For the Church: Theological Education, the SBC & the Future of Midwestern Seminary (Part VIII)
This post was originally published 28 May 2013.
To the Ends of the Earth: Midwestern Seminary and the Great Commission
Midwestern Seminary exists for the Church, and to serve the church means we share the church’s most urgent commitment: the gathering in of the nations for the glory of Christ through the proclamation of the gospel to all people.
Jesus’ Great Commission is an abiding and authoritative charge to every Christian in every age. While faithful seminaries can differ over degrees offered, curricular choices, ministry preparation emphases, and other important but not ultimate considerations, theological faithfulness leaves no room for a seminary to negotiate over the exclusivity of salvation through conscious faith in Jesus Christ, the urgency of spreading the gospel, or the necessity of every seminary—and every seminarian—to minister under a Great Commission mandate.
This series of essays has sought to present, in both theoretical and practical terms, what it means for a seminary to exist for the Church. In conclusion, this essay series has built toward this final installment, where the mission of Midwestern Seminary and the local church most manifestly—and directly—intersect: the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
Our Great Commission Moment
For Southern Baptists, before us is what International Mission Board President Tom Elliff calls our “Great Commission moment.” This Great Commission moment arrives with the alignment of two dramatic realities. First, the world is marked by a vast and accelerating lostness—a lostness that is simply daunting when one considers the billions of people yet reached and by their apparent decreasing openness to the gospel. Yet, juxtaposed alongside this lostness are conduits for gospel advancement not known by prior generations. Modern technologies, including advances in communications, travel, accessibility, and linguistic and translation progress, all position the church with ripened Great Commission opportunity.
In a very real sense, before this generation is the opportunity to eradicate the phrase “unreached people group.” Currently, more than 3,000 unreached people groups—a defined group of people with no current access to the gospel—exist. As Midwestern Seminary faithfully co-labors with both the churches and the mission boards of the Southern Baptist Convention, we can hasten the day when the expression “unreached people group” is anachronistic, belonging to a previous era.
Denominational Expectation & Institutional Pedigree
As Midwestern Seminary serves as a Great Commission institution, it upholds the Southern Baptist Convention’s raison d’etre. Since its founding in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention has existed first and foremost as a collection of Great Commission churches partnering together to reach the world for Christ. As a denomination, we are a Great Commission people, and every entity or initiative the convention owns or undertakes in some way is and should be a Great Commission endeavor.
Moreover, when the Southern Baptist Convention founded Midwestern Seminary in 1957, the expressed rationale was to further the gospel’s reach into the Midwest and pioneer region, which was, and is, under-reached with the gospel and underserved by evangelical churches. Promisingly, this region is once again at the forefront of the SBC’s imagination with the North American Mission Board’s designation of Kansas City as a Send City. What is more, the consciences of Southern Baptists seem to be kindled afresh to church planting and international mission work.
These renewed denominational interests intersect with Midwestern Seminary’s pedigree and geographical location, but, more importantly, they intersect with our institutional passions. Midwestern Seminary is for the Church: the church planted, established, revitalized; the church domestic and the church international.
A Metric of Midwestern Seminary’s Faithfulness
In his Lectures to My Students Spurgeon argues, “In order further to prove a man’s call, after a little exercise of his gifts . . . he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts . . .” For Spurgeon, conversions occurring under one’s ministry proved not only a sign for ministry effectiveness, but also a confirmation of one’s call to ministry. Similarly, the passion and effectiveness whereby an institution’s graduates share the gospel is an appropriate benchmark by which to measure a seminary’s faithfulness.
An institution that graduates students eager to preach Christ, plant churches, and disembark to the mission field is an institution that is doing something right. Conversely, an institution that sends forth graduates apathetic about the Great Commission and unburdened for the lost is an institution that has lost its way. Midwestern Seminary must settle for nothing less than training a generation of ministers burdened over the lost and zealous for the Great Commission.
From an institution’s vantage point, this is indeed a high metric of faithfulness. It is an appropriate metric, though. The gravity of this challenge is all the more sensed when one considers the context of ministry in the 21st century. Materialism, Western comforts, unsupportive family members, and more can subtly undermine God’s call to the mission field. To combat this, we must give a robust and sustained call for this generation of seminarians to answer the call to go to the ends of the earth. The call to the Great Commission is, in a sense, a radical call, but the recurring declaration of its urgency should vanquish complacency from hearts and fortify our Great Commission resolve.
As Midwestern Seminary labors for the Church, we do so with the assurance that Christ is building his church, but we also do this with a sense of custodial stewardship. Christ is building his church through pastors, teachers, and evangelists, whom we train.
In the ever-changing world of theological education, Midwestern Seminary owns a never-changing mission, to exist for the Church. Our mission to exist for the Church is interconnected with the church’s mission itself, the Great Commission.
Midwestern most effectively labors for the Church when it labors with the church, and we must serve with and for the church in our combined Great Commission efforts until the end of the age, when “The Kingdom of the world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever.”
Ultimately, as Midwestern Seminary proves faithful to the Great Commission, we will prove ourselves worthy of our institutional designation: for the Church.
Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV // Part V // Part VI // Part VII // Part VIIItopicsChurch & Ministry, Education, Featured, Leadership, Other
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