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How to start a Christian seminary (in a Mormon-populated area)

By Eric Johnson

Several times I have been asked, “How did you start a Christian seminary?” or “What is your advice in starting a seminary program?” My response is that it IS possible to begin a Christian seminary in a Mormon populated area. The rewards make it worth the time, expense, and effort to begin a program that will help our teenagers better “own their own faith,” a slogan I have used for more than two decades in my work with high school students.

What is a “seminary”?

What is meant by the term “Christian seminary”? This is a good question since most Christians will think that seminary is a reference to a “post-graduate” school for those wanting to become pastors. Yes, the traditional Christian seminary is post graduate, as even I have an M.Div. degree granted me by Bethel Seminary in 1991. However, in the context of Mormonism, seminary is a four-year high school program run by the LDS Church to provide basic instruction to the teenagers in the years prior to becoming eligible for their missions. According the Mormon Newsroom website:

Seminary is a worldwide, four-year religious educational program for youth ages 14 through 18. It is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but is open to teenagers of all faiths. In seminary, students and their teachers meet each weekday during the school year to study scripture. The curriculum is organized in a sequential or chapter by chapter manner. Instruction concentrates on a different volume of scripture each year, rotating between the following four courses: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. By the time a student graduates from seminary, he or she will have completed the study of all of the standard works of scripture. Source

Throughout the United States, LDS students can attend daily classes at their local church building called a chapel. This normally takes place before school. Meanwhile, in Utah, Idaho, and several other western states with high LDS populations, the church normally owns instructional buildings near the public high schools. These buildings are located within walking distance of the school. Besides classes that are held before and after school, the seminary hosts “release time” classes, which are held at these off-campus buildings during class periods throughout a school day. Students walk off campus—typically next door—to the seminary that is led by adult Mormons who receive a salary from the church. These classes have been ruled Constitutional as long as the students are signed up for the classes and they are held off the public school’s campus.

The seminary benefits the LDS Church by preparing students to better understand their faith. The Mormon Newsroom website encourages students,

Make an effort to participate in seminary by studying the scriptures regularly and completing the book of scripture assigned each year. Taking the learning assessment can be a great way to see what you know and to learn the key doctrines and principles as you study with your class.

We estimate that about 60-70 percent of the Alta High School (Sandy, UT) students align with the LDS Church. Everyone at the school—atheists, Mormons, and even Christians—know what “seminary” is all about, as the word is part of everyone’s vocabulary. In 2013 the pastor at a local Baptist church and I decided to develop and team-teach an elective class called “Christian seminary,” modeling it somewhat after the LDS program while providing a safe place where students can learn important truths about the Bible and Christianity.

The history of Alta Christian Seminary

In early 2013, I knocked on the pastor’s parsonage door who, at that time, had been at the church for two years.  “Hi, my name is Eric Johnson,” I remember telling him, “and your church is the perfect location for hosting a Christian seminary.” Tim’s church sits directly across the main student parking lot of Alta High School, a public school that had (at the time) 1,700 students. (In 2018, the number of students had gone up about 25% to more than 2,300 students!)

I told him that I had taught Bible classes at a private Christian school in Southern California for a number of years and served as the Bible department head (Christian Unified Schools). The pastor had looked into starting a seminary program, but when he tried to talk to the principal, his phone calls and emails had been ignored. Because it was snowing when we met, we decided to get together at a later time and further talk about the possibility. After our initial conversation, we decided that we needed to do everything we could to make Christian seminary an option for the students in our area, so we set up an appointment with the school administration to discuss the possibilities.

It took a while, but we finally got a meeting scheduled in June 2013, just a day before the school’s graduation ceremony. There were four administrators present at the meeting, including the academic vice principal as well as the head school counselor. We had provided a written proposal for why we thought our program should be officially recognized by the school. The hour-long meeting was productive, as we felt confident answering the questions of the high school administration. The consensus of the administrative team was that we were indeed qualified to have the school’s recognition and we were offered the ability to have a class placed onto the school’s schedule for a “release time” class.

Except for my youngest daughter Hannah, we did not have any student(s) we knew would attend. (The pastor’s oldest son was attending a charter school and could not be fully involved in our program until his sophomore year when he transferred to Alta High.) Because of the uncertainty and the fact that we had run out of time in the 2013 school year to officially recruit, we decided to wait for the second semester before opening the seminary’s doors in January 2014.

Over the summer of 2013, the pastor and I invited the youth pastors from a dozen surrounding Christian churches to meet several times at the church for pizza and soft drinks so we could explain our idea. Four pastors, including a youth pastor, took us up on our offer. Our hope was to incorporate the local Christian churches and allow them to help us plan for the non-denominational class. We made it clear to the pastors that we would not favor one denomination over another while remaining steadfast about the essential issues (i.e. God, authority, salvation, etc.). At the same time, we promised that we would be flexible with the peripheral issues (i.e. mode of baptism, end times, etc.). We did (and still do) not want any pastor or parent to be threatened by thinking we would teach doctrines contrary to their church involving issues where the Bible gives freedom to choose.

We later came to find out that our best contacts would not come from the pastors at the local church level. Frankly, we were disappointed because a) several pastors had no Alta High students in their churches; b) several other churches were not willing to promote our seminary. In fact, while we have tried hard, we have never had a student come to our seminary through the influence of a youth pastor or pastor at any of the local churches! And those pastors who are supportive of what we are trying to do never seem to have any students who attend Alta High School.

During the fall of 2013, we reached out to the leaders of the LDS seminary, located on the other side of the school from the church. We made an appointment with the  principal of the school and told her about our plans. She was excited that there would be a program available for those who were not LDS and said that her seminary would be happy to help us in any way. We asked if she would allow us to observe classes at the seminary, to which she agreed. Over the next month, the pastor and I observed a half dozen class sessions at this seven-room building. We were told that the seminary had enrolled more than 1,000 students of the 1,700 who were enrolled, which was an incredible number: more than half of all the high school students were enrolled in the extracurricular LDS seminary! The principal also arranged to have us eat brown bag lunches in the faculty lounge one day with the other teachers, all of whom were teaching the same course to different grades.

Based on our interactions and my previous teaching experience, we decided on the following:

  • We would hold our meetings before school in the church’s foyer twice a week
    • The days would be Tuesday and Thursday. We decided against an after-school class because jobs, school activities, clubs, band, and high school sport teams would eliminate many potential students in a school that, by the numbers, does not have many Evangelical Christian students.
    • We would hold classes on two different mornings because this would provide us more opportunity to invest in teaching the students. The classes would be held 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, the school’s official “sleep-in” day. This is the morning when teachers have to attend school meetings. The second class would be held on Thursdays, 6:15 to 7:15.  This extra day allowed students from other surrounding schools to be able to attend on Thursday mornings, as the unique Alta Tuesday morning schedule would keep them from being able to come. We decided to end the class half an hour before school started so students could not only get to school but it would also allow the students to visit teachers before school if they needed extra help. In addition, the pastor and I like to make ourselves available to students who want to stay after and chat. Several students have taken advantage of that, including one senior the first year who had no first period class.
  • There would always be an organized curriculum
    • Later I’ll give some possibilities of subjects that we have covered, but we want our agenda to be clear for both students and parents concerning what we are teaching them in class.
  • We would see if we could build the seminary to 20 or more students before attempting to organize a “release time” class
    • The school gave us permission to have an official “release time” class that would then be made available to anyone in the school. We didn’t believe it made sense to begin this in-school class without first verifying if we had enough students to make such an endeavor worthwhile. We understood that having a class any period during the day could eliminate certain students, especially for those who would take unique classes, including Advanced Placement, special arts/music classes, and even college classes that might be offered only one period a day.
    • If these classes are only offered for one period and a student really wanted/needed to take any of these classes held during the period our seminary class was scheduled, the odds are that we would not be able to enroll that student. Alta High School has a block schedule. Thus, if we chose Period 1, we as teachers would be responsible to have class two or even three times a week on different days each week (i.e. Monday/Wednesday/Friday one week, Tuesday/Thursday the next, with adjusted schedules for any week there is a holiday or church work day). This would be quite demanding for us and our schedules, as we are volunteers and don’t receive remuneration (as do the LDS seminary teachers who earn a salary from their church in line with the public school salaries.) As of 2019, we still have not scheduled a release time class, but we continue to leave the possibility open to do this someday.
  • We would promote the seminary in the school newspaper as well as at a variety of school events
    • We arranged to have a table at the following events: Open house (a night in late August); parent/teacher conferences (two consecutive afternoons in mid-September and mid-February); and the freshman orientation (usually sometime in February). We have attended each of these events since the fall 2013, as these have been our best source of recruitment.
    • (Pictured to the right are Eric, Hannah, and the pastor ready to greet students at freshmen orientation.)
  • We promised the local church pastors that we would not compete with the church youth groups
    • Our goal was not to take the students away from their home churches nor would we recruit the students to attend the church where seminary is held.
    • However, over the five years, we have had several special events (see below).

Our first class was held the first Tuesday after winter vacation in January 2014. We had a total of six students, including my sophomore  daughter Hannah. The pastor’s freshman son attended a nearby charter school and could not come on Tuesdays; however, he was able to attend on Thursday mornings for the first half hour before he had to leave for the charter school where he attended. (He transferred to Alta High the next fall.)

The students who attended the first semester originally heard about the seminary through our attendance at the open house, parent/teacher conference, and freshman orientation. One boy, a senior, came the first day of class just to check it out, he told us, and announced that he could not be in class on the following Thursday because “6:15 in the morning was just too early.” However, he was the first one walking into class the next class meeting. “I came on Tuesday because my parents wanted me to come,” he said. “But today I’m here because I want to be here.” It was proof positive that the vision we had set on that first class resonated with him, which thrilled us to no end.

Over the past five years, we have had as few as four regular students attend to as high as thirteen. In the 2018/19 school year, we average 10-12 students every week, more than half of whom are underclassmen.

Special events

Since 2013, we have had several special events.

  • Before school movie night—To be honest, we have only done this once, as it’s hard to get into contact with students, especially freshmen. But I think this is a possible event other Christian seminaries may want to consider.
  • “See you at the Pole”—On the last Wednesday morning in September, students, faculty members, and parents all over the nation gather to pray around the school’s flagpole. While there are not many Christians who observe this event in Utah, we have asked our students every year since 2014 to gather with us around the flag pole. In 2017, there were about 30 people who came, with our seminary students and teachers consisting of half the participants. Several others who had walked by had stopped to join us in praying for our nation, our school, and personal issues.
  • Feeding the teachers during their in-service work day—In October 2018, we put together an event to bless the faculty at the school. As a former teacher, I realize how thankless it can be to serve at a school, especially on a “grading” day. We sponsored a bar-b-q and fed more than 150 teachers, staff, and administrators pulled pork, beef brisket, and sausage along with potato salad, beans, and drinks. It was a hit! A half dozen students helped us with the event. The pastor’s friend prepared the bar-b-q on a special pull-behind trailer, so we just needed to purchase the food. The whole event cost about $500, which came from our budget (see below). This made a positive connection with the faculty and staff–we were told a number of times how they loved that we did real bar-b-q and not just hamburgers and hot dogs–that we’d like to host this event in the future. We think having teachers and staff see the teachers’ and students’ faces serving them their meal made this event worth every penny.
  • Buddy and Santa outreach—On a night after school was released for the holidays in 2014 and 2018, the pastor dressed up as Santa Claus and I dressed up as Buddy the Elf as we took several students to Temple Square (Salt Lake City) in the evening to pose for pictures with families coming to see the Christmas lights. A “tip” bucket sitting behind us allowed us to raise money. The first year we “adopted” a needy family at the school, bringing them presents and letting them know they were loved. The school is not allowed to tell us who is needy, but we found out through sources about an LDS family that was struggling. In 2018, we adopted a needy family that didn’t belong to the school but was a worthwhile receiver. However, we were not able to get any students to attend and need to work at getting them to buy in to this very worthwhile project.
  • Christmas breakfast—Our tradition is to feed the kids a hot breakfast on the last Tuesday before the vacation. This is a great opportunity for fellowship. We begin with a short Christmas devotional, along with a game that everyone plays in groups of two. It is a festive and fun time and a great way to end the school year.
  • Basketball game—One year we purchased basketball tickets to the local professional team and made an evening of it, having pizza before the game and then going to the game together. Even those who don’t like basketball enjoyed themselves, as this turned out to be a wonderful fellowship to spend time outside of the seminary classroom. In 2019, we plan to hold a contest (based on attendance and those doing the “homework”) to have a group outing to the game.
  • A special event at the church—On three different years an apologist friend brought several dozen Christian high school students to Utah for a missions trip during the school year. One year we held a special Wednesday evening session at the church where our seminary meets. We not only advertised the event in the newspaper, but we also had these students make signs and stand on the sidewalks holding up signs saying “Come tonight… ice cream.” We also had some giveaways. We then created flyers that our students handed out to students walking into the school, with the information about that night’s meeting. We did get some students and parents to come. We plan to do this again in 2019.
  • Service projects—We are open to doing service projects, though this would be easier if we saw the students more than once a week. Perhaps the students will have an idea if they are asked to brainstorm?

Except those activities that can be done during the regular class time (i.e. Christmas breakfast, end-of-year breakfast), we have found that students are typically busy with a variety of commitments (jobs, extracurricular activities such as band, drama, sports, etc.) that make it very difficult to get the majority of the regular class attenders together. Finding a time that works outside of the class where most could attend has been our most difficult problem.

Moving to one day a week (from two) in the fall of 2018

At the beginning of the 2018/19 school year, we decided to hold class only once a week (Tuesdays) in 2018-19 because our attendance from the previous year’s Thursday classes was down 50% from the Tuesday attendance. This means we only get one time a week with these students. Another disadvantage is that those students who attend other schools, including charter and private schools, would not be able to attend the Tuesday class as it interferes with the bell schedule. However, we have only had a handful of students outside of Alta High School attend and decided this was a minor consideration.

Meanwhile, we have not been very successful in getting home school students to attend, mainly because many of the Christian families have them already working on religious curriculum. Several families have told me that our class is too early for them to consider coming. Even though we have not had success, I think every Christian seminary ought to make an effort to let the home school community know about the seminary.

In 2018/19, we average 10-12 students on Tuesdays. At the end of the first semester, four of our regular attenders missed one or no classes the entire year! More than half who are attending are freshmen and sophomores, meaning that we have students who could be with us for another 2-3 years, with a good chance we could really grow in upcoming years.

Setting up a Christian seminary

There are some important things to consider when setting up a Christian seminary. The leader(s) must determine:

  1. if there are at least 2-3 students who could be counted on to be regular attenders

Our seminary survived in the early years because the pastor’s son and my daughter attended almost every class session from the fall 2014 through June 2017 (when Hannah graduated, as Hudson continued for another year until he graduated in June 2018). The two were not forced to go but wanted to attend, fortunately. We must understand that there will be days that students will miss, so we decided from the very beginning that we would hold class only if there were 2 or more students in attendance at any meeting. We have never had to cancel a class session, which was totally amazing! This was important in keeping the flame going and allowed us to continue the seminary rather than having to close it. Having a core group—whether it is 2 or 3 or even 9 or 10—is crucial to getting the seminary off the ground. We also appreciate those students who are extroverts and are willing to tell others at the school about our program. We have found that the best way to get new students to come is through word of mouth.

2. The place to meet

Our situation is unique because we have access to a church building directly across the street from the public high school. Students can be dropped off by parents and then walk to school. However, many who will consider beginning a seminary in other places will not have such a luxury. One possibility is using a Christian home in the vicinity of the school. You will want a place where students could gather and still be able to walk (within reason) to the school. Or, if the sponsoring church has a van, the students could meet at the church and then be bussed over to the school. One local church I know did this, as the youth pastor drove the students to school after the class. Another possibility is starting a “club” at the school if you have student leaders as well as a teacher at the school who is willing to host the club. We did consider this possibility, but after talking to several of the teachers who were Christians, we decided not to pursue a club that would be held before school, during lunch, or after school, for the following reasons:

  • The three Christian teachers at the campus that we approached were hesitant in hosting a before-school class because, technically, that particular teacher was supposed to be in the room when meetings were held. Because Tuesdays were “meeting” days, at least one teacher was concerned about the possible liability of leaving students alone with us.
  • There are two lunch periods at Alta High School, each lasting 40 minutes. To reach all students, we would have to have two separate sessions and all the students would not be together. A youth pastor in Arizona told that he has had success with the club approach at lunch, as he buys pizza and gets a wide variety of students. His tactic is more of an “outreach” and there is minimal Bible study taking place because many students are not regular attenders while others are not believers. In addition, the lunch period (where students need to consume their food) is a short time to run any type of serious study. While we certainly believe in evangelism, our approach is to offer more spiritual meat through an in-depth study as we are aiming at Christian students who want to learn more about their faith.
  • There is a strength to having an off-campus location, as the school cannot interfere with a class outside their bounds. To have an off-campus seminary, the school’s permission is not needed unless a “release time” class is requested. Also, it’s beneficial not having to depend on a particular teacher whose time at that campus may be limited, such as if he/she is transferred or decides to leave the school.

3. how many days to meet and for how long each class would be

  • If the class is going to be held outside of school hours, I recommend meeting one or two days a week, 60 to 90 minutes in length.

4.  the format of the class

  • The founders need to determine if this should be an adult- or student-led class. While we think students should have input in the daily operation of the class, we think informed adults with a biblical background can offer the students what they need, which will be beneficial in dealing with the types of issues students deal with and the theological questions they ask.  We decided to make our seminary adult-led, with student discussion encouraged. (Notice: The LDS seminaries are adult-led as well.)
  •  Is the desire of the leaders to have a class that is more evangelistic? Or deeper study? (We have chosen the latter.)
    •  Still, a “release-time” class is a possibility for our future. If so, then the leaders of the Christian seminary ought to make contact with the school administration from the very beginning so the school leaders can understand the goals and objectives. The school leaders should already know that you have a right to have a class, even during the school day, as the LDS seminary does. Even though the administration may be a little stubborn and be difficult to set up appointments in the beginning, they should eventually respond to your contact.

Others who need to be contacted

Once you have determined all the above and are ready to begin, there are others that need to be contacted:

  1. Local churches (youth pastors).
  • Host a meeting for the local pastors and/or youth pastors
    • We suggest that the leaders provide lunch and drinks and invite them to hear your initial proposal; additional meetings could be held for brainstorming purposes
    • Listen to their feedback and consider their input
    • See if you can get their support/promise(s) to present/advertise the class to their high school students
  • If possible, keep in contact with these folks (emails?) as you get ready to launch the seminary

2. The leaders of the school’s LDS seminary

If the LDS seminary is located in a high density Mormon area, it should have a seminary principal and full-time teachers, all of whom are paid by the LDS Church. Having a relationship with these folks can be helpful while making it clear to them that you are not trying to steal their students. We may not agree with each other’s theology, but I think we can be friendly and even learn from this program that the LDS Church has done successfully for so many years. Notice, I am not saying to combine activities or join hands in any ecumenical way. For us, reaching out to these folks in the way I’m talking about has proven to be very positive. As mentioned, our local LDS seminary was gracious enough to allow us to observe their classes, look over their curriculum, and learn from the experience they have. Our goal was never to “copy” the LDS seminary program but create a similar program. When people ask if we have a good relationship with the LDS seminary, we can tell them that we do.

Recruiting students

There are a variety of places to recruit students:

  • Start with the teens from the sponsoring church.
    • If your church has a youth group with students attending the local high school, these teens ought to be the first recruits and could be the most reliable students on which the program can be built.
  • Teens from other local churches in the area
    • This is why you want to include the pastors from other churches in your initial planning, assuring them that the Christian seminary is nondenominational (regardless of the denomination of the sponsoring church).
  • Consider placing an ad in the student newspaper
    • Get a copy of the newspaper and learn what is required to put an ad together. Generally a half page ad should cost less than $100 per insertion. Student newspapers are often very glad to get people to pay for ads and can even help the advertiser (you) put the copy together. Or the leaders of the seminary can put their own ad together, which is what I do.
    • I recommend advertising for 3-4 months before the seminary ever opens its doors. (If you plan to open in the fall, consider advertising in the winter/spring of the previous year.)
    • Make the ads friendly and not appear to be too strong (like you are going to indoctrinate)
  • Make yourself available to be interviewed for a newspaper article in the school paper
    • Let the adviser know about your program
    • Suggest to the adviser that a student considers writing a news/feature article on the Christian seminary
  • If contact has been made at the school, learn what is required for the seminary to host a table at events where students and parents are attending open house events, parent/teacher conferences, and similar activities.
  • Hold a special event to explain the seminary program to students
    • For example, hold a pizza/game night for all interested students
  • Ask students to tell other Christians about the class and have them invite their friends. We have found that word-of-mouth advertising is the best way we get new students to attend.
  • Get a list of students’ emails and/or emails that you get in recruiting
    • It’s a great way to recruit, i.e. emailing/texting to invite them to the class, special events, etc.
    • These emails can be used to communicate with students every week to remind them about the class, bringing their books or Bibles, etc.
  • Providing snacks for class
    • The expression “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” can be very true for students. Students learn better if their tummies are not growling during class. We found out their favorite cold cereals and make those available. In addition, we have hot drinks (coffee and hot chocolate), juice, oatmeal, and donuts.
    • It costs money, but we believe this has attracted some students to come, and it is something you can advertise as why someone would want to come.

Funding the seminary

The pastor and I volunteer our time, as we have never taken a dime from the seminary. However, there are other things that could cost money, including:

  • Breakfast materials
  • Books/Bibles, if they are given away (we have and do)
  • DVDs to show in class
  • Advertising (student newspaper)
  • Teacher lunch served by teachers and studnets (we did our first one in 2018 and hope to make this an annual event, but depending on what is served, this can be an expensive event)
  • Special events
    • An evening activity where we supply pizza/soda
    • Prizes for attendance/doing the homework.
      • In the past few years we have given away movie passes and tickets to the professional basketball game.
      • One year we took the students to a game.
    • Every senior who regularly attends the seminary has traditionally received a $100 gift card for graduation given at a special end-of-the-year breakfast—in our first five years, we have had one senior graduate each year.

How can these important expenses be paid? Fortunately, we have never had to use any money from the church. Instead, we have several private donors who contribute to our program every year. In addition, the church’s denomination has given several gifts to the seminary, allowing us to do these things without having to scramble for money or burden a small church.

I recommend the leaders of the sponsoring church talk about this issue and figure out a way to raise funds to use in support of this mission. Perhaps the church will want to fund it through its missions giving program. Or perhaps certain folks inside or outside of the church would be happy to help fund the program. Beginning a seminary program will have a financial cost to it, but if the students are learning how to “own their own faith,” it is certainly worth the cost.

Resources that could be considered

In the first year, I attempted to take the Bible curriculum (apologetics) from my teaching days at a Christian school in Southern California and transfer some material to the seminary. In the last few years I have moved away from this approach. This is because our class is held only one day a week (it used to be two) and I do not have the ability to get students to take notes or quizzes/tests–I certainly don’t want to die on the hill of overworking students in a class that is voluntary! After the first year of teaching, I realized that using PowerPoint presentations, asking student to do fill-in notes, etc. made the class too much like school. The last thing I want to do is make the class burdensome, especially one that begins at 7 a.m.!  Do this too much and I imagine more and more students will stop attending.

This doesn’t mean that I have moved away from serious topics. It’s just that I don’t pretend this is a Christian school academic setting where students received a Bible grade through homework, quizzes/tests, projects, etc. Seminary does not have the same incentives as the Christian private school to get students to learn.

That’s OK. It is still possible to teach these students about their faith. In 2018/19, we have never had fewer than 8 students attend, with as many as 12 attending on some days (out of about 17 who have attended at least once). They come not because they are forced to but because they want to.

There are two things that I stress with any resource we use: 1) Bible, including how to do proper interpretation; 2) Critical thinking skills/answering issues students are bound to get from skeptics/atheists in school. With that said, here is some of the best curriculum we have used in the past five years:

Books and DVDs

The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People, written by Randy Frazee, with Kevin and Sherry Harney (Zondervan, 2001), plus DVD. There is also a participant’s guide, which we did not give to students. A DVD can be used, with a 12-minute lesson given for each chapter by Randy Frazee. This series provided a good overview of the Bible without having to read the entire Bible. We used the questions in the participant’s guide to guide our discussions and take a closer look at the passages, which are presented in chronological order.

Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith, by J. Warner Wallace (David C. Cook, 2017), plus DVD. This comes with a participant’s guide, though we did not purchase the book or guide for the students. If I had to do it again, I would get the willing students the book and guide. On the DVD Wallace speaks on the different chapters, providing a good jumping off base from which to have a discussion.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller (Penguin Group, 2008), plus DVD. This book covers questions such as “Science has disproved Christianity,” “How can a loving God send people to hell?” and “You can’t take the Bible literally.” These are some of the top questions our students are asking. The DVD has great material, as Keller is an excellent communicator.

Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey, by Jonathan Morrow (Kregel, 2017). This is our main curriculum in 2018/19. What does every Christian student need to know before (and while!) they are on their own at college? There are short chapters covering everything from the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the problem of evil and suffering, and dealing with doubt. There are some chapters dealing specifically with college life that we may not end up covering, but the students seem to enjoy the book. I told Jonathan that he needs to add some video curriculum and it would make this resource even better!

Plugged in: Connecting Students to the Heart of God’s Biblical Principles, produced by Doug Fields. This is a 5-week small group video curriculum, including lessons on worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and evangelism. The students liked it as it produced some good discussions on basic issues involving living the Christian life.

True U: Focus on the Family put together 3 different DVD sets that I highly recommend, especially for the more mature students. In each, Dr. Stephen Meyer, who is a brilliant communicator, teaches college students, with each episode about 30 minutes in length. These are SO good. However, I probably wouldn’t utilize these series if more than half the students were underclassmen because the material can involve so higher level thinking skills. Since we want our students to be able to keep their faith in the college classrooms, these are series I would recommend.

Part 1: Does God Exist: Building the Scientific Case. The 5 lessons are:

  • Faith and Reason
  • The Big Bang Cosmology: “The Finite Universe”
  • The Big Bang Cosmology: Part 2: “In the Beginning”
  • The Big Bang Cosmology: Part 3: “A Finely Tuned Universe”
  • DNA by Design

Part 2: Is the Bible Reliable: Building the Historical Case. 10 lessons on a variety of textual critical issues.

Part 3: Who is Jesus: Building a Comprehensive Case. 10 lessons, including the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and is Jesus the Only Way.

Godquest: Discover the God our Heart is Searching For, produced by Sean McDowell and Jennifer Dion, plus DVD. This also has a write-in guidebook (we did not get for the students but, again, I think if I were to do it, I would provide it for the students who wanted it) and leader’s guide. In the DVD Sean talks about “signposts” that must be considered. Each episode is between 12-17 minutes in length, allowing for plenty of time for group discussion.

Life Choices: Trusting God in Life’s Decisions and Challenges (Jim Britts, Outreach). A five-part DVD series dealing with peer pressure, sexual temptation, family conflicts, and lukewarm faith. It deal with some family issues that allowed us to have a discussion and the students found this to be helpful, so we recommend it.

The Gospel of Mark (Lionsgate, 2016), DVD, the gospel of Mark word for work. I love covering the gospels with our students, one chapter a week, because what can be more important than learning about Jesus in a Christian seminary? So many teachable moments come by showing the video and then discussing what we read/saw for the next hour. We did this in 2017/18.

The Gospel of John (Lionsgate2005), DVD, another good video and a great way to cover the teachings of Jesus. We did this in 2015/16.

Books/DVDs/Series we may consider in the future

Journey: Advocates. This is a series that Sean McDowell has done for AWANA. There are a total of 8 units, 4 classes per unit (32 total classes), as issues such as faith, worldviews, science, and morality are discussed. I have not yet looked the curriculum over, but Sean is a good educator. This would be an investment for the entire school year. The videos do not appear to be available on DVD but only through download, which would make it harder for us because we use a TV with DVD machine. I’m not sure why they don’t offer this in a DVD format, and it might be the reason we never use it.

Cold Case Christianity with 8-episode video series: Jim Wallace has Mormon family and understands the religion. He also understand atheism because he was, for many years, a believer that God did not exist. This looks like it would be good, and perhaps the students may be interested in getting the book too.

The Gospel of Luke (Lionsgate, 2017) (DVD). We may use this in the near future. I don’t think we can give the students enough material from the Gospels.

Tactics: A Guide to Effectively Discussing your Christian Convictions (Study Guide with DVD), by Greg Koukl (Zondervan, 2017). Koukl writes and speaks so clearly that I think this series will go over well with the students. I can’t wait to use this curriculum in an upcoming year.

The Thinking Toolbox: 35 Lessons that will build your reasoning skills, by Nathaniel and Hans Bluehorn (Christian Logic, 2005) and The Fallacy Detective: 38 Lessons on how to recognize bad reasoning (Christian Logic, 2015). These books are probably made for students in middle school, but the lessons are excellent to develop critical thinking skills, something that is desperately need by our younger generation.

The Bridge Course: A 10-Week Introduction to the Christian Faith (DVD). Deals with questions such as “Why doesn’t God just forgive everyone?” “How could God send people to hell?” “and “How could God allow suffering?”

The Case for Christ/The Case for Faith/The Case for a Creator, DVDs, Lee Strobel (Lionsgate). Of course, all three of these are best-selling books by the former newspaper journalist, but these are three videos that I would like to utilize over the next few years.

30 Days to Understanding the Bible, written by Max Anders (Thomas Nelson, 2004). The students in 2018/19 were given a choice between this book and Welcome to College, but they chose the college book. But I will keep this as a possibility in the upcoming years.

Discovering the Bible (DVD), hosted by Russell Boulter. Four half-hour programs, including Getting Acquainted, The Old Testament, The New Testament, and Survival, Spread, and Influence. Great introductions when we talk about the Bible and why we can trust it.

Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion (Stand to Reason). Unfortunately, this 5-part video series is only available on VHS as it was produced in 2001, but it badly needs to be transferred over the DVD! Still, Greg Koukl and Scott Klussendorf are outstanding in this series and I so badly would like to use it one year. It would be worthwhile to feed our students sound reasoning for the Pro Life viewpoint, as it really does make all the sense in the world! Another series that I haven’t seen (and don’t own) but might consider is Life is Best: Saving Babies, Saving Souls, Equipping Christians” by LTI, Klussendorf’s organization. It contains 13 episodes and a PDF study guide.

The Way I’m Wired (Simply Youth Ministry) (DVD). Topics include understanding spiritual gifts, knowing your strengths, and surrendering all to Jesus.

Other curriculum

Beginning in 2017, I began to realize that students wanted to learn more (other than passing comments) about other religions. I polled the students at the beginning of the 2016/2017 year, and they requested that I teach officially on Mormonism. In 2017/18, they requested Jehovah’s Witnesses and  Islam. During the last weeks of the year, we taught on these religions. In 2017, the LDS seminary principal agreed to have our students come to their school building one morning to have a Mormon adult cover Mormonism and answer the students’ questions. In 2018, the local Islamic mosque allowed us to bring the students and have the leader speak. This was the final activity in the month-long teaching about the basics of these religions. In 2018/19, students requested a repeat of Mormonism since only one of the students from 2016/17 still attended the seminary. Although we live in a predominantly LDS community, I don’t want our class to be known as the “anti-Mormon” seminary, especially since I am involved with Mormonism Research Ministry. So I want to be careful that I don’t talk about Mormonism every single class, though questions about the religion are regularly asked by the students. It really does inundate our culture at Alta High School, as we live in the heart of this unique religion.

A typical class in 2018/19

The following is a typical day for Alta Christian Seminary during the 2018/19 year as we meet on Tuesdays (the one “sleep in” day for the school) from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.). We sit in padded chairs in an oval-shaped circle in the church foyer, about 14 seats around with the white board and teacher on one end of the oval. The teacher generally sits in a chair as well with a white board behind him. I find that sitting with the students presents a more casual feel to the class.

6:50-7:10: Students arrive, get breakfast.

Yes, it would be nice to start on time (7 a.m.), but we have to understand that when we meet is 45 minutes earlier than when classes begin the other four days. This is a time for chit chat and gives us a chance to socialize with the students.

7:10-7:15: Question of the day.

There is a question of the day, giving a chance for every student to say his/her name and grade before giving the answer. It might sound redundant to do this every week, but several of our students come rarely and we also get an occasional visitor. This activity allows students to learn each other’s names and provides the chance for every student to speak.

7:15-7:55: Opening prayer/Teaching.

This year we are using a book by Jonathan Morrow titled Welcome to College. Those students who said they would read the book were given copies of the book. Each week students are asked to read the chapter and then we discuss it during this time. About half the students are reading regularly, which we are very pleased with. We will take a look at key sections of the book while supplementing it with videos, my own material, articles, or anything else. Sometimes this activity takes the entire period.

7:55 to 8:00: Break.

In a 90-minute class, it is nice to stretch and students like to get some more breakfast, especially if they came late.

8:00 to 8:30: Proverbs.

Each week we have asked students to read one of the Proverbs and journal. Again, about half are doing this on a weekly basis. We take a look at their favorite verses while discussing important verses. We have made it a priority to study the Bible (something) throughout the year.

8:30: Closing prayer.

In order to not make it a “mundane” activity, we don’t always have “prayer requests,” but we try to do this every few weeks. Students seem responsive to being able to share. In my many years of teaching Bible, however, I know that doing open public prayer can end up becoming “just a thing we do” and I don’t want to do this with our class. Because the classes don’t begin until 9:00, it’s not crucial that we end right at 8:30, but we normally don’t go over more than a minute or two.

10 Other Suggestions to Keep in Mind for a Christian Seminary

  1. Put together a seminary ONLY if you really love high school students. We do and want to make this all about ministry. Unlike the LDS seminary teachers and principal, neither the pastor nor I receive a penny for our work with these students and yet we love investing in these students.
  2. Ask yourself, “If I were a student, why would I want to attend this seminary?” We believe too many church youth leaders have “dumbed down” their programs only to ignore the real questions being asked by teens, including “Is there a God?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Can I trust the Bible?” Even if they are not asking these questions, they should be because others will be questioning them on these as well. It is the job of Christian adults to offer answers to these legitimate questions. We want to keep an open ear and try to put curriculum together that is pertinent to their lives. Remember, these students are giving something up (in our seminary, it’s 90 minutes of sleep time) to be there, so it’s crucial to make it worth their while. If not, you will end up losing students and not see them come in your door any more.
  3. Make the study of the Bible (and how to properly interpret) a part of the curriculum. We have made it a rule that, throughout the year, we will cover the Bible, including books of the Bible, in one form or another. In a 90-minute class, we want at least 15 minutes (or more) to be focused on the Bible.
  4. Don’t limit the class to Christian believers. Allow for the possibility that there are others at the school who might be interested to learn about the Bible and Christianity. Most of our students who come regularly are churched, but not all of them are. Make visitors feel welcome.
  5. Make it possible for classroom participation. There are a number of possible curriculum programs (see above). However, it’s important for the teacher(s) not to merely lecture but provide a chance for students to participate in class discussions. In addition, we believe that there are no “bad” questions, although admittedly there can be “bad timing,” as some questions are nothing more than a tangent that may get away from the topic at hand. We try to answer questions to the best of our ability, but at the same time, we have more than once said “maybe we could answer that (question) another time.” When this happens, it’s important to come back later and answer it. (It’s hard when they ask questions such as “What is the right view for end times?” or “When did the dinosaurs live?” right in the middle of a lesson on the reliability of the Bible or the deity of Christ!) Several times each year we turn a class into Q&A, answering questions that they may have, while always considering adding curriculum into future lessons involving these big questions. In the first few years, we realized we might only have a student for one or two years, but with so many underclassmen who are regular attenders, we also have the luxury of possibly having students of three or four years. Thus, we want to be careful we don’t repeat curriculum that many students already had.
  6. Utilize short videos. As the 21st century progresses, we have students with shorter attention spans. Thus, we try to break up our teaching with short 3- or 4-minute videos from YouTube or apologetic websites that can explain a doctrine in a simple way. In the fall of 2018, we talked about the Trinity, a topic that interested many of our students. I used three different short videos that were not just talking heads (I can do that pretty well myself!), providing several different ways to teach this important teaching. All three videos were well received and they made my job easier. These videos can be found here:
  1. Emphasize the important of “owning your own faith.” As I mentioned earlier, my favorite slogan that our students hear over and over again is “own your own faith.” I like to tell them the frightening statistics that say how 8 out of 10 teens who graduate from high school calling themselves “Christian” will no longer be practicing their faith four years later. This is a terrible statistic. We emphasize “truth” and tell them the importance of not “borrowing” their parents’ faith but to be believers in Christianity only if it’s true.
  2. Don’t overuse the word “Mormonism.” If the seminary is being organized in an LDS community—and I assume you do live in such a community or you would not be considering calling your class “seminary”—be careful about talking too much about Mormonism. While it’s a topic that ought to be covered, try not to mention this religion every week.
  3. Gather a prayer support team. This should be obvious, but something like this is not going to be appreciated by many outside the Christian churches. Anticipate spiritual warfare and any attempts by the enemy to disrupt what you will be trying to do.
  4. Have fun. What a great opportunity we have to invest in the lives of these precious young people. Enjoy the ride and make the most of what is right in front of us.

One final suggestion. My youngest daughter participated in Summit Academy, a 12-day program, for two straight years and got much out of it. You may want to see if your students would be interested in attending. This does cost money, but maybe the seminary can help raise the funds, especially for families that might not be able to afford it. Trust me, this program is worth it! The website can be found here.


There is a lot of material presented here, but I wanted to provide something with substance for those who might be considering the start-up of their own seminary. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write me at eric at and I’d be happy to talk to you further. May the Lord bless you as you do your research and consider this possibility. And may the Lord greatly bless you in this journey.

See Alta Christian Seminary’s Statement of Faith (the same as

For a program called Launch Ministries that is based in western Idaho (Boise/Nampa) and has programs in the Pacific Northwest as well, click here.

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