February 1999 Issue
Theological Training for Pastors Where
by Leonard Hill
Steven Long was 26 years old when he first sensed God's
call to ministry. He struggled with the call, realizing he had never been
to college and had no theological training.
"Uprooting my family and starting college was more than I thought
I could handle at the time," Long said. "Then my pastor suggested
the alternative of starting my education at a Seminary Extension Center
in the neighboring association. I could do this easily, and I enrolled without
Long said, "While attending Seminary Extension classes God spoke
to me through my studies, my teacher, and my fellow students. I received
affirmation and direction concerning my call to ministry in addition to
being better equipped to start preaching. After two years of classes and
one year of preaching, God called me to pastor my first church. Soon afterward,
God opened the door for me to start college."
Long went on to complete college, obtain a Masters of Divinity, and is
nearly finished with his Doctor of Ministry degree at Midwestern Baptist
In a recent letter to Ed Thiele, executive director of Seminary Extension,
Long testified that God, through Seminary Extension, "gave me the focus
for ministry, the foundation for my theological education, and the courage
to get a college and seminary degree."
Presently, Long is director of missions for the Linn-Livingston Baptist
Association in Missouri. As you might expect, his association sponsors an
Seminary Extension, sometimes called Southern Baptists' best kept secret,
was born almost fifty years ago because of a desperate need of thousands
of ministers, and the dogged determination of one man.
In the late 1940s, servicemen had returned home from WWII, Southern Baptists
were growing in number, baptisms were up, and the level of giving was increasing.
Optimism was high, yet there was cause for concern. The level of education
for many Southern Baptist pastors remained disturbingly low.
A denominational study committee reported in 1949 that less than one-third
of Southern Baptist ministers had both college and seminary training. Another
third had not gone past high school.
Churches were being led by pastors with no more theological education
than the Sunday School teachers sitting before them in the pews. Many not
only had no formal education, they opposed it. Good-hearted and dedicated
men, they distrusted colleges and seminaries, fearing "book learning"
would somehow contaminate the messages they preached from The
Those who yearned for further education had substantial obstacles before
them. They had families to support. They had jobs they dared not leave.
They shepherded a church - or churches - that needed them where they were.
They had neither the funds nor the time to go away to school.
The First Director
God had one man on the scene ready to make a difference. Lee Gallman,
a scholarly, soft-spoken Alabamian, recognized the need and set out to persuade
Southern Baptists to consider a new concept in education. Learning opportunities
could, and should, be taken to pastors where they lived.
His persistent, and often lonely, efforts over the years finally paid
off. The Inter-Seminary Council of the three SBC seminaries - Southern,
Southwestern, New Orleans - was charged with addressing the concern of untrained
The council, with the blessings of the three seminary presidents, decided
the time had come to provide local education opportunities for untrained
ministers. So in Jackson, Miss., June 15, 1951, the first Seminary Extension
Department was opened. R. Lee Gallman was director.
But tough times were ahead. Gallman knocked on doors and spoke to anyone
who would listen, addressing Southern Baptists on the merits of "seminary
extension." He drove thousands of miles and talked to hundreds of ministers,
directors of missions, and denominational leaders.
Gallman, forever the student himself, was said to keep a little book
holder on his steering wheel, and read as he drove, "keeping one eye
on his book and the other on the road."
By 1956, 106 extension centers had been established, enrolling 3,358
students in sixteen states. Two full-time workers had been added to the
staff. And three new seminaries joined the Inter-seminary Council as sponsors
of Seminary Extension - Midwestern, Golden Gate, and Southeastern.
An Ongoing Need
While the face of education has changed through the years with more colleges
and seminaries, satellite programs, and on-line classes, the need for Seminary
Seminary Extension continues to reach out to the large numbers of church
leaders with little or no formal education. Classes are available to students
for whom English is a second language and for the deaf. Deacons, Sunday
School teachers, and church staff may also take courses. But the majority
of the students are bivocational and ethnic ministers.
Seminary Extension is also meeting the needs of pastors and church leaders
who may have college, or even graduate degrees. But they have no theological
education to equip them for ministry.
Don Full, pastor of West Side Baptist Church, Springfield, Ill. had a
formal education, including earning a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University.
But when God called Don to lead a church, he immediately realized his need
for biblical training.
"My first choice would have been to get a seminary degree,"
he said. But keeping his job with the Illinois State Board of Education
and staying with his church made that impossible. So, in 1980, he began
taking Seminary Extension courses. By 1996, he had completed the sixteen
courses needed to earn a Diploma in Biblical Studies, and he continues to
Since Dr. Full is an educator by profession, his measurement of the worth
of Seminary Extension is significant. "I have found taking the courses
is a good way to discipline myself to study," he said. "Seminary
Extension offers me good courses - a wide variety of courses - and good
Addressing Varied Levels of Need
Seminary Extension is flexible enough to meet the needs of persons with
all levels of education, whether they have only a high school diploma or
less, or possess a graduate degree. To meet the diverse education needs,
Seminary Extension offers courses at two learning levels: the Diploma-Level
and the Basic-Level.
Diploma-Level courses are college level courses. More than sixty subjects
are available in this category, many accepted for credit toward a degree
by colleges and universities across the country. Diploma-Level courses are
ideally suited for persons who have completed at least their high school
diploma but have been unable to attend a seminary.
By taking sixteen prescribed courses, students can earn diplomas awarded
by Seminary Extension in Pastoral Ministries, Educational Ministries, and
Biblical Studies. Diplomas are also awarded by SBC seminaries to students
who complete a prescribed number of courses through Seminary Extension.
Basic-Level courses are non-credit, non-transferable courses for students
who prefer easy-to-read materials. Although dealing with adult concepts,
each course is written on a simplified reading level.
Basic-Level courses are often used by students for whom English is a
second language-including those who speak Spanish, Korean, Laotian, Cambodian,
and Russian. Persons studying Basic curriculum courses can earn certificates
in Biblical Backgrounds, Church Leadership, and Pastoral Training.
At both the Diploma and Basic levels, students may enroll for a single
course or pursue a long-range study program.
Though courses are available patterned to each person's learning level,
Dr. Thiele, executive director of Seminary Extension, emphasizes, "We
don't offer an easy way to become a well-trained leader. A lot of self-discipline
and hard work is required to complete one of our diplomas. We do, however,
make it possible for the dedicated man or woman to have an excellent educational
experience where they live."
An Enhanced Link with SBC Seminaries
Seminary Extension has always been closely tied to the SBC seminaries.
Today the Southern Baptist Convention Annual lists Seminary Extension as
a ministry of the Council of Seminary Presidents. The Council is made up
of the six seminary presidents. Dr. Kenneth S. Hemphill, president of Southwestern,
is current chairman of the Council.
Seminary Extension's academic council is composed of the deans of the
six seminaries. The deans and Seminary Extension staff together develop
new courses, select texts, and secure writers.
Seminary Extension's close ties with the seminaries is further evidenced
by the fact most of the study guides and texts have been written by SBC
"We are grateful we can assure Southern Baptists the theology and
biblical interpretation of our courses is as sound as that of our seminaries,"
said Dr. Thiele. "I am grateful also for the scholars in our seminaries
who accept writing assignments with us. They are already busy teaching and
speaking and writing. But they multiply their ministry by preparing courses
for our students."
Seminary Extension also has strong roots in state Baptist conventions.
Twenty-six conventions have special representatives who assist existing
Extension Centers and help start new ones in their state.
On-the-Job Training Opportunities
Dr. Thiele said, "With the current emphasis in our denomination
on church planting, more bivocational ministers are needed. As God calls
them, they can be trained through seminary courses while they are learning
on the job. This is already happening, but the pace can be quickened as
more of the called learn about Seminary Extension."
James Brandon, director of missions for Southwestern Idaho Baptist Area,
knows all about the value of on the job theological training.
"We use mostly bivocational ministers, or lay ministers, in Idaho
to pastor new churches as they are started," he said. "We had
problems getting pastors from the South to come serve in our challenging
situations. Those who did come usually didn't stay long."
But there was no need to look elsewhere for pastors, Brandon pointed
out. God was calling men already in Idaho to serve Idaho's churches. In
1996-97, twelve men surrendered to the gospel ministry in his area. Today
most are already pastoring churches or starting new churches in towns, villages,
and communities. These are lawyers, engineers, businessmen, builders, carpenters,
schoolteachers, and blue-collar laborers - the young, middle-aged, and elderly.
Only one ingredient was missing, said Brandon. "These men needed
theological training to carry out their calling effectively." So he
started the Seminary Extension Program of Southern Baptists in Southwestern
Idaho. Twenty-five students enrolled in 1997, and more than thirty in 1998.
The ministers are profiting from what they learn, as are the churches they
Today, Seminary Extension is taking theological education to people "where
they are" - in all fifty states and some foreign countries, in cities
and in remote areas - helping students grow in knowledge of the Bible, and
through them, strengthening churches.
Leonard Hill is public relations specialist for Seminary
The Executive Director
Edward Thiele came to the offices of Seminary Extension in Nashville
to begin serving as executive director, January 1, 1997. For thirteen years
he had been professor of discipleship at New Orleans Baptist Theological
Seminary. Before that he was a pastor in Baytown, Texas.
Charles S. Kelley, Jr., president of New Orleans Seminary, described
Thiele as "a man of deep spirituality, with a profound love for students,
and extensive experience in both the local church and theological education."
Kelley predicted, "His great desire will be to help students develop
a deep walk with God, a thorough understanding of the Bible, and the basic
skills necessary for effective ministry."
He was right. Thiele wholeheartedly supports Seminary Extension's mission
"to provide a Christian educational ministry of excellent quality at
the pre-college and college level to church leaders and members where they
live." He says, "Our aim is to help men and women who love the
Lord become better equipped to serve Him."
How Courses Are Delivered
Students can take Seminary Extension courses in a traditional classroom
setting by enrolling at one of the 450 Extension Centers located throughout
the United States and in several foreign countries. Or they can study by
correspondence through Seminary Extension's Independent Study Institute.
Student can, and do, use both methods of study. For further information,
write Seminary Extension at 901 Commerce Street, #500, Nashville, TN 37203;
or call 615-242-2453; or e-mail: email@example.com
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