Do I have to attend seminary to become a minister?
This is actually a complicated question that requires careful consideration of your plans to utilize your education (or lack thereof). In the world of religious education there are typically four approaches:
1) To earn a degree from an accredited institution "recognized by the US Board of Education". Do not be fooled, a school can claim to be "accredited", but if the US Board of Education does not recognize the accrediting agency, the accreditation is useless in the eyes of most employers.
2) To earn a degree from an unaccredited school. This will not qualify you for government or even many secular jobs. However,"depending on the school", it may still be beneficial to obtaining employment with churches.
3) To undergo a mentoring process. This approach is seen often in scripture. It is how Jesus prepared the disciples, and how Paul prepared Timothy for ministry. However, in their time there were no Christian seminaries.
4) To obtain an honorary doctorate.This is by far the weakest approach of all because you do not actually learn anything -which is the whole purpose of education in the first place. Another reason this is not generally a beneficial approach is because of the nature and institution from which the honorary degree is obtained. It is customarily for legitimate universities to award such honors upon people who have achieved great accomplishments for the betterment of humanity. These people are usually well known (nationally) for such achievements, and they never take a test, or make a payment for the degree -hence the reason it is honorary. If you do not fit this description it will likely that no one will find any real appreciation for the degree.
The NACM, along with quite a few denominations require that candidates for ministry demonstrate the calling of God on their lives, and that they meet their ethical standards for ordination. However, some churches and or denominations require ministerial certification.
There are a number of approaches that various denominations take to "certify" ministers. However, minister certification and ordination are really one in the same. For this reason, "ordination" means different things to different groups. Some religious communities require no educational achievements for ministry, while others require anything from a Bible college diploma to a seminary degree. Arguments for educational requirements are that one cannot teach what they never learned. Arguments for not requiring educational requirements is that God will call ministers and prepare them as they answer the call. Both seem to be valid arguments. Entities who have such educational criteria have inevitably made it a prerequisite before one can be considered as a candidate for ministry.
The term "Bible College" is very general, but usually speaks of a 1-2 year course of study focused mainly on the Bible and core theology. Upon completion, graduates are usually awarded a Diploma of Biblical Studies, or a Diploma of General Bible. The credibility of such a course of study resides in the credibility of the school. There are some major Christian Universities who offer this training, and also many unaccredited diploma mills. At any rate, what will be most important to the ministry candidate is that their ordination council recognizes the school.
The most popular educational requirement for ordination in mainline denominations is the Master of Divinity degree granted by an accredited seminary. Depending on the denomination, irrespective of whether or not the school is accredited, they may only recognize certain schools for ordination within their organizations. This degree is approximately 7 years of education (total). Technically the MDiv. is a 3 year degree program, but one must have earned an undergraduate degree (in generally any subject) to enter seminary -an undergraduate degree usually takes 4 years to accomplish. Therefore, when one refers to "seminary", they are technically referencing a graduate school. Once again,what will be most important to the ministry candidate is that their ordination council recognizes the school.
The biggest question is: What you plan to do with your education?
If you plan to use your education for a career, the best results are likely to follow those who seek a school that has been approved by an accrediting body recognized by the US Board of Education. If you are ever in question, this link will verify it for you:http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx
When it comes to accreditation, do not take people’s word for it –check the above link for verification. If it is not there, the schools accreditation is meaningless to most US employers. There are tons of diploma mills on the internet who claim to be “accredited”. Here you can find more information on this fraudulent practice: (http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/diploma-mills.html)
Quoting the US Board of Education, "In some states, it can be illegal to use a degree from an institution that is not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, unless approved by the state licensing agency." (http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/accreditation.html#accredited)
“In the United States, unaccredited degrees may not be acceptable for state or federal civil service or other employment; in certain cases and circumstances; criminal penalties may even apply should such a degree be presented in lieu of a degree from an accredited institution." (http://en.allexperts.com/e/l/li/list_of_unaccredited_institutions_of_higher_learning.htm).
Washington RCW 9A.60.070 False academic credentials: (a) "False academic credential" means a document that provides evidence or demonstrates completion of an academic or professional course of instruction beyond the secondary level that results in the attainment of an academic certificate, degree, or rank, and that is not issued by a person or entity that: (i) Is an entity accredited by an agency recognized as such by rule of the higher education coordinating board or has the international equivalents of such accreditation....Such documents include, but are not limited to, academic certificates, degrees, coursework, degree credits, transcripts, or certification of completion of a degree."
(5) Knowingly using a false academic credential is a gross misdemeanor.
Wisconsin Senate Bill 431 signed by Governor Doyle: "addresses the problems related to the use of false academic credentials created by 'diploma mills' by prohibiting the use of the terms college, university, state and Wisconsin in the name of schools that are not certified as such by the Educational Approval Board. In addition, the bill creates a penalty for issuing and using a false academic credential and/or the false use of a legitimate academic credential. The bill upholds the integrity of degrees granted by the Wisconsin Technical College System, the UW System and other
institutions of higher education and prevents against fraudulent institutions and degrees." (http://www.thewheelerreport.com/releases/may10/may12/0512govsign3.pdf)
Sometimes Christians argue that churches can grant degrees. However, Christians should not confuse the roles of Churches and Universities. Churches do play an educational role; however, the Bible never instructs them to grant educational degrees.
In the end, what is most important is that students follow the paths that they feel called to follow. If that means an unaccredited school, so be it. But in so doing, they must also realize the limitations of such a decision. In the end the question is: What does the student wish to do with their degree, and will it pave the way for them to accomplish their goals?