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Greatness defined by servanthood, NOBTS president tells 144 grads

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Though the tendency for graduates is to aspire to become great leaders with authority and power, the greatest leaders are those who become servants, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley told graduates on Dec. 15.

“The surest way, the path, to power is not a position or place of rulership or authority,” Kelley said. “It is the path of serving others. Those who serve the most will be given the greatest authority.”

At the Saturday morning service, Kelley conferred degrees on 144 students representing five ethnic groups, including four first-time graduates of a Vietnamese language group program led by Thang Nyguen at the seminary’s North Georgia campus.

There were also first-time master of divinity degree recipients in three new specializations: expository preaching, with the primary intent to provide training in the right proclamation of God’s Word as the primary task of the shepherd; people group strategies, with a focus on international missions strategy; and worship leadership, for worship leaders and church staff members with an interest and training in church music for ministry in local churches.

These new specializations are among 16 specializations in the seminary’s recently redefined curriculum based on core competencies that every minister needs to know in order to grow healthy churches.

In his charge to the graduates, Kelley shared the account in Matthew 20 of a mother’s request for Jesus to secure high positions in his kingdom for her sons.

“Moms will be moms,” said Kelley, acknowledging the optimistic pride that parents have for their children. Pulling an award medal from a Christmas shopping bag in front of him, he asked the parents assembled in Leavell Chapel, “Wouldn’t you just love it if I awarded your son or daughter as the most outstanding graduate in the history of the seminary?”

With similar emotion, the mother in Matthew’s account wanted to give both of her sons an equal chance to sit at Jesus’ right hand, the premiere place of honor, Kelley said. Having witnessed the transformation in their lives, she was quite content to keep her boys in the hands of Jesus, he said.

“You trust your children to Jesus, despite the lower salaries and rigorous schedules of their future ministry,” Kelley told the parents. “You know the blessing of seeing your children’s lives devoted to Jesus Christ,” he continued, describing the blessings of having children who are close to God, who value spiritual things and who want to devote their lives to fulltime ministry.

Typical of many Christian parents, the mother of Zebedee’s sons had confidence in whatever Jesus Christ had for them, Kelley said.

Examining the passage more closely, Kelley noted that the two sons were standing behind their mother, obviously encouraging her question. “Boys will be boys,” he said, noting that the interest of position and power in the church has a long history.

Knowingly, Jesus answered the mother in plural, the president explained. “‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus had said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?'” Though Jesus was speaking of the cross, the disciples readily affirmed that they could drink of the same cup, Kelley said.

To the graduates, he continued, “There is a cross in every believer’s life. You must commit yourself to taking up his cross daily and follow him.”

What the boys really wanted was a position of authority, Kelley said. Pulling from his Christmas bag a wooden staff that was a symbol of authority for an African tribal chief, he explained that the position of power and authority — “the pecking order” — of the world was not the same in the kingdom of God.

Pointing to the seminary’s core value of Characteristic Excellence (“What we do, we do to the utmost of our abilities and resources as a testimony to the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”), Kelley asked the graduates, “How can you be excellent as a leader? How did Jesus Christ become the focal point for every Christian on the earth?”

Kelley answered by quoting by memory the passage in Philippians 2, where Jesus emptied himself to become a man and became obedient even to the point of death. Therefore, God highly exalted him.

What led to the exaltation was the self-humiliation of Jesus, Kelley said.

Pulling a third object from his Christmas bag, Kelley held up an olive wood sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. “The one who created the heavens and the earth knelt at the very feet of a fisherman disciple.”

Then, pointing to the presidential medallion hanging from his neck, part of the regalia he wears for graduation services, Kelley affirmed that the one who is the greatest leader is not the one wearing the medallion. “It’s the one who doesn’t let the medallion get in the way of washing the feet of others,” he said.

To the graduates, he said, “The thing we want most for you is to be great … not to win an award, but to make a lifetime commitment to take up the towel. Not to exercise authority, but to allow Jesus himself to lead you.”

Then, pausing to look at the sculpture, he concluded, “He’s the one kneeling beside you now.”

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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