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3 leaders of academic institutions counsel their alma mater’s students

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Who better could relate to the current students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary than those who have walked the same sidewalks, sat in the same classrooms and have poured over books in the same library? In February, students were given the opportunity to hear from three NOBTS alumni who are serving God in the unique ministry of equipping the next generation of Baptist leaders. During the month set aside to honor U.S. presidents, three New Orleans Seminary graduates who are serving as presidents of Baptist institutions of higher education returned to their alma mater to share wisdom and insight into ministry.

Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mark Foley, president of the University of Mobile (Ala.), and Thomas Kinchen, president of The Baptist College of Florida, each earned master’s and doctorate degrees from NOBTS. They brought words of encouragement and warning to current seminary students in recent chapel addresses in Leavell Chapel.

“Let me urge you to milk every day that you have here for everything that you can get from it,” Patterson said. “It is easy to settle into the hum drum of going to school and miss out on the fact that these should be the best days of your life.”

In his travels to more than 70 countries in the world, Patterson said, he often encounters fellow NOBTS graduates he knew in seminary. He has experienced great joy and encouragement in the friendships he built during his time in New Orleans.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, an alumnus himself, praised the leadership of Patterson at Southeastern Seminary. Citing the seminary’s increased enrollment, he said the academic community is taking notice of what Patterson has accomplished since becoming the president of the Wake Forest, N.C., seminary in 1992.

“The story in theological education … in the last 25 years is the incredible, explosive growth [at Southeastern] under Dr. Paige Patterson,” Kelley said. “He has introduced many innovations there, and he has brought fresh air to Southern Baptist life.”

One of the most innovative programs at SEBTS is the 2+2 missions program. This degree plan allows students to go to Southeastern Seminary for two years and then complete their studies while serving overseas alongside an experienced missionary. The program at SEBTS led to the development of similar programs at the other five Southern Baptist seminaries.

Elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 and ’99, Patterson became president of Criswell College in Dallas in 1975 after more than 10 years as a pastor.

Mark Foley has served as president at the University of Mobile for just over four years. He earned both his master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees in psychology and counseling at NOBTS. Before accepting the position at Mobile, Foley served as the executive vice president at New Orleans Seminary. He has taken a passion for discipleship to the University of Mobile and is instilling the discipline of spiritual growth in the students there.

“God has given me the passion for growing and walking with Christ,” Foley reflected. “I want to know what it means to walk with Jesus Christ the way he expects … and to experience the fullness that he promised when we do that.”

Foley used the Matthew 14 account of Peter stepping out of the boat to walk on the water with Christ as an illustration of the hard things God may ask his followers to do, describing the times when God gives a minister a great challenge “water-walking.” When Foley came to seminary, he believed he was taking a “step out of the boat.” However, he learned that moving to seminary is only taking a different seat in the boat; his “water-walking” would come after school, he learned.

“It is in [difficult] circumstances that we learn what [Jesus’] lordship is all about; when we come to understand that God is, and I am not,” Foley noted. “In the middle of God’s will, in the middle of difficult circumstances is precisely when God may call on you to step with him beyond your capabilities.

“God wants us to experience his will and for us to have more of him,” Foley said. “So much more of him, in fact, that he can do anything he needs to do in and through our lives. You see, Jesus Christ is in the business of changing this world, and we are his change agents.”

Thomas Kinchen, described by Kelley as a “visionary leader who is taking The Baptist College of Florida to its greatest heights,” became president of the Graceville, Fla., school 12 years ago. Kelley said Kinchen is a man of faith, vision, discipline and humor who is passionate about the kingdom of God.

Others at NOBTS expressed great respect for him as well. “Under his leadership for the last 12 years the college has experienced phenomenal growth, from new degree offerings to expanded facilities and ministries, an increased student body and an increasing world presence,” said NOBTS doctoral student Joe Alain, a former student of Kinchen’s. “He has a heart for God, and he has a heart for people, which is embodied in the motto of The Baptist College of Florida, ‘Changing the world through the unchanging Word.'”

Kinchen said The Baptist College of Florida is placing major emphasis on church planting and evangelism. He mentioned that students and faculty members have been involved in church starting ministries in Boston, and others will soon be going to Brazil, Canada and the Pacific Northwest with the goal of planting new churches.

“We are very serious about church starting, about reaching the world in the name of Jesus Christ just as you are here,” Kinchen said. “I thank my God for this institution [NOBTS], and I thank my God for you and your work here.”

After receiving his master of divinity and doctor of education degrees at NOBTS, Kinchen served the seminary in a number of positions, including director of continuing education and director of the doctor of ministry program. Before taking his leadership role at The Baptist College of Florida, he served as the executive secretary/treasurer of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.

“When you are faithful in ministry, God will and does act and bless,” Kinchen said. “It is the will of God to pour out himself on those who will turn to him and to bless and to save and to bring abundant life. You can count on it!”

The three presidents offered their own take on a common concern facing most seminarians — the challenge of juggling academics, ministry, work and family while continuing to grow in their personal walks with Christ. Each addressed the phenomenon of students who have heads full of knowledge but hearts that are, at times, spiritually empty. With so many other things competing for their time, sadly, personal spiritual growth often takes a backseat during seminary, they said.

“For all of the greatness I see in you … you frighten me,” Patterson told the chapel attendees. “My fear is that you will be fully educated above the shoulders of all of those around you in every way. My fear is that even morally you will rise above your fellows.”

He continued, “Certainly, with the abilities that God has given you and the learning you amass, you will be something to see, unless you fail to learn to walk with God,” Patterson said. “The world has seen enough of gifted and well-educated people; what our world desperately needs today is to see a genuine man of God, a genuine woman of God.”

“The way to great usefulness in the kingdom of God and the way to recognition by God … is not through the seminary, as much as I believe in that,” he continued. “The way to greatness before God is the way of brokenness before God.”

Foley cautioned students against putting too much emphasis on the scholarly side of seminary while neglecting their spiritual relationship. He acknowledged that seminary students have the tendency to “leave personal discipleship hanging in the balance.”

Kinchen took the same idea in a little different direction, saying, “Traveling down this road of ministry, I would urge you to look at the ‘milepost’ of a realistic assessment of who we are.

“We get so involved in doing so much stuff that we substitute doing for being,” Kinchen said.

A realistic assessment by a minister will lead him to the conclusion that he is a sinner saved by grace, Kinchen said, noting that thinking about life before salvation will help the minister keep focused on growing in Christ.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PAIGE PATTERSON, MARK FOLEY and THOMAS KINCHEN.