Beginning with its establishment in 1944, and adoption by Southern Baptists in 1950, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has pursued its mission of shaping leaders who expand God's Kingdom around the world. With five fully-accredited campuses, the seminary remains true to its denominational mission of accelerating the fulfillment of the Great Commission by providing training to those who serve churches in the United States and are on mission to the world.
Golden Gate Seminary shoulders the responsibility for training leaders for Southern Baptists in the Western United States. It currently has more than 2,100 students meeting on five campuses, in cyberspace, and at dozens of Contextualized Learning Development centers. "Because there are few Christians and even fewer Baptists in the west—a seminary of our size and strength would probably not be possible without the support of the Southern Baptist Convention," noted President Jeff Iorg. "Thanks for your Cooperative Program gifts, your prayers, and for sending us students. We are profoundly grateful for your partnership."
Golden Gate Seminary depends on the faithful giving of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program to fund its innovative strategies. At the 2011 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, president Iorg thanked Southern Baptists "for helping make our work possible. We realize we are not your father's seminary. We have been on the cutting edge–geographically and methodologically–for a long time." He continued, "We have had a multi-campus system since 1972. We taught our first online class in 1998. We have often been swimming upstream against funding challenges and detractors who dismiss our strategy, but we have persevered because we believe it was and is the right approach for our half of the country."
Golden Gate recently launched its new identity campaign. The branding includes a new logo, tagline, website, and graphics. The focal point of the look is the new logo, composed of a globe with a cross inside and a Bible uppermost. "Our new logo links us to the Word, the world, and the cross," explained Iorg. "And it's an active Word—moving, thriving, and progressing throughout our world."
The logo corresponds with the new tagline—biblical, missional, global—which emphasizes primary aspects of the seminary's identity. Golden Gate Seminary is biblical, believing the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Golden Gate Seminary is missional, sharing the Gospel message of salvation with everyone, passionately motivated to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ both near and far. Golden Gate Seminary is global, a multicultural seminary whose graduates are called to both local and international ministries which are diverse in culture, ethnicity, and context.
"These aren't new characteristics for Golden Gate," said Iorg, "but they are simply presented in a fresh way. The new look enables us to better communicate who we are and the direction we are going."
The three alumni profiles which follow represent the "biblical, missional, global" characteristics expressed in the tagline. The stories are just a few from the many Golden Gate graduates who continue to expand God's Kingdom around the world, with help from the Cooperative Program.
Ryan Blackwell knows where biblical theology and innovative ministry meet—it's right outside his door. Now the pastor of First Baptist Church, San Francisco, the Arkansas native was raised in an entirely different culture. When he came to Golden Gate Seminary, his eyes were opened to the importance of a theology that's both biblically faithful and culturally incarnational.
Ryan chose Golden Gate Seminary for a variety of reasons: location outside the Bible Belt, opportunity to minister and learn in a different culture, cost of education, opportunity to develop relationships with professors, and hands-on ministry experience combined with a contextual/missional education.
"The academic side of Golden Gate was outstanding. The advanced track program ensured that I would not have to retake the same courses I had studied in my undergrad and gave me the ability to add the biblical studies/theology classes that I really wanted to take," he said, noting that these classes were a great foundation for his decision-making, personal study, and sermon preparation.
He had the unique opportunity to be taught and mentored by a Golden Gate professor who serves as pastor of the church where he and his wife attended. "This was a great experience, as I was able to do ministry under the guidance of someone I was also learning from in the classroom." He added, "It was also valuable because the culture and ministry experience were very different than what I had been engaged in previously. This forced me to even greater dependence on God as I stepped daily out of my comfort zone."
Ryan observed how seminary was a tremendous time of growth both personally and in his marriage. "Rachel and I moved to seminary with no friends, no money, and no job. The great thing was that almost all of our neighbors came the same way! We developed friendships that continue to this day and grew stronger as a couple as we learned to rely on one another, God, and the community of faith around us."
Noting a key difference that separates Golden Gate from other seminaries, Ryan listed the unique location outside of one of America's most unreached cities. "This gives every student an opportunity to quickly put into practice what he is learning in the classroom as the area churches need leaders to step up." He also mentioned the close relationship between the students and professors. "The opportunity to be mentored and taught by professors that care about you, love the Gospel, and love the local church is something that has left a lasting impact on my life."
Commenting on how Golden Gate prepared him for his current ministry, Ryan observed, "As a young pastor, I know I have much still to learn, but my education and experience at Golden Gate gave me a strong starting foundation for the ministry context in which God has placed us. I came out of seminary a much better husband, father, and pastor." He noted how every area of his life was shaped during his time at Golden Gate, but "the greatest area that was affected was my love for the Gospel and the local church. Both grew exponentially during my time at Golden Gate."
"As I neared my graduation from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, I began to think and pray about what my next step would be," said Jennifer B.*, who received her master of divinity in 2008. "During a time of prayer and fasting, God clarified my passion for college students and for the Mongolian people. After taking a church planting class at Golden Gate Seminary, the importance of reaching gateway cities for Christ laid heavy on my mind. Just across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was a city full of people from all over the world, yet I had not met one single Mongolian person in my four-plus years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area."
Jennifer had a passion for Mongolian people since, prior to attending seminary, she had worked at a college in East Asia where most of her students were Mongolian.
After acknowledging God's calling, Jennifer attended a Nehemiah Project church planting dinner at Golden Gate Seminary. Allan Karr, the seminary's Nehemiah Project director, sat next to her. "Over dinner he told me about a Mongolian church plant in Denver. One connection led to another, and even before I graduated I found myself in a new Mongolian church plant in San Francisco," she said. "It was not connected to any denomination at that time. God provided a place for me to live in San Francisco and then later God provided a place for the Mongolian church to worship in the same neighborhood where I lived."
Following graduation she completed a 12-week Nehemiah Project internship that involved assisting the Mongolian church and researching the Mongolian population of the Bay Area to find out where churches exist and where others are needed. She recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with the Mongolian congregation.
Jennifer continues to be involved in the lives of the Mongolian people in San Francisco. She attends their festivals and is there for them when they need prayer. They are her neighbors.
Fulfilling her additional calling from God, reaching college students in the San Francisco Bay Area for Christ, Jennifer is now serving in a two-year church planting internship with another church that is developing a simple, reproducible church model for a college community in San Francisco.
"We recently rejoiced over our first new believer at this college church start," she said. "I maintain relationships with students even when they leave college and am looking forward to seeing others also accepting Christ."
"God brings me joy as I meet with community members in coffee shops, homes and college campuses to converse about their spiritual lives," noted Jennifer. "One student who is not yet a believer told me she reads the Bible every day just to try to understand it. Another student, who recently began studying the Bible, said that before moving here, she didn't have many opportunities to meet Christians, but since moving into the city, her life has been surrounded by Christians," Jennifer continued. "This is pretty amazing considering the fact that San Francisco is less than 2% Christian. She is continuing to search out God's truths."
Jennifer noticed the search for God among Mongolians as well. "One Mongolian father shared with me, 'I always knew God existed. I just didn't know how to name Him. I think my wife is right. I think there's only one God.'
"God is definitely at work in San Francisco. I'm glad He's allowed me to be part of what He's doing in our city."
"We work with university students from all over Southeast Asia," said Ocean Oh, a 2002 master of divinity graduate. Ocean and his wife, Nicole, have been serving in a capital city in Southeast Asia for four years. "Since most of this country's educated people were killed in the 'Killing Fields' genocide of 1975-1979, 80% of the population here is under 30," he explained. "These young people are some of the most educated in the country and will be leaders in every field."
The Ohs' ministry to this group began in 2007, when they became career missionaries with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have three young children.
Ocean grew up in South Korea and came to the U.S. in 1996 to attend college. After graduating, he enrolled at Golden Gate Seminary. He explained that he chose this western seminary because "Golden Gate prepares students to practically minister in a variety of cultures and contexts. The professors intentionally prepare students to minister to the world around them, and the San Francisco Bay Area is a perfect place to work with people from all over the globe."
Ocean and Nicole teach both on and off the university campuses in the capital city. Ocean is currently teaching English and Korean at their off-campus Student Center. "Students come to learn English, hang out with their friends, and connect with short-term teams of U.S. college students," Nicole wrote in an email. "They are hungry to learn other languages and many are hungry to find out their purpose in life. We lead Bible studies, and one-on-one discipleship. Most of our time is spent hanging out with students, wherever they are—at our house, at their houses, off campus, on road trips. We want them to have an opportunity to hear the Truth. Previous generations here had little-to-no access to the Gospel so we want this generation to hear the Truth and change the course of their country's history as God changes their hearts and lives."
Ocean noted that his seminary education has helped in his ministry. "As I work with students, they ask questions such as: 'What about my grandparents who died before hearing the Gospel?' 'Can you lose your salvation?' 'Is it okay if Christians offer food to their ancestors or eat the food offered to idols?' My Golden Gate education prepared me to answer questions like these. Golden Gate taught me to think and apply the Truth of God's Word to my life, a skill I hope I can teach these first generation believers here."
*Full name is omitted for security purposes. A version of this article was published on the California Southern Baptist convention's website www.csbc.com and is used here with permission.