EDITOR’S NOTE: “From the Seminaries” includes news releases of interest as written and edited from Southern Baptist seminaries.
Today’s From the Seminaries includes:
Platt, Rainer first guests on NOBTS online video series ‘Conversations’
By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS (NOBTS) — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has launched an online video series designed to share insights from leading figures in the Southern Baptist Convention. The new series, “Conversations,” is a collaborative effort of the NOBTS dean of the chapel and public relations offices.
New episodes will post on the 15th of each month and will be available on the seminary’s YouTube channel Links to the new episodes will also be posted on the NOBTS chapel Facebook page and chapel Twitter account.
In the first episode of Conversations, NOBTS alumnus David Platt discusses how he prepares for preaching. Platt, author of the best-selling “Radical” and pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., is a former NOBTS professor and former dean of the chapel. He earned a doctor of philosophy and two master’s degrees from the seminary.
Platt emphasized the importance of intimate communion between the preacher and God.
“A preacher is a dying man preaching to a dying man — we need the life of Christ to infuse us in our ministry and our preaching,” Platt said.
Prayerful meditation on the truth of the text is the most important aspect of his sermon preparation, Platt said. It is through meditation that preaching becomes “the overflow of transformation for the sake of transformation,” rather than the mere sharing of information, he said.
After this time of prayerful meditation, Platt begins extensive exegetical work on the text he will preach. By the end of the week, he organizes a detailed outline, and before Sunday, he compiles a sermon manuscript in order to “make every word count.”
Platt concludes by sharing the greatest lesson that he has learned so far in his ministry: he must surrender with “no strings attached” and abide in the Lord through prayer and the Word.
“There’s a lot of confidence that I have, not in myself, but in the grace of God, that if I’m surrendered to Him and abiding in Him, He’s not going to let me go the wrong way,” Platt said. “He’s going to lead me, He’s going to guide me, He’s going to direct me, and He’s going to protect me spiritually.”
The second episode, posted May 15, features LifeWay President Thom Rainer.
According to Blake Newsom, current dean of the chapel and creator of Conversations, he wanted to launch the series to give seminary students, ministers, and lay people an opportunity to hear from some of the leading voices in the Southern Baptist Convention. While many people have the opportunity to hear men like Platt, Rainer and NOBTS President Chuck Kelley preach at conferences and conventions, Newsom wanted to created an informal, more personal venue for them to discuss current trends and challenges in Christianity. “Conversations” also gives these men an opportunity talk about the aspects of ministry they hold most dear.
Future guests include Chuck Kelley talking about evangelism; Gregory Frizzell, prayer and spiritual awakening specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, speaking on revival and renewal; O.S. Hawkins sharing about stewardship; and Johnny Hunt speaking on evangelism.
Conversations is part of a greater effort by Newsom to engage seminary students and others outside the seminary gates through social media and other resources.
Another way Newsom has extended the chapel ministry is through the Dead Preachers Society — a student organization at NOBTS. The club’s name and motto comes from an E.M. Bounds quote, “Crucified preaching can only come through crucified men.” During weekly meetings, Newsom and students gather to discuss the life and preaching of a pastor who is no longer living. This format, along with intentional encouragement and prayer, facilitates the development of young pastors.
Newsom is hopeful that initiatives like “Conversations,” Dead Preachers Society and weekly chapel gatherings will be of great value in encouraging the current generation of church leaders and vital in the development of the next generation of preachers and ministers.
“One of the things we want to do is use the ministry that is going on in the chapel for our students and for the church,” Newsom said. “We don’t want to limit that chapel ministry to two hours per week. We want to impact our students here on campus, our extension center students and our alumni who are serving in the local church. We want them to be encouraged.”
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Laura Landry, communication specialist at NOBTS, contributed to this report.
With abortion advocate next door, adoption center offers hope
By Sharayah Colter
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) — Tiffany Bowman wears a silver, thumb-sized Africa pendant around her neck. In the center of the tiny continent is a heart-shaped cutout where Ethiopia would be found on a map. In that small, heart-shaped cutout is Bowman’s heart — a heart for missions she discovered while serving in Ethiopia and that has led to her current ministry at Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas.
Bowman, a master of divinity student at Southwestern, works as a weeknight residential coordinator at Gladney’s dormitory for birth mothers. There, like in Ethiopia, she walks side-by-side with women through their hopes, triumphs, trials and tears, offering not only her ear and shoulder but also the lasting hope found in Christ.
“I have always had a heart for adoption and the beautiful picture it displays of our relationship with Christ,” Bowman says. “There are people who have not heard [about salvation through Christ], and I’ve come across that at Gladney. I start my day asking that God would give me an opportunity to share the Gospel with them, if not through words, then by actions.”
Bowman says the birth mothers who come through the adoption center’s dorm often have nowhere else to turn. No family willing to support them and their decision to deliver their baby. No friends willing to encourage them through the trying months of pregnancy. No resources to care for their unborn child. For these women, Bowman, along with staff and other women in the dorm, becomes their friend, their sister, their mother, their mentor.
“I’m there to walk alongside them through their adoption process and support them as they make their decisions,” says Bowman, who lives on site at Gladney and is available to them nearly around the clock. “For the most part, they know I am there if they ever need anything. I am able to live life with them and be a role model for them.”
Bowman says her seminary studies are helping her prepare not only for future ministry in missions but also for the ministry she currently has with the eight women and girls living in Gladney’s dorm. She says she is learning how to be prepared for whatever is thrown her way, including how to answer difficult questions, how to serve and teach, and how to live a life that reflects the message of the Gospel.
A letter framed on the “Legacy of Hope” wall, written from one birth mother to those who would come after her, explains the priceless role Gladney’s residential center and women like Bowman played in her choosing life, choosing family and choosing Christ.
“If these walls could talk, they would tell you what a real struggle is,” the letter reads in blue, cursive handwriting. “If these walls could talk, they’d tell you how I got on my knees and found Jesus.”
Gladney has always stood as a beacon of hope, connecting birth mothers with families for the past 126 years, but now that hope is beginning to take an even brighter sheen as new neighbors move in next to their Fort Worth facility. Only feet away from the adoption center, construction crews have begun building a Planned Parenthood center on the adjacent lot. The signs for the two vastly different centers stand nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. Jennifer Lanter, director of outreach and public information officer for Gladney and an adoptive mother herself, says she remembers the day news came of Planned Parenthood’s decision to build next door.
“The day we found out about it was a hard day,” Lanter recalls. “We did not expect to have Planned Parenthood as a neighbor, but also we understand that there is a bigger plan than even Gladney knows about.”
With a firm resolve to maintain their own mission and dedication to adoption, regardless of who moved in next door, Lanter says Gladney’s president chose to look at the positives in the situation. Though it would certainly be best for no abortion-promoting facilities to exist, if they are indeed going to exist, what better place for one to be located than next door to a beacon of hope?
“Our president said it would almost be worse if they were one or two miles away than right next door,” Lanter says. “What we know of women is that they are literally looking for a sign [when deciding what to do with an unplanned pregnancy].”
So, a sign they would give them. Lanter says Gladney has been working to make their mission very visible on the signs that welcome women, families and visitors to their center, boldly emblazoning their mission of “a hope and a future” on one sign and “Gladney Center for Adoption” on the other, with a secret garden-type area in the middle, offering women a quiet place to sit and think about what they really want for their unborn child.
Some of those women may even find their way into the refuge of the center’s dorm, where Lanter says Bowman’s work is critical.
“It is extremely important that we have 24-hour care for all of our clients,” Lanter said. “It is also important because Tiffany is here at night. That night can be a scary time for a woman who is going through an unplanned or crisis pregnancy.”
Bowman says the hands-on service and missions training she is garnering while working at Gladney during her time at Southwestern will equip her for whatever assignment the Lord should give her when she finishes seminary, be it Ethiopia or anywhere else.
“Having these day-to-day relationships with women and being able to pour into their lives daily and being able to just be there in all circumstances with them, whether they’re happy or sad or joyful, and just the unconditional love and support I can have for them, can be translated to settings in the future,” Bowman said.
Sharayah Colter is a newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).
Pastor learns that God uses broken people
By Phyllis Evans
CAVE CREEK, Ariz. (GGBTS) –- “I was 9 years old when my parents got divorced,” said Alfie Safa, pastor of Crossroads Christian Fellowship in Cave Creek, Ariz.
“We three kids were living in Arizona with my mom and we saw how difficult it was for her to provide, even though she worked full time as a cashier at the market,” Alfie added. “When my brother was 11 years old and I was 10, we started shining shoes at the Greyhound Race Park on the weekends. We had a cabinet maker build us a shoeshine stand and we made a few hundred dollars each weekend. This helped my mom with the bills and put food on the table. We did this every weekend until I was a senior in high school.”
The 43-year-old pastor will graduate in June from Golden Gate’s Arizona campus with a master of divinity degree. But Alfie’s journey from shoeshine boy to pastor has not been easy.
Alfie became a Christian just before he joined the Marine Corps when he was 19.
“I’d been going to church with my girlfriend Melanie for a while,” Alfie recalled, “and in December 1988 her dad and I were driving in a pickup truck down I-10 heading to church. I had been out late the night before and almost missed getting that ride. We were talking about the Lord and I realized I was ready to ask Him into my life.”
His girlfriend’s dad was the church’s pastor.
Alfie saw four years of active duty and four years of inactive duty while in the Marines. He was involved in Desert Storm and held Bible studies in a fighting hole — though not while there was fighting.
“Every morning, about 10-15 guys would get their coffee and meet there,” said Alfie, who is of Lebanese and Spanish heritage. “We’d read our Bibles, devotionals and discuss a spiritual question or topic.”
While still in the Marines, Alfie married Melanie in 1991. They moved in 2000 with their two children to Mill Valley, Calif., so he could attend Golden Gate Seminary.
“I chose Golden Gate since my professors at Wayland Baptist University recommended it because of my gift of evangelism,” said Alfie, a California native. “They said Golden Gate is on the cutting edge of missions and evangelism.”
While a seminary student, Alfie injured his back at work as a supervisor for Walmart’s shipping and receiving dock. In addition to that job, he also was a restocking clerk at Safeway on the nightshift.
“The back injury caused a lot of pain and affected my sciatic nerve,” Alfie said. “The pain and the fact that I was not able to work — and not able to do much of anything — brought on a lot of extra stress to my marriage. I was attending Golden Gate hoping my back would heal without surgery, but that wasn’t the case.”
He and Melanie divorced just after his surgery in 2001 and he left Golden Gate at that time.
“I moved back in with my family in Arizona while I was still healing from the surgery, and Melanie moved to her family in New Mexico,” Alfie said. “Neither of us was working and we had joint custody of our two kids. I was out of work for a year. It was a hard and dark time in my life.”
Alfie knew he “needed to be in God’s house after the divorce.” He explained how “I felt a responsibility to my kids to show them they needed a relationship with God. I wanted a big church to get lost in, where no one would bother me.” He went to North Phoenix Baptist Church and sat as far back and high up as he could go.
“Someone made a point to walk over and greet me,” Alfie said, “and invited me to attend a Sunday school class.”
After a while he was asked to teach a small Bible class.
“I wanted to return to seminary but I didn’t think God could use me in ministry,” Alfie said. “I learned if God’s calling you, there’s a place for you. I didn’t think God could use me because of the divorce. I learned God uses broken people.”
In 2004, Alfie’s sister-in-law suggested he become a car salesman. He gave it a shot and discovered he had a knack for it. Today he is a Credit Resource Center Director at Larry Miller Dodge in Peoria, near Phoenix.
“I met my wife Ruby while sharing the Gospel with another salesperson at work,” Alfie said. “She overheard our conversation and told me I couldn’t talk about the Bible at work. I told her I sell 20 cars a month. They aren’t going to fire me.”
They started going to church together, taking her kids. Their friendship deepened. They’ve now been married for seven years, with a blended family of four children. Ruby strongly encouraged him to go back to seminary, which he did in 2008.
The opportunity to preach at Crossroads Christian Fellowship came earlier this year. Alfie credited his seminary education in providing him with the knowledge he needed.
“Everything I learned in seminary is immediately applicable,” Alfie said. “The professors, as well as other students, are living their ministries. The professors are preaching as well as teaching, so they have real world experiences to share and learn from.
“Today my ministry is to people with any type of brokenness,” Alfie said. “I explain how they need restoration between themselves and God, and then restoration between themselves and their family, their friends. I know that at first you don’t want to be a part of anything. But restoration starts with liking and forgiving yourself. Once you realize God has forgiven you and loves you the way you are, it paves the way for you to forgive yourself.”
Alfie added, “We serve an amazing God who is able to use us even when we think we’re broken and useless. God finds a way and uses us.”
Phyllis Evans is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.