The door closed on one aspect of my ministry yesterday when I stepped down as coordinator of Central Baptist Theological Seminary Tennessee and passed the mantle to Dr. Sally Holt. Seven years ago, three entities came together to initiate a new approach to theological education in middle Tennessee. Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Shawnee, Kansas; First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partnered to offer classes that would allow students to receive a Master of Divinity degree or a Diploma in Theological Students without leaving home. Seminary president Dr. Molly Marshall embraced the concept, pastor Dr. Michael Smith came alongside as partner and instructor, and I agreed to serve as volunteer coordinator.
Seven years later, we have graduated six students with the Master of Divinity degree. Although several students were already ordained ministers, four others have received ordination by their churches. Over sixty students have taken classes, many of them lay people who enrolled as lifelong learners. Our student body has been gender inclusive, racially diverse, and ecumenical. We have offered 35 classes (105 hours) of graduate level theological education. Supportive faculty from the main campus at Shawnee and committed local adjunct professors have assured quality instruction, practical insights, and caring support.
We also received accreditation as a degree-granting site by the Association of Theological Schools, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In recent years, Dean Robert Johnson has been a faithful and resourceful guide through that process. Generous financial support came from the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (thanks to Terry Hamrick), and a number of friends of theological education. Volunteers like Judy Fryer have provided services that have enriched the lives of students.
Along the way, I received a contract as site coordinator and began teaching classes in spiritual formation and ministry praxis. I have found this especially rewarding and hope to continue to teach classes locally, on-line, and in Shawnee (as part of the Doctor of Ministry program).
This road has not been easy. “Jumping through the hoops” of accreditation and licensing is difficult and sometimes frustrating work, but I have been proud of the impression that our adjunct faculty and students have made on visiting accrediting teams. One visitor asked, “Where do you find these great people?” My answer has been, “God provided.” We were in the right place at the right time and got the right people “on the bus.”
The future of this site is in good hands. There are challenges ahead, but there continues to be a need and an effective delivery system. Please pray for Dr. Holt, our students, and Central Baptist Theological Seminary Tennessee in the days ahead.