SBC Life Articles

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

With a vision for the “prairie fire” of spiritual awakening, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is preparing God-called men and women to reach the Heartland of America and the world with the gospel. To better accomplish that task, the Seminary has redesigned its curriculum, attracted a host of new faculty, and proposed a new megastructure to accommodate its facilities in Kansas City, Mo.

Founded in Kansas City in 1957, the Seminary was set in the Midwest in order to train ministers to take the gospel to new work areas beyond the Bible Belt. That emphasis has been renewed under the leadership of Dr. Mark Coppenger who became president in 1995. He called for development of a vision statement to match the goals of Southern Baptists in providing seminary education.

A Clear Statement

Trustees recently refined the purpose as being “to provide degree programs to educate God’s servants to biblically evangelize and congregationalize the world, with special focus on the Midwest/Great Plains region of America.”

That statement comes with extensive footnotes that highlight the school’s commitment to biblical teaching in accordance with its statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. Because Southern Baptists have affirmed biblical inerrancy through both the findings of the Peace Committee Report and the report of the President’s Theological Study Committee, the Seminary requires teaching to conform to these clarifying documents.

In preparing students to congregationalize the world, the Seminary recognizes the denomination’s conviction regarding a male-led pastorate as expressed in resolutions. “While a wonderful range of strategic and effectual ministry is open to both men and women, the pastor of a biblical congregation must be male,” states a footnote to Midwestern’s purpose statement. The Seminary welcomes and prepares both men and women for ministry with that understanding stated.

In sounding clear convictional statements, Midwestern has attracted a greater number of students each year. Growing from just over 500 in 1995, more than 750 now attend classes at the Kansas City campus or one of the extensions in Chicago, Ill.; Wichita, Kan.; St. Louis, Mo.; Springfield, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Oklahoma City, Okla.

Revised Curriculum

Students that begin studies this fall at Midwestern will benefit from changes unanimously approved by the faculty last spring to update each of the degrees. “Our goal is to produce the very best pastors and missionaries,” stated Academic Dean Jim Cogdill, “whether as pastor of a new church start in Des Moines or as a church planter in the western Rockies. This curriculum prepares that person.”

In contrast to some evangelical seminaries that are shortening and compressing their programs of study, changes at Midwestern will increase credit hour requirements and raise the level of difficulty. Master of divinity students now will spend two years studying the biblical languages in order to complete the master of divinity degree.

In keeping with the stated purpose of the school, divinity students will devote more time to the theology of missions, and they’ll graduate knowing how to preach an expository sermon. In response to a need expressed by alumni in the field, students will become familiar with the history and workings of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“If fewer people come because they’re looking for an easier degree, so be it,” Coppenger told the Curriculum Revision Committee that recommended the changes. “I like the idea of doing the right thing. It could cost us. So let’s be sure what we’re doing is right.”

While the students who enter Midwestern prepare for a variety of ministry assignments, the focus remains on “evangelizing and congregationalizing.” Coppenger explained, “While we may do many things, such as prepare someone to enter a Ph.D. program and later teach in a college in Alabama, prepare someone to minister effectively in a multi-staff church in Houston, or prepare someone to serve effectively on the International Mission Board staff, our main purpose is to ready someone to immediately serve effectively in a young church in Sioux City, Salina, or Chicago.”

Every student graduates with experience in sharing his faith, having certification in an evangelistic training program. Theological field education has been redirected to a focus on ministry in the local church, with students participating in typical pastoral duties such as weddings, baptisms, business meetings, and funerals. In an effort to develop a zeal for missions, students learn the history and workings of Southern Baptist mission boards.

The Pastor’s Home

The minister’s home life is addressed through a course in the Christian Family. And with a diploma level curriculum available for wives of men enrolled at Midwestern, the school hopes to develop families prepared to minister effectively together.

“We believe that when God calls a man into full time ministry, He also calls his wife,” explained Sharon Coppenger who directs the program for wives. “They are one in marriage and one in ministry. Their roles are unique but they are a team,” she added.

Known as WISDOM classes, the acronym stands for Wives in Seminary Developing Our Ministries. Courses taught by wives of professors and administrators as well as some of the Seminary faculty, prepare the women in biblical studies, Baptist history and doctrine, marriage enrichment, parenting, and areas of church ministry.

Practical Application

The school continues to offer practical application of ministry skills through mission and evangelistic outreach. For twenty-seven years, students have participated in the Midwest Missions program that sends student missionaries to serve in new work areas during spring break.

Proportionately, Midwestern provided more students than any other seminary for the Crossover Salt Lake City evangelistic outreach. The life-changing experience nurtured a passion for evangelism among the students who participated in the witnessing projects. Advance studies prepared students to deal with the Mormon-influenced population in Utah. Witnessing opportunities ranged from sports clinics to inner city evangelism as well as traditional methods utilizing block parties and door to door evangelism.

Students also apply classroom knowledge to church planting fields in nearby areas of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. A vanload of students travels to church sites north of the Seminary each weekend, dropping them in rural farmland communities where new ministries are begun and the hope of a “prairie fire” of spiritual awakening spreads.

Another approach to practical education is offered through the doctor of ministry degree. Midwestern Seminary has the largest D.Min. program among the SBC seminaries. Over a three-year period, D.Min. students complete nine seminars along with supervised field ministry before completion of a ministry project.

“Changes have been made to strengthen and improve an already popular and essential degree program of Midwestern Seminary,” Cogdill said of the D.Min. degree.

In addition to the traditional master of divinity degree, students can select from several specialized M.Div. programs in domestic church planting, international church planting, collegiate ministries, and urban ministries. In each of the church planting tracks, students complete the majority of their studies on campus, then relocate to a mission field for supervised ministry.

Through the collegiate ministries specialization, two years of study is field-based service in cooperation with the Baptist student ministry organization. Approximately sixty-six semester hours are completed on campus.

The new degree specialization seeks to instill in graduates the vision for evangelism modeled by veteran BSU director Max Barnett, currently a campus minister at Oklahoma University with forty years of experience. Barnett gave guidance to formation of the collegiate ministries emphasis and speaks to incoming students.

“Max Barnett is a giant in Baptist Student Union work, and his impact extends far beyond the campus,” stated Coppenger. “Generations of leaders have developed under his tutelage, and some of the most effectual work accomplished in the name of Christ in our Midwest/Great Plains parish is traceable directly to Max Barnett’s influence.”

An emphasis in urban ministries includes sixty-eight semester hours on campus with additional studies on the field through supervised ministry in an urban setting. By linking up with the Baptist association serving Chicago and drawing upon resources of the North American Mission Board, Midwestern offers preparation and ministry in one of the largest urban settings in America.

The master of Christian education has been upgraded to provide a balance between biblical studies and practical ministry preparation. A student may emphasize youth, administration, preschool and children, or education by making use of controlled electives.

The master of church music degree prepares a student for service in local church settings. Requirements include foundational studies in biblical, historical-theological, and ministry fields, with forty-two hours of academic studies in church music, and a third component of applied music and ensemble participation.

For students who have not completed a college degree, the Seminary is committed to offering diploma studies that provided a biblical education with emphasis in pastoral ministry, Christian education, or church music.

A Focus on Orthodoxy

With the election of additional faculty, trustees of Midwestern Seminary have insured that “the range of courses will be covered by professors holding to the inerrancy of Scripture,” Coppenger said recently.

Since its founding, Midwestern “has been identified with a less-than-inerrantist stance regarding the Old Testament,” he acknowledged. In 1962, Southern Baptists expressed objection to a Midwestern professor’s book on creation, prompting passage of the Baptist Faith and Message a year later.

“Now some nineteen years into the new day in the SBC, Midwestern is bringing on board men who believe that Isaiah wrote Isaiah. It is shameful that it has taken this long, but better late than never,” he added.

With the election of new Old Testament faculty will come a higher profile for the Seminary’s Morton Collection of archaeological artifacts. Professors will train ministers to utilize archaeology as an effective tool in preaching.

Campus Expansion

As enrollment continues to climb and more faculty members are added, the need for adequate facilities presses upon the Kansas City campus. Architectural drawings offer a look at a comprehensive campus plan to meet anticipated demands.

Midwestern will bring a planned $30 million megastructure and accompanying grounds work to reality as resources become available. Situated on a 200-acre mix of rolling grassland and forest, the Seminary will offer a new environment for spiritual learning and growth.

“As Christians throughout the heartland weigh the prospects and resources for awakening,” Coppenger hopes “they will increasingly come to count Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as a great base for Bible knowledge and faith, for ministerial heart and acumen, for missionary zeal and effectiveness, and that they will cherish Midwesterners as ’firesticks,’ setting off holy conflagrations wherever the Lord might place them.”

    About the Author

  • Tammi Ledbetter