Called College to Train Future Ministers, Missionaries
Starting this fall, Called College, a new Assemblies of God college in Carlinville, Illinois, will welcome its inaugural class of incoming freshmen — and it’s like few other private Christian colleges in the nation when it comes to cost, education, preparation, and experience.
Created in partnership with North Central University in Minneapolis and developed over seven years of investigation and preparation, Called College is a two-year, fully accredited (meaning students are eligible for financial aid) institution. It has been established with the sole purpose of helping young men and women fulfill their calling into full-time ministry, whether that be as a minister or missionary. Called College is intentionally located on the 400-acre Lake Williamson Christian Center, which is home to the Illinois District Council executive offices.
The cost is guaranteed not to exceed $6,875 per semester, including: housing, classes, books, parking, and all other fees except food. This means students can graduate with low to no debt-load, enabling them to accept positions they are passionate about that students with higher debt load couldn’t financially afford to accept.
According to Illinois District Superintendent Phil Schneider, one of the visionaries for the college, students will graduate as “field-ready” and AG credential-ready, having preached 10 to 15 times in churches of differing sizes and served in a variety of other real-life ministry capacities, including: teaching, ministering in children’s church, visitation, leading worship, serving Communion, and more.
WHY A NEW COLLEGE?
When Schneider and other district leaders and pastors looked at the latest Illinois district report, it was like a confirmation from God that Called College wasn’t just a good idea — it was a necessity.
The downward trend of undergraduates entering full-time ministry from the Illinois district was continuing. The latest report revealed only five candidates under the age of 40 — two which were under 30 — in 2021 had attained their AG ministry license and entered full-time ministry. Five.
“This past year, we had 4,000 students on our campground, and 400 of them raised their hand to say that God had called them into full-time ministry,” Schneider says. “We’ve had similar numbers in years past, but there’s no way we have that number entering the ministry. We looked at the barriers of quality education and the cost, and we were determined to fix that.”
“There’s not a problem with God’s calling; He’s still doing that,” confirms Rich Pruitt, Ph.D., director of Called College. “But of those who know they’ve been called . . . only a tiny fraction are fulfilling that calling.”
Illinois isn’t the only district struggling. Most districts are facing a serious “young minister” shortage. According to the AG national statistics, the smallest group of AG ministers — the group that should be the largest — are ministers under 40. Of the 37,557 ministers in the Assemblies of God, just 6,785 (18.1%) are under the age of 40. Fewer than 2,000 (5.3%) are under the age of 30.
Schneider and Pruitt explain that attending a four-year Christian university for many ministry students can mean a crushing debt load, so even those who do graduate, many feel forced to pursue “more lucrative” jobs to pay off those loans. On the other side, working for a degree through, for example, a church extension or online, often don’t provide the personal interactions or quality experiences young people crave and need.
“At Called College, students are personally going to come to know the district officers — who will also know them by name and be personally involved in the school,” Pruitt says. “And by the time students graduate, they will have developed a relatively large network of established ministers and churches within the district who will have fallen in love with them and want them in their ministry.”
Called College is for students who are passionate about seeking God and becoming uniquely prepared to fulfill God’s call into full-time ministry — from any district (not just Illinois). The college offers two degrees: Associate of Arts in Pastoral Studies and Associate of Arts in Global Studies.
The school touts highly qualified instructors, in-person classes, and second-to-none interaction with district executives, pastors, congregations, missionaries, and other leaders.
At Called College all students enjoy recently remodeled condominium living. That means six students to a condo that comes with three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a full kitchen, laundry with washer and dryer, and some even have a dining area apart from the kitchen.
As one of the premiere retreat centers in the nation, Lake Williamson comes stocked with all kinds of activity opportunities that students can enjoy. The grounds include three gymnasiums (basketball, volleyball, racquetball, and more), an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, rock climbing, a sand volleyball court, a mini-golf course, a disc golf course, a softball field, paddleboats and canoes, blacklight sports, and much more.
Yet, perhaps it’s the “life preparation” training that may be, in the end, one of the most appreciated side benefits of the school.
“We want students to learn how to cook,” Schneider says, referring to the condo kitchens. “When we send them out in ministry, we want them to be adults who can live on their own, live on a budget, live healthfully, make minor repairs, and live empowered spiritual lives.”
To help students be ready for their post-graduation life, each semester there will be different eight-week emphases, with the school bringing in experts in fitness, proper nutrition/meal preparation, finances, minor home/church repair, basic car maintenance, and other practical topics students may need to be fully prepared to step into a ministry role. Of course, with the RV Volunteers hosting their convention at Lake Williamson every April, finding several (hundred) experts to teach on basic repairs shouldn’t be too challenging.
In addition to practical life lessons, there will also be emphases on spiritual discipline — what it really means to set time aside for God, what it means (and how) to pray, the difference the empowering of the Holy Spirit makes in life and ministry, and other insights to becoming a spiritually disciplined minister.
“Our goal is to produce prepared ministers who are field ready,” agrees Pruitt. “They’re going to personally know the district officers, they’ll have built great relationships, and they’re going finish college totally ready to say ‘Yes!’ to whatever God has called them to.”
Although parents, who often foot much of the bill for their children’s education, may readily see the many financial, relational, and preparatory advantages of attending Called College, the college takes a new approach to ministry education and preparation. And “new” can add another level of intimidation for students who are already going to face numerous “firsts” in their lives.
Nate Bougher, who was recently accepted to Called College, admits in a video testimony that when District Assistant Superintendent Roy Rhodes first told him about the college, he didn’t take it very seriously; he had already narrowed his decision down to two other colleges.
“(But) my parents were like, ‘It’s worth praying about,’” he recalls. “So I prayed about it. Then I heard it was going to be done through NCU (North Central University). I went to the Called Conference (held at Lake Williamson) and the NCU worship team was there, and it was like, ‘This (Called College) is where I’m going.’”
By choosing to attend Called College, Bougher says it solved one of his biggest challenges — how to do practical ministry while getting his education.
“(Called College) is really this hybrid of discipleship and education, and you’re doing these things at the same time,” he says. “I would so much rather be ‘injected,’ per se, into the ministry sooner than later.”
Sage Heimer, who also shares in a video testimony, had a little different path to being accepted at Called College. She was uncertain about what college to attend and was feeling frustrated as nothing seemed quite what she wanted.
But she recalls one encounter with God where she said jokingly, “If only there was a college at Lake Williamson!” Not long afterwards, she learned that, indeed, Lake Williamson was going to have a college.
“I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ The more I looked into it, the more I found things that I’ve been looking for in other colleges, like heavy discipleship — not just me disciplining, but like me being discipled,” Heimer says. “I feel really at peace with this decision.”
Currently, the goal is to enroll up to 40 students for this fall’s semester — 17 have already been vetted through North Central University and accepted, with nine more in the application process.
In the short-term, the campus can be easily expanded to house 80 students. Longer term, if the demand exceeds the availability, expansion to 120 students is well within reach. Beyond that, Schneider and Pruitt say that’s in God’s hands.
“If at first we can only graduate and license 20 a year, that would be extraordinary, as we’re doing so few now,” Pruitt says. “But think about it, each student is a 50-year investment in the ministry, roughly from ages 20 to 70, serving in the ministry . . . it’s not a large number of students, but I believe we’ll have a consistently growing number of young people entering the ministry.”
Schneider adds that there is also a desire to work with AG World Missions missionaries to allow students pursuing Global Studies (missions) degrees to intern for a period of time with missionaries, while having online opportunities to interact with missionaries from around the world in a classroom setting. However, this is still in the planning stages.
“Our priority right now,” Schneider says, “is making sure our students have a phenomenal experience, in education and training.”
Pruitt agrees and adds, “We want our students to know we need them — we want them to become part of a family of ministers and a community of churches.”