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Potomac SOM Thrives During Pandemic

Potomac SOM Thrives During Pandemic

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In a time when businesses and organizations are struggling to survive due to government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Potomac School of Ministry  (PSOM) has experienced growth. According to Robert J. Rhoden, executive director of education for the Potomac Ministry Network, more students have enrolled during social distancing than ever before.

Based on previous years, Rhoden projected PSOM would average 40 students a month between its two campuses. However, during May over 70 students joined one of the PSOM classes. Currently over 100 active students are taking courses.

AG district and network SOMs combine the flexibility to study content between work and family schedules during the week as well as the structure of required in-person classes on the weekend. The experience provides the opportunity to learn through peer and instructor interactions.

Although the courses could no longer physically meet in person due to social distancing restrictions, the Association of District Schools of Ministry (ADSOM) waived the physical requirement in order to enable Assemblies of God credential seekers an opportunity to continue their educations through video conferencing.

Rhoden, 50, decided to continue the instruction of PSOM courses through Zoom and GoToMeeting apps.

“We chose to do it this way because we truly believe special things happen in the teaching moment when we are together in dialogue,” Rhoden says. “I want to preserve that.”

Rhoden thinks students learn better and teachers are able to instruct more effectively when classes meet together, including through digital meetings.

“My life was greatly shaped by follow-up conversations with professors,” Rhoden says. “There is a whole lot that is ‘caught’ during that time because people are beginning to personalize the content and filter it through their ministry contexts.”

Classes through Zoom and GoToMeeting trigger a broader range of input from students. Some individuals who might not normally speak up and add to an on-site lecture hall discussion full of other students feel safer to comment digitally.

“The dynamic is wonderful as people are asking questions and engaging in the material,” Rhoden says. “The classroom experience is now virtual instead of physical. It is still an in-person gathering.”

Benjamin E. Rainey Jr., secretary-treasurer of the Potomac Ministry Network, believes the role of district leadership is to mobilize ministers to the mission field.

“Rather than being stopped by the obstacle of COVID-19, we are able to propel ministers forward,” says Rainey, 42. “This is a means that allows us to continue to equip ministers to fulfill the Great Commission.”

Rhoden identifies three types of students who are taking the opportunity to continue their educations as social distancing placed restrictions and slowdowns on other areas of life: new students; those who previously took courses, but went dormant due to the busy nature of life; and staff pastors who are certified or licensed, but want to gain further credentials. Students no longer had to spend time and additional expenses associated with driving to physical locations when course gatherings became digital, and the slower pace of life caused by the pandemic provided more time for study and reflection and acted as an additional factor in the increase in enrollment.

“I was thankful for the speedy response from ADSOM in continuing the mission of training our leaders,” Rhoden says. “Many things we have experienced during COVID-19 changed our models and modes of ministry. Now is the time to reflect on what we have learned and how it will affect the future.”

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