Chuck Kelley, the seminary's president, challenged graduates to always continue learning. Though students learned a lot during their seminary studies, the experiences of life and ministry will continue to give context to their education, Kelley said.
"You're going to find out that experience is the water and fertilizer that will make what you learn grow," Kelley said.
Kelley told the story of a mother who was leaving her two younger daughters at home with her 13-year-old son while she ran an errand. To make sure her son was ready to supervise his sisters, the mother quizzed him on how he would react to different circumstances.
"She said to her 13-year-old son, 'But what about a fire?' And he looked at her and said, 'Mom, I'm a Boy Scout. I know how to start a fire,'" Kelley said to laughs. "He will learn that wasn't exactly what was on her mind, that at that point she was more concerned with putting one out than with starting one."
Kelley drove the point home: "That's what experience in life does for you. It takes what you learn and adds to it and gives it context and application."
Besides pointing graduates to the experience that will come post-seminary, Kelley challenged them to always remember what they already have and what they carry into their world of ministry: hope.
"This is what you will carry from here. The certain knowledge there is hope," he said.
Kelley pointed to NOBTS students at several prisons across the southeast United States that, despite their past transgressions and their current situation, have experienced the transformational love of Christ.
"Just down the road, about an hour from here, is the only women's prison in the state of Louisiana, and they'll be having a graduation ceremony from NOBTS in early January," Kelley said. "We went into that prison and we've been teaching them the skills of ministry so they can turn around and minister to the other women in that prison."
Kelley said the December graduates carry the same message with them that "any life can be changed through Jesus Christ, that any sin and any brokenness can be restored and mended, that there is no circumstance in which God cannot work, that there is no situation in which hope cannot be found."
As 2 Corinthians 5:17 states, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here."
"Jesus has the power to change any human life through the simple act of repentance and faith," Kelley said.
In addition to well-known associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees awarded, New Orleans Seminary conferred several degrees for the first time during the ceremony.
Students received the following certificates for the first time: the graduate certificate in women's ministry, the graduate certificate in bi-vocational ministry, the graduate certificate in church leadership, the graduate certificate in Greek studies and the graduate certificate in pastoral ministry. Three students also earned the master of theological studies degree for the first time.
The certificates have been available from NOBTS for a while, but the master of theological studies degree was one of three accredited, online degrees seminary trustees approved in 2012.
The other two online master's degrees currently available include the master of arts in biblical studies and the master of arts in theology. While available completely online, each of the three degrees also are available in a traditional classroom format or a combination of both. The ability to customize each degree allows the student to tailor courses of study to fit individual needs.
NOBTS is seeking to expand its lineup of online degrees. At their Oct. 8 meeting, NOBTS trustees voted to allow seminary administrators to seek approval of four additional fully online degrees from the school's accreditation agency. Those additional degrees would include a fully online master of divinity, master of arts in Christian education, master of arts in apologetics and master of missiology.
Frank McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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