to interact.
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Editor’s note: This story was modified on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, to remove outdated information from the photo of the Rev. Gregory Coates and his wife, Alisha.