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Reach, believe, endure–Kelley admonishes December graduates

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Ministers must reach, believe and endure “if you are going to have an impact on the kingdom of God, if you are going to see God do great and mighty things in your life,” Chuck Kelley charged graduates of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary during the mid-session commencement service Dec. 18.
“Those three words — reach, believe, endure — must be crystallized in your life and ministry, for you are going to need them to implement all the tools you obtained at seminary,” said Kelley, seminary president.
Speaking from a passage in Acts 20, “one of the most dramatic settings in the book of Acts,” Kelley said the Apostle Paul delivered “with a sense of purpose and heaviness of heart a last good-bye to the preacher-boys he had trained in Ephesus” as he was sailing on to Jerusalem.
First, “Reach for what is not there yet,” Kelley said, just as the Apostle Paul saw an opportunity to establish strong Christian churches in Ephesus and then throughout the province of Asia, despite the fact that Ephesus was an extremely pagan city.
Since currently 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining, Kelley said, “What you need to learn to do in your ministry is to look not only at what you have in the opportunity in front of you, but also at what you could have by the power and the grace of God.”
A specialist in issues and research related to church growth and church health, Kelley previously directed Southern Baptists’ first Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, located on the New Orleans Seminary campus. A professor of evangelism at New Orleans Seminary since 1983, Kelley is in demand across the country as a public speaker and writer. Upon his election as New Orleans Seminary’s eighth president in 1996, Kelley set the seminary’s target for “healthy churches,” for, he said, “the health of a seminary is determined by the health of the churches its graduates lead.”
Some of the graduates may be called to churches and situations with seemingly little promise, “and it’s going to be a great battle for you to even imagine God would want you to go to a place with that little promise.”
But “be willing to go to churches with a flat growth chart” and see in that church “a church that can learn to grow and be healthy,” Kelley said. “You have to be willing to reach for what isn’t there yet.”
Second, “Believe God can do something great through you,” he said.
The new “Prince of Egypt” film, released Dec.18 in theaters nationwide, vividly depicts the concept of a person struggling with, then believing, in what God has called a person to do, said Kelley, as the movie depicts the Old Testament story of Moses.
Kelley was part of the process of putting the movie together as evangelical scholars were called upon to look at the movie in the course of production “to make sure it was a biblically accurate portrayal of an important story in the Bible,” he said.
Just as Moses struggled with the idea that God wanted to use him to lead the people of Israel, Kelley urged graduates likewise, “You must believe in your heart that what God calls you to do he will enable you to do, no matter how big, no matter how complex, no matter how challenging.”
Thirdly, “Endure. Stay with doing what you know is right,” Kelley said, which he described as “more important than anything else you will ever learn in your ministry.”
The Apostle Paul kept on doing his ministry, even though at times it seemed not very productive “because he knew God was going to use it eventually,” Kelley said, repeating Paul’s charge to “not grow weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.”
The ability of a leader to endure “is often the difference in whether or not a church turns around,” Kelley said.
No work in ministry is easy or painless, he said. “If you do something great for the kingdom of God, it’s going to cost you everything you have in your life. You need to make the decision to do whatever God calls you to do, whatever it may cost, and be faithful all the way through to the end.”
The graduating class of the 81st annual mid-session graduation included 115 students, 50 of whom received master of divinity degrees.
Nine women composed the second group to complete the Southern Baptist Convention’s only certificate in women’s ministry program, designed to prepare women to minister to women through their local churches. Several of these women, as well as those who were in the first graduating class last May, will be in the new Advanced Women’s Ministry Certification Program, also available at New Orleans Seminary.
Five members of the graduating class were lay Hispanic men and women. Four completed the seminary’s Certificate in Pastoral Ministry Program, taught in Spanish at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Metairie, La., and one completed the Diploma in Pastoral Ministries Program, taught in Spanish at Wayside Baptist Church in Miami.
The graduating class also included seven receiving the associate in pastoral ministries degree, eight receiving the bachelor of general studies degree, six receiving the bachelor of arts degree, two receiving the master of music in church music degree, 11 receiving the master of arts in Christian education degree, six receiving the master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree, six receiving doctor of ministry degrees, one receiving the doctor of education degree and four receiving doctor of philosophy degrees.
As graduates left the platform after receiving a diploma case, each received a leather New American Standard Bible valued at $100, presented by Ed Bailey, representative from the Lockman Foundation. Kelley declared the gifts, given to December graduates at all six of the Southern Baptist seminaries, “a wonderful act of kindness from a Christian publisher.”

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  • Debbie Moore