Western Theological Seminary

Master of Divinity Degree (Distance Learning)

How can you prepare to respond to your call, yet remain in your community? Western’s distance learning Master of Divinity program allows you to stay where you are while earning your degree.

You can experience a unique and distinctly Reformed M.Div program, a deep commitment to community, and a rich and demanding learning environment. Get the ingredients to transform your life!

For a specific focus on church planting and revitalization, read about the WTS-Newbigin DL M.Div. program.

What makes Western Distinctive?

Blended Course Model

Students work together and learn from each other in online and classroom collaboration, shaping a remarkable non-competitive learning culture. Unique to Western's distance learning program is a combination of face-to-face and online instruction in nearly all courses.


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The emphasis on community sets Western apart from other seminaries offering distance learning. You'll form relationships with peers and faculty, all of whom are deeply committed to helping nurture you for effective pastoral ministry. 

Same Courses, Same Professors

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The distance learning M.Div. is the same course curriculum as the residential M.Div., simply designed in a different format for students living at a distance. The three year full-time residential curriculum has been sequenced out over five years in order that working adults can take on a part-time academic load. Faculty teach the same courses in the distance program as they do in the residential M.Div.

Fully Accredited

Western Theological Seminary is fully accredited, and the distance learning M.Div. is approved by the Association of Theological Schools. 

In-Residence or Distance Learning - which suits you?

How do you learn best?  What environment do you prefer? Before signing up for any online course or stepping into a classroom, it is important to discern your own learning style.

In-Residence Learner

  • Prefers the physical environment of the classroom
  • Enjoys regular face-to-face interaction with professors and peers
  • Needs a consistent class schedule and structured learning formats
  • Learn more about our In-Residence M.Div.

Distance Learning Learner

  • Self-motivated, independent learner
  • Wants flexibility of organizing his or her own learning schedule
  • Disciplined, can set aside 15-20 hours per week to study and participate in an online setting
  • Prefers to continue in current ministry or home situation
  • Can travel twice a year for 5-day classroom-based intensives on campus in Holland, MI

Program Design

The distance learning program is designed for adults seeking a Master of Divinity degree. Only students admitted into the program are eligible to enroll in courses. Technology is required for distance learning.

Yearly Schedule Overview


In mid-August, new students participate in online orientation and learning management system training. Students will work within the program's learning management system, Canvas, gaining experience with the same tools utilized in courses and will begin to develop an online community within the new student cohort.

When new students arrive on campus in October for their first Intensive, they receive an additional day of face-to-face orientation.

Semester Schedule

Fall Semester: 14 weeks, early September-December. Hybrid courses that blend online and classroom learning include a 5-day on-campus intensive in Holland, MI in mid-October.

January Term: 3 weeks, fully-online elective courses.

Spring Semester: 14 weeks, January-May.   Hybrid courses that blend online and classroom learning include a 5-day on-campus intensive in Holland, MI in mid-May.

Summer Term: 6 weeks, late May-late June, fully online courses


Western Theological Seminary’s Commencement Service is usually the second Monday in May and falls within the distance learning spring semester on-campus intensive. Graduating seniors participate in Commencement with the In-Residence Master of Divinity graduates and then finish the rest of the intensive.

Course Design and Cohort Model

A group or “cohort” of students (15-24 people) are admitted each year and move through the curriculum together. This design fosters a rich learning community providing support to each other over the five years of the program.

Western's program is designed for asynchronous learning with an occasional real-time chat or conference call. Lectures are downloaded using the Canvas learning system. Discussion forums are a regular part of each course and often students work collaboratively on course assignments. Maintaining regular and consistent participation is important for success in this type of distance program.

Students work most often within the time frame of 1-2 week units. This allows a student to create his or her own schedule for completing assignments while keeping the whole class together within a set time frame for collaborative work.

On-Campus Intensive

DL-web.jpgThe two on-campus intensives allow for significant course time to be conducted in a face-to-face setting. Each October and May the 5-day intensives are held.  Students start each day with breakfast together, and the community breaks in the morning for worship and fellowship. Students participate in worship by reading scripture or assisting with the worship liturgy.

Spiritual formation retreats and professional development seminars are woven into the Intensives throughout the five-year program.

Lodging and Travel

Lodging and travel to Holland, Michigan, are not included in the cost of the program and are the responsibility of the student.

The seminary will assist in locating housing options for the intensives, but students are responsible for the cost of housing and meals while on campus (other than breakfast).

Textbooks can be purchased from the seminary bookstore.

Formation for Ministry

Distance Learning M.Div. students are required to complete four semesters/units of Teaching Church. Each unit is a minimum of 130 hours of supervised ministry (about 9 hours/wk over the 14 week semester).

If a student is already working in ministry, it usually makes sense for that site to become his or her Teaching Church. However, students are encouraged to gain a broad range of experiences to best prepare for their future ministries.

Each student initiates the process of finding a Teaching Church, in communication with the Formation for Ministry office at WTS. The student considers factors such as denominational affiliation, plans for ordination, the kind of ministry to which he or she feels called, ministry skills needed, and the presence of adequate pastoral supervision. The Formation for Ministry team clarifies expectations for the internship with the ministry site.

Questions about the Teaching Church program may be directed to Glenn Swier, associate director of Formation for Ministry.

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Courses and Degree Requirements

96 credit hours, minimum of five years. 

Formation for Ministry courses which includes 800 hours supervised ministry in a Teaching Church

  • Yearly online orientations in August

  • Intercultural Immersion trip

Sequence of Courses

Field Legend: BL - Biblical Field; MN - Christian Ministry Field; FR - Formation for Ministry; TH - Theological Field

Year 1


  • MN102 Practice of Discipleship (3)
  • BL100 New Testament Greek I   (3)
  • MN100 Worship Foundations    (1.5)


  • Elective (1.5)


  • BL101A NT Greek II (1.5)
  • BL101B New Testament Interpretation (1.5)
  • BL102 NT Foundations  (3)
  • MN105 Pastor as Person (1.5)


  • Elective using Greek (NT Elective) (3)
Year 2


  • BL110 Biblical Hebrew (3)
  • BL103 Old Testament Foundations (3)
  • FR116 Entering/Exploring Christian Ministry (1.5)


  • Elective (1.5)


  • BL111 Hebrew Translation & Interpretation (3)
  • Elective (3)
  • FR117 Engaging Christian Ministry I (1.5)


  •  Elective using Hebrew (OT Elective) (3)


Year 3


  • TH100 Church History I (3)
  • MN115 Practice of Counsel and Care (3)
  • FR118 Engaging Christian Ministry II (1.5)


  • FR111 Intercultural Immersion (3) or Elective (1.5)


  • TH101 Church History II (3)
  • FR119 Engaging Christian Ministry III (1.5)
  • MN101 Preaching Foundations (3)


  • Elective (3)

Year 4


  • TH113 Systematic Theology I (3)
  • MN124 Practice of Worhsip and Preaching (3)
  • Elective (1.5)


  • FR111 Intercultural Immersion (3) or Elective (1.5)


  • TH114 Systematic Theology II (3)
  • TH112 Gospel, Culture and Church (3)
  • Elective (1.5)


  • Elective (or MN121 Standards and Polity for RCA Candidates) (3)
Year 5


  • MN120 Leadership (3)
  • TH121 Christian Ethics (3)
  • Elective  (1.5)


  • FR111 Intercultural Immersion (3) or Elective (1.5)


  • TH124 Credo (1.5)
  • Elective (3)
  • Elective (3




Distance Learning FAQs

How does Western Seminary prepare new Distance Learning students to be successful?

Once admitted, students will receive specific instructions for orientation to the program functionality and technology.  Each student is also assigned a faculty advisor.  Administrative and technical support is available from the Academic Affairs office when needed.  In short, our goal is to serve the student!

Are there specific times of the day or week when I must be online?

No, students may log on and learn at any convenient time. Students who are able to block out particular times in their weekly schedule to devote to their learning are those who are most successful. This flexibility must be balanced with regular weekly assignments.

How many hours a week do most students in this program spend learning?

Our Distance Learning students report that they spend an average of between 15-20 hours per week to be successful in meeting their educational goals.

May I work at my own pace in this degree program?

While there is flexibility for your online work, there are regular and often weekly assignments. Students are required to meet definite project and assignment due dates.

What is an Intensive?

An Intensive is a required 5-day session in which all distance learning students come together on campus in Holland, MI twice a year (Oct and May) to learn, study and get to know each other. Various arrangements for lodging during our intensives are available, but ultimately it is up to the student. We will help you locate and reserve a setting that fits your budget and preferences.

May I take just one online course?

If there is room available in an online course, you may request permission to take a single course.

May I transfer academic credits from other educational institutions to my Distance Learning degree program at Western?

Yes! Transfer credit is awarded for course work completed at another seminary accredited through the Association of Theological Schools. Students who want to transfer into Western's M.Div. program must earn at least 30 semester credit hours in our degree program in order to graduate. Individual academic assessments determining transfer credits are calculated for those who complete an application and submit their transcripts.

I am not a member of the Reformed Church in America. May I apply?

We welcome you! Students from a variety of denominations and theological convictions enroll at Western Theological Seminary to prepare for ministry leadership. See the section on the About page which speaks to Western and the RCA.

When does the program start?

A new group of distance learners begins each year in late August and in January. See sidebar for application deadlines.

What technological equipment do I need to be successful?

A computer meeting the required standards will serve you well. While it is not required, a high-speed internet connection enhances the enjoyment of learning online. 

Is technical or academic assistance available if I need it?

Absolutely! Student service support is available from full time staff members. Enrolled students may request help from a trained technician, a professor, a faculty advisor or an administrative assistant, depending on their need. Western Theological Seminary is well known for our care of students.

Does Western Seminary offer financial aid for distance learners?

Finances are often a major concern for students seeking to achieve a seminary education. We encourage our students to consider a variety of options available for financial aid. We invite you to contact our financial aid administrator, Pat Dykhuis, with your specific needs or questions.

Who do I contact for more information?

Dr. Mark Poppen, Director of Admissions, or Jill English, Admissions Associate at 1-800-392-8554 x135 or email admissions@westernsem.edu

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