By: Bruce Ashford
Those of us who are faculty members and students at Southern Baptist seminaries owe a great debt to the Cooperative Program (CP) and the churches who fund it. I was reminded of this fact while perusing a report published by the Auburn Theological Seminary, in which Barb Wheeler unfolds the results of a study done on how seminary students make their way through their studies. Although the population surveyed extends well beyond the Southern Baptist Convention, many of the results are illuminating for our context. I will highlight three:
- It takes a church to raise a seminarian. More than half of the seminarians were involved in their youth group, with about a quarter participating in youth camps. Getting started early does make a difference. Many of the interviews became committed to a ministerial vocation early in life through specific emphases on a calling to ministry during their youth.
- It takes a family to raise a seminarian. Church involvement at a young age was an important element in many of the survey respondents. This typically meant that their families were involved in the local church. Also, 80% of the respondents indicate they were actively encouraged to attend seminary and move toward a religious vocation by their families.
- It takes a seminary to attract a seminarian. The leading considerations for students choosing seminaries were the quality and doctrinal emphasis of the school. It is important for a school to be clear about who they are and the values they uphold. It is also important for theological schools to have a vibrant academic environment.
What does this mean to Southern Baptists? In relation to “it takes a church to raise a seminarian,” it means that if we are going to continue to thrive as a denomination we need to encourage the young people in our church to consider ministerial vocations such as pastor, missionary, or counselor. Although not every person will be called to this sort of churchly vocation, many persons will be, and we should continue to put forth the call to these churchly vocations.
In relation to “it takes a family to raise a seminarian,” it means that our churches must foster families, which raise their children in the admonition and nurture of the Lord. If Christian parents will take seriously their charge to “make disciples” of their own children, those children will be more prepared when the Lord calls them to a churchly vocation. The families of our seminarians should also encourage them in a good task. Seminary can be a hard journey and a word of encouragement along the way can be like rain in the desert.
In relation to “it takes a seminary to attract a seminarian,” Southern Baptists should be thankful that each of our seminaries offers a curriculum that is shaped by the Word of the Lord. It also means that we should be thankful for the healthy competition among the SBC seminaries (and non-SBC seminaries), as competition pushes each of the seminaries to provide the best education possible. Finally, it means that our churches need to stay engaged with the seminaries to ensure that the seminaries remain faithful to God’s Word and effective in equipping students for ministry. At Southeastern, our stated mission is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission. We are thankful beyond words for SBC churches and pledge to keep their trust if they send us their students.
One last point arising from Wheeler’s study is the importance of keeping seminary costs low. She reports that about two thirds of seminary students are carrying education debt by the time they graduate from seminary. Thankfully, a recent survey of graduates at Southeastern shows that only 10% of our seminary graduates incurred any educational debt while in seminary. This is only possible through the continuing support of theological education by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program.
Because of the Cooperative Program we at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary are able to send out men and women to fulfill the Great Commission. They are going because you are giving.