Gainesville Baptist College & Seminary
Address: 5304 Bethel Road, Clermont
Imagine if your graduating class was so small, graduating in the top third meant it was just, well, you.
Luckily for graduates of Gainesville Baptist College & Seminary, the size of the class isn’t what matters; instead, this small program focuses on a personalized education with God.
The school has been in Clermont for five years, and three local pastors — the Rev. Milton Harris, the Rev. Mark Wheeler and the Rev. Ben Tanner — recently graduated with bachelor’s degrees to help them spread God’s message. To date, the school has graduated nearly 50, according to its president, the Rev. James Hatcher.
“It thrills me to see these students advancing and going all the way; it keeps me going,” said Hatcher, who recently retired as the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Clermont.
Most of the men and women who attend Gainesville Baptist College work full time, so night classes are offered as a more practical way to get college credits. And just because Harris and Wheeler graduated this summer doesn’t mean their schooling is over. They both plan on getting their master’s degrees.
Even as older students, Wheeler said the classes also taught him discipline.
“It was easy access and some good teachers,” said Wheeler, whose grandfather, the Rev. Marvin Wheeler, suggested he attend the school.
“The No. 1 thing I learned was discipline, how to discipline yourself with your studies,” he said. “I think that’s our main goal — to teach other men and women to discipline themselves in their studies.”
Because the classes are small, Harris said, the school’s atmosphere lends itself to a more personalized education. And students have more one-on-one time with guest lecturers, he added.
“It’s a whole lot closer and you get to sit under some real good teaching,” said Harris, also the pastor at New Bridge Baptist Church in Gainesville. “Dr. Marlon Thomas went home to be with the Lord last year, and I got to sit under his teaching, Dr. Keith Allison and some (other) great Bible men in the area. It has helped us to grow in our Christian walk and Christian life.
“My goal is to learn as much as I can and with prayer, seek God’s wisdom and then when I stand before the congregation, I have something that God has given me that will encourage them.”
Wheeler, who attends Wahoo Baptist Church and is a member of the gospel singing group The Marksmen, said a class that has stuck with him throughout his time at the school was a course on minor prophets taught by Dr. James Ransom.
“It opened up prophecy to me more than anything that I had ever studied, because he dealt with the primary interpretation and then the prophetic interpretation, which gave me some insight into why these things happened,” Wheeler said.
Added Harris, “Brother Marlon (Thomas) was my mentor ... when he gave you the information, he expected you to write it down an obtain it. When you get into those doctrines (in Romans) and try to keep justification, sanctification and everything straight and he wants a definition on each of those.”
Courses begin in August for the upcoming semester, and this fall, for the first time, the school will offer correspondence classes.
“We are really excited for those that live too far to drive or those that just can’t attend classes,” Hatcher said. “They will read the curriculum and write a 15-page book (for course credit).”