KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — Proclaiming that the graduation ceremony and group of graduates were like no other on the planet, Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, presided over his first commencement exercises as the Kansas City, Mo., campus.
Allen said the graduation was altogether different from those in the secular academy because, in addition to being a day of celebration, it was a day of consequence.
“For those who are followers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we believe today — in a very real way — is a declaration of war on the kingdom of darkness,” Allen said Dec. 14. “We believe what is taking place is not the mere credentialing of graduates, but we are casting out into the domain of darkness Gospel warriors against the one who would seek to ruin them, their ministry and this institution.”
Before an overflow crowd in the seminary’s chapel auditorium, a mix of 36 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
In addition to presiding over the ceremony, Allen delivered the keynote address titled “Leading by Serving: The Paradox of Advancing in the Kingdom of Christ” from Mark 10:32-45. Allen said the passage is unique in that Jesus pulled His disciples aside and spoke to them about what it takes to be servants in His Kingdom.
Allen’s message focused on four aspects graduates should be mindful of as they become servant leaders for God’s Kingdom in the fight against darkness: Be prepared to suffer for the Kingdom; be submitted to the plan of the Kingdom; be focused on the way of the Kingdom; and be imitators of the King of the Kingdom.
Noting that the world is full of information about leadership and how everyone desires to be a leader, Allen said the passage from Mark is paradoxical to today’s ideal of leadership. The main thrust of the Scripture, Allen said, is that “the way up in the Kingdom is to advance through submission.”
“The way to climb is to stoop,” he said. “The road to success is often marked by sacrifice, service and suffering.”
Speaking of James and John’s request for places of eternal honor after Jesus announced that He would soon be brutally condemned to die, Allen said it was “juvenile, arrogant and insensitive … one of the most inappropriate requests in human history.”
He noted, though, that Jesus’ response of humility reflects the great contrast between the way of the world and the way of the Kingdom.
“I say to you this morning, graduates, that great contrast will dog you as long as you walk this planet: the way of the world, the way of the Kingdom; the mindset of the world, the mindset of the Kingdom; the aspirations of the world, the aspirations of the Kingdom,” Allen said.
Regarding servants suffering, Allen said graduates can expect to face cruel churches, difficult Christians and hostile unreached people groups.
“You must be ready to suffer, and a more sophisticated speaker would stand before you and encourage you to lead a mild-mannered ministry, a cautious life, to make strategic moves, to never do anything to hinder your resume, to never take a Gospel chance if it could come back to look as though you were ineffective in a difficult setting. I say to you ‘that’s bunk.'”
Allen emphatically added, “I say toss your resume to the wind, drink a six-pack of Red Bull, and preach the Gospel to everything that moves! We are here to be a people of God, advancing the Kingdom of Christ and prepared to march and launch [graduates] under the banner of the Gospel of Jesus.”
About focusing on the way of the Kingdom versus the way of the world, Allen said, “There is an inverted topography in the Kingdom. The world thinks of leadership as a pyramid with the strongest … on the top. In the Kingdom, the pyramid is inverted. Those who serve and lead are at the bottom and carry a burden of service and sacrifice for others.
“These are abiding words for our graduates and our institution,” he said. “This is, I declare, the Midwestern way — that we should be a people whose hearts, attitudes and dispositions are to serve one another and serve the Gospel as we prepare for ministry.”
Concluding his address, Allen said believers are to be imitators of the King of the Kingdom. In the passage, Jesus said He did not come to be served but to serve. He came to give His life as a ransom for many.
Allen told guests at the commencement that this example is what drives the graduates sitting before them.
“These graduates aren’t going to get a job or career for financial gain,” he said. “They are going, in essence, in the words of Bonhoeffer, ‘to die.’ What is calling them to that? It’s because they perceive in their heart what Jesus has done. He has ransomed them from their sin … and they’re going to spread that message to others.”
Also during the graduation ceremony, Allen commended Robin Hadaway, associate professor of missions, for his service as interim president of Midwestern from February to October.
“He led with grace, godliness, wisdom and strength,” Allen said, adding of Hadaway and his wife Kathy, “Midwestern Seminary appreciates the two of you more than you can ever know. On behalf of this institution, we love you, thank God for you and we celebrate you this day.”
T. Patrick Hudson is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).