A Letter From the President: Reflections On Ten Wonderful Years

On January 15th of this year I celebrated my 10th year at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  For Charlotte and me, this is almost impossible to believe!  And yet at the same time, we have experienced so many things.  As I pen this letter from Istanbul, Turkey, where we have the joy of being with students that God has called to the nations, I am aware that during these 10 years we have buried three parents, welcomed three daughters-in-law, added 10 grandchildren, and celebrated 35 years of marriage and ministry together.  On a personal level, God has blessed us with a full and joyful life.  With the psalmist I delight to sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).

I can also sing that same verse as I think about all the ways our Lord has blessed the school I have the honor and privilege of serving.  An exhaustive list would require a book!  However, let me highlight a few of the good things our great God has done in the past decade.

1)   The Lord led us to a very clear “mission statement” that says who we are.  The shorthand version is “Southeastern is a Great Commission Seminary.”  Ask anyone on our campus who we are, and that is the answer you will receive.  The longer version simply says, “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.”  This statement guides us in all that we do.  I believe it has helped a really good seminary to become an even better seminary.  It keeps us focused on the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

2)   The Lord has grown our school from just over 2400 to over 3100 students, and the future looks even brighter.  What a blessing!

3)   We have gone from having one endowed faculty chair to seven!  This is a double blessing in that it honors wonderful servants of God and helps the seminary financially.  I would love to see this number double in the next 10 years.

4)   The Lord has graced us with as fine of a faculty as you will find anywhere in the world.  Our students have the joy of studying under godly men and women who are churchmen, brilliant scholars, and followers of King Jesus who have a deep love for the church and a passion for the nations.  Three of my own sons and a daughter-in-law have studied or are studying here.  As a dad, I could not ask for a better place of training for my children.

5)   We built the Prince Facilities building and Patterson Hall.  Both buildings have been a tremendous asset to Southeastern in terms of how we care for the campus and teach our students.

6)   The Lord has blessed me with an incredible leadership team that has taken Southeastern to the next level.  Bruce Ashford, Jamie Dew, Ryan Hutchinson, Mark Liederbach, Chuck Lawless and Art Rainer excel in their areas of responsibility.  They make me look better than I am!  And, they are my brothers and friends who challenge me to be more like Jesus.

7)   Under the leadership of John Ewart, we launched EQUIP which allows the seminary and local churches to partner in doing theological education.  The brilliant New Testament Scholar Don Carson said this model was a utopian dream.  By God’s grace, we are making it a reality.

8)   Shortly before his death, we instituted the L. Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture.  Initially directed by Bruce Little, it is now led by Ken Keathley.  This Center is simply stellar in engaging the cultural issues that the church must face and address with biblical truth and conviction.  I know Dr. Bush is smiling from heaven in all the Center is accomplishing.

9)   We were able to receive and house the letters and papers of Francis Schaeffer, one of evangelicalism’s leading apologists in the 20th century.  Words are not adequate to express what a gift this is.  Bruce Little rightly deserves a huge “thank you” for making this happen.

10)  Finally, and I could continue for a long time, the Lord Jesus has blessed our campus with a spirit of love, joy and gratitude.  My friend Mark Dever calls us “the happy campus.”  I think he is right.  Visitors often comment about the happy, joyful servant spirit they find on this campus.  It bears much fruit.  We know that over 90% of prospective students who visit our campus will choose Southeastern as their seminary or college.  Why?  Because students, staff, faculty and administration are happy to be here and we just can’t hide it.  And, we don’t want to!

On a number of occasions I have been asked if I aspired to be a seminary president.  The fact is when God called me into ministry in 1977 on the Papago Indian Reservation in Sells, Arizona, this boy from Georgia did not know what a seminary was.  I did not know they even existed.  No, all I have ever wanted to do since that day is please the Lord Jesus, preach the Bible, serve the church, and share the gospel.  I am the most surprised of all that I get to do what I do.  I am a blessed man far beyond what I could ever hope, imagine or deserve.  Thank you King Jesus for these wonderful years.  If it is your will, I look forward to many more.

 

The Cooperative Program, Seminaries, and the Future of Their Financial Success

This is a guest post by Ryan Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson serves as the Executive Vice President for Operations at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. We believe his article is deserving of a very close reading by all those interested in the Cooperative Program and the future of our six Southern Baptist seminaries. It is our prayer that his post will serve as the starting place for a healthy family discussion among Southern Baptists about this important topic.

The Cooperative Program, Seminaries, and the Future of Their Financial Success

By Ryan Hutchinson

Recently, there was a blog post published at the Chronicle of Higher Education website entitled “Outlook for Nonprofit Education is ‘Volatile’, Report Says.” The post refers to a recent report by Standard & Poor’s regarding this outlook. The point of this post is not to rehash or to critique the Chronicle’s post or the S&P report, but to apply the concepts to our Southern Baptist seminaries as well as offer some additional thoughts. The blog post highlights some of the challenges raised by the S&P report to which nonprofit educational institutions need to respond.

  • Dealing with deferred maintenance
  • Balancing access and affordability for students
  • Preserving their investments
  • Managing a turnover in senior leadership positions
  • Handling the uncertainty of state and federal appropriations

The last point does not fully apply to the SBC seminaries, but there are some limited implications. The Chronicle’s post concludes by noting that the outlook for higher education looks strong.

The outlook for the future training of God-called men and women at our six Southern Baptist seminaries also looks strong. However, like all other institutions of higher education, challenges are in front of us. What are some of the ways that Southern Baptists must prepare to meet these future challenges?

  • Celebrate the diversity that characterizes our six seminaries, since each school has a unique identity within the boundaries provided by the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
  • Have a fruitful discussion about the future of theological education and the impact of multiple delivery systems.
    • We need to realize that no one can really answer how educational delivery will look in 15–20 years, but we must plan and seek God’s wisdom.
    • The future could potentially include doing away with some of the historic territorial restrictions upon the six seminaries.
  • Determine how we can better communicate and solicit support for theological education.
    • One obvious answer is “give more”, but the seminaries must justify why more should be given when approaching individuals and encouraging support of the Cooperative Program.
    • When promoting the Cooperative Program, we must communicate its impact upon individuals and communities, which will work against the perception among some that the Cooperative Program is impersonal.
    • We must be open to changing the name of the Cooperative Program or even its design in an effort to capture the hearts of those from whom we are trying to solicit more support. This sort of change could benefit all SBC agencies receiving Cooperative Program dollars, not just the seminaries.
  • The seminaries must engage the local church more in the process of theological education. We are a servant to our local churches, and are here to come alongside them and provide help.
    • A way to make theological education personal is not to simply provide training for the paid minister, but the minister in the pew. One example is Southeastern’s MOOC course, which is a free class that is open to anyone interested in learning how to interpret the Bible more faithfully (www.sebts.edu/mooc).
    • Another way to engage the local church in the training process is what SEBTS is doing through our EQUIP program (www.sebts.edu/equip). We are doing what we can to push theological training to a hands-on environment in the context of the local church.

There are surely other ways to meet the challenges we face, and your comments related to this post are an important part of this discussion.

Consider partnering with your six seminaries in three ways. First, please pray for the work we do in training God-called men and women for gospel ministry. Second, pastors in particular, please talk to your people about the seminaries so that they do not see us as distant concepts where training occurs for some theological elite. Finally, please invest in the six seminaries both through the Cooperative Program and through individual financial gifts as God’s leads.

Our six Southern Baptist seminaries are the envy of many denominations and networks around the world. However, we must avoid two dangers. First, we cannot become prideful about what we have in our seminaries. The Lord is responsible for these blessings. Second, we must not convince ourselves that business as usual is enough when it comes to a secure future for our seminaries. It would be a shame if we find ourselves scratching our heads twenty years from now, wondering what happened to all that we once had.

The Lord does not need us, but He graciously uses us for His glorious purposes. We should be thankful this is the case with our Southern Baptist seminaries. As we look to the future and begin this conversation, we must rely solely on Him for wisdom and sustenance. To Him alone belongs the glory.