With a campus spanning 170 acres in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has undergone a radical transformation in its infrastructure. Signs of growth are everywhere, and none is more apparent than the construction of a 1,000-seat chapel complex.
Other recent additions include purchasing a building with faculty office and classroom space, total renovation of the Trustees Classroom Building, new campus apartments, and remodeled student housing as well. Future plans include a state-of-the-art library renovation to consolidate the seminary's existing volumes and provide a new home for the school's C.H. Spurgeon Collection.
The underlying reason for this vibrant growth is a significant student population increase and the seminary leadership's desire to provide an environment conducive to enhancing theological education opportunity.
The institution's prime focus is to serve the church by biblically educating God-called men and women to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
As one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries, Midwestern was established during the 1957 Southern Baptist Convention in Chicago, and through the years the seminary has grown to include doctoral and master's-level degree programs in addition to an undergraduate college with traditional and online degree programs.
Midwestern relies heavily on the Cooperative Program, and R. Philip Roberts, MBTS President, is the first to express gratitude for the involvement and investment of Southern Baptists in supporting the Seminary.
"The faithful giving of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program makes it possible for students at Midwestern to receive the training they need to fulfill their part in carrying out the Great Commission," Roberts said. "We are especially thankful for the generosity and sacrifice made by individuals and churches throughout the Convention that have helped Midwestern stay on the cutting-edge of theological education. The Cooperative Program truly allows MBTS to continue sending biblically educated pastors, missionaries, Christian educators, and counselors into North America and the world to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
The following stories express how students past, present, and future have benefitted and will benefit from the generosity of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program as they pursue their calling from Christ.
MBTS Alums Instrumental in Local Church's Growth
In the fall of 1986, a young pastor and his family uprooted from a small-town Southern Baptist church in Nebraska and re-planted themselves in a suburban Kansas City ministry. This pastor always dreamed of ministering in a larger community, and he was excited to see what God might do now that he'd been given the opportunity.
Twenty-four years in the rearview mirror, Curt Fieleke, pastor of South Haven Baptist Church in Belton, Missouri, admits he's still in awe of what the Lord has done. "When we arrived, there were about forty or fifty people attending, and the church had only been officially open for a couple of months," he said. "From the beginning, this church has had a great legacy of people who are willing to take a step of faith."
Fieleke said all aspects of the ministry have been blessed by God and engineered by faithful, hard-working lay members. The church has experienced steady growth — a typical Sunday sees 650 in attendance at their two morning worship services. Additionally, the congregation has been a part of five phases of construction growth over the years.
In particular, the Illinois native sees the children's ministry as one of South Haven's strongest ways to reach out into the local community. The church hosts events such as a Fall Carnival, Vacation Bible School, and an Easter egg hunt as ways to reach local families. "The events for kids seem to be more effective in attracting visitors from the community," Fieleke said. "With visitation and follow-up by our church members, we are grateful for the success we've had in reaching people for Christ."
In the area of missions, South Haven is extremely active. "What's going on right now is a comprehensive explosion of mission activity here," said Jim Vest, the church's executive pastor. "We've got groups serving all over."
Some of the church's recent mission activities include Sunday School groups working at a battered women's shelter; teams traveling to southern Missouri for construction missions; youth serving others on a South Dakota Native American reservation; various trips to the Hurricane Katrina area; and in March the church sent a large group for relief efforts in Haiti.
In all, Fieleke credits the work of the Lord and the faithfulness of South Haven's church members for the incredible ministry that's going on in Belton and its surrounding communities. One other source he credits for what has happened during his tenure is Midwestern Seminary.
The pastor graduated from MBTS in 1979 with a master of divinity degree with a concentration in biblical studies. He also returned to Midwestern and completed a doctor of ministry degree in 1995. He claims that through this experience, he not only grew educationally but learned something even more special. "Midwestern was a very worthwhile place for me. It was a place for me to grow, really explore what it means to be a Christian," he said. "So, Midwestern not only met the needs in my life of helping me to grow to understand the Bible and the Christian faith, but as a loving community, Midwestern met needs in my life that really a local church would typically meet in the lives of many."
Presently, in addition to Fieleke, four of the other five church staff leaders hold degrees from Midwestern. Worship leader, Scott Moots (master's in church music, 1996); Vest (M.Div. 1977); Education pastor, Tim Gramly (M.Div. 1981); and long-time church leader and mentor, Sterling Elsbury (M.Div. 1964) all agreed that their time at Midwestern prepared them well for the joys and rigors of life in the ministry.
"My time at Midwestern, under the tutelage of music professors Dr. and Mrs. Butler, prepared me well and gave me a great foundation for what I do today," Moots said. "The things I learned in class I was able to apply directly to rehearsals, worship plans, and event planning. I learned all those tools during my seminary education and use them daily in my ministry here."
Midwestern Seminary is proud to have these dedicated servants making a difference for Jesus Christ in the Belton area, according to school leaders. "The dedication and effort of the South Haven Baptist Church staff is a testimony to trusting the Lord and using the spiritual gifts He's given each of them on a daily basis. It has led to a truly fruitful ministry there," said Phil Roberts, MBTS president. "We're so thankful they are Midwestern graduates, and we are thrilled at the way they exemplify the type of Christ-centered people needed to reach out to those who so desperately need to know the love of Jesus Christ."
FUSION Provides Student/Leader Valuable Missions Experience
As a teenager growing up in Platte City, Missouri, Erik Odegard didn't give much thought to church matters, much less oversears ministry. It wasn't until his sophomore year when he was invited to a church's youth group and met a new friend that all of those thoughts began to change.
After he had accepted Christ as his Savior, his friend began to tell him about a program at Midwestern Baptist College, SBC, called FUSION. At first, Odegard opted to try out for college soccer teams, where he desired to witness and minister through that opportunity.
Upon realizing the soccer idea was his and not God's, Odegard prayed and felt God's leading toward the FUSION program. "The Lord told me, 'You need to listen to Me,'" he said. "As I realized that I really didn't know what I was doing, my friend, Russell Savage, told me he would be directing FUSION that fall. He really wanted me to do FUSION."
FUSION is a program at Midwestern Baptist College, SBC, that through intense physical and spiritual training instills in its graduates an extraordinary commitment to personal discipleship, Christian leadership, and global evangelism. Most of all, FUSION equips students to walk with Jesus for a lifetime.
In fall 2008, Odegard enrolled in FUSION and endured the boot camp-like atmosphere. He said he entered the experience quite prideful and soon learned a valuable lesson. "The ground school experience in FUSION was difficult because it really stripped me of my comfort and justice. I realized quickly that I don't deserve anything at all," he said. "What I really deserved was to be in hell right now. But through this time, the Lord began to teach me about His mercy and what justice really is."
In FUSION, the students are broken down into groups called cohorts — three-to-seven person teams that train, live, study, pray, and eventually go overseas together during the second semester. He said his cohort also teamed up with a local multi-cultural church to gain valuable experience sharing their faith and pouring their lives into the homeless community.
"Through that experience, we truly learned what it means to share the Gospel with 'the least of these,'" he said. "We would feed them sometimes, but mostly we wanted to just share the love that Christ has for them. We even got to struggle with them about how they could pull themselves out of this situation."
After finishing Phase 1, Odegard's cohort headed to northeastern India for their travel experience. Working alongside overseas personnel there, he learned church-planting skills, shared his faith with the nationals, and discipled young Christians and those who accepted Christ. However, that wasn't the end.
"Once we have a group of disciples is that the end goal?" he asked. "No, they need a church. It's a natural thing to form disciples into churches. It's only natural they be together as a community of faith."
Odegard was in India for three months before returning to Missouri. Upon returning, he still had the option of playing soccer. Again, he rejected this idea as he felt led to go back to the FUSION program as an advocate. In this role, he went through the whole process again as a team leader.
He said he enjoyed seeing his group's transformation in their time together. He described one young man who came into FUSION as a "nominal" Christian — who could have been swayed either way due to his environment. However, after the FUSION experience, the young man came home and started a community Bible study group in his hometown.
Odegard plans to finish his undergraduate degree at MBC, and currently works on the FUSION staff. Of his experience, he said, "FUSION is so important because people want to go to hard places, and they want to speak to people who have never heard of Jesus. However, there's a reason that those people have never heard of Jesus. There's a reason why there's no one there among them. It's hard to be there and live among them. That's why we train so hard at FUSION. It really prepared me well to not seek my sense of comfort and justice while I was amidst those people. Literally, I was there to do everything for the sake of the Gospel."
MATS Program Enables Midwestern to Go Global
Midwestern's reach has gone global through a different medium. Until now, Midwestern Baptist College, SBC, only offered undergraduate degree programs through on-campus attendance. That changed with the addition of the masters of arts in theological studies program in July.
This 100 percent online degree enables students around the world to complete an accredited degree in a relatively short time.
Prior to July, pastors, missionaries, and lay leaders from across the SBC were relegated to combining some form of online, extension, and on-campus attendance to earn a degree. However, by offering the MATS, Midwestern can electronically transport seminary education directly into a student's home or office.
"Our desire is to provide high-quality, Christian education to people who, up until now, have been unable to attend courses on campus or at extension sites," said Ted Davis, MATS program director. "We also pray that through this program, many people will become more effective in their ministries, which will ultimately lead to more people coming to know Jesus Christ."
The MATS degree is designed to meet the students' need for flexible, focused ministry training and has been focused by building upon foundational courses in biblical and theological studies, Davis added.
"It also offers courses in important aspects of practical ministry like church administration, evangelism, and missions. This degree will work well for you if you are just starting out in ministry and want to gain much-needed basic skills while you serve, or if you have been in ministry for many years but haven't had the opportunity to complete a master's degree," Davis said.
Courses for the MATS degree consist of eight-week terms, so a student could conceivably complete the program in just over two years by taking one class per term. Additionally, all accrued hours are fully transferrable into other degree programs at Midwestern Seminary.
"Flexibility is one of the most attractive aspects of the MATS degree. With no prerequisite courses in the program, scheduling is easy," said Rodney Harrison, the MBTS dean of online and distance education. "The brief length of the term allows you to complete a course of study and then move on to something else, or even take a break from your studies. You 'attend' class online, so it fits your daily schedule."
While this program is primarily focused on those called into vocational ministry, it's also inclusive of anyone desiring to obtain more biblical education, said Phil Roberts, MBTS President. "Our goal is to reach out to ministers such as directors of missions, pastors, children's ministers, and missionaries, but it doesn't stop there," he said. "Since the courses are foundational to all types of ministry, it will provide a great start in biblical training for deacons, Bible study teachers, missions and AWANA leaders, and many other lay workers, too. We pray that anyone desiring more theological education will find this degree a great way to deepen their knowledge of the Word and find greater fulfillment in their ministries."
"This is an exciting new way of training for ministry," Davis added. "Using the Internet will enable Midwestern to reach out to people everywhere at anytime for their theological education courses. We look forward to the Holy Spirit's moving through this program that will ultimately lead to a more educated Christian populace who can reach the world for Jesus Christ."
For more information or to enroll in MATS, visit the MBTS Web site at www.mbts.edu.