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 (
    • Another way to engage the local church in the training process is what SEBTS is doing through our EQUIP program ( 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.


GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (6): Challenges for the Seminaries

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (6): Challenges for the Seminaries

By Danny Akin and Bruce Riley Ashford

Southern Baptist seminaries, like any other entity, need to give extended reflection upon their vision and mission. We must never lose sight of the fact that our calling is to serve the churches of the SBC; our vision, mission, and core values must reflect the churches of the Southern Baptist convention, in whose service we were created and under whose supervision we remain.

The first challenge for the seminaries is to maintain fidelity to Christian Scripture, allowing Scripture to provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for all theological reflection.

For three decades now, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have united over their belief in the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. We confess that the Scriptures are ipsissima verba Dei, the very words of God. This we have made very clear. What we have not made clear, however, is whether we are committed to allowing our high view of Scripture to determine and shape our ministry methods and practices. “It has become apparent,” David Dockery writes, “that a firm theological foundation is important for faithful Gospel proclamation. Pastors, theologians, evangelists, and lay people must work harder at closing the gap between theology and the work of evangelism so that our theology is done for the church and our proclamation is grounded in biblically based theology.”

A second challenge for the seminaries is to produce ministry-minded graduates instead of seminary eggheads. The brutal fact is that seminaries sometimes produce students who can discourse on theological abstractions but who are detached from real-life ministry. Seminaries must develop curriculum that keep theology and ministry riveted to one another, that are “specifically geared toward equipping local church leadership (both students and non-students) in areas such as preaching, evangelism, discipleship, pastoral ministries, church planting, international missions, and biblical counseling, etc.” Further, they must “cooperate with local associations, state convention, NAMB and the IMB in planning and hosting church planting training that puts international missions and church planting in the life-blood of all the students our churches entrust to [their] care.”

A third challenge the seminaries face is how to locate as much of our education as possible in the local church. Is there a reason not to return certain courses of study, such as pastoral ministries, to their native environment in the local church? As the GCRTF puts it, this will include developing “a strategy for cultivating more local church-based partnerships for M.Div.-level theological education, particularly in underserved regions in North America;” further, it will include developing “more opportunities for students to gain tangible experience and earn seminary credit by serving in local church internships or short-term mission assignments and provide financial assistance to students who avail themselves of these opportunities.”

A fourth challenge for the seminaries is how to provide the most affordable, appropriate, and effective mechanisms in order to allow every Southern Baptist minister an opportunity to receive a formal theological education. We must ask many questions: Are there ways we can streamline our institutions? Would it be a good idea to reduce the number of seminaries? Are there ways in which the seminaries are divisively competitive and instead need to become more of a network of truly cooperative campuses? Could such a network provide, for example, a combination of on-campus and distance education to international missionaries in a way more beneficial that what is offered presently? Would it be willing to renegotiate archaic agreements about extension campuses and online education, so that every Southern Baptist pastor who wants to have a theological education can receive one without being forced to leave the church he is serving?

All pastors need to be theologians and all good theology is pastoral; all missionaries must be theologians and all good theology is missional. Seminary education must always be directed toward producing hot-hearted ministers who “do theology for a church on mission.” Therefore, let us commit to a paradigm in which we do theology primarily for the church rather than the academy, in which we are ever-responsible to the needs of the very churches who support us, and with our down payment on this commitment being an affirmative vote for the GCRTF’s recommendations.

Aspect 3(b): A Mission Focused on the Nations (Five Clear Challenges)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Five Clear Challenges:

As we fulfill our mission to the nations, we face many decisions, including the five following challenges. With a limited number of missionaries, to which parts of the globe do we send missionaries? It is our conviction that the majority of international missionaries should be sent to unreached and unengaged people groups, those who have little or no access to the gospel. As we mentioned above, there are vast stretches of the globe (Asia and Africa in particular) where there is no church capable of reaching its own people. Our churches must take the gospel to these people groups. As Jerry Rankin has argued, this does not mean that we discontinue our partnerships in the parts of Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa where there are indigenous churches capable of reaching their own people, but it does mean that the majority of our resources should probably be directed toward the unreached and unengaged.

When we send our workers to the unreached and unengaged, what are we sending them to do? Should they primarily preach the gospel? Feed the hungry? Heal the sick? It is our belief that, ultimately, we are sending missionaries to make disciples by means of planting churches (and training indigenous church planters) that will preach the gospel, feed the hungry, and minister to the sick. It is these churches, and not primarily the missionaries, who will work out the implications of the gospel in all aspects of their society and culture: in their families, workplaces, and communities. God works primarily through his church; therefore, he would have us to extend his kingdom by means of his church.” We seek to plant churches whose immediate goal it is to plant other churches until there is a cascading chain of churches planting churches. Indeed, we hope to see churches planted within walking distance of every house in the world.

When we plant these churches, how will we ensure that we do so in a way that is biblical and appropriate to their respective contexts? How can we guarantee that we are not planting American churches on Iraqi, Nigerian, or Vietnamese soil? In brief, the answer lies at the intersection of three imperatives. First, we must preach the gospel and plant churches faithfully, in a way that conforms to the Scriptures. In a phrase, we seek to plant healthy, biblically-defined churches. Second, we must preach the gospel meaningfully, using words and categories and teaching styles that enable the hearer to understand the gospel in the same way that the preacher intends it. Third, we must preach the gospel and plant the church dialogically, in conversation with the host culture as national believers prayerfully seek to allow the gospel to critique the very language and categories of their own culture. If we will hold these three imperatives in tension, we have good reason to hope that the churches arising from native soil will be appropriate to their contexts.

In what ways may our American churches fulfill their calling to the nations? First and foremost, we must find ways to build the Great Commission into the DNA of our churches. Mission is not a “ministry” of the church; it is at the heart of who she is. This means that in our preaching and teaching ministries we need to trace the message of mission throughout the Scriptures and publicly invite our members to commit a summer or two years or even a lifetime working among the nations. In our community ministries, we need to reach out to the immigrants, foreign exchange students, and others, who live in our cities. In our mission ministries, we might work with the IMB to adopt an unreached people group as the church’s own, and then seek the guidance of the IMB’s seasoned workers on how to proceed in ministering to that people group.

In what way might our seminaries and colleges assist our churches in fulfilling our calling to the nations? They may do so by not divorcing theology from missiology and by not quarantining missiology to a lonely corner of the campus. Theology may be the “queen of the disciplines,” but it will be a distorted theology indeed if it is not forged in the fire of mission. We must be careful to teach the books of the Bible and the classical theological loci with reference to the biblical narrative and God’s missional character. In so doing, we will find ourselves teaching about God with reference to his missional heart. We will teach about the church in relation to her missional calling. We will teach about the end times in light of the ingathering of the nations. Some institutions will need to be careful not to allow their missions department and missions professors to be viewed as second class citizens. Others, however, must take care to ensure that their evangelistic zeal is buttressed by sturdy theology. In riveting theology to mission, we will produce students who can build and sustain Great Commission churches.

Jerry Rankin, To the Ends of the Earth: Churches Fulfilling the Great Commission (Richmond: International Mission Board, 2005), 6. Rankin points out that in 2001 Southern Baptists finally reached a total of 5,000 missionaries under appointment, but that this is not nearly enough. For example, at the time Rankin’s book was written, the IMB had appointed one missionary unit for every 4.6 million lost people in South Asia.

In Matthew 28:18-20, we are commanded to make disciples of all nations. If we are to “make disciples” of the nations, we must do so through the planting of churches, because discipleship can only be fully accomplished through the local church. For further biblical-theological treatment of the mandate and implementation of church planting, see John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (Hancock, NH: Monadnock, 2003); Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962); and David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).

This provides a natural opportunity for partnership between a local church, IMB missionaries, and national partners (unless there are not yet any national believers and churches). When an American church embarks upon mission trips without such a partnership, there are three potential pitfalls. First, the church will have limited insight on how to make their work fit within a broader long-term strategy. Second, the church often will find itself crafting the trips primarily according to what is best for the local church team rather than what is best for the people group to whom they are ministering. Third, the church will be tempted to focus too much on certain perceived needs of the nationals and, in so doing, create an unhealthy dependency upon the American church. For a church’s short term mission trips to be truly strategic, they must be part of a long-term field-based strategy in collaboration with missionaries and (if a national church exists) with seasoned national partners. George Robinson has addressed all three of these issues in Striking the Match: How God is Using Ordinary People to Change the World through Short-Term Missions (Franklin, TN: E3 Resources, 2008). Also, see Robert J. Priest, ed., Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right! (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 2008).

Russell D. Moore makes this point in “A Theology of the Great Commission,” in The Challenge of the Great Commission, eds. Chuck Lawless and Thom S. Rainer (Pinnacle, 2005), 49-64.