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What Will the GCR Mean for SBC Seminaries?

“A More Effective Convention Structure”cooperative-program-logo

As a PhD student at MBTS, I undoubtedly have a vested interest in this matter. To be clear: I am supportive of the Great Commission Resurgence and the GCR task force. This post only attempts to investigate how the GCR might affect SBC seminaries. The section of the GCR declaration most relevant to the discussion is article IX:

A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure. We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.

It is likely the GCR task force will at least consider whether or not it is best to combine some (or all) SBC seminaries (implying the closure of one or more).

How Likely?

During an event put together by Baptist21, a credible panel was asked, “If some of what the GCR is calling goes through, some people might lose their jobs. How should we think about that?” Danny Akin (a member of the GCR task force and president of SEBTS) answered:

I hope that people don’t lose their jobs or if they do that they would find jobs that better help them fulfill the Great Commission. If shutting down Southeastern Seminary would help advance the Great Commission, then I am fine with that. I have selfish desires like everyone else, but I really want to see the Gospel go to the nations. Whatever that requires of us, we should do.

Related discussions are not at all new. At the 2001 convention meeting, it is reported that “Calvin Wittman of Wheat Ridge, Co., asked the convention to ‘study the feasibility of combining’ Golden Gate and Midwestern seminaries.” Such suggestions seem to crop up every year.

Bart Barber, blogging about the GCR task force on SBC Today says, “Expect the committee to consider the closing of Golden Gate as well as Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is one option that could realistically come to the floor of the convention for a vote.” How realistic is it?

A Similar Situation on a Smaller Scale?

Somewhat recently, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary closed their stand-alone music school (technically combined it with another). The seminary’s president, Al Mohler, is also on the GCR task force. The Dallas Morning News religion blog reports:

While a valuable program for its time, Mohler said it is ‘not economically viable today’ to sustain a stand-alone music school…The staff reductions, he added, will take place by attrition… Mohler said discussions about closing the school have been going on about two years, but current economic pressures sped up the process.


Ultimately, time will tell us the answer to the original question. I welcome the Great Commission Resurgence and the work of the GCR task force (though I am a bit concerned that MBTS lacks representation on the task force). At this point, I doubt any SBC seminaries will be closing their doors in the near future. In any case, I will be watching the issues with great interest!

11 Responses to What Will the GCR Mean for SBC Seminaries?

  1. Josh, as you know I’m a big GCR fan. I really respect men like Danny Akin & Johnny Hunt and I’m grateful for their leadership at the forefront of this movement.

    Having said that, I have a few ideas about the seminaries. Please note that these are only my ideas and I have absolutely no reason to believe that anyone would consider them, but me. Having said that, here’s what I would at least strongly consider if I was the GCR.

    First, I would strongly consider consolidation. The existing seminaries have already proven that they can sustain a successful multi-campus model for seminary education, with none perfecting it any better than Golden Gate. With the prevalence of streamlined communications and the flexibility and ease of travel, it makes little sense (in my opinion) to maintain 6 significant seminary structures when less would be feasible. I’m maintaining that we should continue to have the campuses, and in fact consider expanding our campus options, but that we should consider reducing the amount of administrations managing those institutions. Off the top of my head, I could see how easy it would be to go from 6 to 3 seminaries by combining making Midwestern a campus of Golden Gate, New Orleans a campus of Southwestern and Southeastern a campus of Southern. Allow them each to continue to emphasize their current strengths, but enable them to do so with less administrative overhead.

    The other idea I would strongly consider, and I’m not altogether sure what this would look like, would be to hand some education back over to the local churches. The more my ecclesiology develops, the more convinced I am that God has given things like theological education to the local church. There are a few churches that have helped pioneer church based seminary education in the SBC, with Lakeview in Auburn & their partnership with Southern standing out as possibly the most intriguing option. Beyond that I’ve been told that Church at Book Hills in Birmingham is also experimenting with church based theological education as well.

    Anyway, these are a few random thoughts and I have no clue if anything like this would even be considered, but it seems like it would be possible to do this and continue to maintain high level, theological education all the while.

    • Micah, I’ve thought about the sort of consolidation you’ve outlined, too. If administrations can combine and find ways to do long-distance work, this option could be feasible. I suspect there would be quite a bit of debate as to who is left standing in the end (i.e., the ‘three’ as you’ve outlined in your example). It may be a longshot, but perhaps the seminaries could team up and confer degrees under one name (as some sort of university system).

  2. I do not believe that any Seminary should be closed. Some kind of shared administration may be okay, making a Seminary in essence a branch of a larger one. MBTS serves to train ministers in an area that is not a SBC saturated area. We need these regional Seminaries to train pastors/church planters in the area they will serve.
    We do need to make sure that our Seminaries remain true to the primary task of training ministers and missionaries to fulfull the Great Commission.

  3. Josh,

    I am open to the possibility of seminary closures, but not convinced of the need or of the potential savings. Here are my thoughts:

    1. Every prominent SBC voice seems to share the sentiment that Southern Baptists need to improve in the area of evangelism and church planting outside of the traditional strength regions of the SBC. This consensus, it seems to me, necessarily involves:

    a. A recognition that our present and recent past efforts have not been all that we wish they would be, and…

    b. An intention to focus more resources (people, energy, thought, money) toward “pioneer” areas of the United States.

    2. The strength of seminaries located in or nearby pioneer areas is necessarily related to the strength of SBC efforts to reach those areas through evangelism and church planting. Therefore, if pioneer seminaries are weak, might it not be because pioneer evangelism and church planting has been weak? And if we intend to change that, why would we shape our structure around a condition that we hope to reverse?

    3. If we do intend to make certain that more of our resources make it to the causes of pioneer evangelism and church planting, wouldn’t it be better to utilize resources we already have in place than to “blow up” structures just to wind up reinventing them in the near future?

    I like what Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary is doing in the Hudson Baptist Association area. With Micah, I believe that there is an important future in distributed theological education, although you and I both know that advanced studies would be impossible in such a framework. Distributed education is always going to be a lesser substitute for the corporeal gathering of scholars into the same community, as it pertains to education. As it pertains to missions, distribution has its advantages. Both can coexist, since each needs the other.

    Rather than consolidating any of the present six, perhaps we ought to be making all six plant regional campuses deep into the darkest areas of our continent and then having NAMB entirely fund the tuition and other educational costs of any who will pursue theological education in these areas while planting a Southern Baptist church.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Bart. This is an interesting suggestion. In your view (as I understand it), the resources needed to maintain an institution in a ‘pioneer area’ would indirectly further the Gospel (assuming students are relatively local and involved in church planting, etc.). My only question would be whether or not students generally come from and minister in areas close to their seminary location. I assume this is usually the case.

  4. i for one think that trimming the fat of our educational institutions is the wrong answer. considering that the seminaries are known to foster evangelistic zeal and hearts for missions, downsizing them in order to better fulfill the great commission may in fact be a self-defeating proposition.

    here’s a different angle: consider the locations of mbts and ggbts. the first is easily accessible to kansas, nebraska, and iowa (i personally went to school there with many students from all 3 of those states), states in desperate need of an evangelical presence. the second is in, well, the bay area, so duh, even more so. yet our convention only funds 1 nehemiah director for each school, and those 2 directors get slammed with a ton of other administrative work b/c the schools are already understaffed. the real solution would be to increase funding so these schools could have more missions and church-planting staff and the ability to make technological upgrades to increase distance education for church planters, ministers, etc.

    i don’t think the answer is necessarily to merely trim the administration and leave everything else the same. will it really be helpful to these schools to have long-distance presidents and leadership? i don’t think people realize the hands-on work involved in maintaining a school that not only educates the mind but also nurtures the christian life and fans the flame of evangelistic zeal. i remember when nobts experienced katrina. many institutions across the sbc jumped to its aid with the reasoning that it’s worth it b/c the school serves churches in that part of the country and is instrumental in reaching the lost. yet with mbts and ggbts we don’t seem to be hearing that talk, and these institutions are experiencing all time high enrollments.

    trust me, the problem at mbts and ggbts is not that there’s a surplus of employees running around. at my current school (which is not sbc), my profs teach only 2 classes a semester yet make more money. the administrators have far fewer official titles yet make more money. yet some insist that seminary workers are overpaid and underworked, that there’s fat needing to be trimmed. in other words we want phd’s from big time schools who can teach top notch courses and start top notch programs, but we don’t want them to be able to afford to pay off their education or even have the luxury of buying a laptop better than a dell or acer. plus we won’t give them library money, plus we won’t give them expense accounts, etc. etc. at mbts, many of my classmates sitting around me made more money than our profs. the schools don’t need LESS funding and support. they need more.

    here’s one sbc die hard (but NOT a never-say-die one) who hopes the gcr will show some prudence and not make too many decisions before they’ve thought through the consequences. moreoever, here’s one sbc seminary graduate who came out of seminary with a much better grasp of God’s word, a much more zealous spirit of evangelism, and a much larger heart for missions. the answer is NOT trimming our education.

    mike fox

    • Mike, good thoughts. It seems to me that you and Bart have brought up some similar issues. Perhaps in your estimation it would be better to focus on trimming state and national convention budgets in ways which will allot more funds for education and missions. My feeling is that you and I share the conviction that education is often instrumental in missions (fulfilling calling, etc.)… especially considering our current educational endeavors! I trust that our educated task force will keep this in mind!

  5. josh,

    i’m not 100% sure what i think should be done about state conventions. when i was in arkansas, i saw an extrememly effective and ministerial state convention staff. its members assist churches literally every week. they train churches how to prepare for and hold revivals more effectively, do door to door evangelism, approach and fix budget problems, strategize for paying off debt, start new classes, improve existing classes, tweak the church’s educational ministry, find missions to be a part of, etc etc. but, when i was a pastor in mo, i couldn’t get people at the state convention to even return my e-mails. my fellow church members felt that it was because of our church’s size; that is, that we couldn’t substantially help with the lawsuits, we weren’t worth the help.

    i’m not sure my fellow church members were right, but i point that out b/c of perception. as a minister in mo, you have a different experience than a minister in ar or a couple other states where the conventions use a lot of funds, yes, but minister effectively in a variety of ways.

    b/c of what i saw and experienced personally in ar, i’m more for streamlining funds to mission agencies and state conventions more so than to the larger sbc structure. i can see why a pastor in, say, mo, however, might see the state conventions as a problem. what doesn’t get reported is that many state conventions pour a lot of money into state missions and partner with mission groups and conventions in more frontier areas (i.e. idaho). i’m not saying they outdo the cooperative program, but i definitely think we need to look at this from all angles, and transforming the state conventions rather than streamlining them to the larger structure might also be something to put a pencil to and try to do the math.

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