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Southwestern Seminary’s faculty updating education for 21st century

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–With President Kenneth S. Hemphill’s challenge that “we cannot do business as usual” in the 21st century, the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, voted unanimously to begin changing the design of education at the seminary.
After lengthy discussions during a two-day retreat, the faculty of the Southern Baptist Convention’s largest seminary approved five recommendations from a presidential committee on “Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century.”
The recommendations, which Hemphill said are designed to make seminary graduates “more responsive to local churches and their changing needs,” call for:
1) the development of a common core learning experience utilizing an interdisciplinary-team approach to instruction as a formative gateway to theological education.
“The common core learning experience,” Hemphill explained, “would ensure that all students — music, theology and educational ministry — leave with essential training in leadership, evangelism, spiritual formation and Baptist distinctives.”
2) the core learning experience to include such areas as Scripture, heritage, worship, leadership, character and evangelism and missions.
3) the writing and adoption of a general description of competence for ministry that enumerates the attitudes, knowledge and skills pertaining to the core learning experience as well as those pertaining to other essential tasks of ministry.
4) the appointing of a workgroup by the faculty committee to develop a pilot course in the area of leadership as a first step toward the core learning experience.
5) the exploration of opportunities for collegial development among the seminary’s three schools.
Hemphill called it a “significant decision to get a faculty of this size” to unanimously say Southwestern is going to make critical changes in theological education in the 21st century.
“I think it was the first step in the essential reengineering of the seminary,” Hemphill declared during the Aug. 21-22 retreat. “What is the 21st century church going to look like, and what are we going to have to do to prepare students to be effective in that context?
“I think you’re going to see theologians, educators, musicians and counselors coming out of this school who have a sensitivity to the local church, knowledge of soul-winning and leadership abilities and, at the same time, have a real understanding of teamwork.”
The five recommendations were based on priorities generated by a blue-ribbon committee made up of pastors, laymen and alumni; input from the Association of Theological Schools (the seminary’s accrediting agency); Lilly and Pew Charitable Trust studies; and dialogue with faculty, trustees, administration and denominational leaders.
Priorities included increased integration of the seminary’s three schools, core competencies, collaborative learning and bivocational ministry.
Faculty members called the recommendations a good start. Daryl Eldridge, dean of the school of educational ministries and a member of the Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century committee, commended the faculty for their “willingness to make major changes in the way we’ve done business.”
Eldridge summarized three areas of major change under consideration involving the equipping of ministers for the next century: “Better collaboration among the schools, an emphasis on practical experience and priority of relationships in ministry.”
Eldridge, who was named the new chairman of the presidential committee, said the next step for the faculty is developing pilot courses in leadership and spiritual formation and “utilizing faculty teams to discuss ways in which we can bring the three schools together and model teamwork.”

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  • David Porter