SBC seminaries send forth graduates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The work of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention is showcased with each spring's commencement. Reports from the seminaries' services follow.

GOLDEN GATE BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY -- A parolee of San Quentin State Prison in California was among 190 students who earned degrees at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in May.

Jessie Lee Reed is the first graduate from the seminary's Contextualized Leadership Development program (CLD) held at San Quentin. Incarcerated for 24 years and paroled last year, Reed began studying through the CLD program while at San Quentin and completed his final class after his release. He received a diploma in Christian ministries at the Northern California commencement ceremony and was congratulated by seminary President Jeff Iorg.

"We are pleased to recognize this accomplishment by a man who has overcome many obstacles," Iorg said. "This commencement marks a beginning point for Jessie and for all the graduates who move into a new phase of ministry distinguished by the training they have received at Golden Gate."

Iorg challenged the graduates to build a ministry based on the model illustrated by the church planting team in Thessalonica as recorded in Acts 17.

"Communicate the Gospel in the most strategic place possible and the most strategic way possible," Iorg said. "You will find that strategic place at the intersection of your experience, passion, calling and life setting."

Iorg continued, "Communicate the central person of the Gospel -- Jesus. Preach Jesus Christ crucified, Jesus Christ buried, Jesus Christ resurrected. Believe and preach the name of Jesus."

He concluded by reminding the graduates, "When you preach the Gospel, you will have some opposition. But know this as well: When you preach the Gospel, you will also have positive response -- people coming to know Jesus Christ."

The seminary's highest student award, the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award, was given to two students: master of divinity graduate Reed J. Redus from the Northern California campus and doctor of ministry graduate Anthony L. Dockery from the Southern California campus. Dockery is pastor of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, Calif., one of the largest African American congregations on the West Coast.

MIDWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY -- Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary marked its 50th commencement May 22 at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo.

The event, in which 120 different degrees were awarded, included an address by Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who used Colossians 4:17 to encourage the graduates to spend their lives well for Jesus Christ.

"As you move forward in ministry, you must intently study the perspective and purpose God has given you," Richards said. "There is a calling God places in our lives. It is mystical and impossible for us to fully explain, yet that calling is just as real as we are here today. It is a sovereign calling, not something we have conjured up. This is something God has placed upon us."

Richards said the calling also is specific, referring to 1 Samuel 3:9-10, where God spoke to Samuel and gave him a specific purpose. Samuel listened and was prepared to fulfill it. Richards also noted how Paul and Barnabas were specifically called out by the Holy Spirit to be placed in the ministry in Acts 13:2.

"God specifically calls us to that task at hand," he said.

Richards said each graduate's calling to the ministry has been anointed by God and it is not the education, giftedness or personality each has been given that will make their ministries successful.

"The end result is that no matter what you've been given, you must have an anointing from the Lord to accomplish your ministry. Zechariah 4:6 says, 'It is not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts,'" Richards said.

He advised the graduates to maintain their personal devotion times with the Lord, to prioritize their families and to find the will of God in their lives.

R. Philip Roberts, the seminary's president, concluded the commencement exercises by quoting missionary explorer David Livingstone, who said, "Lord, lead me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden upon me, only sustain me. Sever any cords that bind me, except the one that binds me to Thee."

Kelley Perkins, a biblical archeology major, won an all-expenses paid trip to the Holy Land as one of 17 academic awards presented at the service. Thor Madsen, dean of Midwestern Baptist College and associate professor of New Testament, ethics and philosophy of religion, was named professor of the year.

Five presidential medallions were awarded to Richards; Andrzej Seweryn, president of Warsaw Baptist Theological Seminary in Poland; Nazir Masih, pastor of First Baptist Church in Chandigarh, India; and Gary and Arlene Krings of Midwestern's board of regents.

NEW ORLEANS BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY -- A standing-room-only crowd packed Leavell Chapel to celebrate New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's largest graduating class since Hurricane Katrina battered both the campus and the city nearly five years ago.

More than 300 graduation candidates participated in the May 15 ceremony. Chuck Kelley, the seminary's president, briefly reflected on the years since America's worst natural disaster.

"How much we have learned as a seminary family, how much we have learned: That our God is truly able to sustain us in all circumstances," he told the audience.

Kelley preached from 2 Corinthians 1, a passage that describes the comfort found in God despite the trials and tribulations of life. Kelley called the verses "startling" because they assume that in life everyone will face trouble.

He asked for a show of hands from the graduates who had faced troubles and trials during their seminary days, and virtually every hand shot up.

"That's not the experience of seminary students. That's the experience of life," Kelley said. "This is in fact what we are going to experience all the rest of our days. The simple reality is that as we live, there will be trouble, or to use the biblical word, there will be affliction."

There will be joy along the ministry road, including baptisms, marriages and leading people to Christ, he said. But there will be challenges.

"This will come as a great surprise to you, but every now and then, people will not have the same assessment of your ministry that your mother does," Kelley said. "There will be physical calamities like storms, tornadoes and hurricanes as we have seen on this campus, recently in Nashville and out in the Gulf of Mexico with that oil spill -- things that can alter the course of a human life."

There will be sorrow and sadness, betrayal, discouragement and disillusionment, Kelley said. All of those troubles are "practice" for ministry in the storms of life.

"It is only in those moments when you experience affliction yourself that you will learn how God ministers to you; that you will learn that this is not because God has forgotten your name. It's not because you've done something wrong. It is not because you somehow messed up and you don't know what in the world you did. Affliction. Trouble. It is the lot of all of us in life."

This harsh reality, Kelley said, is the result of sin in the world. The world groans under its weight.

While the passage promises trouble, it also promises comfort, Kelley said. The Apostle Paul sets the scene referring to God as "the Father of mercies" and "the God of all comfort." For every trouble in life, God offers comfort; for every joy, God offers celebration.

"What we learn is that when you come to Jesus Christ, God gets a grip on your soul that can never be broken. And you may not always be safe," Kelley said. "But you will always be secure."

As the graduates go forward into ministry, the grip of God should give them confidence as they share the Gospel with a lost and dying world.

"As you come to accept and revel in that confidence, you will be equipped to help others to learn that even though all is falling apart, God's grip is still firm on your soul."

SOUTHEASTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY -- More than 200 graduates of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern walked across the stage in Binkley Chapel May 28, receiving degrees in a variety of disciplines.

The 225 graduates, who hail from 22 states and five foreign countries, celebrated their graduation exercises in separate commencement services, one for graduates of The College at Southeastern, an undergraduate school, and one for graduates of Southeastern Seminary. The graduates earned associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

Southeastern President Daniel Akin gave the charge to the seminary graduates, teaching from 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, which speaks of new life in Christ.

"This verse teaches us that in Jesus, all things can be made new," Akin said. "Unfolding these verses reveals a world of biblical truth.

"If anyone -- this is all-inclusive and universal -- of the 6.8 billion people on the planet is in Christ, they are a new creation. If any one of you is in Christ, you are a new creation."

Sharing how he came to know the Lord as a 10-year old boy, Akin said it does not matter one's age, background or what one has done. "It can happen to you. In Christ, there can be a new beginning."

Akin said it is through Christ alone that people can be given a new beginning. He pointed to the recent rescinding of the invitation to Franklin Graham to pray at the Pentagon, and said, "It is because he unashamedly proclaims that the hope of the world is found in Christ. There is no hope found in Buddha or Mohammed. In Christ alone, you can be a new creation."

This belief in the exclusivity of Christ is "a spiritual union that changes everything," he said. "I once was lost, and now I am found. I once was a dead sinner and now I am alive in Christ. That is why these students have come here -- because they have hope for a world to hear of the new creation they can be in Christ."

The graduates will be moving to work in strategic, difficult places around the nation and the world because Christ commanded them to, Akin said. He said that with the Lord as our "commander in chief," we are simply to go and serve wherever He calls us. "God says, 'Go,' and we say, 'Yes, sir.'"

The glorious message of reconciliation, found in the Corinthians verses and throughout Scripture, is what compelled the students to study all these years, Akin said, and it is what compelled him to plead with the gathered friends and family to examine their own hearts.

"Some of you here are not in Christ. Today, you are still lost. The message of salvation in Christ is what compels these men and women to go." Akin said some of the graduates' lives will be cut short for Christ and for His glory. "This message has changed their lives, and they long to see it change your lives as well.

"My prayer for you, graduates, is that you will serve well and finish well, for the glory of God."

SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY -- Christian ministers are not professionals who take their degrees into the world seeking success as it is typically defined, but instead are deployed for a task of Gospel proclamation which they will not finish, R. Albert Mohler told the 205th graduating class at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary May 14.

Preaching from 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 and Revelation 5:6-10, Mohler, the seminary's president, told the 231 graduates that they have completed advanced degrees but they will never receive applause from the world.

"Those who graduate from this school today, though rightly congratulated, are being sent out to put everything they have, everything they are, everything they have learned and everything they hope for on the line for mission and ministry in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," Mohler said.

"They are not starting careers. Indeed, this may end their careers. They are not newly minted professionals. In fact, they may be largely useless in the eyes of the secular world. They are now deployed for a life of ministry that runs counter to the wisdom of the world.

"The call to the Christian ministry is a profoundly countercultural reality. The conventional wisdom just does not fit. As children, we are taught the adage that we are not to start what we cannot finish. But these ministers of the Gospel will never really finish anything, and they are not very qualified to start anything."

Southern's graduates will join a long line of faithful Gospel ministers who have preached the Word across the globe and have served the Kingdom of Christ in anonymity. All ministers are building on a foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, a project that will not be finished until Christ returns, Mohler said.

"They will toil and serve and witness and teach and preach and lead and build, but they will die with more undone than done. Some will serve long, some may serve only a short time in this earthly life, but they will serve a cause they cannot complete; they will tell a story they cannot conclude.

"The American dream does not fit this calling. That dream calls for years of preparation to be followed by formal qualification, decades of professional accomplishment and a happy retirement.

"Our hope today must be that these ministers of the Gospel will never retire, for the ministry is never accomplished. They may in due time be redeployed, but never really retired -- never ready to rest and merely collect a pension or cash in their retirement accounts and live a life of leisure. They are to serve to the end, learn to the end, teach to the end, and be faithful to the end," he said.

Some will be called to minister in difficult places, some will suffer on behalf of the Gospel and some may be martyred for their faith, Mohler said, but for this they will receive a profound reward in the next life.

"This vision transforms the Christian ministry from a profession into a calling that makes no sense according to the wisdom of the world," he said. "The vast majority of Christian ministers and pastors have served without the slightest attention of the world, completely lacking in its accolades and attention. They preached the Word, in season and out of season, evangelized, baptized, taught, tended, wept and cared -- and they were laid in humble boxes and lowered into to the waiting earth. And all is well."

SOUTHWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY -- One hundred years after the institution moved from Waco to Fort Worth, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduates were exhorted to continue to walk in integrity through life and ministry regardless of the result during spring commencement May 8.

Such faithfulness will ensure that the world knows "you are exactly what you claim to be," Paige Patterson, Southwestern's president, said during his commissioning message. "And if you will be faithful to the assignment you have, then God will maintain your work, whatever His purpose for you."

Preaching about the apostles' imprisonment in Acts 5, Patterson cautioned the graduates that there is no guarantee life will continue as it has for them in the same circumstances that they have enjoyed.

"And many of you will not be serving in this country anyway," Patterson told the diverse group, which represented eight countries as well as those wishing to serve overseas. "Many of you will go to places where your life will be in jeopardy."

Regardless, Patterson used Scripture to remind the students that the presence of God will be with them wherever they may serve -- something that enabled the early church to continue their ministry, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name" (Acts 5:41).

"Rejoicing that they could suffer. Aren't those words in strange proximity to one another?" Patterson said. "That is the key to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will suffer, not only possibly physically, but you will certainly, every one of you, suffer misunderstanding, misrepresentation, abuse and attack of various kinds in the ministry to which you go.

"It will come," he assured them. "You have a choice at that point. You may either become bitter and resent what has happened to you, and that bitterness will permeate everything about you and everything around you to the point that there will be no joy at all, or you can choose to rejoice that you, too, are counted worthy to suffer for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Southwestern administrators conferred 214 degrees, including 21 undergraduate, 172 master's and 19 doctorates.

Emily Felts Atwood was the first graduate with a concentration in homemaking from the College at Southwestern. Atwood said her coursework prepared her by integrating hands-on culinary and clothing construction courses with challenging coursework that gives her a strong biblical paradigm for womanhood.

Southwestern faculty donned black cowboy hats for the spring commencement to commemorate the seminary's move to Fort Worth, Texas, 100 years prior in 1910.


Based on reports by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, T. Patrick Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paul F. South of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Lauren Vanderburg of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jeff Robinson of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Rebecca Carter of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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