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Kelley praises the faithfulness of God during New Orleans Seminary graduation

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–On the 20th anniversary of his own graduation from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s doctoral program, President Chuck Kelley shared a testimony of God’s faithfulness with the 141 members of this spring’s graduating class.

“The difficulty of circumstances is not a comment on what God is intending to do with your life, because every life has difficult circumstances,” Kelley told the students receiving master’s and doctoral degrees during the May 17 service. “If you have not had difficult circumstances here, you will find them along the road, but you will discover that God is faithful.”

When Kelley sensed God’s call into evangelism, he naturally looked for a seminary with a strong, well-established evangelism program. He was surprised when God began leading him to attend New Orleans Seminary, which only offered one course in evangelism at the time.

Despite his reservations, Kelley obeyed God’s call to New Orleans. Early on, he and his wife, Rhonda, faced a difficult situation in their family. Kelley wanted to quit, but in this darkest of hours, God proved Himself faithful.

Kelley went on to earn his master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from NOBTS. With the city of New Orleans as a lab, he learned about evangelism on the hard streets of the French Quarter.

“God began to show me that it was possible to lead people to Christ in the midst of an environment like the French Quarter,” he said, “and that He was working in the hearts and lives of people in a city like this.”

An ironic twist to Kelley’s story illustrates God’s perfect planning and perfect timing. Shortly after he graduated, Kelley was asked to join the NOBTS faculty and help build a comprehensive evangelism program.

“God does have a sense of humor, but more than anything, God is faithful,” Kelley said. “I thought He was taking me away from the passion of my heart when He led me here, but He was taking me deeper into that passion than I had ever been before.”

In closing, Kelley encouraged the graduates to be ambassadors of the Gospel. “Take it with you as you go to the ends of the earth,” he said.

The 85th annual commencement ceremony was marked by several seminary firsts. Three new degree programs were represented at graduation: the master of arts in missiology, master of arts in theology and master of arts in worship ministries degrees.

Perry Hancock, dean of graduate studies, introduced the new degree programs and gave a brief explanation of each. Hancock noted that the master of arts in missiology prepares students for a variety of missionary tasks. Students may choose to write a thesis, design a ministry project, complete an internship or participate in specialized mission study as a part of their coursework. April Ann Erwin became the first recipient of this degree.

The master of arts in theology equips students for further research degrees in theological studies, Hancock said. It is a foundational degree for those who wish to pursue teaching, research or writing in the field of theology. The first graduates of the program were Christopher Kelly Salmon and Jason Boone Sampler.

Blending biblical, theological and ministerial studies with focused training in worship leadership and music, the master of arts in worship ministries prepares students for local church service. The curriculum equips recipients of this degree to hold various positions in worship leadership such as pastor, minister of music or worship team leader. Michael Alton Barber and Billy Joe Holland Jr. became the first graduates in the new program.

The seminary’s undergraduate school, Leavell College, held a separate commencement ceremony May 16, with Kelley conferring 114 certificates, associate degrees and baccalaureate degrees. Leavell College, named after the family of two former NOBTS presidents, offers fully accredited bachelor’s degrees in Christian ministry and church music, associate degrees and ministry certificates.

“The Bible’s offer of salvation, eternal life and forgiveness for sin through Jesus Christ is an offer extended to all people, of all nations,” Kelley said during the Leavell College ceremony. “The only requirement is faith in Jesus Christ.

“The love of God so fills the heart and life of those who believe that they literally become someone they have never been before,” he said. “You have been led of God to this place to learn that simple message in all of its depth and detail … that you might explain that message to all the peoples of the world.”

The graduating classes of NOBTS and Leavell College consisted of students who completed their academic requirements during the spring semester and those who will do so during the summer term.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GO YE THEREFORE and GRADUATION DAY.