KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A doctor of ministry program specifically for Spanish speakers at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary aims at producing more Christian leaders for the growing number of Hispanic churches needed in the United States.
Led by Gustavo Suarez as the program’s director, the Hispanic D.Min. launched in 2008 with a class of eight students who now are in the dissertation phase of the program. Last August, the second group – encompassing 10 students — began their coursework on the seminary campus.
Suarez said the doctoral program focuses on two main objectives: to train church planters and to build church leaders. The Hispanic doctor of ministry degree entails the same coursework as the regular D.Min. except the program is fully in Spanish. Students fulfill pre-seminar work before arriving on campus for a week of intense studies.
Students participating in the program represent a variety of countries, including Guatemala, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Honduras. In the United States, students come from Florida, Texas, New York, Missouri and California.
“Most of the students are pastors and denominational leaders, which creates a unique atmosphere among the students in the program,” Suarez said. “With their diverse points of view, they are able to dialogue ideas and act as ‘iron sharpening iron.'”
Midwestern is the only Southern Baptist seminary offering the D.Min. degree specifically for Spanish speakers, which supports the seminary’s commitment to reaching students who desire foreign language tracks. In addition to the Hispanic doctoral program, Midwestern offers a Korean program that has about 120 students enrolled.
Suarez is the only Hispanic professor on campus, but several professors from around the country assist in teaching the courses. They include Bob Sena, who previously served with the North American Mission Board; Joe Hernandez, who holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and was formerly with NAMB; Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention; and Daniel Sanchez, a professor of missions at Southwestern Seminary.
“Each of these professors brings uniqueness and expertise to the Hispanic D.Min. seminars. They all have vast experience in missions toward Hispanics and other ethnic groups,” Suarez said. “This wide range of experience affords the doctoral candidates the foundation to effectively minister in their respective environments.”
Suarez is hopeful future D.Min. students will become active participants in academia by writing their own materials.
“Back when I started my ministry in 1978, Southern Baptists were beginning to write Sunday School materials and books in Spanish, but they were mostly translations from English versions. Then in the mid-80s, we went through a phase where many of the Spanish materials were written by Hispanics. Unfortunately, we are beginning to go back to translations,” Suarez said. “This is unacceptable, because now we have more Hispanics who are qualified to write their own books. It is important that we write our own materials for the comprehension and understanding of those we are trying to reach.”
Luiz Mendoza, a second-year student in the dissertation phase of the program, said the curriculum has helped him prepare for future ministry work.
“The Hispanic doctoral program has been an excellent opportunity for a person like me. Even though we are fluent in English, we feel more comfortable expressing our thoughts and ideas in our heart language,” Mendoza said. “The program has provided us with some unique tools that have helped us to increase our leadership, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. All these processes have helped us become more capable leaders.”
Mendoza added, “Many Hispanics residing in the United States might lack the ability to complete a doctoral program in English. With the ever-rising need for workers who speak Spanish, it’s important that Hispanics have the opportunity to choose the language in which they pursue their education. This will enable them to more practically apply what they’ve learned once they have completed their training.”
Suarez sees a bright future for the Hispanic D.Min. program and expects it to continue to grow as some of the graduating students return to assist in teaching. As the availability of Hispanic teachers increases, so does the capacity to educate more students.
“Out of these first students that will be graduating soon, some will be available to return and assist in the teaching,” Suarez said. “The goal is to keep multiplying, and the Lord has blessed us with this program to continue reaching the Hispanic world for Jesus Christ.”
SUTTON JOINS STAFF AS DEAN — Former pastor Jerry Sutton has joined the executive staff of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as interim dean and vice president of academics, succeeding Jerry Johnson, who assumed the presidency of Criswell College last fall.
R. Philip Roberts, Midwestern’s president, will recommend Sutton to trustees in April; if approved, the word “interim” will be dropped from his title.
A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sutton earned a Ph.D. in church history with minors in preaching and Greek New Testament. He served as pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., from 1986-2008 and has taught courses at multiple Southern Baptist seminaries, including an adjunct professorship at Midwestern.
In 2005, Sutton was elected first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Since his retirement from Two Rivers, he has served as associate professor of Christian proclamation and pastoral theology at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School in Lynchburg, Va. He also has served as a trustee of LifeWay Christian Resources and as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.
Sutton wrote an account of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, “The Baptist Reformation.” He has published a resource for individuals seeking spiritual rededication titled “The Way Back Home,” and his latest publication, “A Matter of Conviction: A History of Southern Baptist Engagement with the Culture,” is a historic description and centennial commemoration of the denomination’s interaction with American culture.
“Dr. Sutton is an accomplished writer, theologian, pastor and preacher who has been simultaneously gifted with a unique skill for administration,” Roberts said. “His talents have benefitted the SBC on both the local and national levels, and we’re grateful that he’s decided to bring his passion and dedication to Midwestern.”
Sutton said he is eager to fulfill his duties.
“Anytime that I’ve ever been a professor, I’ve expected excellence from myself,” Sutton said. “I’ve had hundreds of staff members in my 32 years as a senior pastor, and I’ve always expected excellence from them. I think that academic excellence is the norm here, too, and I want to make sure that the education our students get is second to none.”
In addition to supporting the current structure of seminary programs, Sutton hopes to continue the expansion of Midwestern’s legacy.
“I realize I have a large responsibility of sharpening and maintaining our focus on what we’re doing already, but I want to take part of my time, energy and influence and try to add a few things to it if possible,” Sutton said. “I want to do everything that I can to help strengthen the faculty we have and to help Dr. Roberts build the faculty we need.”
Sutton emphasized the urgency of the Gospel message.
“The attitude where I’ve been at Liberty is: ‘We’re here to reach the world for the Gospel,'” Sutton said. “I think that every seminary worth its salt ought to act as though they’re the only ones getting the job done, giving everything they can to make that happen.”
D.J. Castilleja and Austin Mayfield write for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.