Accreditation: Liberal Arts Studies and the Local Church Bible College

Dr. Paul Chappell

When it became clear that the Lord was leading our church to start a Bible college, the task was intimidating. With the daily needs of our people and a growing Christian day school, continual building programs were already a necessity. I felt the pressure to stay in our comfort zone of ministry, but God kept taking me back to the one thing Jesus asked us to pray for—laborers! (Matthew 9:38).

At the same time, my heart was increasingly burdened for the West Coast. Hundreds of cities here and across our great nation were without a solid, soulwinning, Baptist church. I thought, “If God is allowing us to reach people here in Lancaster, why couldn’t He do that in cities just like ours here in the western region of the country?” The more I contemplated that, the more I realized that there was a great need to train more laborers in the environment of a local church for the harvest fields all over the world.

God laid it upon my heart to define the mission of West Coast Baptist College within the scope of the local church ministry. While there is a need for Christian doctors, lawyers, engineers, and the like, our purpose is solely to train young people for full-time ministry. Nearly half the credit hours for any of our four year degrees consist of Bible classes. Every instructor is not only academically qualified to teach, but they are also soulwinners who are involved in the daily ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church.

Many students today are being told that if they want to be successful and compete with the world, they must have an accredited education. But for students training to be preachers of God’s Word, there are clear qualifications in the Scriptures (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Graduating from an accredited institution is not a requirement. This is not stated to downplay academics. We must be honest, that there are many men who have been greatly used of God whose training came from local church-based ministries. Here on the West Coast, many of our good pastors are Bible college graduates from “non-accredited” colleges.

As I travel, I am often asked by sincere people if we are pursuing accreditation at WCBC. While I respect the decision of some fine colleges to take that route; it is not our intention to do so. There are several reasons for this decision, not the least of which is my belief that the local church should have no approving agency over its ministry. I believe this position to be consistent with the Scriptures and with our Baptist distinctives. I suppose it would be less of an issue for a para-church organization or college to consider and agree to such oversight. In our situation, WCBC is clearly a ministry of a local church. Christian colleges that are accredited will say that such status is harmless and greatly benefits the student. Accreditation makes available government money through grants, scholarships, and benefits. While some good schools choose to accept the government scrutiny that comes with this money, it has been our practice to teach our students to rely upon God to meet their needs. They are headed toward ministry where prayer, hard work, and sacrifice will be the norm. We have met many students who recently graduated from accredited colleges with a tremendous burden of debt on their shoulders from student loans.

It is our desire to be Saviour-sensitive and Bible-driven in all of our decisions for our church, college, and Christian day school. The purpose of our college is to train Christian church leaders who are passionate for spreading the Gospel. I have not seen accreditation help any learning institution produce more preachers for the harvest. If a student is properly trained by godly and qualified teachers in both spiritual and academic areas, hears Spirit-anointed preaching on a daily basis, keeps his heart hot by serving in the ministry of a local church, and has the power of God on his life upon graduation, God will use that student to impact the world regardless of the cultural expectations. It is that kind of graduate whom God has used in the past and the world is waiting to hear from today!