SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–Survey information released by the Census Bureau affirms Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s commitment to providing theological education through regional campuses in the growing urban centers of the western United States, said seminary President William O. Crews.
Reacting to a Census 2000 Supplementary Survey released Aug. 6 and other census information reported the past several months, Crews said Golden Gate is “grateful for the opportunity of shaping leaders” amid the rapidly growing and increasingly diverse cultures of urban areas where the seminary operates.
Golden Gate is one of six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and the only SBC agency in the western United States. It operates a residential campus near San Francisco and regional, commuter-based campuses in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado. Full degree programs are offered at each campus except for Colorado, where two-thirds of the program is currently offered.
Those state convention regions where Golden Gate operates are home to more than 52 million people, according to census data. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce census analysis showed the western United States grew faster than any other region, adding 10.4 million people. California led the way with the largest numerical increase of 4.1 million people, bringing that state’s total population to 33.8 million.
“With all the dramatic changes occurring in our nation, we must do everything we can to get our ministries as close to the local church as possible,” Crews said. “If what we are doing isn’t assisting local churches with their ministries on the ‘frontlines’ of Great Commission efforts, then we should make radical changes in our approach.”
The census survey showed immigration patterns in the United States are “changing the face” of communities across the country, but especially in large cities on each of the nation’s coasts. One of the key pieces of information in the survey showed almost one-fifth of the nation’s school-age children speaks a language other than English at home. It also showed dramatic increases in Hispanic and Asian populations.
“In every city, community and neighborhood, there needs to be vital churches and ministries that reach all people in the name of Jesus,” Crews said. “No matter the culture or character of a community, every ministry carried out for the sake of the gospel deserves effective leadership. I’m glad Southern Baptists care enough to support the ministry of schools like Golden Gate as we seek to provide the kind of education that shapes men and women for ministry that reaches out to the whole world right here at home.”
Crews noted that only about half the student body at Golden Gate Seminary is white in ethnic background. About 25 percent of the students studying at the seminary’s campuses are Asian in ethnic background.
“One thing is very clear to any observer of what is going on around us — it will take all of us being obedient to what God wants in unique and varied settings to advance the gospel here at home and abroad,” Crews stated. “There is simply no way we can go about our work with a business-as-usual attitude and expect God to be pleased. One of the blessings we’ve experienced at Golden Gate is the way the many cultures of our student body express the gospel’s witness in multiple forms of ministry and outreach.”
While states such as California, New York and Texas still are home to significant numbers of new U.S. residents, the survey also showed immigration increasing in states throughout the country.
In addition, not only did the census record the largest 10-year population increase in U.S. history — with the fastest-growing states all located in the West — it also showed that 80 percent of the nation’s 281 million people lived in metropolitan areas. A third live in metro areas composed at least 5 million people.
“Clearly, this nation continues to undergo profound changes,” Crews said. “I think one of the greatest values Golden Gate Seminary has for Southern Baptists is the ability to provide a living laboratory for multicultural ministry and urban-focused ministry. The issues facing churches in the major urban areas where our campuses are located will be the issues facing every community eventually.
“If we can help the men and women God calls to ministry preparation at Golden Gate understand how to serve effectively in these kinds of settings now, then we have the potential to help make a ministry impact for all Southern Baptist congregations in the future,” Crews added. “For many years now, our leaders from the International and North American Mission boards have urged Southern Baptists to do all we can to reach the major cities. This latest census information only confirms that urgency. We must all partner together to accomplish that Great Commission task.”
For Crews, it is that simple matter of the “population geography” combined with massive cultural change that mandates Golden Gate’s operations of multiple regional campuses. He listed four key reasons:
— Biblical. “Scripture shows that people experience growth in a synchronous learning-serving environment,” Crews said. “The integration of theological scholarship, growth in maturity and applied skill development in a specific ministry setting is simply the most effective way to train effective Christian leaders for the churches and mission fields of the future.”
— Missiological. “Theological education is almost always more effective when it is provided within someone’s context of life and ministry,” Crews noted. “It should be no surprise that the New Testament example of making local people responsible for local ministry will be most effective in the 21st century.”
— Academic. “With advances in technology, in information access and in our understanding of adult learning, there is simply no need to have an approach that only locates people in one place apart from their ministry environment,” Crews said. “Academically qualified professors who also lead day-to-day, week-to-week ministries near a regional campus provide excellent resources for classroom instruction in addition to the traditional scholars. Building relationships with those serving in a given ministry context also provides the support critical to perseverance through the difficult times in ministry leadership.”
— Demographics. “More seminary students than ever are older and second-career, with established roots, personal networks and ministry mentors in the communities where they serve,” Crews observed. “It is many times not feasible or the wisest stewardship for them to pull up roots and move to a centralized campus for training. Although the pilgrimage to attend the traditional seminary across the miles will continue to be a positive experience for some, it’s not always the primary pathway of ministry preparation.”
While a pastor in the Pacific Northwest, Crews was among a group of pastors instrumental in helping Golden Gate Seminary establish the regional campus in that region. He led the seminary as president in establishing the campuses in Arizona and Colorado in 1995.
Having served at the institution for nearly 15 years now, Crews acknowledged the complexities of leading a multiple campus environment.
“It may not be the easiest way to accomplish what we as Southern Baptists see as vital to our mission in the world,” Crews said. “But I’m convinced that for us, in this vast expanse of unreached millions, it is the right course God has set before us. It was true at our founding by a group of local Baptist churches in the Bay Area more than 50 years ago and it is still true today.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: Ahead of the curve.