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50 years of pastoral care education focus of Southwestern Founders Day

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–More than half a century ago, students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked for more practical ministry studies to go with their theological education.

In 1951, the seminary responded by inaugurating the department of pastoral ministry, naming Franklin Segler, pastor of First Baptist Church, Alexandria, La., as its director.

Ever since, Southwestern has equipped students for ministry by bringing together the theological and ministerial aspects of pastoral ministry preparation, said C.W. Brister, the W.C. Hultgren Chair of Pastoral Care and distinguished professor of pastoral ministry at Southwestern.

Brister, on faculty at Southwestern since 1957, delivered the keynote address during a Founders Day chapel March 8 at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary.

E.D. Head, then president of the seminary, invited Segler to serve as director of the department.

“Long before Baptists addressed the issues of church health and growth, Segler practiced those pastoral ideals,” Brister said.

Brister listed four contributions Southwestern has made in the area of pastoral studies in theological education in America: an interdisciplinary approach, a grounding in theological wisdom, strong leadership and a wellness model of caregiving.

“The principle of linkage within an array of disciplines has guided our approach to ministry studies,” Brister said. “We believe that each part of a student’s educational development is linked to every other part.

“Though [students] may have an appetite for only one discipline or appreciate only one teacher,” Brister said, “ministry will require that they become inclusive practitioners, not specialized performers.”

Of the second contribution, Brister said, pastoral ministry education at Southwestern is grounded in theological wisdom. While it is important for students to gain knowledge and understanding of psychology and other disciplines, he said, “they must be disciplinary within theology before they become interdisciplinary practitioners.”

Of Southwestern’s focus on developing strong leadership skills in students, Brister said, “We address matters of character and competence, not merely charm, charisma or consensus.

“Southwestern’s ministry studies emphasize spiritual formation and the ability to think and learn from experience, plus the need for lifelong learning,” Brister said.

The final contribution Brister listed, a wellness model of caregiving, reflects Southwestern’s strength in offering students practical ways to practice caregiving and ministry. “The church is a living laboratory in which to develop qualities like teamwork, mission and the power to bless,” he said.

Core values that have guided the pastoral ministry department, Brister said, include: excellence in academics and ministry; a sense of identity as ministers; teamwork among pastors, staff and laypersons; caring as a bedrock of ministry; networking; globalization; caring for caregivers; a healthy emotional work environment; support for alumni; and a publication ministry.

Brister also devoted part of his address to current challenges facing the seminary.

“Attempting to model Christlike leadership, stay focused and mentor students in an era of denominational fragmentation has challenged us all,” he said.

The seminary has been blessed most, he said, when faculty and staff have been at full strength “complementing each other’s gifts and styles, ministering productively on campus and in the churches.”

“I would like to see Southwesterners and Baptist Christians enter an era of undiscourageable goodwill,” possible only through mutual respect, trust and a “Spirit-led, honest hermeneutic,” he continued.

“We must be willing to be and do church God’s way, and be open to finding God in unexpected places,” Brister said. “We must learn to communicate by listening to the triune God and by actually hearing one another.”

Brister said that Southwestern must continue to “trust God for opportunities to demonstrate educational excellence, to transform dreams into new initiatives, to face hardships with courage and to mobilize resources for preparing future Christian leaders.”

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  • Tony Imms