By Gary D. Myers
COLUMBUS, Ohio — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley began his report to the Southern Baptist Convention messengers by quoting from the call of Isaiah recorded in Isaiah 6: “Whom can I send? Who will go for us? And I [Isaiah] said, ‘Here am I, send me.'”
“New Orleans Seminary exists to serve all of those who hear the call Isaiah heard and are answering the call to serve the Lord,” Kelley said.
Kelley saved his biggest news for the end of his report – NOBTS will finish the summer with the largest enrollment in the school’s history.
Kelley pointed to the school’s accessibility efforts as one key way NOBTS is helping men and women answer God’s call and train for ministry. Initiatives like the seminary’s extensive extension center system and fully-online undergraduate and master’s degrees are extending the NOBTS campus and allowing students to train for ministry without leaving the churches they already serve. Online learning is giving the seminary a truly global reach, Kelley said, making training available to any God-called man or woman in the world who has a computer and an Internet connection.
One of the newest accessibility initiatives at NOBTS is the Entrust Mentoring Community, Kelley said. Entrust allows a student to earn much of his or her degree while ministering in a local church setting. Study is guided by NOBTS professors and enhanced by weekly interaction with local church mentors. Any SBC church in the United States with a willing mentor is a potential Entrust study location, Kelley said.
Kelley said the seminary not only is teaching about ministry but is actively involved in doing ministry. From community Christian counseling in New Orleans to a ministry partnership with a local drug and alcohol recovery ministry and training programs at five state prisons, NOBTS pairs the theoretical scholarship students expect in the classroom with real-world ministry experiences.
The seminary, Kelley said, also is answering God’s call through unusual opportunities like the Caskey Center for Church Excellence. The center, launched with a $10 million gift honoring a small church pastor, offers full-tuition scholarships to bivocational and smaller membership church ministers serving SBC churches in Louisiana and Mississippi.
“[Smaller] churches are the heart and soul of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Kelley said. “Nearly 90 percent of all of our churches have 250 people or less present on a Sunday morning. These are the churches that determine the flow of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The ministry of the Caskey students during the program’s inaugural year has been remarkable. One key aspect of the Caskey program is the call to weekly, intentional, Gospel witness. As a result, the 194 Caskey students shared the Gospel more than 3,000 times this year and saw more than 400 people come to faith in Christ, Kelley said.
Kelley closed his report with special thanks to the other five SBC seminaries, the SBC entities, the SBC Executive Committee and the convention’s churches for the love and support the seminary received in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans will mark the storm’s 10th anniversary on Aug. 29.
“It was as hopeless of a situation as I have ever faced in all of my life,” Kelley said. “We would not have been able to survive without your help, but help you did.
“And now, I am delighted to say that this year we will finish with the largest enrollment in the history of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,” he said. “My word to you is, ‘Don’t quit.’ No matter how hard it is, no matter how impossible your circumstances … our God is able to prevail.”