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Patterson becomes ‘guest speaker’ in chapel where he presided for a decade

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–With tears and laughter, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students said goodbye to their former president with a special chapel service.

Paige Patterson was the “guest speaker” Aug. 21 in the same chapel where he had presided three times a week for more than a decade. This time, it was the seminary’s interim president, Bart Neal, Patterson’s close friend, who presided, and it was Patterson who brought an inspirational message from the Word of God.

Patterson’s message from Joshua 1 was his final challenge to his “children,” as Patterson used to refer to the student body at Southeastern. He became president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 1.

During the service — his first chance to speak to the student body since he left Southeastern — Patterson assured the students that apart from the will of God directing him to Fort Worth he would have been blessed to stay at Southeastern for the remainder of his ministry.

The students responded to Patterson’s words with appreciation of their own, giving Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, several standing ovations in recognition of their service to the seminary.

“Thank you, Dr. and Mrs. Patterson, for letting the Lord use you to work a miracle at Southeastern,” Neal said.

Through Patterson’s leadership, God built one of the strongest theological faculties anywhere; the seminary also more than tripled its enrollment to record numbers and started an undergraduate program, Southeastern College at Wake Forest. If there was one message that the “homecoming” service sent, it was that Patterson leaves behind an institution more vibrant than at any other time in its 52-year history.

Patterson called the standing-room only crowd of students at Binkley Chapel a “benediction to my soul.” His message was an assurance that, despite his absence, the best is yet to come for Southeastern.

“In the annals of time, men come and go. Men rise and fall,” he said. “The victory that is provided never lies in any human leader. It lies in the Lord Himself.”

The Lord’s promise to Joshua after the death of Moses, Patterson said in his message from Joshua 1, provides a glimpse at the way God works even after great leaders and godly men depart from the scene.

The measure of a leader, he reminded the students, is not rooted in worldly notoriety but in the grace and mercy of God.

“We are servants of God and we are to be faithful to Him,” Patterson preached. “That is the measure of a leader.”

As is common for Patterson, he exhorted the students to remain faithful to God’s Word. With the faculty, Patterson fashioned a curriculum at Southeastern that puts a premium on knowledge of the original biblical languages and an emphasis on straightforward, expository preaching of the Word, believing that is the only way to build a healthy church.

“Let the [worldly] preachers of our day build their congregations with their own best thoughts,” Patterson told his chapel audience. “You preach the Word of the Lord. Expound it day-by-day, verse-by-verse and precept-by-precept.

“When they say to you, ‘Our world doesn’t want to hear that anymore,’ you get out there on that street corner and you faithfully preach the Word of the Lord.”

Patterson ended with an instruction to prepare for the long haul of ministry, not the short sprint.

“The question is not how you come out of the blocks,” he said. “Many who are fast out of the blocks don’t have the stamina to stay in the race. The issue is how you finish the race. Prepare now to run a very long, vigorous, tiring race. Run it for the glory of God to the very end.”

The chapel service was one part reminiscence and one part roast. Patterson was famous for the pranks and jokes he would perpetrate on administrators and faculty members. Students often came to chapel during the Patterson years expecting to laugh.

They were not disappointed as Patterson was the target this time around. He was chided for his overuse of the air conditioning system in Binkley Chapel, having the building infamously cold during services, and for his well-known passion for big-game hunting.

“When we watch the Crocodile Hunter or the National Geographic Channel, you are gone but not forgotten,” Neal joked, as Patterson laughed.

But the recognition did not stop with the jokes. One of the constant themes of Patterson’s presidency was an emphasis on missions and evangelism. In recent years, Southeastern has become known for producing missionaries intent on going to unreached people groups in the most difficult parts of the earth.

“When we hear the rejoicing of our church planting students over souls saved and lives changed from New England to California, from the Far East to Africa,” Neal told Patterson, “you are gone but not forgotten.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ‘GUEST SPEAKER,’ SIGNING IN and RETURN VISIT.

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  • Jason Hall