It is an honor to bring the Midwestern Seminary report to the messengers of this convention, and it is a joy to be positioned to bring such a positive one.
As I do, I am mindful this is the time of year for conventions. As denominations across American convene this summer, they are hearing their share of reports. They are contemplating business, considering their own motions and resolutions, and receiving updates on their seminaries, institutions, and divinity schools.
In as much as those reports are forthright, they reveal the current state of crisis for most North American seminaries. “Crisis” is an overused word, but it is the most appropriate word to describe theological education in North America today.
The crisis that engulfs most seminaries in North America is multi-dimensional. Most seminaries today know a Crisis of Resources. Many storied institutions are closing or merging, while others who persist manage diminishing resources and struggle to find financial sustainability.
Still more seminaries have a Crisis of Identity. Most institutions evidence a kind of amnesia concerning their own identity and purpose. They have drifted so far from their founders’ intent that they have no clear answers to basic questions of identity, purpose, and exactly which constituency they serve. To whom are they accountable? Is it their donor base, the most vocal portion of their constituency, their accrediting agency? Or, do they serve the local church?
Most tragically, most seminaries in North America know a Crisis of Mission. They know not what they ultimately should do, whom they should train, or what type of graduates they should produce.
When an institution loses sight of its core identity and core mission, a crisis of resources is well deserved. Because, when seminaries forsake the Word of God, the God of the Word will forsake them. When seminaries forsake the churches they were founded to serve, those churches should recover them. Failing that, the churches should forsake them.
These reasons, and so many more, are why theological education in North America is in state of crisis. In stark contrast, however, I’m pleased to report to the messengers of this convention that there is no crisis in Kansas City.
Our resources are not in abundance, but they are more than adequate and we are responsibly stewarding all that God has entrusted to us. As we do, I am daily reminded of my profound gratitude to the churches of this convention and your support through the cooperative program.
Our commitment is unshakable. We gladly operate in full accountability to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We understand—I understand—you founded us, you fund us, you own us, and you govern us. Our chief ambition is not to meet the approval of the academy, but to meet the approval of the church. Likewise, our primary aspiration is not even the applause of the broader evangelical world, but to train pastors, ministers, and missionaries, first and foremost, for your churches, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This commitment is most urgently a theological commitment. Each and every student can trust they will be taught by men and women who believe and teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
In fact, our vision, our mission is crystal clear. There is no ambiguity as to why Midwestern Seminary exists. Anyone who knows much of anything about Midwestern Seminary knows we exist for the church. We abide under an Ephesians four mandate, training pastors, ministers, and missionaries for the church. It is a Matthew 16 mandate as well. Christ has promised to build his church, not his seminary. But as we are faithful to his church, will he not be pleased to build the seminary as well? Therefore, let all who have ears to hear know, Midwestern Seminary exists for the church.
Our unshakable, unequivocal commitment to the churches of the SBC and our steadfast determination to bend all of our institutional energies and resources toward serving your churches is resonating broadly throughout this convention. So much so, this past year has been one of unprecedented institutional accomplishment. Virtually every institutional metric indicates health and growth, stability and strength.
On the enrollment front, in recent months we celebrated our largest spring enrollment in the seminary’s history. Our applications for the fall are coming in at a pace previously unknown to the seminary. These students are arriving to campus eager to give their lives for the cause of Christ and eager to be equipped for such a ministry.
As to the campus, this past April we dedicated our new, $12,000,000 chapel complex debt free. This is a spectacular facility, including a chapel that seats 1,200, a banquet hall with table-seating for over 300, half a dozen classrooms, and a new seminary welcome pavilion. That dedication was punctuated by a $1,000,000 gift from dear friends, Gene and Jo Downing of Oklahoma. This gift allowed us to dedicate the chapel debt free, thus making the seminary effectively debt free.
On the advancement front, the Lord has opened the heavens of his blessing. This past year Midwestern Seminary has received nearly $5,000,000 in gifts and near-term pledges. This includes the two largest gifts in the history of the seminary, and four of the five largest gifts in the seminary’s history.
As to academics, we have in recent days announced the hiring of Dr. Christian George as curator of the Spurgeon Library. Dr. George’s hiring is one of several key steps in positioning the Spurgeon Collection and the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching as a world-class, internationally known hub of Spurgeon scholarship and preaching instruction. There will be much more to come on this front in the season ahead.
Furthermore, we also have expanded our undergraduate program to offer dual-major degrees. Giving leadership to our expanding undergraduate program is Dr. John Mark Yeats, who joined us as undergraduate dean this past year. We have doubled-down on our M.Div. program, having set a goal to double the number of Master of Divinity students we enroll within five years. And we are especially proud to have expanded our PhD offerings to include biblical theology, biblical ethics, biblical missiology, biblical ministry, and biblical preaching, all offered in nonresidential formats. With more than 500 students, our doctoral program ranks as one of the largest in the world and its growth continues to accelerate.
Moreover, this past spring we launched the Midwestern Training Network. The Midwestern Training Network is a strategic partnership with churches, most especially and intentionally churches in our region, to hardwire theological education to the local church. The best way for Midwestern Seminary to be for the church is to be with the church and in the church, hence the Midwestern Training Network.
Southern Baptists, you have a seminary in Kansas City that is experiencing a level of health that the vast majority of seminaries in North America long to know. For that we are grateful stewards.
What is taking place in Kansas City is far beyond what men can do. Our institutional momentum is not due to marketing or seminary salesmanship. I believe God is honoring our work because our convictions are indeed biblical convictions. Our passions are indeed gospel, Great Commission passions. Southern Baptists are seeing and appreciating these realities and are placing their trust in us, and sending us their students. For that I say thank you.
Yet, more important than what we’ve done is who we are—and where we are going. The most important words I have for you this day are not the mechanics and metrics of the past year—as encouraging as they are—but the convictions and mission of this seminary.
In 1957 Southern Baptists established Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City. Perhaps a few of you here today were there that day, as a child, when messengers voted to establish Southern Baptists’ sixth seminary.
Southern Baptists’ express purpose for founding Midwestern Seminary, and founding it in Kansas City, was threefold:
- To alleviate the enrollment burden on Southern and Southwestern Seminaries. (Which I am glad to do.)
- To reach the region and the world for Christ, having been placed in the heart of America for the hearts of the world.
- To serve the underserved churches in the region.
The seminary that began with such promise in 1957 quickly lost its way theologically—most infamously remembered in the name Ralph Elliott—as did our other seminaries and entities. 35 years ago, meeting in Houston, Texas, messengers elected Adrian Rogers as SBC president to redress this issue and to reverse the denomination’s theological trajectory. Many of you were there that day 35 years ago.
Institutional convictions and mission are often lost, but seldom regained. When God blessed the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence he did not give us the assurance of his perpetual blessing on our efforts. He gave us a second chance.
The promise that began in 1957, that was recovered in the 1980s and 1990s, is being realized and fulfilled in new and unprecedented ways in Kansas City. By God’s grace and for his glory, it will persist.
A little over 18 months ago the Midwestern Seminary Board of Trustees assigned me a sacred stewardship, entrusting me to lead one of our six seminaries. The past 18 months we have worked to comprehensively strengthen the seminary and to reposition it with a laser-like focus on serving the local church. We have come to be known as the seminary for the church. This is a mantle we are ready to bear, a charge we are absolutely determined to keep.
Like many of you, this year my family will embark on a road trip up and down the east coast after this convention adjourns. We shall visit many of the great sites of American history, of church history, and of SBC history. My children will see the burial places of George Whitefield and Jonathon Edwards. They will visit the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. They will spend time in in Richmond, Virginia learning more of our missionaries and of the International Mission Board.
Yet I am especially looking forward to taking them to Harvard University. Because there, believe it or not, my children will see why we are giving our lives to Midwestern Seminary.
Harvard University has come a long way—in the wrong direction—since its founding nearly four centuries ago. But there emblazoned on Johnson Gate, marking the entrance into Harvard Yard, the Puritans’ founding intent remains ensconced on that wall. It reads, “After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and to perpetuate it to our posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”
At that place I will remind my children why their father does what he does, and why we as a family do what we do. Southern Baptists, we dare not leave to our posterity—and I dare not leave to my children—a shortage of trained ministers for the churches. Messengers, it is my honor, on your behalf, to train the next generation of pastors, ministers, and missionaries for the church.topicsOther