NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary graduating class of December, 1999, has learned a lot about ministry over the last few years, said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, but seminary hasn’t prepared them for everything.
In spite of careful efforts to map out all plans for the future, Kelley said seminary can never fully prepare them for the fullness of what God has in store. And though we may make our careful plans for the future, we cannot hold too tightly to our own future expectations.
“You came to seminary with a sense of calling,” Kelley said, “but you should hold loosely to everything but your obedience to God.”
During the seminary’s 82nd commencement at the Leavell Chapel Dec. 17, Kelley presented diplomas to 144 graduates who represented 15 states in the nation and four foreign countries. Graduates were awarded degrees from 21 different academic programs at the diploma, certificate, undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels from the seminary’s main campus and 17 extension centers.
Additionally, 20 inmates from Angola penitentiary were conferred and will be presented diplomas in a special graduation ceremony to be held Jan. 31 in Angola, La. The seminary has an extension center in the prison to train the inmates who minister in congregations operating within the prison.
Using II Timothy 2:8-14, in which the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy in his ministry, Kelley told graduates there are five things they did not learn in seminary: knowing what God was doing with their lives; knowing just how heavy a load they could bear; knowing everything they needed to know; knowing how much they need other people; and knowing how important hope is.
In the passage of scripture, Paul instructed Timothy about his hardships, for which no institution could have prepared him. Paul was not trained to be in jail, Kelley said, but he used the occasion wisely to continue learning and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. Kelley said that in light of the ever-present threat of martyrdom, more prevalent in this century than ever in history, ministers should be prepared for whatever God has in store for their lives.
Kelley also noted that graduates did not know yet how heavy a burden they would be able to bear. The seminary experience, he said, has shown them they can withstand the pressure of deadlines and other demands, and should serve as a reminder that they can do anything through Christ.
“The fact that I will be handing you a diploma shows you that however heavy your loads get, God will carry you through,” he said.
Kelley also reminded the graduates they haven’t learned everything they need to know. Just as the work of a teacher is to always teach, he said, the work of a student is to always learn.
“Having a diploma on the wall doesn’t mean the end of learning,” he said. “Seminary is never intended to teach you everything; it is intended to give you the tools to learn. Although Timothy had been mentored by Paul for years, Paul continued teaching him until the end.”
Graduates have also yet to learn how much they will need other people, Kelley said. Ministry is a “people business” and you cannot stand alone, he said.
“How many times have you had to rely on your classmates for exam notes?” Kelley asked. “How much more you will rely on people, especially your families, in your ministries?”
In his last point, Kelley reminded graduates that they have yet to learn how important hope is.
“Remember when you finished that last final exam, when you didn’t owe any library fines and you knew that you would receive a diploma this day? Remember the joyful feeling of the past 24 hours?” Kelley asked. “That’s practice,” he said. “You have experienced the benefit of hope in finishing your requirements for your degree,” he said. “It is hope, the certainty that something better is coming, that will give you the courage to endure to the end.”
Kelley said this hope that something better is coming sustained Paul through his last days on earth, and will be the hope of seminary graduates into whatever ministry God leads them.
“Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” said Kelley. “And remember, the best is yet to come.”