Best Practices for Online Theological Ministry Preparation: A Delphi Method Study
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John Beck Cartwright, Jr., Ed.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2014 This doctoral thesis intended to provide a clear vision of best practices in the area of online theological ministry training at the graduate level by consulting experts in the field. The research question that needed to be answered was, "What are the best practices for ministry preparation in online theological education?" Despite tremendous growth in online learning even among theological institutions, casual observations suggest that the decision to offer online programs may not always have been rooted in deep pedagogical or theological reflection. In other words, in the quest to utilize online education as a viable option for degree preparation, has serious thought been given to the uniqueness of the online learning environment and the potential impact of those differences to how ministry training is accomplished? Or has the choice been driven primarily by pragmatic considerations? A review of the literature revealed that research was needed that would establish consensus among the experts on best practices for online theological ministry training. This research would build on established practices of both online and theological education. This thesis was a mixed-methods exploratory sequential design that utilized the Delphi method in order to establish consensus among the experts on best practices for online theological ministry training. Seventeen experts were recruited that are involved in either the administrative oversight or teaching with seminary or graduate online theological ministry training degree programs. In an anonymous study, each expert answered eight open-ended questions about online theological ministry training. These answers were analyzed for emergent themes and served as the foundation for a Likert-type survey where forty-three statements were then analyzed as to their level of importance related to successfully meeting the four learning outcomes for the Master of Divinity for the Association of Theological Schools. These results were examined for consensus and another survey was given using only those items that achieved consensus. The findings were evaluated from both a consensus and non-consensus perspective. Results of the mixed method Delphi study provided thirty statements of best practices for online theological ministry preparation for which there was consensus. Statements achieving consensus were obtained in all four areas of learning outcomes for the Master of Divinity for the Association of Theological Schools: Religious heritage, cultural context, personal and spiritual formation, and capacity for ministerial and public leadership. Finally, the implications of these findings were discussed along with suggestions for further research.