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AG SoCal School of Ministry -- Money Back, Guaranteed!

For many people, the fear of educational debt keeps them from pursuing ministry credentials, but that's not the case with Southern California Network's School of Ministry!

Imagine going to college and earning a degree, but then when the president hands out diplomas on graduation day, he also hands all the graduates a check reimbursing them for the cost of all the courses they took! 

A fantasy? Not for those becoming ordained ministers through the School of Ministry in the Southern California Network. 

In 2008, then Southern California (SoCal) District Superintendent Ray Rachels assigned Gordon Houston, then assistant superintendent, the task of creating a school of ministry for SoCal. What Rachels wanted and the district needed was a sustainable pipeline of new ministers coming up in the district’s ranks. 

“The first thing we did was create the School of Ministry which allows individuals to systematically move their way through to earning their credentials,” says Houston, who now serves as secretary/treasurer for the network. “We didn’t know it would explode!” 

Beginning with just one center in 2009, the School of Ministry now has 12 English campuses and three Spanish locations throughout the SoCal Network. The classes, which are held in churches in regions that have strong numbers interested in pursuing credentials, are limited to those that are tied directly to achieving being credentialed. 

Last year, the School of Ministry offered 183 different classes led by 70 instructors and professors through the school’s 15 campuses. 

“A student can complete the educational requirements for a certified credential in as little as nine months, and each class only costs $129,” Houston says. “The reason we can do this so affordably is that our instructors do this out of a sense of ministry and only receive a small stipend for their time — we could never do this otherwise.” But low-cost or not, when the student is ordained, he or she receives all of his tuition money back! 

Although cheap classes, near-volunteer staff, and full tuition refunds may raise some eyebrows as to the quality of education, Houston quickly lays that question to rest. 

“All of our instructors are required to have at least a master’s degree,” he explains. “Our structure is so sound with the amount of class time, the syllabus, and professors, that we currently have an agreement with Vanguard University that the courses are transferable as upper education units. We are also in dialogue with other AG universities finalizing similar agreements.” 

Students agree with Houston’s evaluation of the program. Fifty-year-old Ron J. Gauthier and his wife, Lori, 49, are graduates of the School of Ministry and currently pastor the His Light, Homeland (California) campus. They both have strong praise for the school. 

“The book and Bible knowledge the instructors have is absolutely amazing,” Lori says, “but they also had so much life experience they were able to offer us, providing us with such sound advice and wisdom pertaining to God’s call on our life.” 

Ron echoes Lori’s thoughts, strongly advocating the quality of the education the school provides, but adding, “The networking has really helped as well. I have friends and support from Palmdale to San Diego.” 

The Gauthiers also point out that the relationships created through the School of Ministry process are relationships with people who not only want them to succeed, but will still be there [in Southern California] and available to them well after graduation. 

Last year, 660 students participated in School of Ministry classes, and for those completing the process in 2016, a total of $24,000 was given back to them. Since 2009, a total of $82,000 has been returned to ordained graduates. 

With so many of the students seeking ordination having families, jobs, and other responsibilities to tend to in addition to pursuing their education, Houston says this “at-your-own-pace” education allows students flexibility. Students can choose when they want to take a class and at what campus (or campuses) they want to take classes. 

Sarah Maes, 40, Connections pastor at Victorville (California) First Assembly, has been in ministry for 18 years. She’s currently going through School of Ministry, with only six classes to go. 

When she first started at Victorville, she was working on her master’s degree, and then time got away from her. But with the flexibility of School of Ministry, she has become a big proponent of the school. 

“Every Christian should go through this program, whether they’re new to the faith or they’ve been Christian for years,” Maes states. “It will help them in their walk, to grow, to mature, and gain a better understanding of Christ.” 

Maes also cites the quality of teaching, praising instructors for the clarity and depth of their teaching as well as for enabling interaction between students for an “all-around great experience.” 

Jennifer Feliciano, 34, works at an electrical wholesale shop and currently has two more classes to take to earn her certification through the School of Ministry. She felt that the Lord placed it on her heart to get credentialed, but says two people made the difference for her. 

“Karla Gutel [dean of the School of Ministry] and her husband, Jim [administrator], are awesome,” Feliciano states. “They are so dedicated and kind! I felt so welcome, not at all nervous or out of place — through meeting them it helped me to know that I was fulfilling the will of God for my life.” The Gutels are Intercultural Ministries missionaries through AG U.S. Missions.

The School of Ministry has also proven to be a boon to churches who are looking to develop leaders or have members wanting to become a minister, but don’t have the finances. Houston explains that if a church pays for a member to go through the program, upon the member’s graduation and ordination, the church will be reimbursed the tuition it paid. 

“Being reimbursed for all the tuition expenses is definitely an incentive [to attend],” states Lori Gauthier. “But now, our church has also sponsored several students to attend as well.” 

Has the program been successful? Houston says it has surpassed all of their expectations. In fact, 40 to 50 percent of all newly credentialed ministers for the SoCal Network have come through the School of Ministry!

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.