Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Family Reunion

We gathered on the third floor of the education building at First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, last night. Although it felt like a family reunion, this was actually the beginning of spring classes offered in Murfreesboro by Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The center opened in fall 2005 to provide graduate theological education for students who had jobs, families, and church responsibilities and were not able to relocate to another city to prepare for Christian ministry. A number of laypersons have audited courses over the years as well.

The student body is African-American and Euro-American, women and men, varied in ages, and representing at least four denominations. Teachers are seminary professors from the campus in Shawnee, Kansas, or adjuncts from the Nashville area. The instructor this weekend is Eileen Campbell-Reed, who completed her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt last year.

Classes are offered Friday night and all day on Saturday for four weekends a semester. Every Friday that classes meet the little community of scholars joins together for a chapel service. This is led by students and sometimes guests. The speaker last night was Larry Taylor, retired pastor who now lives in Murfreesboro. He had a very appropriate message about "Launching Out into the Depths." He acknowledged that the existence of the seminary outpost in Murfreesboro was something of a risk for both the seminary and the students.

This is definitely not your Mom and Dad’s seminary. This is a different model that takes theological education to the people and encourages students to take advantage of their present contexts in preparation for ministry. This “teaching church seminary” approach is still something of an experiment, but this is one way to revision theological education for the 21st century church. If seminaries are to be effective partners for churches in the coming days, such experiments are essential.

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