The Potter’s House, the Dallas megachurch led by Bishop T.D. Jakes, is expanding its mission statement to include collaboration with a Pennsylvania seminary.
Palmer Theological Seminary has started a master of theological studies program that will be mostly online, but will have students spending a week every other term at the Potter’s House, getting practical experience under Jakes and other pastors.
They will be exposed to great worship leaders and great community leaders who hopefully will broaden the students’ theological background,” said L. Armstead Edwards, director of the program for Palmer, which is in Wynnewood, Pa., and is part of Eastern University.
The pilot program begins in August, and many of the first students will probably come from the Potter’s House staff and membership.
“We believe in building leadership from within,” Jakes said.
Jakes added that other seminaries have approached him about a partnership. He went with Palmer, he said, because its program is based on the Openseminary model that began in South Africa and seeks to give a seminary education to laity and church workers who can’t relocate to a seminary campus.
“It really opens up the playing field to people who are raising families or otherwise would not be able to take advantage,” Jakes said.
Jakes did not attend an accredited seminary such as Palmer, instead learning on the job as a young pastor, though he did get degrees through a correspondence school.
He said that had he had the chance, he would have enrolled in a program like this one.
Seminary students who plan to be ordained pastors typically pursue a master of divinity degree, which requires the study of biblical languages.
The master of theological studies degree is more often pursued by someone wanting personal enrichment, by a church worker not seeking ordination, or as a pre-Ph.D. program, said Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools.
Aleshire noted that several other seminaries have partnerships with megachurches. He also said that more students are getting at least part of their theological education online.
The first students enrolled in the program are guaranteed to get time with Jakes, a best-selling author, producer of feature films and longtime presence on Christian TV. The inaugural graduating class will be designated T.D. Jakes Scholars, the church said in a news release.
Jakes comes from the Pentecostal tradition and Palmer’s parent Eastern University is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA. But doctrinal differences will not pose a problem for the partnership, Jakes and Edwards said.
Shayne Lee, a sociologist of religion at Tulane University and author of a biography of Jakes, described the Palmer-Potter’s House collaboration as “win-win.”
For Jakes, he said, “it’s really a slick move because it’s going to credential many of his leaders at the Potter’s House, and it’s also going to raise his cachet, being connected with the seminary.”
He added, “Seminaries can certainly learn a lot from him.”