It is a joy to present my third Midwestern Seminary president’s report to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention. As I do, I am mindful I am not alone. As witnessed this morning, I serve in concert with your six seminaries. Jointly, we have much to celebrate.
I am convinced the SBC is enjoying a golden era in theological education. You can be proud of your six seminaries. Collectively, we are doctrinally sound, Great Commission focused, and given to serving your churches. As we have done that, God has blessed your seminaries with massive enrollments.
This undeniable fact befuddles the critics, especially those on the theological and cultural left. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, the prophets of doom said if you purge your seminaries of false teaching and make them orthodox and distinctly Southern Baptist institutions, you will kill them. Instead, your seminaries have proven that you can be sound in doctrine and massive in size.
In many ways, Midwestern Seminary is the most unlikely success story of them all. Doctrinal challenges in times past, and operational challenges in more recent years, have given way to a Southern Baptist seminary flourishing in Kansas City.
For Midwestern Seminary, this past year has been one of unprecedented institutional accomplishment. In fact, this past year has been a record one, with virtually every institutional metric showing robust growth and seminary health.
All of this came into focus in a very public way in recent weeks when the accrediting agency for your seminaries, the Association of Theological Schools, notified us that Midwestern Seminary ranks as the fastest growing seminary in North America among schools enrolling at least 500 students.
The ATS contacted me for an interview and asked to what I attributed our massive growth? They inquired, “Is it targeted marketing, better recruiting, improved student services, refreshed branding?” I realized I was talking to a higher education bureaucrat looking for a bureaucratic, administrative answer.
But I gave them a missiological one.
I am absolutely convinced—and our best assessments show—Midwestern Seminary’s enrollment growth can be attributed to three words: For the Church.
I told the ATS representative, “We serve Southern Baptist Churches, and we have retooled every aspect of this seminary to equip pastors, ministers & missionaries for the church. And our vision resonates broadly with the constituency we serve—the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Enrollment growth recognition by our accreditors is encouraging, but it is not ultimate. Midwestern Seminary does not work for them; we work for you. And we do not aim for their approval. We aim for yours.
Enrollment is not just about the quantity of students; it is about the quality of students. We are drawing young men and women eager to serve the church, zealous for the Great Commission, and committed to the Word of God. They are men and women of conviction; courageous in the face of cultural and social rejection and alienation.
This is the type of student we aim to attract; this is the type of graduate we must produce.
For the Church—that is Midwestern Seminary’s vision, but it is also your vision. You expect us to produce graduates for Southern Baptist Churches. We are determined to keep that charge.
Our determination to be for the church is not pragmatic; it is convictional.
To Be For the Church is Biblically Mandated. Christ promised to build his church; not our seminary. However, we are confident that as we strengthen his church, he will strengthen us. We minister under the Ephesians 4 mandate, knowing that Christ has given us pastors, teachers, and evangelists for the church. We enlist, equip, and deploy such for the serving and strengthening of the body of Christ.
Therefore, our ambition is not to train a generation of church observers, church critics, bloggers about the church, or hypothetical church servants. Our biblical mandate calls us to train actual, committed servants for the church.
To Be For the Church is Denominationally Needed. Since shortly after the SBC’s founding in 1845 we have been about the business of theological education. In 1957 we founded our sixth seminary—Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City—the only seminary Southern Baptists founded and built from the ground up. At Midwestern Seminary, we say our right to exist directly corresponds to how faithfully we serve the churches of the SBC.
Brothers and sisters, our churches are in the midst of a great generational transition. Open pastorates and vacant pulpits dot our Southern Baptist landscape. If Southern Baptist Churches can not look to their seminaries to meet this need, then where can they look?
Paul’s logic in Romans 10 is inescapable; it binds our conscience.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.’”
How will they hear without a preacher? Southern Baptists, you can look to Midwestern Seminary for a new generation or preachers.
And, I’m proud to say, to be For the Church has been Institutionally Implemented. Over the past several years we have retooled Midwestern Seminary, from the top to the bottom, to most effectively serve Southern Baptist Churches. This touches on every aspect of seminary life: the curriculum we teach, the programs we offer, the events we host, the personnel we hire, and the community and culture we cultivate.
Our work has been strengthened by top-tier hires this past year, with scholars and authors like John Mark Yeats, Christian George, Jared Wilson, and provost Jason Duesing. Additionally, God has opened the Heavens and continues to bless us financially with record contributions.
On the campus, this summer we are wrapping up over $3,000,000 in campus construction and renovations. Central to this is the Charles Spurgeon Library that will house more than 6,000 books and artifacts once owned by the greatest of all Baptist preachers. The facility will also house the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching. We will dedicate it this fall, and I invite every Southern Baptist to Kansas City to tour it.
The Spurgeon Library will be more than a museum; it will be an incubator for preachers and preaching. We believe that the health of the church is linked to the health of the pulpit. Who better than Charles Spurgeon to teach us how to be doctrinally sound, evangelistically faithful, and how to give oneself sacrificially for the church?
More than buildings and budgets and personnel, there is a sense of renewal on campus, a sense of gospel cheerfulness. God is blessing and building your seminary in Kansas City.
Yet, our desire is not merely to serve local, Southern Baptist Churches, but to strengthen our collective work as a whole. I, like you, read SBC reports of slumping baptisms, membership, and giving.
That’s why this year, Midwestern Seminary is hosting a historic summit on the future of the SBC. Entitled the SBC & the 21st Century: Reflection, Renewal, and Recommitment. Al Mohler, Paige Patterson, Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page and many, many other SBC leaders will join me in discussing issues facing Southern Baptists moving forward into the 21st Century.
Why are we hosting this event? Because we are a Southern Baptist institution. Our calling is not merely to train ministers for our churches, but to contribute to the Southern Baptist project as a whole. We believe in our collective work, our partnership with state conventions, the urgency of strengthening the Cooperative Program, and to giving our efforts to ensuring the SBC has a bright and hopeful future.
To be for the church—for Southern Baptist Churches—is not just my vision, or even our vision; it is the vision at Midwestern Seminary. And to you, Southern Baptists, I say thank you for your support, your prayers, and your confidence in Midwestern Seminary.topicsMidwestern Seminary, SBC, Southern Baptist Convention