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NOBTS’ ‘reinvented’ curriculum draws enthusiasm — and students

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–When New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary announced it had “reinvented seminary,” the plans were still on paper. After a month of classes, however, the plans are being put into practice with good results.
“This fall we implemented the most massive series of changes our seminary has ever attempted at one time,” said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley. “The wonderful response of students and the creative energy of the faculty has made it one of the best starts we have ever had, both in terms of registration members and campus spirit.”
In March of this year, NOBTS trustees, with applause and a standing ovation, approved a proposal for sweeping changes to the seminary’s degree programs and curriculum. The new curriculum was based on seven competencies: biblical exposition, Christian theological heritage, disciple making, interpersonal skills, servant leadership, spiritual and character formation, and worship leadership.
The competencies were the result of more than a year of intense study in which administrators and professors interviewed alumni, state Baptist convention directors and others in ministry. In the interviews, Kelley said the seminary wanted to find out what characteristics ministers lacked in their seminary preparation for ministry as well as what they wished they had been taught. The interviews resulted in not only a new curriculum, but in the addition of 15 new specializations, which seminary Provost Steve Lemke said has been a draw for this year’s new students.
“The competency-based M.Div. has been enormously popular, both from our students and from church leaders,” Lemke said. “In particular, the master of divinity specializations have been well-received. The primary reason a number of new students came to NOBTS this year was because they wanted to enroll in one of our new specializations.”
Of these competencies, however, Lemke said two especially have drawn the most appreciation from both students and ministers.
“The interpersonal skills competency was the number one concern that pastors, directors of missions and other church leaders said was missing in the seminary education of the past,” he said. “We designed several courses to help our graduates deal more effectively with people. The competency of spiritual and character formation, which is being taught primarily through faculty members mentoring a group of students for a year in prayer, Bible study and spiritual accountability, has added a welcome spiritual dimension to the academics of seminary education. In effect, we are going back to the Jesus model of teaching discipleship.”
The students are responding to the mentoring sessions as well. Jeff Audirsch, an M.Div. student from Winnfield, La., said the time with professors and fellow students is strengthening his walk with Christ.
“We’re a group of guys in an accountability group, basically,” he said. “It’s real open. It’s an hour of fellowship and prayer concerns — an hour’s worth of credit for being in a Bible study. He’s our professor, but he’s a leader in the fact that he controls the flow. He lets you read and then guides you to a deeper understanding of what you read.
“I enjoy it because you get to know the professor one-on-one. I know that if I ever take his other classes we have something more than just being in another one of his classes. He knows me as an individual. He knows my struggles,” Audirsch said.
The 15 specializations in the new master of divinity degree now encompass: biblical languages, biblical studies, Christian education, Christian thought, church music, church planting, evangelistic church growth, expository preaching, missions, pastoral care, pastoral ministry, people group strategies, psychology and counseling, urban missions, and worship leadership.
Audirsch, who is specializing in expository preaching, said the specializations are preparing him more specifically to do the ministry into which he was called.
“I think it’s good because you’re getting a concentrated degree,” he said. “You’re coming out of here fine-tuned to do what you’re called to do.”
Perry Hancock, associate dean of the graduate faculty and professor of discipleship, said the number one advantage of the new curriculum is, quite simply, balance.
“We now provide a balanced preparation for students to do ministry,” Hancock said. “No area is neglected. The competency-based curriculum provides a framework which allows students to conceptualize all aspects of their ministry. I think they are better able to see the connectedness of these various areas of study and are able to see how certain courses fit into their overall preparedness for ministry.”
Hancock noted several schools are taking a look at the changes instituted at the seminary.
“I have already received requests from other institutions interested in our approach,” he said. “I have been in dialogue with another seminary official who is including the basic concept in his planning for the coming year.”

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