ACU welcomed Andrew Ritchie back to the community in January 2018. Andrew is an ACU alum, having earned his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Texts. He’s returned to ACU to pursue an online Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree.
Balancing graduate studies with his roles as youth minister at Cinco Ranch Church of Christ in Katy, Texas and father to a 5-month-old daughter keeps him plenty busy. But Andrew likes it that way. “I feel like when I’m busier, I’m usually better at having everything done.”
Deciding the time was right to go for a master’s
Andrew spent three years at his youth minister job before returning to school. Despite his love of learning, he wasn’t sure he really needed a master’s to advance his career. Plus, he was eager to get to work once he earned his bachelor’s.
After consulting with a large group of trusted mentors who encouraged him, confirming the value of getting a graduate degree, Andrew made the leap. In retrospect, he’s glad he had a few years of ministry experience to draw upon.
“When I’m writing a paper or researching a topic, I can directly point to a way that my experience has already had an impact. I’ve already faced or seen certain things in real life that I’m now learning about,” Andrew says.
Choosing ACU for his Master’s in Christian Ministry
While Andrew was “strongly considering” a return to ACU for his graduate degree, he also wanted to explore other options. He’d emailed a few different college-recruiting offices for information during his search. He was considering Fuller in Houston because it’s close to his home. But Andrew recalls, “Whenever I reached out to ACU, the recruiter at the time did such a good job of really making me aware of the different benefits of going to ACU.”
Part of it was how encouraging and generous Andrew felt ACU was when it came to his scholarship. He also knew he’d get the type of training he wanted from a school that was more forward- thinking and progressive than others he was considering. “It was a no-brainer. I knew ACU was where I was probably going to go because I really enjoyed my undergraduate experience there.”
If he had any doubts at all, Andrew’s first one-week residency on ACU’s Dallas campus sealed the deal. He recalls, “I was very impressed with how state-of-the-art and really well done the Dallas campus is. It looks sharp from the road. And you go up there, and you’re in a really fantastic eighth-floor classroom environment with a cool view of North Dallas.”
Andrew also cites the Teaching Spiritual Formation class with Dr. Houston Heflin at his residency as being “honestly, probably one of the best classes I’ve taken, undergrad or graduate level. It was phenomenal.”
Andrew’s experience as an ACU Online graduate student
Admittedly “one of those people that likes to constantly be working on something,” Andrew shares that while there’s more work to do in graduate school, it’s also more fulfilling for him.
“I’m more frequently having cool affirmations of the different things that I’m learning and the skills that I’m getting. It’s definitely been the right decision. As soon as I started the program, I realized just how much I truly enjoy learning new things and feeling like I’m growing as a person. So, for me, it’s been great.”
Andrew also appreciates the depth and diversity of life experiences his classmates bring to the program. “I’m really impressed by how I’m in some classes with people who’ve been preachers for 10 years or youth ministers for 20 years. I’m getting to learn from people that are from different countries too.”
When asked about similarities he’s finding between his undergrad and graduate programs, Andrew shares, “I’ve always really appreciated how incredibly hard ACU works to make sure that every student is getting the resources they need, getting the encouragement they need. I don’t know how other online programs are, but I’m always impressed by the number of people that are frequently trying to touch base with me to make sure that I’m doing OK and that I’m not struggling too much with the classes.”
Andrew says his professors have been very flexible when it comes to working with his youth minister schedule. “I’d give them a warning on when my summer camps and mission trips would be, and they would give a week grace period for different assignments. One of my professors right now is a pastor at a church. I’ve had plenty of professors who I can tell by their responses are either paid by a church currently or have been in the past. I can tell that they have a whole lot of empathy for busy seasons in a minister’s life.”
A supportive community behind him
Andrew is very appreciative of the support he gets from his church. “Our money is pretty tight, but my leadership still wanted to make sure that they gave me an amount of money every year to pay towards my books as a way of encouraging me to get that further training. Also, they’ve been totally flexible with any residencies I need to attend.”
There’s a shared knowledge that Andrew’s graduate degree will benefit not only him, but also the entire church. And he’s been able to apply the skills he’s learning in empowering ways.
The month following his Dallas residency’s Teaching Spiritual Formation class, Andrew’s church had a Staff Shepherd Leadership Retreat. “And they asked me if I would lead a whole session on spiritual formation because of the class I had just taken.”
When asked for closing thoughts, Andrew shares his reply to students who worry about the cost of an education. “I’d much rather die someday with a little less money but with the quality of life that I’ve had because I chose to go to a school that’s invested in my learning and my faith.”
He continues, “I tell people all the time, if tomorrow God calls me to be a roofer and I never use any of my Bible training that I got from ACU, I won’t consider it a waste whatsoever because of the way that it helps me as a learner, as a person, and as a husband and father.”
Andrew will soon hit the halfway mark in his graduate program, which excites him. He shares his life with wife Cathryn, a labor and delivery nurse, and infant daughter Landry Jo.
If you share Andrew’s passion for the ministry, learn more about ACU’s Graduate School of Theology.