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Midwestern poised for ‘next level’ in glorifying God, Roberts says

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–In his fourth year as president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, R. Philip Roberts recapped a year of “exciting” growth in student headcount and donor support during his annual state of the seminary chapel address Jan. 26.

Noting that riders in the Tour de France bicycle race use a sacrificial team concept to protect, support and ultimately help their leader win the race, Roberts said the leader at Midwestern is not him.

“Let me tell you who the team leader is here. It isn’t you, it isn’t me, it isn’t the trustees, it isn’t the faculty,” Roberts said. “It’s the glory of God as expressed through the ministry of Midwestern Seminary.

“We should do anything and everything we can to make sure that God’s will is done in this place.”

In light of the increase in headcount and donor support, Roberts said he wants to take the seminary to the “next level for the glory of God.” In giving a report of what is taking place at the 47-year-old seminary, Roberts reflected on the seminary’s history and the challenges it faced when he became its president in 2001.

“It’s not a matter of guessing that the seminary started with somewhat of a leftward tilt,” said Roberts, noting that the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message was propelled by a book written by a former Midwestern professor doubting the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Roberts noted that when he arrived at Midwestern, deferred maintenance on the campus property was estimated at $1-1.5 million; an $800,000 bank note was due in two years; and an accreditation review was forthcoming in a year and a half, and as part of that review the accreditation team would want to see a bigger library than the seminary had in 1992.

Roberts also mentioned how rumors had surfaced during his tenure that Midwestern was not viable.

“A little less than two years ago, there were a few, if I may use the word, ‘cynics’ that decided to clip the wings of Midwestern Seminary,” Roberts said of rumors circulating about closing the seminary down due to student enrollment numbers not being higher.

“If the issue is numbers, we can solve that in a hurry,” Roberts said. “Let’s close her down in Kansas City and start it up in Atlanta, Ga. In a few years, we’d have 1,500 students.”

But, Roberts said, that goes against the very reason the seminary was established in Kansas City.

“They [Southern Baptists] were thinking, ‘We need to be in the Midwest. We want a school outside the Bible belt. And we want to have a presence out there on the cutting edge of our culture and country to say we’re committed to training ministers of the Gospel and missionaries for the world in context in a place where there isn’t that kind of witness and that kind of ministry.’ And that’s why I’m convinced we’re absolutely where the Lord wants us to be,” Roberts said, noting his gratitude to the Southern Baptist Convention to provide a seminary in Kansas City.

Turning his attention to current happenings at the seminary, Roberts listed Midwestern’s “world-class faculty” that continues to be a noted bright spot for most students’ experience. The faculty is “clearly united on the essentials of the faith,” he said, and “committed to the teaching task … and teaching the Word of God.”

Roberts reported that Midwestern reached a record student headcount during the 2003-04 academic year of 794 in class.

“We’re not satisfied but we’re pleased that we are moving in the right direction,” Roberts said of fulltime equivalent enrollment figures which have grown the past three years and are now over 300.

Midwestern’s doctoral program, which offers two degrees, the doctor of ministry and doctor of educational ministry, now has more than 100 students. And in its second semester of existence, Midwestern Baptist College, SBC, the undergraduate school of the seminary, has 104 enrolled in classes.

Roberts said an accreditation team will arrive on campus in May to review Midwestern’s proposed bachelor of arts program. The school currently offers an associate of divinity degree and already has two dedicated professors and an instructor in place.

The seminary also had a record year in institutional development, led by former Southwest Baptist University President Jim Sells, with more than $460,000 donated for support of capital projects. And in 2005 thus far, more than $40,000 has been donated.

“We hope that kind of pace will continue throughout the year and the Lord will continue to rain down his blessings upon us,” Roberts said.

Donor support helped the seminary complete phase-one renovations “debt-free” in the William Koehn and Martha Myers Center for World Evangelism, the seminary’s 35,000-square-foot former retreat center named after the Midwestern alumni and missionaries who were martyred in Yemen in 2002.

“Bill Koehn and Martha Myers will be memorialized in that center,” Roberts said. “That’s the kind of heritage we want to keep going.”

Roberts asked for the continued prayers of the faculty, staff and student body throughout the year. Then he challenged students to “keep doing your best in the classroom,” “be an aggressive witness for Jesus Christ,” be faithful in chapel attendance, help make the campus “sparkle,” practice the principles of Matthew 18 and “encourage one another.”

“We ought to give God our best, so that when the day comes when you and I pass on the baton to the next generation of students and faculty and leaders, the next president can thank God for the fact that we were obedient,” Roberts said.

In the upcoming year, Roberts said, “We look forward to seeing what God and only God can do.”

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  • Cory Miller