FROM THE SEMINARIES: SBTS (Donor gives $1M for church revitalization), NOBTS (religious liberty conf.)

Baptist Press
Posted: Aug 20, 2014 5:22 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: "From the Seminaries" includes news releases of interest from Southern Baptist seminaries.

Today's From the Seminaries includes items from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Businessman-revivalist gives $1M for church revitalization

By James A. Smith Sr.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) -- Harold Mathena has "dabbled" in business throughout his life. For him, business has always been secondary to his desire to serve the Lord as a pastor and evangelist. Business was his means to ministry, not the end itself.

Most people's dabbling, however, rarely results in a successful business, sold after 22 years for $240 million.

Mathena is not most people.

Because of his business acumen and God's blessings, Mathena has given Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a $1 million gift to fund a "major new emphasis" in church revitalization, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. noted during his report to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June.

In establishing the Mathena Center for Congregational Revitalization, Southern Seminary will provide instruction and special experiences to train ministers for reviving declining and dying churches, Mohler said in an interview with Southern Seminary Magazine.

As important as the recent emphasis in church planting is for Southern Baptists, revitalization of existing congregations also is critical, Mohler said.

"We need young pastors to recognize the incredible, untapped opportunity of those churches and to recognize that even as church planting is a courageous calling, so also is going into a church and helping it to recapture its vision, re-embrace its convictions and re-address its community in the world with an opportunity for missions and evangelism," he said.

Many Southern Seminary alumni are demonstrating leadership in church revitalization, Mohler said, citing as examples Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Aaron Menikoff at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Ga., and Greg Gilbert at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

Mathena's gift also will support the seminary's new doctor of ministry in church revitalization degree, Mohler said.

Mathena, now 79, worked in the oil fields in south Louisiana after high school, learning the industry and eventually developing oil field drilling equipment. After 20 years, Mathena left the industry for a time in order to take a pastorate in Yukon, Okla. After eight years as a pastor -- five years full-time and three years bivocationally -- he began an evangelism ministry, having started his first company to support it.

"The reason for starting the company was to make a living so I could do evangelistic work," Mathena told Southern Seminary Magazine in an interview. "I couldn't work for someone else and have the freedom to do revivals."

Four years after starting Omega Equipment Co., Mathena sold it in 1982. By 1990, he was ready to start another business, Mathena, Inc., also providing oil field equipment.

Launching the company during a significant economic recession for the oil industry in Oklahoma didn't prevent Mathena's business from thriving. "It was just a God-thing from the very beginning," he said, noting the "miraculous" blessing on his business in spite of an otherwise down economy.

"God just gave us an unusual amount of wisdom and discernment about the work we were involved in and it was wholly of Him," he said.

Mathena said he is certain that God's blessings were for the purpose of advancing his evangelistic ministry.

"When we started the business in 1990, I wrote a prayer in a little spiral-bound notebook I had in my shirt pocket asking God to bless our business and committing my efforts to be successful with God's help," he said. "And God honored that prayer and allowed us to be successful in the business and it was totally of God we were able to do what we did."

In 2012, Mathena sold Mathena Inc. to a Scottish company -- directing the buyer to give $21.6 million in proceeds to his home church, Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, as a testimony. The gift, one-tenth of the sale price after a portion set aside in escrow, was no different than his first tithe of $25 as a new believer in 1958, Mathena said.

"Having tithed all those years that we served the Lord, when we sold the company, it was no issue, it was no problem, and it was a normal and natural thing to do to give a tithe of what we'd received from the company," he said.

More than just tithing on the sale of his business, Mathena and his wife Patricia have given generously to other Christian causes, including Southern Seminary.

Mathena became aware of Southern through his son John who served as a member of the board of trustees from 2002-12. While the senior Mathena has ministered throughout his life without formal theological education, he was "impressed" with what he experienced while visiting the campus and seeing the "young people that had been trained" at Southern.

"I wanted to support the ministry and this was an opportunity to do that," he said.

"We all know there's a great need in Southern Baptist life for revival," he said concerning his gift to support church revitalization efforts at Southern. "In every church you go to, there's a need for spiritual awakening. … We need to do everything we can to train and project young people into society and into our culture to make a difference."

Mathena's giving, however, is not generosity -- it's stewardship, said Hance Dilbeck, his pastor. "He lives with a keen sense of the Lord's ownership of 100 percent," Dilbeck told Southern Seminary Magazine.

The Mathenas are "model church members," Dilbeck said, noting that Harold teaches a Sunday School class and is faithful in worship attendance.

"Harold Mathena has the gift of evangelism," Dilbeck said. "He preaches the Gospel with passion and clarity. As an evangelist, he gives a clear and compelling invitation. His preaching is consistently productive."

John Mathena said his parents' faithfulness in stewardship has had an impact on the entire family — serving as a model for others.

"I truly believe that God has blessed our family because we have been good stewards of what he has placed under our care," he said. "Dad and Mom have been great examples for all followers of Christ to watch when it comes to stewardship."

His father's virtually lifelong bivocational ministry was demonstrated in the fact that "he rarely separated" his business interests from his role as a pastor and evangelist.

His father's ministry of evangelism is joined with a concern to "encourage the pastors to run the race with endurance," John Mathena said.

Harold Mathena said he has no plans of slowing down in his revival ministry, which generally has him preaching services in churches every other week in the spring and fall. With no website or other promotion, invitations come via word-of-mouth, keeping his calendar full.

"I just think it's a remarkable thing that any church would want a 79-year-old man to come and that in itself is a God-thing that I have an opportunity to preach at all. And of course, as long as I have opportunity, I'm going to do what I can."

James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor and chief spokesman of Southern Seminary.

NOBTS institute to host religious liberty seminary

By Staff

NEW ORLEANS (NOBTS) -- The United States Supreme Court made headlines this summer with a pair of decisions that dealt with religious liberty and free speech. One upheld the ability of Hobby Lobby as a privately held company to exclude certain healthcare coverage that owners deem contrary to their religious convictions. The other decision struck down a Massachusetts law that set a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances to abortion clinics.

The decisions highlight the precarious state of religious liberty in the United States, despite the fact that religious liberty is a foundational tenet of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Religious liberty also is a Baptist distinctive, with Baptists long teaching that the government should not tell citizens what they should or shouldn't believe or inhibit the free expression of belief.

And yet, as society has changed so has its understanding of this concept. Religious liberty is now being challenged by the culture at large. On Sept. 30, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Institute for Faith and the Public Square will host a conference titled "Challenges to Religious Liberty."

The evening conference will feature Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaking on "Challenges to the Church." Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University's law school, will examine "Challenges in Counseling" with Carol Swain, professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University, addressing "Challenges in Education."

"The traditional understanding of religious liberty is being recast as toleration of religious people, as long as they keep their ideas inside the church," said NOBTS professor Lloyd Harsch, director of the Institute for Faith and the Public Square. "Our hope is to highlight issues that Christians are, or could be, facing as people of faith interact with the public square and what is the best strategy in meeting those challenges."

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the seminary's New Orleans campus.

Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.

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