Blog Post

Theological Education, the Local Church & Midwestern Seminary: Presidential Response

Never in one room have so many been gathered to which one man owed so much. I am honored by your presence; I have been humbled by kind words said to me and of me in recent days and on this day.

I am deeply honored by the participants in the inaugural events. Most especially, Drs. Tom Elliff and David Dockery, thank you. I am especially grateful for the keynote speaker, Dr. Al Mohler. One I have known as a friend, mentor, colleague, president, and who apart from my family, is more responsible than any other person on earth for me being here today.

I am gratified by the presence of my family: parents who have lovingly supported me my whole life, and two brothers who in adulthood remain among my closest friends. Beyond family, there are too many friends to name, but know Karen and I love you, appreciate you, and thank God for you.

To the Midwestern Seminary community, thank you for so warmly receiving us, honoring us, serving with us, and believing in me and in our future together in service of the church. I am daily honored to serve as your president.

Most of all, my dear wife, Karen, who lovingly—and tirelessly—supports me daily; and five children—Anne-Marie, Caroline, William, Alden and Elizabeth—who bring me more joy than one heart can hold. Thank you. God has blessed me beyond measure. I am an unworthy recipient of a relentlessly kind providence, and, as the psalmist said, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, and my cup overfloweth.”

Though my heart is full, today my words shall be concise. I want to focus our attention, briefly, this morning on the topic to which I have been focusing Midwestern Seminary’s attention since the day of my election, and to which I shall increasingly focus it every day going forward—the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, our vision is full, yet simple: we exist For the Church. Our stewardship is rooted in the biblical convictions that Christ died for his church, is the head of his church, promised to build his church, gifts followers to serve his church, is calling out pastors, teachers and evangelists to minister to his church, issued his Great Commission to expand his church, and shall one day return for his church.

Moreover, the urgency of Midwestern Seminary’s vision to exist For the Church is amplified by the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention consists of some 45,000 local churches that need pastors and ministers to shepherd congregations and to equip the members gathered therein, and because we are a Great Commission people deploying pastors, ministers, and missionaries globally to reach the world for Christ.

To our watching denomination I say, this day a man has been installed that loves the churches of this convention. He resolves to serve, in both letter and in spirit, in good faith with the churches of this convention and welcomes the oversight and accountability the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention exercise over this seminary; this seminary they own.

My vision, and the vision for Midwestern Seminary, is to serve the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We happily welcome students from beyond this convention, and we will happily deploy graduates beyond it as well. We do not train students only for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, but we unashamedly train students intentionally and especially for the churches of this denomination. We bear a moral stewardship to our Southern Baptist forebears and a contemporary stewardship of the same to focus and calibrate our instructional efforts and academic programs to train pastors, ministers, and missionaries especially for Southern Baptist churches. “Southern Baptist” is a label we wear proudly, colors we fly boldly, and a constituency we shall serve humbly.

In a very real sense, Midwestern Seminary’s identity and vision to exist For the Church was established in Matthew 16, underscored with urgency in Romans 10, mandated and expounded upon in Ephesians 4, denominationally conceptualized in the 1850s, institutionally realized in 1957 and, today, in our midst, is being renewed again and declared once more. We exist For the Church.

In leading this seminary, I am not holding emergency strategy sessions to determine who we should be. We are not enduring sleepless nights attempting to find our identity. Donors are not being polled, trustee whip-counts are not being taken, student focus groups are not being conducted, nor are marketing agencies being consulted to help us determine our market niche, our identity.

On the contrary, to be a seminary is to be a pre-committed entity. We look to the Scriptures for our purpose and as we do, we realize we must exist For the Church. Christ has promised to build his church, not his seminary, and Christ’s jurisdiction and headship over his church shall define this seminary’s rationale and will drive its mission.

Midwestern Seminary’s resolve to serve the church is formal, structural, and systemic, but it also is attitudinal. Our posture toward the churches we serve will be one of deference. We do not portend to know the needs of the churches we serve better than the churches know their own needs. Furthermore, our role is neither to prod nor drag churches, but to serve them. This seminary does not sit in judgment of the church; rather, the church sits in judgment of this seminary.

At the very heart of Midwestern Seminary’s call to serve the church is to abide under an Ephesians 4 mandate, wherein the apostle reminded the church at Ephesus, “He [Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” In a sense, the specified and enduring offices of Ephesians 4—evangelists, pastors, and teachers—are tangible and perennial indicators of Christ’s promise in Matthew 16, to build his church.

Therefore, this seminary will make priority one to be strengthening the preaching and teaching capabilities of the ministers it trains. So goes the pulpit, so goes the church; and so goes these offices, so goes the equipping of the saints for the service of the church, the progress of the gospel, and the fulfilling of the Great Commission. Therefore, we unapologetically bend our resources and energies to train pastors, ministers, teachers, and evangelists, and we purpose to conceptualize and re-conceptualize how other, more auxiliary ministerial roles and responsibilities might be configured within an Ephesians 4 template.

Moreover, I understand the Southern Baptist Convention’s central and irreducible expectation for us is to train pastors and missionaries for the church. After all, in its most distilled form, this is precisely what our convention is—a confederation of churches, with pastors (and often no other vocational ministers), partnering to win the world for Christ by collectively funding and sending missionaries abroad. These are the two irreducible components of our denomination and the two irreducible positions for which the seminary must equip. We can do more; we shall do no less.

Looking to denominational demographics accentuates the need to train pastors and missionaries for the church. A dearth of pastors looms on the horizon and, in a sense, is already here. If churches do not call out pastors and seminaries do not train them, from whence will they come? After all, we minister under a Pauline injunction. “‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.’” Our love for the lost, for the nations, for the gospel, and the spreading thereof through the fulfilling of the Great Commission heightens our urgency to train pastors, teachers, and evangelists.

Let us be clear—to be for the church does not mean we exist to train church theorists, church critics, or hypothetical church servants. The call to be for the church is not a call to graduate men and women who spend their lives assessing, evaluating, scrutinizing, and drafting stodgy position papers about the health—or lack of health—of the church. For a credentialed ecclesiastical critic doth not a servant of the church make.

No, we aspire for something different, something more, and something altogether better, and we have a model of virtue to which we shall look. Indeed, it is altogether fitting, right, and even poetic that we reassert our commitment to exist For the Church in this time and place. In the long and storied history of Christ’s church, never has this ambition to serve the church been more embodied than in the “Prince of Preachers” himself—Charles Haddon Spurgeon, of whom Midwestern Seminary is an heir and steward. Midwestern Seminary owns Spurgeon’s library. We possess his desk. We possess much of Spurgeon’s sermon notes, correspondence, copious notations, Spurgeon’s figurine and figurines of Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s paintings and paintings of Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s pictures and pictures of Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s ornamentations, accouterments, and replicated communion table, as well as Spurgeon’s pulpit replicated and a replica of Spurgeon’s replicated pulpit.

Most importantly of all, though, we possess not merely Spurgeon’s library and artifacts, but we declare today we also possess his convictions. We possess not only Spurgeon’s legacy, but his spirit as well, and we intend to demonstrate his determination to give our lives, as he gave his, For the Church. Therefore, as sons and daughters of Spurgeon, Midwestern Seminary is uniquely positioned, and has been granted by God a singular opportunity, to own and demonstrate Spurgeon’s legacy of ministering for the church.

In service For the Church, we aim to graduate students who stand for truth in the midst of our own downgrade controversies, who preach the Word amidst our own generation of those aspiring the tickling of their ears, who have an evangelical and evangelistic fervor, as Spurgeon, in our own malaise of gospel and Great Commission apathy, and who will tend the flock of God with relentless self-sacrifice, as did Spurgeon.

What if God saw fit—to not only entrust us with the Spurgeon library and legacy, as he has, but to raise up through Midwestern Seminary a generation of Spurgeonesque pastors, teachers, and evangelists who give their lives for the church. Would to God it be so.

For the Church—this is the vision that called me to this place. It is the vision that is being renewed and is reverberating across this campus. It is the vision that we, with appropriate institutional self-confidence, are projecting across this denomination and beyond. We are confident because Christ is building his church, and in as much as we are faithful to his church, he will be faithful to us.

Under the auspices of this vision, we intend to bear any burden, pay any price, endure any hardship, seize any opportunity, launch any initiative, and embark on any effort to strengthen our claim and fulfill our mission to be the seminary For the Church.

Therefore, I invite every member of this seminary community, accomplished faculty, devoted staff, and ministers-in-training to renew ourselves once again, to pledge, as it were, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor—For the Church.

To this denomination, and to brothers and sisters of like-faith beyond this denomination, I say join us, hope the best for us, believe the best about us, and expect the best from us. Pray for us, partner with us, support us, send us your men and women to train for ministry, stand with us in solidarity of spirit, shared conviction and gospel aspiration; and, without guile, I say, hold us accountable. Hold us accountable to our denominational, confessional, and missiological commitments so that we might rightly exist For the Church.

Therefore, to those within the sound of my voice, as we depart to minister For the Church, let us resolve with the one to whom this institution looks, Charles Spurgeon, who reflected, “As long as there is breath in our bodies, let us serve Christ; as long as we can think, as long as we can speak, as long as we can work, let us even serve him with our last gasp; and, if it be possible, let us try to set some work going that will glorify him when we are dead and gone. Let us scatter some seed that may spring up when we are sleeping beneath the hillock in the cemetery.”

As with Spurgeon, let us live and minister for Christ, for the gospel, and for the Great Commission. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, let us now go forth to live and minister For the Church.

topicsChurch & MinistryEducationLeadershipOther

Comments are closed.