FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Framing his address around Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” W. Madison Grace II, provost and vice president for academic administration at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged the 339 men and women who received their diplomas and certificates during the Dec. 1 commencement ceremony on the Fort Worth campus to remember that longevity and flourishing in ministry requires dependence on the Lord.
“Today you will rightly confess that ‘A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing,’” said Grace, who is also the dean of the School of Theology. “But I wonder if some of you trust more in yourself than the Lord?”
The fall graduating class represented 30 states and U.S. territories and 18 countries outside of the U.S. The 57 men and women who earned doctoral degrees from Southwestern’s research doctoral and professional doctoral programs were the largest number of students to graduate with advanced degrees in one semester in the seminary’s history.
Grace, himself a two-time graduate of Southwestern, noted the number of alumni who have graduated from Seminary Hill who “have been faithful to the end” while also observing “there are others who no longer are fulfilling their calling or even following the Lord.” He said for graduates to “truly flourish” in ministry it “takes care and perseverance.” Grace provided what he called three practical words of advice for how to succeed in ministry.
First, Grace observed, graduates should build “rhythms,” or spiritual habits, into their lives.
“Spiritual habits bring the reminder of the truthfulness of God and His Word every day in our lives,” Grace noted. “Spiritual rhythms are necessary to be able to connect with that which is true, that which is good, and that which is beautiful — God Himself.”
Life and ministry can have trials, he said, but “when these trials come, you will be better able to sustain yourself by means of a well-trained, disciplined life.” He told graduates that the ability “to stand against” things in the world is characterized by prayer, Bible reading, praise, and “communal-ecclesial living.” Resist the temptation to “give up the daily tasks of devotion as the growing tasks of ministry press in,” he said.
“Protect your spiritual habits. Build healthy rhythms.”
Second, Grace said, is to “live according to your limits.” Reminding graduates of their limitations as created beings, Grace noted, “There are things that we cannot do, no matter how much we want to do them.”
God is “the uncreated one and we are created,” he said, adding: “[He] is the one whose power transcends natural laws, and we are the ones created to live by them. …
“As we do the work of ministry, in whatever capacity the Lord has given to each of us, we need not put pressures on ourselves that go beyond the created order,” Grace said. Those who take on more than they can handle do so at a cost.
“We often try to do the work of ministry on our own will, and are not dependent on His,” Grace said. “We confide in our strength only to see how weak we truly are. …
“The ministry or job you are a part of is not dependent on you, and it won’t fall apart because you took a break. In fact, the work you will do will be more effective with a rhythm of rest.”
Third and finally, Grace said, “Let Christ be the foundation of your life.”
“The work we are called to do is one that is built upon the work that is already victorious,” he said. “We have to stop fighting battles that He has already won.”
Luther’s hymn reads, “He must win the battle!” Grace reminded the graduates that as they leave Seminary Hill to engage in the Great Commission, they “must remember the whole endeavor is bookended by Jesus Christ.”
Jesus’ words to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 begins with “all authority has been granted to me in heaven and on earth” and concludes with “behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Grace reminded graduates.
“He has not called us to do a work on our own but He has called us to partner with Him as He completes his work on this earth,” he said. “The Word is above all the earthly powers and no thanks to these powers, and yet He empowers us to accomplish His work.”
Noting Luther’s lyric, “The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth,” Grace reminded the graduates, “Christ is with us at every turn, He does not leave us nor forsake us.
“If you are going to flourish in ministry, daily find your all in the One who has called and empowered you to do so.”
The commencement ceremony can be viewed here.