Living Church of God will be closing Living University.
This is not exactly breaking news. I am sure that most LCG members have heard about this. But I have some comments to make about it. I also want to collect links to several official LCG announcements about this in one place for those who want to look closely at what has been said by LCG.
Mr. Gerald Weston, Presiding Evangelist for Living Church of God, first announced that Living Church of God will no longer seek accreditation for Living University.
This was followed by other announcements indicating that Living University will close operations (as a university) at the end of the spring semester, May 2018, and that a new educational program is planned to be set up offering online classes to LCG members free of charge starting in August. Much of the class material that has been used in LU will be used in the new educational program, so the effort put into building those courses in LU will not be entirely wasted.
A reason given for this decision is the legal restrictions in about 20 states to not allow residents of those states to take online courses from a college or university that is not accredited and is not registered in that state. Registering in all states would be expensive and time-consuming, as is becoming accredited. And the trend indicates that the number of states with this kind of restriction is growing. Thus LU as presently structured cannot be used by the Church to educate its youth and members through online classes in all states.
Here are links to announcements from LCG where you can get more details and the exact wording of the announcements:
LCG WEEKLY UPDATE, NOVEMBER 9, 2017
LCG CO-WORKER LETTER, NOVEMBER 16, 2017
LCG WEEKLY UPDATE, DECEMBER 7, 2017
LCG will now try to develop a more flexible program to educate its youth and members and prepare some of them for the ministry.
I think, under the circumstances, this is a wise decision.
There have always been tough issues regarding the education of a future ministry in the Church of God. Mr. Armstrong faced these issues and made certain decisions in his day, but the legal and economic circumstances have changed since then. Technology has changed too.
How do you train members and youth in the Church for the job of minister?
Training of ministers is necessary if the Church of God is to continue for any length of time. Many COG groups have recognized this and tried, in one form or another, to provide a training program. In many groups, the collective ministry is aging. There is a need for new, young ministers. But how are they to be trained?
Mr. Armstrong saw the need for a college-educated ministry. When the work was young, he tried to pastor congregations in the Radio Church of God (later named Worldwide Church of God) without a ministry trained under his direction. It didn't work. Mr. Armstrong was busy traveling to manage the radio and magazine work, and while he was not present in congregations to manage things, local ministers or members assumed leadership and led the congregations away into error and false doctrine.
He saw the need for a ministry trained under his direction, and he felt that he needed a college-educated ministry.
But he did not want to start just a Bible college.
In the religions of this world, men choose to be ministers and pursue that as a career as one might choose to be an architect, a chemist, a dentist, an engineer, or a lawyer. But Mr. Armstrong knew that in God's Church, only God can call someone to the ministry.
To set up a Bible college and allow students to choose to enroll would be an implied admission that those students were being trained for the ministry. But only God can call men into the ministry, and God makes His calling known by the fruits shown by those He is calling into the ministry.
So Mr. Armstrong started Ambassador College, not a Bible college, but a liberal arts college. It would teach Bible courses and true doctrines from the Bible, yes, but it would also teach general courses that other colleges teach: English, science, mathematics, etc. That way, students would not be educated only for the ministry, but would receive a general college education suitable for many careers. It would not only educate a future ministry, but would prepare the youth of the Church, and others who might be coming into the Church, to live godly lives according to the standards of the Bible. It would teach true values. And whether or not Mr. Armstrong had this in mind, by having men and women enrolled in approximately equal numbers at the college campuses (one campus to start with, three later on), the college environment provided a near ideal opportunity for men and women in the Church to meet and get to know each other and find mates. Many of the older ministers in the Church of God who attended Ambassador College found their wives there.
Then, with men enrolled and active for about four years in the various programs and activities in the college, Mr. Armstrong could observe them and discern, by the fruits, who were being called by God into the ministry. Those were the ones who were ordained. The education they received at AC prepared them for the ministry. But those God was not calling could use their AC education to pursue other careers.
Ambassador College was not accredited. Mr. Armstrong did not pursue accreditation because he felt it would require compromise with the standards of this world.
He was also able to build Ambassador College because of rapidly growing income at that time. Nevertheless, things were very tight financially in the early years.
Ambassador College could not have started smaller. The first year there were about eight teachers and four students. But from that small start it grew, and it became a major factor in the growth of the Church of God.
Today, the legal and economic environment is different. The Church does not have the income to build a campus-based college that all can attend, not like Ambassador College at any rate, and laws about distance learning are restrictive, no doubt to prevent fraud by those who would misrepresent what they are selling to the public.
LU, as it is now, is expensive for LCG to support. Achieving accreditation is expensive because of the labor involved. There may also be pressures to compromise with God's truth involved in seeking accreditation in areas such as evolution, political correctness, and other matters. I don't say that the Church has to give in to those pressures to achieve accreditation, but the effort to maneuver that mine field can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and expensive. It may be that continuing LU as it is now, with the effort to achieve accreditation, would cut into funds needed for preaching the gospel.
Distance learning through online classes was not an option Mr. Armstrong had in his day. Also, when he started Ambassador College, there was not a large, spread-out Church of God to take such online classes.
So the situation is different, and different solutions are required.
I think Mr. Weston and the leading ministers will probably move quickly to restructure the educational program for members and future ministers in Living Church of God.
I think what is needed is a collection of courses that can be taken online that will teach the Bible and the Bible-based doctrines of Living Church of God. There should also be courses that teach certain ministerial skills, such as counseling, speaking, etc. These courses can be taken, partially online, but some may have to be taken face-to-face with instructors. Some of this can be at headquarters, but some with a local pastor. Spokesman Club and Graduate Club have served the purpose of teaching speaking skills in the past, and is an example of what can be taught locally.
A number of ministers in the Church have started with Spokesman Club, then Graduate Club, then giving sermonettes, then, if the fruits show they are being called by God to the ministry, being ordained as a local elder. Some local elders, after they have gained experience, have been hired as full-time pastors.
But strong doctrinal training is also required, and much of that can be provided through online courses.
The effort put into LU to develop doctrinal course content has not been wasted. These programs can easily be converted to online courses not part of a licensed university or college.
Then, when a man has studied and mastered the Bible-based doctrines of the Church, and if he has proved himself locally in service and speaking, if he has been ordained as a local elder, if the ministry sees by the fruits that God is calling him into the full-time ministry, he can train with a local pastor for six months and then be hired as a full-time associate pastor or a full pastor.
I do not think that the Church can afford the luxury of teaching courses that are readily available in regular colleges and universities across the country and in community colleges, such as courses in English, chemistry, algebra, business, accounting, engineering, computer programming, etc. Members of the Church can take those courses as they need them from established colleges.
What the Church needs to focus on is the training that only the Church can provide - training in the doctrinal subjects members should know and ministers must know.
I saw a quote that said something like: Say no to the good to say yes to the best.
That is as good an explanation of the need to focus our priorities as any I have heard or read.
We cannot do everything. There are many worthwhile things we may like to do, good things, but we cannot do them all. To focus our priorities on the best things, we may have to say no to many projects that are good, but not the most important.
The important things for the Church are to provide doctrinal and skills training for members and ministers without sacrificing the finances we need for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to our Israelite nations and to the world. That is the best. But to do this we have to say no to other projects that are good and worthwhile when considered in isolation, but for which we do not have the resources in time and money to do them without sacrificing the best projects.
Doctrinal training is not only needed for future ministers in the Church of God, but it is needed for members as well.
I think the Church of God needs a better trained membership and more ministers. More members need to be able to step up into a ministerial capacity in the future. There may be a need.
What might trigger that need?
We know that most of the people of the United States, and other countries too, have not heard the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning of the tribulation to come. Yet, the Bible is clear, it is God's way to warn. Our nations need to hear the message of the gospel and the warning to prepare them for the tribulation ahead. It is likely, therefore, that before the tribulation comes, which may be soon, God will provide a way for the nations to be warned. Somehow, He may empower the Church to get a strong message out that will reach tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions. This may happen through a dramatic event or other means.
But when that happens, how will it affect the Church of God? It might happen suddenly. If God somehow empowers a message to go out to a hundred million people, and if only one out of a thousand respond and want to make contact with the Church (it would probably be more than that), how would the Church handle 100,000 "go to's" in just a few weeks? How will the Church handle a million letters asking questions?
It is not just ministers that need training. It is members too so they can fill the shoes of ministers if needed. Everyone in LCG needs to know the doctrines of the Bible. Precision training is what is needed. It needs to be of the highest quality and thoroughness. It needs to be economical.
One of my hobbies is the study of the history of World War II. There are many lessons about life in that history.
It is commonly recognized that the German army in both world wars was a superior force compared with armies of other nations, and some have tried to analyze why that was so. There were a number of reasons, but a couple come to mind.
One, the German army had more officers in proportion to their common soldiers than the French army and many other armies. If that lesson is applied to the Church, it might indicate we need more ministers. Even if the Church cannot afford to hire many more, there may need for more local elders, but they must first be trained.
Two, the German army trained its officers to be able to handle the duties two ranks above their current rank! They were trained two ranks above their own level. They not only knew how to handle their commanding officer's duties, they knew how to handle his commanding officer's duties, two full ranks above their own duties.
In the Church of God, that would be as if every member was trained to be a local elder, every deacon was trained to be an associate pastor, every local elder trained to be a pastor, every associate pastor trained to be an evangelist, etc.
I am not necessarily advocating that, exactly. But I am making a point that the Church of God needs more training. It may be needed if God does something dramatic to suddenly bring our message to the public and we are swamped with responses. If that happens, many members who are not ministers may be called upon to step up and do what ministers do to handle those responses.
And if the Church is to provide more precision training to its members and ministers, and do so economically, it probably does not have the resources to build a whole, accredited college or university that teaches all the subjects that other colleges teach.
I pray for the success of Mr. Weston and the leading ministers in Living Church of God in restructuring their educational program for their members and future ministers.