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Hemphill exhorts grads to embody God’s name & mission in service

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Of the 288 graduates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 205th commencement May 10, only one received her diploma and a kiss from the seminary’s president.

Kenneth S. Hemphill, who is leaving Southwestern to become national strategist for the SBC’s “Empowering Kingdom Growth” initiative, awarded a master of arts in missiology degree to his wife, Paula, while presiding over his final commencement ceremony.

Focusing on the content on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Hemphill called the graduates to make God’s Kingdom purposes their principal aim in their future ministries. He reminded the graduates that “our responsibility as a graduating class, our responsibility individually and personally, is to make disciples of all the nations. It [the Great Commission] is our invitation to join Him in His eternal purpose.”

Hemphill emphasized the repetition of the word “all” in the Great Commission in connection with Jesus’ authority, His desire for the globalization of the Gospel, and His presence for all time.

“We notice that this commission is bracketed by mention of His authority and His presence. … As you go to do the task that God has called you to do, whether it’s here on North American soil or it’s around the world, remember that the authority you have is His authority,” Hemphill said.

Hemphill also said that although family members of graduates might be unsure why their loved ones had chosen a seminary education and perhaps unsure of the message of salvation itself, that the message of the Gospel and its transmission are of utmost importance. He then presented the Gospel to guests at the commencement.

“The reason these students are here is because of this comprehensive message. There is no task that exceeds the task that was given to us by the Lord Himself, and that is to preach the Gospel to all the nations,” Hemphill said.

The investment made by those committed to a life of vocational ministry is a lifelong “comprehensive investment” that focuses always on fulfilling the Great Commission, he said.

To the graduates, Hemphill said, “You may be asking, ‘How long do I stay faithful to this task?’ The answer is all the days.

“You see His presence, His authority, His mission, become intertwined. The church must continually evaluate all that it does, all of its programs — ministry, outreach, music and whatever else — and ask the question, ‘Does it have Great Commission focus?’ The question becomes even more essential in each individual, ‘Are you on mission with God?'”

Hemphill closed his address with a bold challenge for graduates to see their Kingdom investments not as a sacrifice but as a privilege and to reflect the light and the glory of Christ.

“God’s Kingdom activity is going everywhere you are all the time. If we would simply sensitize ourselves to the activity of God, the ministry opportunities you will face will be so abundant you cannot imagine. There is no sacrifice to what we do. I challenge you to embody His name, embrace His mission, enact His will and enjoy His presence always,” Hemphill said.

Paula Hemphill became the second wife of a sitting Southwestern president to earn a degree from the seminary. She completed a master’s thesis on ministry to Muslim women titled, “Removing the Veil: Prayer, Power and Proclamation as Strategy to Reach Muslim World.”

Hemphill said her role at Southwestern has been principally to minister to women, and her longtime passion for missions, combined with her calling to women, influenced the topic for her thesis.

“I care about women. I’ve ministered to women now for my whole adult life, that’s been my call …,” she said. “And I think women have particular needs, and [the Apostle] Paul tells us in Titus, for the older women to nurture the younger women, to teach them. I feel very strongly that that’s a biblical model.”

Her nurturing of younger women, and particularly student wives, at Southwestern took place primarily within the structure of Metochai, a student wives organization.

“Along the way, I taught the student wives and we developed a 12-hour curriculum for the student wives,” delving into such personal development areas as money management, time management, spiritual formation, missions and spiritual gifts. The president’s wife has been the permanent sponsor for Metochai since its founding in 1939.

Hemphill said she hopes her degree will be an asset as she aids her husband in advancing the SBC’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis. “We hope and pray that in this new job that Ken’s involved in we’ll both have opportunities to continue to mobilize people to care about the world,” she said.

Among the students joining Hemphill as she graduated was David Shivers, a former professional basketball player whose time with the Washington Generals took him overseas and made him a regular opponent of the Harlem Globe Trotters, and Dana Watson, a prodigy of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes.

Shivers, who has attended basketball camps with the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs and is the son-in-law of SBC Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins, currently serves as minister of young married adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. He continues his efforts as “an itinerant basketball missionary” by his participation in “Hoop it Up” three-on-three tournaments held concurrently with the annual NBA All-Star game.

Watson entered the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes facility in Mobile at age 10 and today is “a good example of how the church can impact lives,” said Bob Murdaugh, director of communications for the ministry. Watson, supported by Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile while attending seminary, is the subject of a documentary being produced by the children’s homes.

William Tolar, distinguished professor of biblical archeology and special consultant to the president, concluded the commencement by recognizing the Hemphills for nine years of service and leadership at the seminary. He called them onto the platform for a final prayer of blessing.

“For nine years he [Hemphill] has given us the leadership of a scholar’s mind, a pastor’s heart and the soul of an evangelist,” Tolar said. “Mrs. Hemphill has given us the graciousness of a first lady. We cannot come to the closing prayer in this last graduation for this wonderful couple without having a very special prayer for them as they engage upon a new program in their lives.

“God has called them to lead between 30,000 and 40,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention in empowering Kingdom churches so that every church in the convention might have a new vision of our world, and all nations and all peoples will come and might know the grace of Jesus Christ.

“It is an awesome opportunity,” Tolar said, “and an awesome responsibility.”

“You go with our profound love, you go with our eternal gratitude for nine years of wonderful leadership,” Tolar told the Hemphills.

Degrees were conferred on 288 students at the commencement, including 234 master’s degrees from the school’s 25 master’s degree programs, 27 diploma studies degrees and seminary extension program certificates, and 28 doctoral degrees.

Students from 40 states and 45 countries are enrolled at Southwestern. More than 64,000 students have enrolled since it was founded in 1908. More than 38,000 have earned degrees.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SPECIAL GRADUATE.

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  • Gabriel Verrone