NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“The miracle on the Mississippi continues, exclaimed Chuck Kelley, as he summarized for trustees all that was happening on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus during their regular spring meeting on March 12-13 in the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health.
Kelley shared the good news of record seminary student enrollment, the initiation of a major building program with the first new student housing to be built in over 30 years, and nearing achievement of the base goal for the New Horizons campaign with the trustees. With last year’s enrollment exceeding 3,000 students for the first time in seminary history, Kelley was pleased to report that this year’s enrollment is on a pace to set a new record. The seminary’s church-focused, competency-based curriculum has continued to attract students in record numbers.
Moreover, Kelley reported that nearly $7.5 million has been raised in pledges and cash in the first phase of the New Horizons: Equipping Leaders to Change the World campaign, the seminary’s fund-raising effort to revitalize the campus and provide for a multitude of student needs.
The New Horizons campaign was launched publicly one year ago. Remarkably, the $8 million base goal for the three-year Phase I has almost been reached, despite the fact that the alumni campaign and the New Orleans, Atlanta, and other city campaigns have not officially begun.
Telling the trustees to hold onto their construction hats, Kelley shared how NOBTS is near completion in the building of the Nelson Price Center for Urban Missions, a new 32-room dormitory named in honor of NOBTS alumnus and long-time Georgia pastor Nelson Price. The Price Center is to be used for housing participants in MissionLab, a program matching the interests and abilities of senior adult, student, family and youth groups with mission opportunities in the New Orleans area.
True to the seminary’s original calling to be a “lighthouse” for the city of New Orleans, the MissionLab program at NOBTS has grown substantially, Kelley shared. In its first year, 900 students participated in hands-on missions in New Orleans. This summer over 3,200 youth will be involved in 40 different locations around the city. This spring over 300 collegians will be involved in missions, with a projected 700 students to be involved next year. Similarly, over 700 senior adults will be involved in MissionLab, a huge increase from the original group of 40-plus seniors.
In addition, Kelley shared that construction has already begun on three new student-housing buildings with 36 four-bedroom apartments. Built for families of multiple children, at least one building of these new four bedroom student apartments, centrally located on campus, will be available by fall semester, he said. Not only has record student enrollment created the need for new student housing, but the seminary’s gymnasium has been renovated in response to the recreation needs of the growing population on the New Orleans campus.
Building upon the seminary’s aim to give students training in specific areas of ministry, the trustees also approved four new Master of Arts degrees. Two of the new degrees, in theology and biblical studies, are designed to prepare students for research doctorate studies and subsequent teaching or research positions. The other two new Master of Arts degrees in missiology and worship ministries are designed to equip students for specific ministry callings. The missiology degree allows missionaries to complete a focused training in missions before going to the mission field; and the worship ministries degree combines training in both music fundamentals and ministerial skills in order to lead worship and music programs in the local church.
In addition, the trustees approved a new master of social work degree and a youth ministry certificate for bi-vocational and volunteer youth ministers. Associated with the seminary’s Youth Ministry Institute, the certificate is structured in a convenient weekend and workshop format in order to allow for participation by both veteran youth ministers who desire continuing education and masters and bachelor-level students who are currently studying other disciplines.
In an effort to be more responsive to students’ needs, trustees also approved revisions to NOBTS’s doctor of philosophy degree program, making its application process and general schedule more student-friendly. These measures include a new admissions evaluation process which weighs several aspects of a student’s performance in order to obtain a more balanced picture of the student’s potential for advanced research; the incorporation of the master of theology degree as a component part of the Ph.D. program; and the addition of a semester-length course that will give the students practical, hands-on guidance in research and writing.
Trustees also received the appointment of Charles Quarles, currently serving as an International Mission Board missionary in Romania and formerly associate professor at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Ky., as associate professor of New Testament and Greek. The trustees also approved the two-year reelection of Loretta G. Rivers as instructor in social work, the one-year reelection of Tate Cockrell as instructor in counseling, and promotions for Jerry N. Barlow to professor of preaching and pastoral work; Jerry W. Pounds, Sr., to professor of Christian education; Argile A. Smith to professor of preaching; and Asa R. Sphar III to professor of psychology and counseling.
In his report, Kelley shared that the seminary’s faculty was being challenged simultaneously on three fronts. Not only are they learning to teach classes in formats never taught to them – through compressed interactive video, which effectively combines classrooms in different cities into one teaching experience, and through internet courses – but they are also teaching in a new curriculum, and are simultaneously pursuing scholarly research like never before, he said.
Provost Steve Lemke agreed with Kelley, pointing out that while NOBTS’s faculty had extremely noteworthy academic credentials, they also have extensive experience in Southern Baptist churches and ministries and are committed to the denomination and its principles. “That’s what a ‘Baptist Theological Seminary’ should be all about.” he said.
Noting that the majority of the NOBTS faculty members have over a decade of ministerial experience, Lemke said that most of the faculty also serve in interim ministry positions. “Our people know how to get from the classroom to the church,” said Lemke. “How can you teach people how to minister when you’ve never done it yourself?”
Kelley also reported that the seminary’s budget is in the black, despite an earlier decision by the Baptist General Convention of Texas to dramatically reduce funding for SBC seminaries.
“We’ve received more from Texas churches than originally expected,” Kelley said, highlighting how the majority of Texas churches are giving to SBC causes, and how the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas has committed to giving 51 percent of their offerings to the Cooperative Program in addition to a special one-time offering specifically for the seminaries. “We thank the Lord for these Texas Baptists,” Kelley said.
In response to the report, trustees approved the new budget, which includes a five percent raise for faculty and staff members, and funds for a new assistant director for information and technology position, another full-time maintenance staff position and a second position in the professional doctoral program office.
Trustees also approved the new schedule of student fees, which contains only small increases in the maximum tuition cap, Leavell College tuition, and in off-campus students’ tuition. A new resource fee of $75 has been added to help the seminary remain in the same financial condition as other seminaries, Kelley reported.
Also, in a move that he has resisted since the beginning of his presidency, Kelley received trustees’ approval for students to use credit cards when paying for tuition. Fully acknowledging his concern for a possible increase in students’ consumer debt, Kelley explained that online tuition payment was the last natural link to online registration.
In other business, trustees:
— Approved the election of new Foundation Board members, including David Bains of New Orleans; Arnold A. Burk, of Danville, Ark.; William Phillip Hanberry of Hattiesburg, Miss.; John S. Hunter of Metairie, La.; Thomas S. Messer, Jr., of Hattiesburg, La.; Aubrey Dennis Scott of Birmingham, Ala.; and Stan Watts of Slidell, La.
— Elected Ron Yarbrough of Indianapolis, Ind., chairman of the board of trustees; Jerry Smith of Summit, Miss., vice chairman; and Kenneth Fryer, of Baton Rouge, La., secretary-treasurer. Upon accepting his new position, Yarbrough said, “God’s got his hands all over this campus. It’s so evident that it is of God and not of man.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: KELLEY SHARES PROGRESS, NELSON PRICE CENTER.