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New Orleans Seminary to enhance urban thrust of Nehemiah Project

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Trustee committees of both New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., met 500 miles apart Dec. 8 in their respective cities yet came to the same conclusion: NOBTS needs to be a part of NAMB’s new church-planting endeavor known as the Nehemiah Project.
NAMB’s Nehemiah Project, which now includes a five-year partnership agreement with NOBTS, seeks to bring about a dramatically higher percentage of seminary students graduating to become church planters across the United States.
For NOBTS, the agreement will have urban environments set as priority areas for new church starts, reinforcing New Orleans Seminary’s own commitment to establishing healthy urban churches.
“I am elated at the strategic alliance formed between New Orleans Seminary and NAMB,” said Bob Reccord, NAMB president.
“New Orleans is on the cutting edge of urban and ethnic ministry,” Reccord said. “The Nehemiah Project puts church planting front and center as both entities step into the 21st century.”
NAMB is working toward establishing the Nehemiah Project at all six of the SBC seminaries, as well as the Canadian Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Calgary.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said New Orleans Seminary is “deeply grateful to Dr. Reccord and NAMB for making an improved program of church planting possible through the Nehemiah Project.”
The SBC “cannot hope to evangelize our nation without dramatically increasing the number of churches we start and without starting a majority of those churches in the great cities of this country,” Kelley said.
“The setting of our campus in a city that is a crossroad for the world — and a city in which Southern Baptists are a minority — makes New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary a perfect laboratory for teaching church planting.”
This agreement, approved during the semiannual session of the NOBTS trustee executive committee, will strengthen several church planting opportunities already available to students at New Orleans Seminary, established by the SBC 81 years ago in the most urban setting of any of the six SBC seminaries.
Trustees last year approved two new master of divinity degrees with specializations in church planting, one in partnership with the SBC’s International Mission Board and the other with NAMB. Each degree program includes a funded two-year internship on the field.
In 1987, New Orleans Seminary became the first SBC seminary to establish an endowed professorial position in church planting, named in honor of Cecil B. Day, “an entrepreneur, compassionate Christian statesman and faithful Christian,” Kelley said. Day, the founder of the national Days Inn motel chain, had a passion for church planting, especially in the northeastern United States. Funding for the chair came to New Orleans Seminary through the efforts of NOBTS President Emeritus Landrum Leavell and former professor Jim Chavis. Day was from Norcross, Ga.
For nearly 20 years, many NOBTS students have participated in NAMB’s Praxis program, a 10-week summer internship to start churches in unchurched areas.
Through the Nehemiah Project, NAMB will provide resources for each seminary to hire a professor of church planting who also will be director of each seminary’s church-planting center. At each church-planting center, students will be prepared through education, hands-on training and mentoring to start healthy churches among North America’s unchurched people.
At NOBTS, because of the already established church-planting endowment fund, the center will be called the Cecil B. Day Center for Church Planting.
These church-planting directors, who all also will be fully appointed NAMB missionaries, will teach church-planting principles and will partner with the seminaries “to discover students with a calling, a giftedness, an ability and a temperament necessary for church planting,” said Steve Lemke, NOBTS provost.
NAMB also will provide stipends to assist students during church planting internships.
The name Nehemiah Project reflects the mission of an Old Testament prophet called by God to lead his people back to Jerusalem about 445 B.C. to rebuild the city walls destroyed by captors and to reform the nation’s spiritual life.
During this same NOBTS trustee meeting, Kenneth B. Weathersby of Jackson, Miss., was elected to head up New Orleans Seminary’s Nehemiah Project. As such, he will be both director of the Cecil B. Day Center for Church Planting and associate professor of church planting.
Through its Cecil B. Day Chair of Church Planting, New Orleans Seminary already has a nearly completed endowment in place to sustain a full-time professor in church planting after the completion of the five-year project. Only $250,000 is needed to complete funding on the Cecil B. Day Chair in Church Planting.

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  • Debbie Moore