The Cooperative Program, Seminaries, and the Future of Their Financial Success

This is a guest post by Ryan Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson serves as the Executive Vice President for Operations at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. We believe his article is deserving of a very close reading by all those interested in the Cooperative Program and the future of our six Southern Baptist seminaries. It is our prayer that his post will serve as the starting place for a healthy family discussion among Southern Baptists about this important topic.

The Cooperative Program, Seminaries, and the Future of Their Financial Success

By Ryan Hutchinson

Recently, there was a blog post published at the Chronicle of Higher Education website entitled “Outlook for Nonprofit Education is ‘Volatile’, Report Says.” The post refers to a recent report by Standard & Poor’s regarding this outlook. The point of this post is not to rehash or to critique the Chronicle’s post or the S&P report, but to apply the concepts to our Southern Baptist seminaries as well as offer some additional thoughts. The blog post highlights some of the challenges raised by the S&P report to which nonprofit educational institutions need to respond.

  • Dealing with deferred maintenance
  • Balancing access and affordability for students
  • Preserving their investments
  • Managing a turnover in senior leadership positions
  • Handling the uncertainty of state and federal appropriations

The last point does not fully apply to the SBC seminaries, but there are some limited implications. The Chronicle’s post concludes by noting that the outlook for higher education looks strong.

The outlook for the future training of God-called men and women at our six Southern Baptist seminaries also looks strong. However, like all other institutions of higher education, challenges are in front of us. What are some of the ways that Southern Baptists must prepare to meet these future challenges?

  • Celebrate the diversity that characterizes our six seminaries, since each school has a unique identity within the boundaries provided by the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
  • Have a fruitful discussion about the future of theological education and the impact of multiple delivery systems.
    • We need to realize that no one can really answer how educational delivery will look in 15–20 years, but we must plan and seek God’s wisdom.
    • The future could potentially include doing away with some of the historic territorial restrictions upon the six seminaries.
  • Determine how we can better communicate and solicit support for theological education.
    • One obvious answer is “give more”, but the seminaries must justify why more should be given when approaching individuals and encouraging support of the Cooperative Program.
    • When promoting the Cooperative Program, we must communicate its impact upon individuals and communities, which will work against the perception among some that the Cooperative Program is impersonal.
    • We must be open to changing the name of the Cooperative Program or even its design in an effort to capture the hearts of those from whom we are trying to solicit more support. This sort of change could benefit all SBC agencies receiving Cooperative Program dollars, not just the seminaries.
  • The seminaries must engage the local church more in the process of theological education. We are a servant to our local churches, and are here to come alongside them and provide help.
    • A way to make theological education personal is not to simply provide training for the paid minister, but the minister in the pew. One example is Southeastern’s MOOC course, which is a free class that is open to anyone interested in learning how to interpret the Bible more faithfully (www.sebts.edu/mooc).
    • Another way to engage the local church in the training process is what SEBTS is doing through our EQUIP program (www.sebts.edu/equip). We are doing what we can to push theological training to a hands-on environment in the context of the local church.

There are surely other ways to meet the challenges we face, and your comments related to this post are an important part of this discussion.

Consider partnering with your six seminaries in three ways. First, please pray for the work we do in training God-called men and women for gospel ministry. Second, pastors in particular, please talk to your people about the seminaries so that they do not see us as distant concepts where training occurs for some theological elite. Finally, please invest in the six seminaries both through the Cooperative Program and through individual financial gifts as God’s leads.

Our six Southern Baptist seminaries are the envy of many denominations and networks around the world. However, we must avoid two dangers. First, we cannot become prideful about what we have in our seminaries. The Lord is responsible for these blessings. Second, we must not convince ourselves that business as usual is enough when it comes to a secure future for our seminaries. It would be a shame if we find ourselves scratching our heads twenty years from now, wondering what happened to all that we once had.

The Lord does not need us, but He graciously uses us for His glorious purposes. We should be thankful this is the case with our Southern Baptist seminaries. As we look to the future and begin this conversation, we must rely solely on Him for wisdom and sustenance. To Him alone belongs the glory.

 

Q&A 19: What is the greatest strength of the SBC? The greatest weakness?

Question: What is the greatest strength of the SBC? The greatest weakness?

Reply:

I think the answer to these 2 questions is the same: our fraternal and family orientation. We gain great strength by being a family or convention of Southern Baptist churches united by a passion for international missions, North American church planting and theological integrity. Those are the three things that I mentioned in the “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence” message which I believe can unite Southern Baptists for the future. Therein lies great strength. However, some people wish to bring other issues to the table that go beyond these three. I think that is problematic. When that happens, I am convinced we harm ourselves rather than help ourselves. To say it another way, one weakness of the SBC is that there is a desire on the part of some that we all look alike, act alike, and talk alike. Some have even suggested that we have our own Southern Baptist liturgy, style of worship and particular way of doing church. The fact is we have never been like that, and we will continue to be less so in the days ahead. Any hegemony of style vanished long ago and it is not coming back. We must resist a carbon copy mindset that is myopic and would keep us from seeing things more clearly in light of all that the Bible teaches. Where God’s Word draws the lines we should draw the lines.

In that context, I do think that our greatest strength as we move forward into the 21st century is our uncompromising commitment to an infallible and inerrant Bible and the doctrines that naturally derive from such teaching. This can provide a way forward in spite of the methodological diversity, an increasing diversity I would add, that characterizes much of Baptist life. Such diversity is both acceptable and even desired as long as it operates under the Lordship of Christ and within the parameters established by the Word of God. Therein I believe lies our strength, and therein lies where we need to stand as we move forward in making disciples of all the nations.online game mobilgame online

Q&A 18: What does the spiritual and intellectual makeup of a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate look like?

Question: What does the spiritual and intellectual makeup of a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate look like?

Reply:

The easiest way to answer that question is he or she looks like a Great Commission Christian. In other words, they have a consuming passion to make disciples of all the people groups scattered around the world teaching them to be faithful to all that Jesus has taught. In that context, a Southeastern graduate will hopefully be a person who loves God well both with the mind and the heart. It is very difficult to strike that balance, and it is my prayer that those who graduate from this school will have a heart that is passionate for our Lord and His glory but also a mind that thinks in a Christian “world view-ish” kind of way. We bring no honor to our Lord by having empty heads. We also bring no honor to our Lord by having empty hearts. So my goal is that we would be spiritually balanced as we seek to honor the Lord and love Him well with our head, our heart and our hands. Finally, a Southeastern student is going to be a servant who follows in the beautiful model provided by our Lord Jesus (see Mark 10:45). We are called to serve the church. That is the calling I hope will grip the heart of every SEBTS grad.