SBC Life Articles

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Like a beacon in the night, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary radiates with the Light of the Gospel along the Eastern Seaboard and throughout the world. Recognized throughout the Southern Baptist Convention for its profound commitment to reaching its arms around the globe for the cause of Christ, Southeastern is a leader in missions emphasis and equipping in the U.S. and abroad.

Founded in 1950 on the campus of Wake Forest College in Wake Forest, N.C., Southeastern Seminary has been training men and women for ministry for nearly fifty years. In fact, the Southeastern campus has Baptist roots that date back to 1832 when the Baptists of North Carolina obtained the property to build a college to educate ministers. In recent years, Southeastern Seminary has taken bold steps to advance God's kingdom at home and around the world.

New Churches

Compelled by a burden to reach the East Coast and the world with the gospel, Southeastern Seminary recently pioneered two church planting programs not previously attempted by a Southern Baptist seminary.

In February 1997, Southeastern forged a partnership with the New Hampshire Baptist Association aimed at establishing fifty Southern Baptist churches in that northeastern state over the next ten years.

The partnership calls for five graduating seminary students to go to New Hampshire each year as church planters and pastors. To date, Southeastern has helped start five new Southern Baptist churches during the first year of the partnership.

Motivated by the biblical mandate to reach the world for Christ, Southeastern, in concert with the International Mission Board, pioneered the first church-planting program on foreign soil in 1995. The seminary's first two church planting classes spent two years in East Africa and East Asia respectively. Southeastern's 1997 church planting class is currently serving in Southeast Asia. In August, eighteen seminary students and their families were deployed for two years of service in Central Asia.

Under the program, students are required to complete sixty-four semester hours on the Wake Forest campus before completing the final third of their seminary training overseas.

Project People Link

Earlier this year, Southeastern again partnered with the International Mission Board to pioneer an innovative missions strategy designed to assist churches with getting the gospel to "Unreached People Groups" around the world who have never been exposed to Christianity.

About thirty Southeastern students enrolled in the seminary's master of divinity with church planting program are currently serving as IMB consultants who help mobilize churches for hands-on involvement with missions efforts overseas through a program called Project People Link.

Thirty percent of the world's population, totaling 1.7 billion people, currently have little or no access to the gospel, according to IMB statistics.

"Project People Link is a remarkable opportunity to connect people in the churches with overseas missions efforts," said Southeastern President Paige Patterson.

Renewed Personal Evangelism

In addition to Southeastern's evangelistic efforts along the East Coast and overseas, Southeastern students practice what they preach. Living by the motto: "the light that shines farthest shines brightest at home," Southeastern students practice door-to-door evangelism weekly throughout the Wake Forest community. A student-led evangelistic outreach program called Doulos, the Greek word for bondservant, has recorded more than 100 professions of faith in the last year.

"Not only are they concerned about people's eternal destiny, but they also realize that not all of this is done in the flesh, but it's done only by the intervention of the power of God," Patterson said.

New Growth and Programs

Over the past five years, Southeastern has become one of the fastest growing seminaries in the world. Since 1992, when Patterson became president of the seminary, annual student enrollment has increased by 128 percent. Southeastern established an all-time high annual enrollment in July 1998 totaling more than 1,700 students enrolled for the 1997-98 academic year at the seminary's main campus or one of its three extension centers in North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida. Students from nearly every state in the U.S. and more than a dozen foreign countries attend Southeastern.

In response to the skyrocketing student enrollment, administrators at Southeastern have worked tirelessly to assemble a faculty of scholars, who have studied around the world and are committed to the fidelity of the Word of God and the inerrancy of Scripture. The seminary has established four endowed academic chairs. The Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism is fully funded at $1 million. An additional $500,000 has been donated toward the funding of three other academic chairs, one of which has already been identified as the Johnny Hunt Chair of Church Growth.

The addition of six new master's level programs and a Ph.D. program as well as the creation of a four-year college program have contributed significantly to the unprecedented growth experienced since Patterson arrived at Southeastern.

In April, Southeastern's Board of Trustees approved a degree track unparalleled among Southern Baptist seminaries, called the Master of Divinity with Women's Studies. This new degree program, which officially began this fall, is specifically tailored for women seeking training for ministry positions other than the pastorate.

"Among evangelical schools, this is the first of its kind," Patterson said. "We felt that the time had come to prepare women who want to be biblically oriented women and want to live according to the dictates of the Word of the Lord."

Patterson said the new degree track offers an alternative to existing women's studies programs at universities across the country which have been tainted by "radical feminism."

"We feel that this is a program that is going to meet a need that is increasingly present and that no one has been addressing significantly," he said.

Dorothy Patterson, assistant professor of Women's Studies at Southeastern and wife of Paige Patterson, has committed to teach full time in the program for two years without pay while the seminary works to fund the program through contributions to an endowment fund.

"We want it to be a program that honors the Lord and is bound by Scripture on every end," she said.

In addition to its doctoral programs and master's programs in theology, Christian counseling, church planting, Christian education, church music, women's studies, intercultural studies, and advanced biblical studies, Southeastern began this fall training men and women for ministry through its new four-year Bachelor of Arts program.

Southeastern Baptist Theological College, established in 1995 as an upper-level baccalaureate program, was expanded this fall to a full four-year program offering undergraduate degrees in biblical studies and the History of Ideas.

The History of Ideas program is designed to expose students to the "great books" of the Western World in literature, philosophy, history, and science, which have shaped Western ideas and culture.

"If a person is familiar with those great books then he really knows the whole history of Western ideas," Patterson said. "We want to produce a kind of minister with a full grasp of what has made our culture significant."

New Construction

As Southeastern prepares ministers for service at the dawn of a new millennium, the seminary is in the midst of a $3.1 million fund-raising campaign to build a 16,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art missions training center where students and professors can communicate directly with missionaries around the globe through broadcasts on closed-circuit television and interactive video.

"We remain deeply committed to a campus-based education as the only fully adequate way to train missionaries, pastors, and evangelists for the 21st century," Patterson said. "In this regard we are cutting in a different direction from all of modern theory. We are building a state-of-the-art technological campus with a view to seeing a great revival on the East Coast and shaking our whole world for Christ."

Part of the fund raising campaign will be used to renovate a campus building to create much needed space for faculty offices.

Southeastern has weath-ered the growing pains of recent years and stands at the door of the 21st century equipped to train men and women for ministry until Christ returns. The seminary opened a new seventy-four-unit apartment complex in August and another 120-unit complex is under construction. Patterson said that although student housing had been limited in the past, the seminary is now ready to accommodate students for years to come.

Future plans for developing the campus into the next century call for construction of a new library, student center, cafeteria and banquet hall, classroom buildings, and dormitories.

A Brave New Vision

As more students continue to take the gospel to the darkest corners of the globe each year, Patterson's church planting vision is broadening along the Eastern Seaboard beyond New Hampshire.

"What we want to do is encircle New York City," he said. "We'll take Maine and Massachusetts and Vermont and eventually do a pincer movement on New York City."

Seminary Stats

Southern Baptist seminary enrollment for 1997-98:
Golden Gate Seminary – 1,366
Midwestern Seminary – 830
New Orleans Seminary – 2,551
Southeastern Seminary – 1,745
Southern Seminary – 2,248
Southwestern Seminary – 3,166

Total enrollment at Southern Baptist seminaries for the 1997-98 school year was 11,906.

For the 1997-98 school year the Association of Theological Schools listed 229 accredited seminaries in the U.S. and Canada.

Total enrollment in those seminaries was 65,416.

Average enrollment at non-Southern Baptist seminaries was 244.

Average enrollment at Southern Baptist seminaries was 1,984.

One in five seminary students in North America attended a Southern Baptist seminary.

    About the Author

  • Lee Weeks