At Midwestern Seminary this week marks the beginning of the spring semester, and with it comes spring convocation. Convocation signals the start of the academic semester, and it serves as a joyful reminder of the task that is ours—to train pastors, ministers and missionaries for the church.
Convocation also projects our confessional commitment to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, as witnessed through newly elected professors signing our confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. This week Drs. Owen Strachan and Mathew Millsap will add their signatures to our articles of faith.
This event reminded me of my gratitude to God for bringing these men to teach at Midwestern Seminary, of my broader appreciation for the accomplished faculty God has given this institution, and it prompted me to reflect publically on what I look for when interviewing and evaluating faculty.
The primary job of a seminary president is to recruit and retain the right faculty. Who you hire will determine the institution you lead and the type of graduates it will produce. This means I am always thinking about faculty.
A glut of Ph.D. graduates coupled with a dearth of open faculty positions means potential faculty members are not in short supply. The law of supply and demand teaches us this is a buyers’ market. I know this empirically, through the never-ending stream of reports on higher education I receive. I also know this experientially, receiving faculty applications and recommendations on a weekly—if not daily—basis.
Therefore, a seminary president can afford to be selective, and I am just that. Here is what I look for in interviewing new faculty members and evaluating current ones:
- Confessional Integrity: At its core, a seminary is in the business of theological instruction, and transmitting sound doctrine is priority number one. For Midwestern Seminary, this means an unshakeable commitment to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, with faculty affirming it without hesitation, evasion, or mental reservation. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Danvers Statement are also guiding documents, with expected affirmation. Dirty pipes never transmit pure water. To have doctrinally sound graduates you must have doctrinally sound instructors.
- Personal Piety: Put simply, I expect from my faculty, in amplified form, what I aspire for my students to believe, exemplify, and practice. Leadership is a trickle-down phenomenon, with students learning from their mentors in formal and informal ways and settings. Therefore, I Timothy 3 qualifications are non-negotiable. Prayerfulness and true love for Christ and his Word are essential. Personal piety is a must.
- Mission Buy-in: Is the candidate merely looking for a job or does he truly believe in the seminary’s mission of existing for the Church? This is a crucial question, and for me it means he must demonstrate love for the local church and be sold-out to the Great Commission. Additionally, it means the candidate should be happy serving in a thoroughly Southern Baptist context.
- Ministry Ambition: Ambition can be a dangerous motivation, but, rightly channeled, it is integral to faithful ministry. I hire people who fix their ambition on ministry—like improving classroom skills, writing projects, or student mentoring—not those on an endless quest to lower their golf handicap or who scour Netflix for new releases. Admittedly, life stages, varying degrees of giftedness, family needs, and other administrative and ministry responsibilities all influence one’s productivity. Nonetheless, ministry drivenness and rightly channeled ambition are looked upon favorably.
- Love of Students: Students must find in faculty members not merely a professor from whom to learn, but also a person with whom they study and grow. We are not looking for a clinical transfer of knowledge, but professors who genuinely love students. Ministerial preparation is as much caught as it is taught, and it often happens in organic, life-on-life settings.
- Institutional Projection: A faculty member’s teaching responsibility is the beginning of his contribution to the seminary, not the end. Classroom responsibility is a significant portion of the work, but more is needed. This is especially true after the early years of teaching when lecture materials are largely completed and the professor has gained his institutional sea legs. The faculty can strengthen the seminary’s ministry through preaching, teaching, publishing, blogging, church consulting, and social media, among other endeavors.
- Cheerfulness & Collegiality: I am determined for Midwestern Seminary to be the most collegial and cheerful campus on the planet. We have fun here. We aim for cheerfulness that flows from hearts satisfied in Christ, thankful to serve him at Midwestern Seminary, and fulfilled by advancing the school’s mission. Coupled with cheerfulness is collegiality with other faculty, administration, and the entire community. A person who pens anonymous letters, fires off blistering emails, circulates gossip, holds grudges, or just proves to be too prickly of a personality will best fit in elsewhere.
- Value Added: Are there other, even intangible, contributions this person will make to the seminary community? Does his spouse support his ministry and hope to be involved? Will he help recruit students and connect the seminary with potential donors? Is he the kind of person who is eager to participate in seminary functions, have students in his home, or serve in areas beyond his technical responsibilities? If not, there is a long line of potential professors who are.
The most important aspect of a seminary president’s job is not fundraising, master planning, or even student recruitment. It’s finding and retaining the right faculty. And the most solemn responsibility of a Board of Trustees—sans hiring a president—is interviewing and electing faculty members.
Ultimately, you hire people, not prototypes. It’s not fair to expect perfection, but it is fair to expect fidelity, integrity, and the pursuit of excellence.
I’m thankful for the incredible faculty God has assembled at Midwestern Seminary—both those who have served here over the years and those God has brought since my election—and I always have an eye out for future additions. Those we hire will likely possess more than these characteristics, but not anything less.
*A version of this article was previously posted on 10/13/14topicsHigher Education