In early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown shuttered churches and schools alike, along with many other Assemblies of God district youth directors, Eli D. Vega faced a challenge: how to move forward when in-person activities — retreats, camps, youth convention, and School of Ministry — central to ministry couldn’t be held.

Beyond that, as older pastors retired in the Southern Pacific District, those in the upcoming generation didn’t keep pace in becoming credentialed to fill the void. And while AG General Superintendent Doug Clay and other leaders are advocating for credentialing 40,000 AG ministers, especially women, the district had few female pastors. Candidates needed more opportunities to receive an education that equips them to minister.

But suddenly the novel coronavirus impacted ministry as nothing before. For Vega’s former colleague Rudy Estrada, with a background in accreditation and creating online programs, the financial downturn led to his layoff from Fuller Theological Seminary. That meant Estrada, 39, had an open schedule. He joined forces with the 33-year-old Vega and the national AG office to create from scratch an online district school of ministry certification and licensing program that meets the needs of today’s wired generation, transforming ministerial education in the district and beyond. The interface is accessible by mobile phone app and by computer.

“While everybody was wondering what was going to happen, we were working hard to create online classes,” Estrada says. “We saw this as our window to build this platform that didn’t exist in our district.”

The online district school of ministry program will empower 250 young Southern Pacific District leaders to take Bible, theology, and ministry courses on their paths to credentialing.

“The future of our district depends on this platform,” says Vega. “This is going to steer the culture in this district.”

In California, noted for lengthy commutes and lengthy workweeks, obstacles abounded. While some students sensing calls to the pastorate attend Bible college, many don’t have the time or energy to enroll in a formal in-person academic program. When Vega became district youth director in 2017, the Southern Pacific District had only a small number of licensed ministers, only one of whom was a female pastor under age 40. Online coursework for AG ministry students had yet to reach the district, so credentialing required in-person classes. 

To address the need for personal interaction, the platform includes Facebook-like social media accessible only to those enrolled in the program.

“We wanted to create a new platform for our pastors to huddle and network together,” Vega says.

It rolled out in late August. Vega and Estrada believe the new program will be a game changer.

“We knew after COVID started we couldn’t go back to event-driven ministries,” says Estrada, who is now assistant professor of New Testament at Vanguard University. “We needed to do something different. We also knew since everyone is going online, everybody is getting a taste of doing ministry online.”

Vega points out the program will take advantage of senior leadership by recording pastors’ best sermons and lectures to include in the online learning modules. 

“We can keep records of their best advice, a wealth of information,” Vega says.