LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Although not as glamorous as some secular professions, ministers have a “noble calling,” Ken Hemphill told graduates of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary May 23.
Speaking for the 179th commencement of Southern Baptists’ oldest seminary, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said the Old Testament figure Nehemiah and his quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem offered guidance for ministerial leadership.
Degrees were conferred upon 176 graduates in 15 academic programs, concluding the 138th session of Southern Seminary.
Earning academic degrees are “visible tokens of that personal commitment which persons have made in dedicating the gifts of God through the ministry of the church,” President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said to the standing room-only audience in the Louisville, Ky., seminary’s Alumni Memorial Chapel. “And beyond that,” Mohler continued, “what takes place here today is a visible representation of God’s gift to the church as he calls out ministers of the gospel.”
Using selected texts in the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah, Hemphill cited six principles of ministerial leadership: ministers must listen to God, have a passion for ministry, dream and share their dreams, develop a strategy, endure criticism while implementing the strategy and focus on the “great and awesome God.”
“If you’re going to be a leader in the life of the New Testament church, you’re going to have to be a man or woman of prayer,” Hemphill told the graduates. “We must hear a word from God before we speak to his people.”
Noting the importance of passion in ministry, Hemphill said, “If the New Testament church and its programs, ministries and evangelism are not a passion in your life, no matter how well prepared and trained you are, you will not pull that church up from apathy.”
Just as Nehemiah dreamed of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem and shared that dream with his beleaguered fellow Jews, Hemphill said church leaders must dream about what God wants to do with their churches. The former pastor of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va., noted as an example the church’s ambitious, although exceeded, Sunday school enrollment growth goal set in his early years of ministry.
“No matter how glorious your vision, no matter how much it’s centered in the Great Commission, there will be those who will oppose it and gladly tell you they do,” Hemphill said, noting that enduring criticism is an important principle of ministerial leadership.
A focus on the “great and awesome God” was a recurring feature of Nehemiah’s leadership and must be so for today’s ministers, Hemphill said.
“Whenever he’s faced with difficulty and adversity, he does not say, ‘Follow me.’ He says, ‘Follow him,'” Hemphill said of Nehemiah’s leadership of the Jews in pointing them to God.
The commencement ceremony offered an historical contrast as the first master of theology degree was awarded through Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth and the last 11 graduates of the seminary’s Carver School of Church Social Work were recognized.
Marking one of the history-making moments, Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School, informed the audience that John Crabtree, from Indianapolis, was the first to receive the master of theology degree from Southern through the Graham School.
The Billy Graham School was established in 1994. The master of theology degree is a graduate research degree which requires a master of divinity degree or its equivalent as a prerequisite.
Noting the other historic moment, the final commencement class of the Carver School, Mohler said, “we are very proud of these graduates” and asked the audience “to join with me in congratulating these graduates in thanksgiving for all that they have received through this program.” A standing ovation followed the presidential request.
The Carver School was established as the fifth school of the seminary in 1984, although its roots go as far back as 1907 when the Woman’s Missionary Union Training School was established. In 1953 the name was changed and in 1963 the school was merged with the seminary. The seminary’s board decided to transfer the school in 1995 after a trustee study committee determined that “considerable differences exist in the structures, processes and issues of social work education and theological studies.” In 1996 an agreement was reached with Campbellsville University, a Kentucky Baptist Convention-supported institution, to transfer the Carver School.
During the commencement service the Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence was presented to Jon Rainbow, associate professor of Christian education and leadership. The award honors Edge, former professor of Christian education at Southern, and the recipient for their efforts to improve teaching. Rainbow, the seventh recipient of the award, has served on the seminary faculty since 1986.
In a separate ceremony later the same day, 24 graduates received associate of arts degrees or diplomas from Boyce Bible School, a division of Southern Seminary which offers ministerial training for people without college degrees. Thomas Davidson, director of missions for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, spoke at the school’s commencement exercises.