Last week, I returned from my second Council of Seminary Presidents retreat, an annual event when the six SBC seminary presidents and their spouses gather for prayer, fellowship, and planning. My wife and I returned to Kansas City on a high note, and not just because we were thrilled to see our children and celebrate Thanksgiving.
As I shared with a number of friends, my encouragement is rooted in those five men, the institutions they lead, and our collective effort to serve Southern Baptist churches and advance the cause of Christ. Our time together strengthened my conviction that we have before us a kairos moment, an opportunity to accomplish much for the church and the Great Commission.
A Sacred Task, A Singular Stewardship
In order to understand the retreat, and our every gathering for that matter, one must understand the sense of gravity that hovers over each seminary president. Each one feels called to a sacred task and understands he enjoys a singular stewardship.
The task of theological education is as old as Holy Scripture itself. From Moses mandating the teaching and transmitting of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, to Paul charging Timothy to, “entrust these things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” in II Timothy 2, the Bible is replete with the call to proclaim, explain, and defend the faith. This sacred task, at its core, is quintessentially theological education.
The sacred task of theological education channels itself to the SBC seminaries in a unique and profound way. Some 16 million Southern Baptists, congregated in some 46,000 local churches, entrust six seminaries to train their pastors, ministers, and missionaries. The numbers are astounding. Collectively, the six Southern Baptist seminaries now enroll more than 18,000 students, with each one rating in the top-10 largest seminaries in North America. These numbers are staggering and remind us that those who lead the six SBC seminaries assume a singular stewardship.
This year, Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson hosted the retreat in Dallas, Texas. The retreat formally began Friday morning and ended Monday morning. The promise of inclement weather—and significant flight delays and/or cancellations—necessitated some early departures on Sunday afternoon. Nonetheless, from start to finish, the Pattersons hosted the event with great care, unmatched hospitality, and perfectionist detail. Those who have experienced Southwestern Seminary hospitality know exactly what I mean.
In addition to our formal meetings, we also enjoyed an unforgettable dinner with Dr. Charles Ryrie, an enjoyable tour of Guidestone and luncheon with Dr. and Mrs. O.S. Hawkins, gratifying worship with and tour of First Baptist Dallas, and a warm luncheon with Dr. and Mrs. Robert Jeffress.
Down to Business
The primary reason for the CSP retreat is the nearly three days of formal meetings themselves. The presidents discuss institutional and denominational matters while the wives plan women’s ministry and seminary wives’ curriculum, strategies, and events.
While formal business takes place, the event itself is much more than a business meeting. Significant portions of each day were given to Scripture reading and prayer. These times were not perfunctory. On the contrary, they consisted of protracted times of praying for one another, each seminary, and the particular needs and opportunities facing us and the churches we serve.
The most important “item of business” at the retreat was formally to approve each seminary’s full-time equivalency (FTE) report, which tabulates enrollment and thus Cooperative Program funding. Beyond funding the reports—which are available in the SBC Annual—also reveal seminary trends and broader movements in theological education.
Other topics of discussion included how we can best serve the churches of the SBC, strengthen our denomination’s Great Commission efforts, and provide theological education as broadly as possible. Additionally, we discussed theological education—and higher education in general—in the new normal of a soft economy and changing educational models.
Most Memorable Moment
To me, the most memorable moment of the retreat was an appeal made by Dr. Patterson, who movingly recounted the state of the seminaries three decades ago, the effort undertaken to recover them, and the doctrinal health the seminaries now enjoy. Hearing “the Lion” himself recount all that was nearly lost and all that has been gained—punctuated by an appeal for us to now serve with humility, godliness, and unity—was especially stirring and memorable.
Dr. Patterson’s plea was well-delivered and well-received. As SBC institutions, we more complement one another than compete with one another, and we stand united as men who love and respect their fellow seminary presidents. This is not due to a gentleman’s agreement about not meddling in one another’s affairs. On the contrary, if doctrinal compromise took place in one of the seminaries, the other seminary presidents would draw swords, as would I.
Our mutual appreciation is based in gratitude for what God has done in the seminaries in recent decades, what he is doing through them now, and the skill and care with which the other men fulfill their leadership responsibilities on behalf of Southern Baptists.
I left the CSP retreat deeply encouraged by our collective gospel work, and once again impressed by the men I am honored to know as colleagues. So much so, I’ve committed to pray daily—Monday through Friday—for each of my sister seminaries, the presidents who lead them, and their families, faculty, staff, and students. Would you join me in doing the same? Moreover, would you join me in praying that indeed we realize a kairos moment, and that God will accomplish an awakening through his seminaries, in his church, and to the advancement of the Great Commission?topicsEducation, Leadership, Southern Baptist Convention