One of the nation's top preachers has launched an international Bible institute on the Internet, where distance learners can sign up to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Charles Stanley Institute for Christian Living is part of the ministry's mission to disciple Christian ministers and new believers, leading them on a fulfilling path to an "extraordinary life, also the name of his latest book.
"It's for the average Christian who says, I want to know more about God," said Don Black, COO of Dr. Charles Stanley's InTouch Ministry. "I want to experience Him in a deeper, more personal way, and that's what this is about."
The institute provides one-on-one study of God's Word available in the comfort of one's own home and at the learner's own pace.
Discipleship has become a worn-out term that's lost much of its meaning in the past few years, according to ministry leaders, but it remains a top issue for Christians today. A Southern Baptist poll of one thousand pastors found that discipleship is the number two rated problem in the greater Church today.
"A lot of Christians don't have someone to mentor them, coach them, and help them understand what's going to be coming at them in terms of spiritual issues," agreed Black.
The institute's goal is to develop an online curriculum that was interactive yet convenient.
Black believes the institute helped many ministers and laymen be taught the Word of God at an in-depth level by Stanley, which is hard enough in person but an even greater challenge online.
"When we launched it in 2002, we launched it in faith because we don't know whether we were going to be welcomed into the community," said Black. "It took a lot of investment to make this thing what it needed to be."
Three years later, over 75,000 students from 114 countries study at the institute, which also boasts state of the art facilities at InTouch's campus in Atlanta.
Students can choose from 84 basic lessons of faith, all free and available in 91 languages, plus electives for extra.
Each course lasts 4-6 weeks, and includes interactive material, such as video, discussion groups, community prayer groups, and an online journaling feature.
The online institute is also part of the larger trend of educational institutions such as seminaries and universities, offering distance learning courses which have become very popular with full-time working church leaders and others who don't wish to move.
One Christian, who said he was lagging in his relationship with God and losing faith with a slew of challenges from his daily life, became fully committed and is back on track after joining the institute.
"It wasn't because of the institute, but because God's Word became alive in his heart again," said Black. "When that happened, he was able to start to become what God wants him to become."
For more information visit charlesstanleyinstitute.com.