It’s Been a Long Time: Reflections on Ten Years at SWBTS

320px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29This week I will attend my twenty-first convocation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. January 1 marked my tenth anniversary at SWBTS. Over the last couple of months my wife and I have reflected on the last ten years in Texas and one point that keeps coming back up is the fact that we are still in our first post-seminary ministry. Compared to many of our seminary classmates, this is unusual.

A couple of years ago, Lifeway conducted a survey on pastoral tenure. It found that the average tenure of a pastor at a church is 3.6 years.[1] I’m not sure of the average length of time a professor stays at a seminary, but I have seen enough come and go through the years to know that transition happens on a fairly regular basis.

When I arrived at SWBTS in January 2007, I was a young 28-year-old fresh off comprehensive exams from my PhD coursework. I had a little teaching experience and a little bit more administrative experience. I jumped into the administrative side of things from day one and started teaching that fall. I’ve worn more hats at SWBTS than I can remember. I’ve had to request new business cards more often than most people. And I can rarely get through my current list of titles (of which my business card has four and one is now wrong), much less the ones I no longer hold.

How is this different than many of my seminary classmates? Some of them are easily at their third or fourth ministry assignment in the last ten years. A few may have even passed five or six. This is not to say that something is wrong with them. In many cases, God has led them to new ministry assignments for specific purposes. In some cases, the current ministry was too burdensome and a new opportunity was in order. In a handful of cases, the lure of a larger ministry with more influence has pulled them away from an otherwise effective ministry.

In my case, I have been able to work along steadily in the same place for a decade. I’ve had opportunities to perform different roles at the same institution, so that probably makes my ministry a little different than many pastors. However, I still feel that there has been great benefit in staying as long as I have. Here are just a few:

  1. Stability for my family. When we first arrived in Fort Worth, we knew just a couple of people. We set out to make new friends as our own family continued to grow. I’ll never forget one couple at our church who were hesitant to get too close because they feared that we would move on in a couple of years just like the other seminary families they had known. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that we had not come to SWBTS for school but to serve. We’re still friends today. The result of this longevity has been that my family has been able to plant roots that continue to grow deeper. Three of our four children are native-born Texans. They have enjoyed friendships with other children from their earliest memories just as I did. This is important for us as a family.
  2. Long-term investment. A few semesters ago I was teaching a night class when an older gentlemen in the class shared a memory from years earlier. He told me that he had been in my very first seminary class approximately eight years earlier. I cringed a little. I shared with him that I hoped this class was better than that one. He laughed and said that he didn’t remember much about the class except that we spent a lot of time working through Scripture (I was so relieved to hear that!). Through the years I have seen many students come and go, but I especially enjoy the opportunity to have some of them more than once in class. There are a few students with whom I remain in contact after their graduation. No matter where they go, they know where to find me. Investing in others over the long term is what my boyhood pastor encouraged me to do just months before he died.
  3. Personal growth. I am not the same person I was ten years ago. Staying at the same ministry has forced me to grow. I can’t impress people at SWBTS with my skill set because they’ve seen it for years. As a result, I have been forced to grow as a professor, mentor, administrator, and colleague. This takes time and more effort than most of us would care to admit.
  4. Constant learning. Related to personal growth is the fact that staying in one place for a long time requires constant learning. Just the other day, my wife and I were talking with another couple about how much I read and study. I told them that I read more today than I did during PhD coursework. This is required to stay abreast of the changes in my discipline. Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I should. There is always more to learn. Had I moved on to another ministry every few years, I might have been able to get by with less, but now I have to strive for more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last ten years at SWBTS and look forward to this eleventh year with great anticipation. If I were to retire at 73, I could spend 45 years at one place. Who knows if that will happen, but I appreciate the opportunity SWBTS has given me to plant some roots here for the last ten years.

[1] Thom S. Rainer, “8 Traits of Effective Church Leaders,” (20 August 2014). Available at http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2014/08/20/8-traits-of-effective-church-leaders/.

Politics and Ministry

240px-2016_presidential_election_ballotOver the past several weeks, I have been asked more about politics than I can ever remember. The situation with the current presidential election has created as much discussion as the Bush-Gore fiasco of 2000. At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we have sought to be a voice of reason during the contentious election cycle. As part of that reasonable voice, I have participated in two discussions over the last week about politics and its implications for ministry.

Today I spent about half an hour discussing politics and ministry on Facebook Live as part of Southwestern’s “Ask the Expert” series. Despite the obvious failings of this “expert,” it was a fun experience with some good questions. You can find the video below.

Last Thursday I was part of a panel discussion with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of SWBTS, and Rep. Matt Krause, Texas State Representative from District 93. We had a wide ranging discussion about law, politics, church, and religious liberty. The video from that discussion will be available on the Seminary’s YouTube channel in the coming days.

 

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously . . . And Other Admonitions: Traits for an Effective Administrator

800px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, to ask a question I had never heard him answer. I wanted to know what skills and traits he believed are necessary to be an effective academic administrator.

Dr. Patterson is uniquely gifted to address these qualities because he has served as a college or seminary president for over forty years (Criswell College, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). But more interestingly, many people who have served under him have gone on to serve as administrators at other institutions. Some would say that he has launched some of these “sons in the ministry” on their own paths to success in academic administration.

With no advanced preparation or notes, he described to me ten essential traits for an academic administrator (and there was an apparent hierarchy to this list in the order presented below):

  1. Good husband and father. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Patterson’s focus on the priority of the family, it may come as a surprise that this trait lands at the top of the list. However, a family man fits the Pattersonian mold for leadership. In much the same way that Paul describes the pastor as “one who manages his own household well” (1 Tim 3:4), Patterson believes the lessons learned as a good husband and father serve an administrator well. In addition, a man who is faithful to his wife and children demonstrates the commitment to lead with integrity.
  2. Commitment to inerrancy. If one could boil down Patterson’s legacy to a single word, it would be “inerrancy.” The complete truthfulness and authority of the Bible serves as the foundation for everything he does. His work in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention helped change the course of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. If an administrator is not committed to the Word of God, he is not really committed to anything.
  3. A faithful churchman. The local church is vital to the life of every Christian. Unfortunately, some Christians believe that they don’t need the body of Christ. For Patterson, however, he wants to know if you are committed to your local body of believers. Do you support the church with your time and money? Are you plugged into the ministries of the church? Do you exercise your gifts for the edification of the body of Christ? These are essential questions in determining one’s fitness for administration.
  4. Courageous. I have been on the receiving end of a few variations of Patterson’s questioning regarding courage. They are usually posed as ethical dilemmas that require tough decisions. What will you do when you find yourself between Scylla and Charybdis? Will you demonstrate courage or cower in fear? If the candidate lacks courage, then he is not qualified.
  5. Ability to assess himself. This is perhaps the most difficult trait to attain. Those being considered for an administrative post are clearly good at what they do. The question is whether they know what their weaknesses are. If you have an exalted opinion of yourself and cannot assess your own strengths and weaknesses, then you are probably not ready for this type of leadership. Those who can accurately assess themselves will then place people around themselves to supplement areas of weakness.
  6. Good with people. By their very functions, administrators deal with people. An academic administrator may have to wrangle faculty, shepherd students, and engage the community. In addition, some administrators may also be tasked with fundraising. In all of these functions, the administrator will have to interact with people. Some people who transition from faculty to administrator may find this difficult. Faculty are often stereotyped as contemplative, introverted hermits, who think about concepts that the average person cares little about and then cannot understand why they put people to sleep when talking about them. While this may be an unfair mischaracterization, there are elements that hold fairly true. However, an administrator cannot function without good people skills because the job requires interaction with living, breathing human beings, not just books.
  7. Ability to disengage. What do you do for fun? If your answer is to read a book in your academic discipline on an obscure topic, then administration is probably not for you. Patterson is an accomplished hunter with a penchant for showcasing his impressive trophies in his office. For someone else, it might be baseball, fishing, hiking, or another hobby. Because administration requires long hours of deep deliberation, there must be something that helps the administrator turn the switch off for a while. Otherwise, the administrator who cannot disengage will burn out.
  8. Reads widely. This trait and the next go together. Because an administrator deals with faculty across a multitude of disciplines, he must read widely in order to have an intelligent conversation with those outside his academic field. The president of a seminary needs to engage in biblical studies, history, philosophy, ethics, education, music, etc. A university president has an even wider field that includes the sciences, literature, political science, and more. To be an effective administrator in these settings, Patterson contends that you must read beyond your discipline.
  9. Be a generalist. Due to the nature of the job, an administrator does not have the time to devote to intense study within his academic field. As a result, he tends to be a generalist (as demonstrated by the previous trait).
  10. Have a sense of humor. Patterson is notorious for his practical jokes. I have often heard him say that you cannot take yourself too seriously. This does not mean that you have to take great pleasure in seeing a colleague squirm after being the target of a prank (although Patterson finds such a circumstance to be quite enjoyable). What it does mean is that you must have a side that is not so serious. The culture around schools under Patterson’s leadership has always included an undercurrent of humor. And the president is always fair game for a humorous barb. Just watch one of our faculty introduce him at a recent chapel service to see what I mean.

Adrian Rogers: Prince of Preachers

Two of my worlds will collide later today. The days of my youth growing up at Bellevue Baptist Church will intersect with my current ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. When I heard that SWBTS had secured the Adrian Rogers library, I was excited. Today that library will be dedicated on our campus.

There is much I could say about the influence of Adrian Rogers on my life. He was my first pastor. I learned how to follow a sermon by listening to his carefully articulated and cleverly alliterated points projected by his uniquely resonant voice. He captured my mind with his intellect and my heart with his passion.

In the days following his death, I wrote my reflections on what he meant to me as a pastor. The two memories I shared then I still cherish today.

As a 16-year-old, I had been called to ministry but did not know what to expect. At the advice of my parents, I scheduled a meeting with the pastor. It was a Wednesday night when Dr. Rogers was not preaching, so I skipped the youth Bible study and went to his office. I figured that I would get about 15 minutes of his time before he had to move on to “more important things.” Instead, he gave me all the time I wanted. I walked into his office, where he was sitting on the sofa with his feet propped up on the table in front of him. He asked me what was on my mind and we talked for nearly an hour.

I don’t remember all his advice on that day more than 21 years ago, but I do remember one item in particular. He asked me if I had any preaching opportunities coming up. Since I was leading a Bible study at my school in a couple of weeks, I responded with an excited “yes.” He asked me what text I had chosen, and I told him Romans 1:16.

I can still vividly remember his response. He leaned his head back, looked toward heaven, and gave me a perfectly alliterated four-point sermon for my text. Only then realizing what he was doing, I asked him to repeat it and grabbed my Bible and a pen and wrote the sermon outline in the margin next to Romans 1:16. I “preached” that sermon a couple of weeks later and fell into the long line of preachers who not only tried to emulate Dr. Rogers but who also tried to preach one of his sermons.

My other memory came just months before he passed away. As a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was given the opportunity to pick up Dr. and Mrs. Rogers at the airport in April 2005 as he was flying in to preach for a chapel service. After a few weather delays, their flight landed shortly before midnight, and my wife and I were greeted by a notably energetic Dr. and Mrs. Rogers.

We got in the car and started heading toward the school when Dr. Rogers asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I gave him a couple of answers, and then I heard that famous voice speak up from the back seat of the car and say, “Well, my dear boy …”

For what seemed like an hour but was probably only 10 or 15 minutes, he described the joys of the pastorate and the impact someone can have by spending years in one church pouring himself into the people as their pastor. I could tell that he had spent his life doing what he thought was the most important role he could ever have.

During that drive to campus, he asked me about some of my professors, specifically wanting to know who I had taken for preaching. After telling him about my preaching class with Dr. Stephen Rummage, I attempted to compliment him by saying that the best preaching class I ever had was listening to him preach every week at Bellevue. The car got silent, and I halfway expected a response along the lines of “that’s too kind.” Instead, I got a glimpse of the humor many others had told me about. After a few moments of silence, he said, “You’re right. That probably was the best preaching class you could ever have.” That memory still makes me chuckle more than a decade later—but he was right.

My life has been forever shaped by the ministry of Dr. Adrian Rogers. After spending a few years in seminary, I realized that I knew what expository preaching looked like long before I knew what the words meant. I witnessed what it meant to be a man of integrity in the pulpit, even in the face of trying times and difficult circumstances. And, personally, I learned the impact that a man can have on a young preacher boy just by taking a few moments out of his schedule to sit down and talk.

I am so thankful that Southwestern Seminary will be the home of his library. I look forward to perusing the books and notes from which he developed the sermons I heard from my childhood until I left home for seminary. Adrian Rogers impacted my life in ways that I cannot even articulate. I am grateful that my students at Southwestern will be able to get a glimpse of this man I greatly respected and admired.

Good Reading: Defined by Debt

Steven Smith, VP for Student Services and Communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a great post on the issue of debt and ministry. Here is an excerpt:

Those who train for the ministry are called to lead a generation addicted to consumerism to embrace the counter cultural message of Christ, who was building toward a kingdom to come. Whatever else the coming generation of pastors does, it must convince people not to live for money in this life, but to invest in the next. Which leads us to a question. How can ministers of the Gospel call a generation to turn from being consumed with money when their own existence is beholden to financial institutions?

At the end of the post, he also gives a link for new M.Div. and college students at SWBTS to apply for a new scholarship program that will cover an entire year of tuition. Check out the entire post here.

Conversation with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

On September 14, I extended an invitation to Evangelicals for Marriage Equality to have a dialogue on the nature of marriage and whether evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. After a number of emails behind the scenes, I am pleased to announce that Michael Saltsman, one of the co-founders of EME, will be joining my Bible & Moral Issues class tomorrow (October 15) on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In addition to being one of the co-founders of EME, Mr. Saltsman is research director at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. He has published a number of articles on minimum wage and employment policies. His articles have appeared in prestigious publications, such as the Wall Street Journal.

Some may wonder why I would allow someone with whom I disagree substantially on a significant issue to have an hour or so of my precious class time. In some respects, I have already answered this question in a previous post regarding my selection of books for one of my classes. I chose a text that espouses positions that I fundamentally oppose on a particular ethical issue. This is a very similar exercise. In that post, I noted:

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions.

Before inviting EME, I approached Dr. Patterson seeking his permission to extend the invitation. He told me it was my class and that he trusted me. In essence, I am doing what he taught me to do. This time it just happens to be live and in-person rather than in book form.

Am I afraid that my students will be swayed to support same-sex marriage? Not really. Could it happen? Anything is possible. Do they need to hear what EME has to say? Certainly. If some of my students are convinced to support same-sex marriage as a result of this conversation, then I have done a poor job of making my case this semester (granted, I still have about 7 more weeks left this semester to change any of their minds). It’s humbling to invite someone into my classroom whose goal is to convince my students that I am wrong. But it is a healthy exercise for both student and professor.

I am looking forward to a healthy discussion regarding our differences of opinion related to marriage. I have also invited all of my students from other classes to join us tomorrow morning. If you happen to be around the SWBTS campus at 8:30 in the morning, you are welcome to join us in Truett Conference Room.

An Invitation to Dialogue with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

Baptist Press published an article yesterday with comments from various Southern Baptist thinkers and leaders (and then me) responding to the launch of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME). For those of you not familiar with EME, the opening paragraph of their statement of belief reads as follows:

As Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married. Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others—whether or not they share our religious convictions.

One of the key goals of this organization is to foster “compassionate, respectful dialogue” on the issue of same-sex marriage. They acknowledge that some of the conversations on both sides of the aisle have not always been helpful or civil.

As a Southern Baptist, I agree with the statements released in Baptist Press, especially considering my comments are part of the article. It should come as no surprise that I disagree with the position of EME. However, the statements back and forth (especially on Twitter) have been less of a conversation and more of short sound bites or longer soliloquies.

In light of this and in the spirit of dialogue, I am offering an open invitation to EME co-founders Josh Dickson and Michael Saltsman and/or spokesperson Brandan Robertson to have a dialogue in my ethics classes on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.

In just two sections of The Christian Home (a course on the ethics of marriage and family), I have nearly 100 students—future Baptist and evangelical pastors, missionaries, professors, and ministry leaders—focusing on the issue of marriage. The class schedule is such that both sections can be visited within the span of about 15 hours (Monday evening and Tuesday morning). I also have an introductory level class on the Bible and Moral Issues that meets Wednesday morning. The seminary classroom setting is perhaps a perfect place to have this dialogue as we believe in the exchange and evaluation of ideas.

If EME would like to send a representative to the fifth largest media market in the country to have a dialogue on the campus of one of the largest theological seminaries in the world, the invitation is open. My contact information is readily available on my faculty profile page on the seminary website.