HOUSTON (BP)–With sights set on improving theological education options for Texas Baptists, the executive board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention voted to establish an education commission in an Oct. 30 meeting after its fifth annual convention in Houston.
The education commission will oversee and implement the work of theological education as it relates to the SBTC. The state convention will encourage local churches and associations to assist with G.E.D. training. In addition, a 32-hour SBTC Bible certificate taught in English and Spanish will draw upon professors from Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A student may receive up to 30 hours credit at Criswell for classes taken through Seminary Extension or non-accredited Bible teaching centers when those courses are equivalent to Criswell catalog offerings and after completing 15 hours successfully through Criswell. While the first 30 hours may be taken in either Spanish or English, the remainder of the degree will be offered only in English.
Representation from the SBTC on the commission will be elected annually from the executive board. There will be equal representation from Criswell, Southwestern and the SBTC to constitute the six-member commission.
“The purpose of this is to create a partnership between the SBTC, Criswell, Southwestern, and then the passion is just to provide quality theological education that is accredited,” explained Deron Biles, SBTC’s staff liaison for the education commission. “We are so grateful for the cooperation of these that are a part of this. This is a groundbreaking opportunity, and we appreciate their cooperation.”
Biles also stated that various education sites will be located across the state including Southwestern Seminary extensions in San Antonio and Houston. Each site, Biles said, will have a director approved through the education commission responsible for observing areas of education and acting a resource person.
Through the work of the new education commission, another theological education element will be given impetus: the SBTC Hispanic Initiative.
The initiative addresses partnerships with theological institutions to support the education of Hispanics in Texas from the G.E.D. level through the Ph.D.
“It has been the passion of the SBTC to make one full year of training available in Spanish at several teaching centers across the state that may transfer toward a bachelor of arts at The Criswell College,” explained Rudy Hernandez, special assistant for Hispanic ministry, in a written report to board members.
Hernandez explained that any student receiving a 32-hour certificate of ministry will be encouraged to continue his or her education at Criswell College toward a bachelor of arts degree and ultimately at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary toward the master of divinity or possibly even a doctor of philosophy degree.
“We’d like to see 10 Ph.D. students and are already working toward that,” Biles added. “We have a number of individuals with which we are currently working.”
Although this initiative focuses on Hispanic Texans, Biles said there is potential for this theological education opportunity to be extended to other ethnic groups as well in the future.
SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told board members that the education commission will ensure conservative education is available to Texas Baptists.
“The problem has been in Texas and across the Southern Baptist Convention that seminary extension programs have been so localized that many of those teaching are not in agreement with the current Baptist Faith and Message statement or the direction of the SBC,” Richards said. “We are committed to providing a certification system; however, we are not funding things, but overseeing them. We are assisting in the extension sites by saying, ‘If this person is going to teach, then he must be in agreement with the BF&M.'”
Richards said the SBTC education commission will operate as a “promoter and a facilitator.”
Unanimous approval was given by the board to an executive committee recommendation for hiring two new ministers, Leroy Fountain of DeSoto, Texas, as urban church planting strategist, and Gibbie McMillan of Rogers, Ark., as missions services associate.
Fountain will develop and implement an urban and inner-city strategy that will result in planting churches that address multi-ethnic, multicultural, ministry-based and multihousing needs, in addition to transitioning communities and reclamation.
Fountain told board members he looks forward to creating new strategies to complement the SBTC church planting emphasis.
“In urban centers you can start a church in a storefront: that wouldn’t work out in East Texas,” Fountain explained. “You can start a church in some [different] places in the centers of Houston and Dallas, if God is in it and if we find the right people to move his program forward. I am exited about these things that may look funny and strange, but if we can do it in the name of God then that is exciting.”
Fountain also admitted that being an African American working for a traditionally white convention often occasions certain challenges, primarily within African American communities.
“In 1980, when I went to work with the SBC, there weren’t 3,000 [African American] congregations in the SBC,” he said. “The African American community would ask me, ‘Why are you doing this? Don’t you know who they are?’ My wife remembered this and said to me, ‘If you do this, we are going to have to do this all over again.’ But this is where the Lord has called us. I do appreciate you knowing that there is something of a cultural thing that happens, and I’m glad you are aware of that. Please keep us in your prayers.”
Fountain has served churches in Georgia and Alabama, most recently pastoring Southlawn Baptist Church in Montgomery from 1986-96. He served as marketing director of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1996 until the current year. He and his wife, Carolyn, have three daughters.
As missions services associate, McMillan will develop a disaster response system and volunteer “builders” network, coordinate chaplaincy ministry in cooperation with NAMB, establish specialized men’s evangelism projects and fellowships relating to individuals involved in areas such as aviation, legal, medical, ministry and agri-business, as well as assisting in providing Royal Ambassador training and other mission education for men and boys.
McMillan will also oversee the Mission Service Corps volunteer ministry and network with local churches, associations, SBC entities or affiliated parachurch ministries in providing ministry.
McMillan pastored churches in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, most recently serving as pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark., since 1997. From 1991-97 McMillan served on the SBC Executive Committee, held offices in the Pastors’ Conference of state conventions in Arkansas and Louisiana, and served in associational leadership roles.