SBC Life Articles

An Interview with William O. Crews

SBC LIFE Dr. Crews, please tell us about your pilgrimage into Southern Baptist higher education, and specifically, to Golden Gate.

Crews Well, I grew up in Texas, and from age thirteen have never had any plans to be anything other than the pastor of a local Baptist church. From thirteen on, everything in my educational experience pointed to preparing me to be a pastor.

I graduated from Hardin-Simmons University and went on to Southwestern Seminary, but dropped out after one semester and went to pastor a church out in west Texas. It was a wonderful time, but after two years, I discovered I was not adequately prepared to do what I thought God wanted me to do. The Lord called me to a church about 200 miles from Southwestern, and I commuted and finished my degree.

While I was in seminary, I had this growing feeling that God wanted us to do something in missions. I wasn't sure where, nor when, but after graduating and pastoring a bit longer in Texas, God led us to a church in Seattle, Wash. I pastored two churches in the Northwest, was president of the Northwest Baptist Convention, and then served as director of communications for the convention and editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness for two years.

Then the Lord led me to Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., where I pastored for more than eight years. While there, I was asked to serve as trustee for Golden Gate.

When the president resigned, I was asked to serve on the presidential search committee. Twice my name was placed on the list but I felt God had called me to be a pastor and declined. But after we had to start over for the third time, my wife and I discussed it and agreed that if my name was submitted again, we should be open to it and at least pray about it. Sure enough, when we met, one of the members said, "I think we ought to consider Bill." They asked me to leave the room, and when I came back an hour and a half later, they said, "The committee is unanimous in wanting to interview you as the next president of the seminary." Two weeks later, they interviewed me and were unanimous, and two weeks after that I was elected. That's how I got here. I didn't plan to get here, I didn't want to get here — it was one of those things God had to do.

I believe they chose me for two reasons. First, they felt that we needed somebody from the West, someone who was out here already, or at least who would come and stay. The two previous presidents had come from the East and returned after a few years, and the committee felt the seminary could not take that kind of transition again. The second reason was they felt the president needed to be a pastor who understood the West and could relate the seminary to the churches. Having ministered out here for twenty years, they felt I could do that. Once they made the decision, I've never had any doubt and have been perfectly at peace about the decision.

SBC LIFE What trends do you see in theological education in the next ten years, especially among Southern Baptists?

Crews I can only speak for Golden Gate, but there are several things that are extremely important in our future. First, I think theological education must continue to provide a strong theological base for those preparing for ministry. But I also think we're going to have to increase our effectiveness in the area of leadership skills — the practical things that churches expect of pastors in helping them have a vision and being effective in reaching their culture and community for Christ.

My seminary experience was great, but it did not prepare me for some of the leadership issues I had to face as a pastor. Fortunately for me, I was in churches that gave me the opportunity to develop those skills — basically by making mistakes. I think the seminary could have done a better job of exposing me to some leadership issues that would have helped me to be more effective sooner.

Whenever I ask lay people what they think pastors today need more than anything else, there are two areas that come up: they need to be more spiritual, and they need to be more effective as leaders. The leadership issue is really the predominant answer. We're trying to address that issue in a number of ways, but I think leadership is the key issue for the 21st century.

The second thing is that theological education must be contextualized, which means one size does not fit all. One program does not fit all areas. We must get as close to the churches as we can in the delivery of theological education. That has led us at Golden Gate to operate in six different locations in the West. This is based on a missiological principle that ministry in Portland, Ore. is not like ministry in San Francisco, or in Los Angeles, or Phoenix, or Albuquerque, or Denver.

Thirdly, because of where we are located, we think we must look to the rest of the world, particularly to Asia, and utilize all of the technology available to reach out and partner with seminaries to our west. We must try to assist them in preparing people to reach the world for Christ.

SBC LIFE Do you expect more seminaries to take these approaches?

Crews Our opinion is they will have to. I don't think we're geniuses to go the direction we're going, it's more an effort at survival. The world of churches is changing dramatically and rapidly, maybe more so out here than ever, and for us to continue to do what we've always done, we would go out of business. Folks would find other ways to get what we are offering, ways that would be more effective and closer to them. So for us, it was more a matter of survival.

But it's also a matter of relevance. The one driving passion for me is not leadership, though I talk about that a lot. My passion is the local church, and I want to find out what the seminary can do to add value to the local church. If what we're doing doesn't add value to the local church, then we ought not to be doing it. That's the driving force behind everything we're doing. That's why we're in six locations. We believe it will help the churches, and they've told us as much.

I think in the future other seminaries are going to come along in those areas, or they're not going to be effective. It really is a commitment to the church. I don't know of a seminary that doesn't say that, but it's how you do it that really counts.

One of the areas we're getting into is theological training for lay people. I think the 21st century is going to see a tremendous surge of lay people who want to do something significant for God. They don't need leadership training — they've gotten that — what they need is a theological base from which they can operate. But they can't leave and come to Mill Valley and stay for two or three years to get a degree. So, what we're trying to find out is how can we do the things we do best, within the context of the church — things that will help the church to be as effective as it can be.

SBC LIFE Dr. Crews, suppose someone said to you, "Our ministers don't need theological training, they just need to get out into the fields and start evangelizing," how would you respond?

Crews I can personally say from my own experience, I tried that and it didn't work. There are some who have been successful in ministry without seminary training, but the fact of the matter is most of us need time to build a base out of which we're going to do our evangelism and our leadership. If seminaries will do what they need to do, then seminary education will still be a worthwhile goal. I think the issue today in a lot of churches is whether seminary is even needed at all. I think you've hit on the question that's being asked. We used to say, "Well, you're a Southern Baptist, and we provide it, so you ought to come and get it." I don't think that's enough anymore. The issue is: are you adding value to the local church? If you are, then they're going to want what you've got. If not, they're going to basically do it themselves.

My impression is that seminaries often adopt the attitude that we know best what the church needs. Now, there may have been a day when that was true, but today, that attitude isn't going to make it. I think we need to find out from the church what the church feels like it needs in order to reach its community and the world for Christ. Then we ought to be there to provide that.

Any institution that takes the attitude "We want to be a servant to the church, not just a provider, and certainly not a dictator," churches are going to respond to that. That's what we're finding. Churches are responding, and they're letting us be a partner with them.

And, quite frankly, that's why I'm here, that's why I'm excited about being here, and that's why I'm not planning on going anywhere. I think the best days for theological education are ahead of us — but I think it's going to be drastically different from what it has been, both in content and delivery systems.

SBC LIFE As we approach the dawn of a new century, what excites you most about Golden Gate?

Crews The main thing is that we have a future. I wasn't all that sure when I came. But I think we have a future, because we have a group of people now in our system that is genuinely committed to the church. They are open and willing to innovate to try to meet the needs of the churches. We are a dynamic, living institution that really wants to do what God put us here to do. We were birthed for churches, and we have a group of people now who are really committed to that. Our battles have not been theological — that issue was pretty well settled when I came, because everybody knew what my theological position was. And we haven't brought anybody on our faculty who is not an inerrantist. They believe the Bible and they're Southern Baptists down the line, but they are also committed to a different way of doing things.

I'm more excited today than when I came — in fact I was scared when I came, but I'm excited today, because I think we have a future, particularly here in the West, and God has affirmed that. Our best days are ahead in many, many areas.

SBC LIFE As Southern Baptists are reading this, and as they are impressed by the Holy Spirit to pray for Golden Gate, what should we remember in our prayers?

Crews I've said this many, many times, and I don't intend it to be trite, but the best thing you can do for us is pray that we'll stay committed to the Lord, and to the churches. Pray that we will do more than pay lip service to being servants to the church, that it will be a genuine experience at Golden Gate Seminary. Money will follow the good things God does. My business is raising money, but that's not our basic need. Our basic need is for people to pray for us and send us the people that they think God has called that can be shaped to be effective as leaders. If they'll do that, we'll try to be faithful to do our job.

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