Saturday, September 19, 2009

Third Floor Seminarians

On two or three weekends a month in the fall and spring, the third floor of the middle education building at First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, becomes a theological seminary. Like all good seminaries, there are lectures, discussions, papers, and community (including meals). In all honesty, I am not sure that the other components would be very effective without the last one. These students spend at much as 12 hours together on Friday night and all day Saturday, so they come to now each other as friends, colleagues, and follow pilgrims. When a team from the Association of Theological Schools made a site visit last May, they were particularly impressed by the sense of community that had developed among these students.

Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, has offered classes in Murfreesboro as part of its “teaching church seminary” emphasis since September 2005. This arrangement is the result of a commitment among three parties—the seminary, First Baptist, and Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Classes are taught by professors from the main campus and local adjuncts. The adjuncts are professors, pastors, and PhD candidates from the area with the necessary academic credentials to teach in a particular area.

Students are men and women, African-American and Euro-American, and are from three denominations this semester. They are pastors, church staff members, or lay leaders in their churches. Many are biprofessional with secular employment. All have families and homes that require their attention.

They bring two things to their seminary studies: a common sense of calling and a desire to be equipped as effective ministers. They are blessed to have found the support of spouses, families, and churches in order to pursue their ministry preparation in a non-traditional way. These students are fortunate that they do not have to leave their jobs and relocate their families to continue their education, but they do make sacrifices to follow their calling and desire.

This is not your grandparents’ seminary! This is something new. The third floor seminarians are at the forefront of the reinvention of theological education. God bless them!

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