When the students enter the classroom at Emmanuel Bible Institute, the first thing they see is a message written on the board: “You can do this.”

The students will be meeting on Sunday evenings through December, participating in college-level instruction that is much more involved than the average Sunday School class or Bible study. The first clue might have been the class syllabus, which looks just like the syllabus for a college class. And it is—identical to a class taught at Baptist Bible College—using the same curriculum, textbook, and notes. On the first night of classes, students learned of another similarity. They’ll also be taking the same tests and completing a project, under the sort of tight deadlines that many of the students have not experienced since high school.

Their instructor is David Rockwell, pastor of teaching and evangelism at Emmanuel. He’s no stranger to the classroom, having taught for two years at Faith Baptist Bible College and then for 21 years at BBC. He continues to teach adjunct classes at Baptist Bible Seminary. At Emmanuel, his Bible institute students call him “Doc Roc,” a reference to his degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

When a student asks if the teacher would actually fail any of them, Rockwell is quick to reply, “Oh, no. But you might fail yourself, and I’ll be glad to assess that!”

After the laughter subsides, he adds words of encouragement: “You have the brainpower to do this—and you need self-discipline in order to finish.”

The program was suggested by Emmanuel’s pastor of evangelism and assimilation, Shane Miller, who was looking to develop different levels of discipleship training at the church. “It’s been very encouraging to see all different levels of commitment,” Pastor Shane says. “We have some who are teachers, deacons, and group leaders. But a great number are not as involved in ministering to others, but are now involved in the class.”

Pastor Shane worked for the U.S. Postal Service when he first began attending Emmanuel. He began to consider full-time ministry after attending a weekly Bible study let by Bill Everett. Pastor Shane left Toledo long enough to earn a Bible degree from Baptist Bible College and then an MDiv from Baptist Bible Seminary. Because of his background as a lay worker in church, he still has a special passion for training and disciplining church members.

The church worked closely with Dr. Jim Lytle, provost of Baptist Bible College, to develop an additional benefit to the class. Lytle says that students who meet all of the requirements can apply for college credit when they apply to BBC’s online program. In addition to the obvious benefit to the students, Lytle says that the college benefits by getting its professors’ work out to a wider circle of people, as well as promoting its new online college degree. “This could become a stepping-stone for a student to enter a full program with an accredited degree,” Lytle says.

Students pay a nominal fee of $25 to cover classroom expenses, and are required to purchase a textbook, Talk Thru the Bible (Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, published by Thomas Nelson). Classes are taught from the ESV, the same version Pastor Duke Crawford preaches from on Sundays.

The church intends the ongoing program to attract younger students, perhaps even high school students who are considering a Bible college education. But when 33 people signed up for the first class, Pastor Shane noted that the class was also attracting retirees.

“We were pleasantly surprised, really just joyful, that older people were participating as well,” Pastor Shane says.

Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin. Darrell Goemaat is director of photography.