Reports from three seminary convocations follow.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
In celebrating and asking the Lord's favor upon the upcoming academic year, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary held its fall convocation service in the school's new chapel Aug. 20.
Jason K. Allen, Midwestern's president, delivered the keynote address, noting that the event is a special occasion in the life of the seminary community.
"Convocation unmistakably symbolizes a new day for a seminary," he said. "The formality of the service, the academic regalia, the historic references and the full institutional attention on this chapel service -- on this place and time -- reminds us that there is something unique about this day.
"Academic convocations are rooted in the medieval university. It is a sign of marking the beginning of an academic year or academic event," Allen said. "It is a sign of consecration, of dedication, to that which the Lord is calling us. It is to formally ask the Lord's blessing."
Allen's message focused on the subject, "Abide in Christ: Priority One for Every Gospel Minister," and his supporting text came from John 15:1-11.
In his address, Allen said there is an apparent dichotomy in that a student's time in seminary is primarily directed at the mind; while on the other hand, ministry faithfulness seems to be an issue primarily of the heart.
"The inequity is this: Virtually every metric a seminary has to gauge your progress and grade your growth is academic, intellectual; whereas, the primary measurement of ministry faithfulness is the heart: the motive, the life, the affection, the spirit," Allen said.
Midwestern's president said he did not want to create a chasm of distinction but rather to remind students that they must be careful to tend their hearts on a day-by-day basis while in seminary -- all the while also cultivating their minds. If not, the results often are tragic.
"The world is littered by former pastors, former ministers, former missionaries, former teachers of God's Word who no longer serve in that capacity," Allen said. "Rarely are they formerly ministers, formerly missionaries, formerly pastors because of doctrinal drift, though that happens too often.
"Most of those who forsake their call to ministry and find themselves no longer serving the church and the Gospel do so not because they have embraced theological liberalism and not because they have committed some scandalous sin; most do that because they simply wither away."
Delving into the text, Allen reminded students of the stewardship they have over their spirits, their hearts, "and that priority number one of the faithful Gospel minister is to abide in Christ."
The first major movement in the passage, Allen said, is that the Father's purpose for all believers is to bear fruit, and to bear fruit now.
"It is not reserved for you in some other stage of life after your kids are grown or out of the house, or your baby is out of diapers, or some other position in life. No. Life gets busier. Ministry gets busier, and if you do not root yourself in abiding in Christ during this season, have no assurance that you will in some other season," he said.
Allen said that in addition to prioritizing their academic commitments, students should strive for self-discipline in Christ and be attentive to ways they can take action toward fulfilling the Lord's purpose for their lives.
"What am I saying? The Lord's preeminent concern for you is not registered on your transcript," Allen said. "It is registered in your character, in your life, and in the faithfulness thereof. It is also in the way you rightly reflect and bring honor and glory to His holiness and His ministry as evidenced through you. The Father's purpose for you is to bear fruit," he said.
Allen also explained to students that the faithfulness and fruitfulness of their ministries was directly tied to abiding in Christ.
"I did not say the success of your ministry. I said the faithfulness of your ministry and the fruitfulness of your ministry because those are the two biblical metrics that ultimately matter," Allen said. "Are we faithful to the Lord and to His Word, and are we fruitful in that effort as He so blesses? Jesus says we cannot be unless we abide in Him."
Allen said his greatest concern for students was not that they would fall away into theological liberalism but that they would fizzle out of ministry altogether. He concluded with a call to faithfulness.
"Let us hold a standard high of ministry and hold a standard high of preparing for ministry. As we train our minds and give them to the glory of Christ, let us know we lead this with our hearts -- hearts warmed by Christ, moved by His Word, filled by His Spirit, submitted to His lordship, overflowing with joy because of His salvation and His call."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Students, faculty, guests and friends of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary filled Binkley Chapel for convocation and the first Kingdom Celebration on campus. The day launched a diversity initiative of Southeastern to exemplify "Every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9) at the seminary and in the church.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern, welcomed new students and introduced the convocation guest speaker, Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
"My wife and I wept when he was announced as head of the Southern Baptist Convention," Akin said of Luter Aug. 20. "He is a dear friend and I have so much respect for him."
The first chapel of the semester was marked with worship, prayer and conviction as Luter preached from Romans 1:16-17. The sermon focused on the transforming power of the Word of God because it is personal, powerful, practical and persistent.
Luter encouraged students to look back at their own B.C. days and asked, "What did it take to change you?" He reassured listeners that the Word of God is available to others regardless of their race, heritage or ethnicity. His words energized and challenged the audience to impact the culture in the last days through their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
An intimate luncheon following the convocation was moderated by Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity at Southeastern. Local pastors asked questions and shared personal diversity insights with Luter and Akin.
"Out of 45,000 Baptist churches with 16 million members, only 8 percent are African American," Luter said of the SBC. "For an African American to be elected unopposed is unheard of. God had to be in it."
Akin said, "Despite our intention, we all have blind spots. At chapel this fall, we will have five or six African American preachers. I pray diversity to just be second nature here at SEBTS."
Luter said, "There is not a whole lot we can do about our past, but there is a whole lot we can do about our future. I see walls coming down every day."
Luter last visited Southeastern in 1993.
That evening students, pastors and local church members came together to worship, pray and listen to a discussion on Kingdom diversity. Bruce Ashford, Southeastern's provost, introduced the event as a demonstration of a multicolored splendor and celebrating what Christ can do.
Strickland moderated a panel featuring Akin; James White, pastor of Christ our King Community Church in Raleigh; Edgar Aponte, director of Hispanic leadership development at Southeastern; and Norman Peart, pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship in Cary.
Akin spoke about building churches on earth that look like churches in heaven and working hard to be part of the movement that brings together believers from every tribe, tongue and nation.
White encouraged the audience to be willing to be learners, engage in conversation and become aware of historical contexts. "You can start tomorrow," White said.
Aponte said, "We should push ourselves to be with people we are not comfortable with and pray that God will bring different people to us. Also, forgive where there have been offenses, and where we offended others, ask for forgiveness."
Peart said, "Diversity is not peripheral or optional for the Gospel. It is the core of what the Gospel is." He encouraged the audience to persevere and be patient as they work toward diversity in the church.
Akin said, "Go out from this place and intentionally start building relationships, disciple others and start trusting God to build up leaders in the church. I am committed to this until I leave this place. By God's grace, we will be much further down the road than we are today."
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Great academic and ministerial success without a burning, genuine love for the Lord will ultimately result in failure, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson told a bumper crop of new and returning students Aug. 22.
Patterson's remarks came during Southwestern's convocation chapel service on the first day of fall classes.
"If you came to seminary and you learned everything that every professor knows until you could recite it in your dreams at night; if you had it all nailed down and your theology was virtually perfect; and not only that but you practiced the things that are found but you did not do it loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul, you will be a failure," Patterson said.
"If you become a pastor or leader of an enormous ministry somewhere so that your influence and impact is worldwide and yet you do not love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, the sad truth of the matter is that you are a failure," Patterson said.
Patterson preached from Matthew 22:34-40, where Jesus gives the two greatest commandments. He told students that loving God with everything that is in them requires them to love His Word and obey His Word.
Holding up a Bible, Patterson said, "When I come to this book, I know every syllable of it is true, but that's not what makes it precious."
"It's not the inerrancy of the Word, not the infallibility of the Word of God that makes it precious to me. I believe all that, but that's not what makes it precious to me. What makes it precious to me is that I know the author, and I'm responding to the love that He has for me," Patterson said.
"And because I love Him so much, I love His Word. I study it because I love Him and want to know all about Him that I possibly can. If you're here to study for any other reason than the supreme love of your heart for the Lord Jesus Christ, you've come for the wrong reason."
During the convocation chapel, several faculty were recognized for promotions, one faculty member was installed into an academic chair and a new faculty member signed the seminary's book of faculty service, marking his agreement with the institution's articles of faith.
Among those recognized for promotion were Steven Smith, who was elected in July to serve as vice president for student services and communications, and Michael Wilkinson, who was elected to serve as dean of the College at Southwestern.
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics, was installed into the Bobby L. and Janis Eklund Chair of Stewardship. Leo Day, former music minister at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., and newly elected dean of the School of Church Music, signed the book of faculty service.
Based on reporting by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ali Dixon of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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