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Saddleback, Golden Gate launch partnership for educating laity

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. (BP)–Designed to “multiply leaders for ministry,” Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Saddleback Church in Mission Viejo, Calif., have launched a partnership offering graduate theological education and ministry training for lay leaders.
Noting such a partnership is not business as usual for most theological seminaries, Golden Gate President William O. Crews said it is part of a growing effort to move theological education back into the church. “With the vision of Golden Gate Seminary centered in the importance of the local church, this is part of our heritage and it is the place where in the future we will see our greatest success,” Crews said. “We are coming here because it’s where we belong.”
During a Jan. 10 ceremony at Saddleback Church, Crews recalled Golden Gate Seminary began in 1944 with leaders establishing a school “in a church, by the church, for the church.”
Golden Gate is one of six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and the only SBC agency in the western United States, with a residential campus near San Francisco, a 200-student regional campus in southern California and three other regional campuses. Saddleback is the second-largest church in the nation.
The church-seminary partnership allows for seminary faculty members to teach graduate-level biblical, historical and theological courses that train Saddleback members for “church leadership, Christian living, ministry effectiveness and mission preparation” on location at the Saddleback facilities. The courses and supervised experiences lead to the master of arts in theological studies.
Currently, only half of the courses leading to the 48-hour degree will be offered at Saddleback. When students successfully complete that course rotation, they will receive a certificate of biblical studies and a certificate of historical/theological studies from “Saddleback Church Seminary.” Students wanting to earn the full master of arts in theological studies from Golden Gate must complete the remaining classes at the seminary’s Southern California Campus in Brea, located near Saddleback.
Saddleback pastor Rick Warren listed six hallmarks of the seminary-church partnership:
— Biblical. “We are committed to the inerrancy of God’s Word. It is the bedrock on which we base everything else.”
— Christ-centered. “That is a characteristic of any good seminary. It’s got to be honoring to Christ.”
— Theological. “It’s going to teach the basic truths of Scripture. I believe in the core curriculum of seminaries … that give you a breadth and depth, because today we are having a lot of churches that are started that really have no idea of how the church has gone in the last 2,000 years. They think everything God is doing has happened in the last 20 years.”
— Purpose-driven. “If the seminary is to equip people to work in the church, then we have to equip them for the five purposes of the church. So we’ve got to equip them to be strong in worship, strong in discipleship, strong in evangelism, strong in ministry and strong in how to build a fellowship of believers.”
— Church-based. “If we could help people see that the reproduction of seminary education does not have to be campus-based, but has to be wherever people are, then we will reach more people, we will be better stewards and we will make better use of the church buildings all over America. In the 21st century, one of the ‘new wineskins’ is off-campus, church-based seminary education where the people are.”
— Based on strategic partnership. “The typical thing is when a church gets this size, they do their own thing. What we need to do is bring to the table what a church of this strength has and bring to the table what a seminary has and take the best of both and make a hybrid that’s never been done before.”
Although the partnership is geared initially for lay leaders at Saddleback, Warren and seminary leaders hope the to develop a partnership model that can be reproduced in churches around the world.
“What we’re doing here is trying to model a whole new approach to theological education,” Warren said. “This is a model that can be repeated over and over, city after city, first in America and then overseas. … This is going to be big.”
Sam Simmons, director of the seminary’s Southern California Campus, has been working out details of the partnership with Saddleback leaders over the last year. He taught some of the seminary’s pilot courses at Saddleback.
“The viability of the 21st-century seminary will depend on its partnership with the local church,” Simmons said. “It’s part of a revolution that recognizes the legitimacy of lay ministry and narrows the gap that exists in most churches between spectators and the leaders.”
Simmons believes this new effort is more than an extension of seminary programs on a church campus: “This is a church and seminary working together to address the church’s leadership training needs. It sets seminary education within its original context of accountability, establishes its true context of relevance and affirms its real context of purpose.”
Near the end of the Jan. 10 event, Warren and Crews commissioned the inaugural class of Saddleback students, which begins its first course of study next month.
Warren paid tribute to Crews and the seminary’s faculty and trustees for being open to “new opportunities and to allow for change.”

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  • Cameron Crabtree