Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is a relatively young school with a singular goal of seeking to glorify Christ by equipping men and women to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.
The Wake Forest, North Carolina, seminary has been a strong force in the development of Great Commission-minded ministers since its founding in 1950. Today, the institution stands poised and ready to continue taking the Gospel message to people across the nation and across the world.
Where It Is Now
When Daniel Akin became the sixth president of Southeastern in January of 2004, he continued to lead the growing Southern Baptist seminary in becoming a force for God by training up men and women, just as his predecessors had done.
In the fall of 2007, during the Building Bridges Conference in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, Akin addressed the need for Southeastern, and for the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, to join hands together and commit to pursuing a Great Commission Resurgence.
"Building on the 'conservative resurgence' that was initiated in 1979, we believe the time has come for us to focus on the great task the Lord Jesus left us as He ascended back into heaven," Akin said during the final address of the conference.
"We need godly men who can move us forward in concert for the glory of God, the building of the church, and the evangelization of the nations," Akin said. "We need men of character and substance, vision and wisdom, humility and conviction. We desperately need leaders who can guide us and challenge us."
Echoing this call during the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention, Akin spoke on how Southeastern is contributing to the efforts to reach all the nations for Christ by training up godly leaders who can reach the nations.
Akin said when people hear the term "Great Commission," they often have visions of international missions. While this is a large part of Jesus' mandate, Akin stressed the equally important need of being Great Commission Christians within every aspect of life. Although it is important to carry the Gospel message overseas, he said, there are numerous ways of being a Great Commission Christian without being an international missionary.
"My belief is, if we can capture a passionate vision for the Great Commission to get the Gospel to the nations — that cannot but help us to do better in our nation," Akin said. "It's just as important for us to share the Gospel with the person across the street as the person around the world. It's not one or the other — it's both."
Therefore, Akin is leading Southeastern to be a place where a Great Commission Resurgence can take root and flourish, not just in one degree program but across all areas of study and academic life. This commitment to being a Great Commission seminary can be found in every classroom and in every program of study.
In the last year alone, Southeastern has granted degrees to over 365 students in forty degree programs. This includes students who have committed to serving fulltime as pastors, Christian counselors, directors of women's programs, Christian school administrators, professors, musicians, missionaries, and more. Southeastern students and alumni are carrying the message of Christ into the darkest corners of the earth through a variety of ministries.
Although many of the ways in which students are serving Christ are new, the commitment to training men and women with a heart for the lost has been around since the beginnings of Southeastern Seminary.
Where It Has Come From
Wake Forest College originally inhabited the space where Southeastern now stands. From the 1830s until 1956, the Wake Forest, North Carolina, campus was home to the college, which was an initiative of North Carolina Baptists.
The Southern Baptist Convention bought the campus in 1950 when the college decided to move to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was born, and the two institutions shared the space until 1956.
Southeastern's presidential and missional legacy began with Sydnor Stealey. During the first years of Southeastern's existence, Stealey worked hard to gain funds to build a new library, diligently sought accreditation for the "baby seminary," and hired a professor of missions, a rare commodity for a small seminary. Stealey's passion for reaching the lost was not only directed at the small, rural churches — which he was deeply burdened for — but also the world at large.
Stealey promoted missions at every opportunity. He encouraged chapel speakers to challenge the young preachers to go to the nations, he had mission-emphases in various campus publications, and he sponsored special days dedicated to missionary interests. Olin Binkley, Stealey's successor as president, continued the work begun by Stealey by building up Southeastern's campus and the passion for mission work in the hearts of the students.
It was during the presidency of Randall Lolley that Southeastern implemented the Fletcher Visiting Professorship of Missions. The professorship focused on the field of home missions work. After Lolley's resignation in 1987, Lewis A. Drummond became the fourth president to oversee Southeastern. Drummond led the seminary in a period of emphasis on evangelism and missions, establishing a Center for Great Commission Studies and leading the seminary under the motto "Taking the Word to the World."
Not until the presidency of Paige Patterson, though, did the newly-established center find a home in the Jacumin-Simpson Missions Building. The structure, in addition to housing the center, gave the Southeastern family a place to focus on the needs of the unreached peoples of the world.
Patterson also established several new tracks for the Master of Divinity program. Included in the list of new degree options were specializations in international and North American church planting. Both prepare students for church planting service through a combination of on-campus training and field service.
The strong legacy left by the first five presidents of Southeastern form a solid foundation that is continuing to be built upon by Akin.
Where It Is Going
Since Akin became president of Southeastern, changes have taken place to shape the institution into a Great Commission seminary. The ever-present commitment to the Great Commission can be seen in the formation of several new degree tracks, aimed at equipping students to better reach the world with the message of Christ.
A program track was recently approved for the Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies. This track in Orality Studies will teach men and women to more effectively share biblical messages in oral societies.
The new Master of Divinity with Collegiate Ministry is another program of study designed to better equip students to share the Gospel. The degree program adds to the M.Div. core with selections related to communication skills and collegiate ministry. Furthermore, it includes a semester spent in a local church's collegiate ministry as well as a semester spent working with a college campus ministry.
Southeastern also has two endowed chairs which Akin believes accurately represent the focus of the seminary. The Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism, held by Alvin Reid, and the new Richard and Gina Headrick Chair of World Missions, held by Bruce Ashford, both convey the point that evangelism and missions are of utmost priority to Southeastern.
"Now, we have two endowed chairs: one in evangelism and one in missions," Akin said. "What better reflection do we have of the heartbeat of this institution?"
Even beyond new degree programs, the faculty and students at Southeastern are recommitting to "make every classroom a Great Commission classroom" by focusing on how their particular field can be used by God to fulfill his mandates to take the Gospel to the nations and train up disciples.
Southeastern professors help their students understand the importance of being Great Commission-minded students, pastors, missionaries, counselors, youth workers, collegiate ministers, businessmen, and worship leaders. The seminary has worked diligently to remain biblically faithful and unapologetically committed to the Great Commission.
"If heaven and hell are real and it is for eternity and Jesus really makes all the difference, then that just changes the way you look at everything," Akin said. "I would want people to know that, at Southeastern, we really do believe that ... and that's a good thing. It means we're seeing things through God's eyes and not our own. And that's what I hope our students gain while they are here, wherever they go and serve."
Location: Wake Forest, North Carolina
President: Daniel L. Akin
Year founded: 1950
Current enrollment: 2,500
Full-time faculty: 62
Degrees offered: MDiv, MA, BACS, AA, ADiv, ThM, PhD, DMin, EdD
Web site: www.sebts.edu
Mission: To glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.
Lauren Crane is a member of Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is News & Information Specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.