Seminary President Chuck Kelley said the revised standard M.Div. offers a curriculum that is "tightly connected with the real world of ministry in the 21st century."
In 2000, New Orleans Seminary faculty introduced a major revision of the standard M.Div. developed around seven basic competencies for effective ministry: biblical exposition, Christian theological heritage, disciple making, interpersonal skills, servant leadership, spiritual and character formation and worship leadership. At the time, the administration planned to review the progress of the revised degree at the five-year mark in 2005. However, Hurricane Katrina put the review on hold.
In 2009, NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke, dean of graduate studies Jerry Barlow and division chairs began a review of the M.Div. For 18 months, they interviewed faculty and students, surveyed alumni and consulted course evaluation data from the past three years. The team also reviewed the M.Div. programs of various other evangelical seminaries.
Based on that research, as well as the changing needs of the churches where graduates will serve, the task force developed modest revisions to the M.Div. degree, including a change to 84 credit hours versus the current 91 credit hours. The proposal received unanimous approval from faculty before it was presented to the trustees, who also approved it unanimously during a Dec. 7 meeting on the New Orleans campus.
Among other minor changes, some courses were combined, others dropped from three to two credit hours and a couple of courses were eliminated. The faculty also had the opportunity to add courses to the M.Div. degree. Intermediate Greek and Hebrew grammar courses were added to the revised standard M.Div. along with courses in discipleship strategies and church revitalization. Electives will drop from 14 to nine credit hours.
"The standard M.Div. has served our graduate program and students well for over 10 years," Barlow said. "However, we have needed to revise it in view of newly developed courses, contemporary needs of students, advances in teaching methods and developments in pedagogical technology."
Kelley underscored the heightened emphasis on discipleship and church revitalization, calling discipleship the most pressing issue facing today's Southern Baptist churches. Citing statistics on the number of plateaued and declining churches, Kelley said learning how to help churches grow again will be a vital part of the ministry of SBC seminary graduates for the foreseeable future.
The standard M.Div. serves as the basis for all NOBTS specialized M.Div. programs and the revision will have a significant impact on each of these specializations. Revisions to the M.Div. specializations will be presented to the trustee board for approval during the April 2011 meeting.
Regarding the impact the changes will have on students currently enrolled in the standard M.Div. program, Lemke said the seminary is developing guidelines to make a smooth transition from the current degree to the revised degree. "This new standard M.Div. will not take effect until August 2011," he said, "so it will not impact those graduating in May 2011. For all our other current students, they should all be able to graduate no later than they are currently scheduled. Since the new degree has fewer hours, some students who follow carefully the advice of their academic adviser may be able to graduate a semester earlier."
In other action, NOBTS trustees approved the purchase of property near the seminary's main campus. At a purchase price of $250,000, the seminary is getting the property well under land value estimates that run as high as $550,000. The purchase, made possible through a private donation, includes a large lot and hurricane-damaged building that will be razed. The building demolition and debris removal also will be donated.
Kelly said the purchase of the land and removal of the blighted building will provide a great service for the Gentilly community and could spur economic development in the area. The property, approximately one block from campus, may be utilized in the short term for community purposes such as a farmer's market.
"New Orleans Baptist Seminary is passionately committed to being a good neighbor as well as being an excellent institution," Kelley said. "We feel like this is going to help us start changing the appearance of our neighborhood and will be a great contribution to the quality of life for our seminary family as well as for the larger neighborhood."
Lemke announced that Jimmy Dukes, director of theological education for the Florida Baptist Convention and NOBTS associate regional dean for Florida extension center, is returning to the seminary's main campus. Dukes will serve as associate dean of innovative learning. In his new role, the longtime NOBTS professor and extension leader will oversee the seminary's prison education programs.
Lemke also announced the creation of the Institute for Faith and Public Square, to be directed by Lloyd Harsch (see separate Baptist Press story for Dec. 20).
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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