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Wells resigns as president at Criswell for S.D. pastorate

DALLAS (BP)–Criswell College President C. Richard Wells began his president’s report at the March 7 trustee meeting with what he called “a sad duty and a happy privilege” of announcing his resignation as president to accept the pastorate of South Canyon Baptist Church in Rapid City, S.D.

“Our history with The Criswell College goes a long way back,” Wells said, recalling his conversion while attending the college-affiliated School of the Prophets as an unsaved pastor, graduating with a master of ministry degree, then teaching pastoral theology and serving as dean of students before assuming the president in December 1996.

“For more than 27 years we’ve had a history with The Criswell College that’s been wonderful and rich,” he said. “It’s been a great privilege to serve here.” Declaring that the school is headed for great days, Wells praised the work of the administration in attaining reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and adopting a long-range strategic plan which has served as a model for other schools. He also noted the launching of an $8 million capital campaign that will provide a 90,000-square-foot building for its first-ever dormitory space and new academic programs, including a humanities track that will draw more students.

He described Criswell College’s trustee board as “a remarkable group of men and women of prayer, godliness and vision who are committed to the core values of this institution in missions and evangelism.” Wells challenged them collectively to match one trustee’s challenge gift of half a million dollars for the building program.

In returning to a pastoral role, Wells said, “There’s nothing I’d rather do. After 15 months of praying, we became convinced in December that this is indeed what God wanted us to do and have great peace.” The church extended a call to Wells in February to begin serving in June.

As he closed his report in prayer, Wells thanked God for “the way this school inflamed my heart to know the Scripture, teach the gospel faithfully and go willingly wherever you would have me to go.” He also expressed gratitude for the “impact of the school in the Kingdom through graduates circling the globe.”

Royce Laycock, a retired professor of surgery from Dallas and chairman of the college’s board, praised Wells’ leadership and friendship. “We rejoice that they’re going to a pastorate to fulfill Dr. Wells’ desire and know the folks in Rapid City will be blessed. … We see great things coming out of that church that will be spread throughout South Dakota and that part of the world. Our hearts will be with him.”

The trustee board accepted Wells’ resignation reluctantly, but as board secretary Sarah Erwin prayed, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Expressing gratitude for Wells’ tenure, she added, “He is that good man in your sight and his steps are ordered by the Lord.”

Following discussion in executive session, the board named Executive Vice President and Provost Lamar Cooper to serve as interim president after Wells vacates the position in June. The executive committee of the board was instructed to work with Chancellor Mac Brunson to appoint a search committee.

Cooper said, “We have strong people in every area so there will be no change in policy or direction of the school. Everything that we’re working toward will continue on track and the future for the college is just as bright as ever.”

Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said the college “is not only losing a great president, but First Baptist Church is losing one of the finest churchmen I have ever known. Dr. Wells has taught the McLaughlin Class, helped pastor the congregation and has been a personal friend and encourager to the pastor.” He added, “While I hate to see him leave, we celebrate the fact that he is following God’s will for his life.”

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said, “While we affirm Dr. Wells’ great ministry at The Criswell College and submit to the will of God for his life to transition to another avenue of service, our confidence in the college and the direction that has been set is unwavering. We are excited about the days ahead that the SBTC and The Criswell College will continue to partner to provide a vital ministry to the churches through education.”

Prior to his presidency at Criswell, Wells served on the founding faculty of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., teaching homiletics and pastoral counseling. During his tenure in Dallas, Criswell College experienced significant enrollment growth, including a record enrollment in the fall of 2002. The college has created institutes in biblical preaching and counseling, providing continuing education throughout the Metropolis and the nation.

Under Wells’ leadership, the college also has established the distinctive missions practicum program in which all undergraduate degree students are required to spend time in a cross-cultural missions setting.

With 17 fulltime faculty and 18 part-time and adjunct professors, the school’s enrollment now stands at more than 460 students from more than 30 states and 30 countries. More than 1,300 serve around the world in various leadership roles, including pastors, missionaries and evangelists. The college is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and affirms the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Criswell College is named after its founder, the late W. A. Criswell, who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas for 50 years. On the occasion of his 25th anniversary as pastor in 1969, Criswell presented to the church his vision for an institution that would provide biblical teaching that is both intellectually and spiritually sound.

The inaugural program of study in 1971 included certificate-level studies in Bible and music offered at night. Over the course of the next decade, and lately under Wells’ leadership, diploma level studies, a bachelor of arts curriculum and graduate studies were added, with SACS granting institutional accreditation in 1985.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter