LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Eleven years ago, R. Albert Mohler Jr. knew what one of his priorities must be as the newly elected president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: sound biblical training in the areas of evangelism and church growth.
One year after Mohler’s inauguration as the seminary’s ninth president — during which he set forth his vision for a school of missions and evangelism — the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth held its first classes.
The Graham School began with 42 students and six professors. As the school marks its 10th anniversary, it has grown to more than 700 students and sent out some 1,000 graduates to work in churches and on mission fields across the globe.
“I can think of no more opportune moment than this to imagine what, in the space of 10 short years, God has done through the Billy Graham School,” Mohler said. “It is now a fixture. What a great blessing it is to see something move from a concept to an institution, to a fixture of evangelical conversation. This is the Lord’s doing.”
Mark Terry, professor of Christian missions and evangelism, was a member of the Graham School’s founding faculty. At an Oct. 4 banquet marking a decade of service by the Graham School, Terry recalled the school’s early days on the seminary’s Louisville, Ky., campus.
“I can remember that first year when we got an applicant who contacted the department of admissions and asked for admission to the Billy Graham School, we’d rejoice,” Terry said. “We were counting them one by one. Now they bring over stacks of folders with students applying for admission.
“We planted and we watered, but God gave the increase and the Billy Graham School has grown, I believe, because of a passion for missions and evangelism at home and around the world.”
Graham School dean Thom Rainer has witnessed the school’s expansion to include numerous degree programs and continuous groundbreaking research. Mohler hired the Alabama pastor as the school’s founding dean in early 1994. Rainer has written a number of books on biblical church growth, including “The Unchurched Next Door” and “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched.”
During the banquet, Rainer set forth various areas of focus critical to the continued success and growth of the school, including a commitment to teaching biblical church growth and biblical theological education; developing new constituencies and innovative delivery systems for education and programs; and shoring up evangelism within the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Rainer also noted a goal for Southern to be viewed as a “showcase seminary” by the International Mission Board.
The growing work of the Graham School a “team effort,” the dean said.
“These last 10 years have been incredible,” he said. “It is hard to believe that a little over 10 and a half years ago I first set foot on this campus and began to organize a school that would become the Billy Graham School.
“There is no way that this dream that has been mine would have become a reality unless it had been the dream of so many other professors. From the onset, God has blessed us with men who have incredible gifts. These men who serve alongside me today, I am convinced, are the best that there is in Great Commission studies anywhere in the world. It has definitely been a team effort. Above all, I believe this has been to God’s glory.”