What should a seminary be doing to prepare those called to minister in the twenty-first century? New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley has challenged the seminary's administration and faculty to "reinvent seminary for the twenty-first century."
"We believe that the seminary of the twenty-first century needs to pay closer attention to how church is done in today's world than how seminary was done in the past," said Kelley. For NOBTS, the seminary of the future will offer a cafeteria of options — traditional campus-based programs, extension center programs, online programs, and mentorship programs.
One aspect of reinventing seminary for the twenty-first century is to accelerate online course offerings and to offer new online certificates. The seminary currently offers six online undergraduate certificate programs and degree completion for undergraduate students in Christian ministry, as well as five graduate online certificate programs.
The undergraduate online certificates offer training in Christian ministry, biblical studies, biblical ministry, minister's wife, and women's ministry (basic and advanced). The certificate requirements range from eight to eighteen hours, and are fully transferable into Leavell College's bachelor of Christian ministry program.
Leavell College, the seminary's undergraduate college, also offers undergraduate degree completion for ministers with an associate degree or partial college degree credit. Students can transfer in these credit hours and complete a bachelor of arts in Christian ministry degree online.
The six Internet-based master's-level certificates are in Greek studies, Hebrew studies, biblical languages, biblical studies, missions, and apologetics. These online certificates range from seventeen to twenty-five hours course work (six to nine courses). These Internet-based courses may be transferred into one of the seminary's master's degree programs. The missions certificate offers the minimum training necessary for a missionary to serve with the SBC's International Mission Board.
Cutting-edge technology helps forge a bond between practical ministry and academic scholarship at NOBTS. Through an ever-expanding technological network, students from across the globe can pursue a degree from NOBTS without leaving home. This allows students to continue in ministry while concurrently working toward a degree. Through use of the Internet and other distance learning tools, the seminary is on the leading edge of education delivery systems.
NOBTS has also made theological education accessible to many students with its network of eighteen extension centers across the Southeast, featuring regional learning hubs in Atlanta and Orlando. These extension centers are strategically located so that receiving quality theological education is a short drive away for God-called men and women anywhere in the Southeast. In the past, extension center students were required to complete thirty hours of academic work at the New Orleans campus. Now, all but twelve of those hours can be completed at the Atlanta and Orlando hubs.
"Our great concern is making theological education as accessible as possible to as many people as possible," Kelley said. "This is filling in the gaps for people for whom traditional theological education is not available. You don't have to choose between outstanding traditional programs and innovative accessible programs. We are committed to providing both."
Throughout its ninety-one years, the "School of Providence and Prayer" has blended practical training with faithful scholarship, featuring a faculty committed not only to academic excellence but to servant leadership in the local church.
An example of the powerful combination of pulpit and classroom is found in these numbers: The seminary faculty ranked twelfth among North American schools of theology in academic research in an index of faculty scholarly productivity done by Academic Analytics and reported in the January 12, 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. At the same time, even with the high demands of the classroom, each NOBTS faculty member averages ten years of practical experience in ministry positions such as pastor, minister of music, minister of education, counselor, and missionary. Many serve in a variety of capacities in churches throughout the region.
Following the example of the faculty, many New Orleans Seminary students serve local churches and ministries while pursuing theological education — applying what they have learned in the classroom in real-world ministry experiences. This melding of ministry with academia is a high priority for the seminary, according to seminary provost Steve Lemke: "I'm very concerned that we be a student-friendly institution that offers both academic excellence and close ties to the local church as we prepare students for ministry."
A pastor-graduate student may find himself studying Greek one moment, and then shepherding his flock the next. Garland Reed, a student at NOBTS, also serves as pastor of Christ Baptist Church in Houma, Louisiana. When swelling floodwaters from Hurricane Ike ravaged his community, he turned to one of his seminary professors, Ken Taylor, for help.
"I only had to call once," Reed said. Since then teams of NOBTS faculty and students have traveled to the storm-battered Terrebonne Parish, helping remove the mud Ike left behind, while also sharing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ with persons in the area.
The heart for the local church and long-standing commitment to academic excellence extends to the school's on-campus ministry and research centers. The centers are designed to assist and extend the ministry of the local church and Gospel proclamation around the world.
The Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health, one of the seminary's ministry-focused research centers, seeks to develop evangelism strategies to revitalize churches in which growth has either peaked or declined. Other ministry-focused research centers include the Perry R. Sanders Center for Ministry Excellence, the Youth Ministry Institute, the Women's Ministry Program, the Day Center for Church Planting, and the Global Missions Center.
The seminary's academic-focused research centers include the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, the Haggard Center for Textual Studies, the Center for Archaeological Research, and the recently-created Institute for Christian Apologetics, which teaches Christians to effectively communicate and defend their Christian faith to people from differing worldviews.
The seminary seeks to instill critical thinking skills to help students reach a doubting world through events such as the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum. Thinkers from across the theological and philosophical spectrum have come to the Greer-Heard Forum to dialogue on the compelling issues of today. Past participants have included N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, and William Lane Craig.
"Truth is objective and real. Anyone who is searching for truth, we believe, will ultimately end up at the feet of Jesus Christ," Kelley said about Greer-Heard. "The forum shows us how to engage non-Christian worldviews and how to be seekers after truth."
"We want to show our students how to engage a secular, liberal world without worrying about their presuppositions, because we have confidence in the power of our God to demonstrate His own truthfulness," he said.
Another tool to help Christians engage the culture is the Institute for Christian Apologetics, approved by NOBTS trustees earlier this year. In January, "Defend the Faith: A School of Christian Apologetics" will equip believers to take on an increasingly secular society. Professors Robert Stewart and Michael Edens direct the institute.
The institute will offer apologetics training through conferences and events, develop resources for churches and ministers, produce an online apologetics journal, and coordinate evangelism trips involving apologetics.
"The fundamental purpose why we do this is not to build an institute," Stewart said, "but to train people to be more effective in carrying out the Great Commission."
Effective worship ministry is another focal point of training at NOBTS. The music program at NOBTS provides cutting-edge pedagogy, not only in musical performance, but in the theological basis for worship as well.
The program includes training in traditional and contemporary worship styles. Students are challenged to consider the theology and philosophy of worship, and the study of worship weaves together the mind and heart. Again, the combination of practical ministry and academic excellence is always at work.
A recently-added M.A. in worship ministry at the main campus and at the North Georgia Hub blends training in musical performance with study of the theological foundations for worship.
One of the newest academic offerings at NOBTS is the master of divinity in women's studies. This new offering is distinct from the seminary's other women's ministry specializations because of its emphasis on biblical languages, biblical exegesis, theological and historical reflection, and exploration of biblical gender roles. An internship program is also included in the curriculum.
The ninety-five-hour program is also designed to help women address the needs and concerns of women from a biblical basis. Again, it's a simple case of academic excellence and practical ministry coming together, a meeting of mind, heart, and spirit.
"This specialized focus in women's studies will provide our female students an excellent blend of both classical theological disciplines and practical experience," Lemke said. "Not only will it afford focused training in theology and the biblical languages, but it also has a practicum for mentored experience in women's ministry leadership."
New Orleans and Southern Louisiana have always been ripe mission fields, with people thirsting for the kind of practical and personal ministry offered to students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At NOBTS, students have a unique opportunity to be challenged to develop intellectually and spiritually while moving beyond the seminary gates to offer the amazing grace of Jesus to a lost and dying world.
NOBTS Fast Facts
• President: Chuck Kelley
• Year founded: 1917
• Current Enrollment: 3,605
• Faculty members: 70
• Degrees offered: ACM, BACM, MA, MACE, MMCM, MDiv, DMin, DEdMin, ThM PhD
• Web site: www.nobts.edu
• Mission: To equip leaders to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandments through the local church and its ministries.
Beyond Hurricane Katrina
When the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed to the east of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, it appeared as though the city and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had dodged a bullet. However, just hours after the storm passed, the levees holding back the rising waters failed, leaving the city and the seminary under water for weeks.
Almost immediately, God began a work of redemption in the life of the NOBTS family. The seminary administration quickly formed a plan to meet the needs of student families and to continue teaching classes.
Many years before the storm, seminary President Chuck Kelley led NOBTS to invest in educational technology and to experiment with new delivery systems. Numerous online learning tools and courses had been developed. The innovations played a key role in the seminary's survival following Hurricane Katrina. Without the online learning tools and the know-how to restructure courses for the Internet, classes could not have continued during the Fall 2005 semester.
NOBTS continued all of the scheduled fall classes in some form — using a combination of online courses, extension center work, and special workshops. Eighty-five percent of NOBTS students continued taking courses throughout the 2005-2006 school year.
Southern Baptists rushed to the aid of the hurting seminary family. The SBC Executive Committee provided $6.2 million in Cooperative Program giving that exceeded 2004-2005 SBC budget requirements. SBC entities, churches, and individuals also gave sacrificially to help the seminary. Churches quickly offered to come to New Orleans to help clean and restore the campus. Volunteer labor amounting to more than $3 million helped restore the campus.
After a massive reconstruction effort, the campus is now even more beautiful than before the storm. The facilities have been improved rather than simply restored. Student enrollment numbers are climbing again, and the seminary is poised for growth. God has truly blessed the "School of Providence and Prayer."
Paul F. South is a member of Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans and is staff writer in the public relations department at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.