Todd D. Still: The ‘sacred trust and true pleasure’ of shaping tomorrow’s ministers

Photo of Todd Still courtesy of Baylor University

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Since April 2015, Todd D. Still has served at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary as the Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and the William M. Hinson Chair of Christian Scriptures, teaching and conducting research in New Testament and Greek.

From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on leading Baylor’s seminary. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

How long have you been at Baylor?

I came to teach New Testament and Greek as an untenured associate professor at Baylor’s Truett Seminary in the fall of 2003. I was granted tenure in 2006, promoted to the rank of professor in 2011, and appointed by then Truett Dean David E. Garland to the William M. Hinson Chair of Christian Scriptures in 2012.

At the conclusion of a committee-led national search, I was named the fifth dean of Truett by then Baylor President Kenneth W. Starr at the end of February 2015 and began serving in that role at the beginning of April 2015.

Where else have you worked, and what were your positions?

I have served Baptist congregations in Texas, North Carolina and Scotland in a variety of capacities over the years, including janitor, music minister, pastoral intern, youth minister, college minister, education minister, pastor and interim pastor.

My first full-time academic position was at Dallas Baptist University, where I served as assistant and then associate professor of New Testament and Greek from 1995–2000. Before coming to Baylor in 2003, I served as an associate professor of New Testament Studies and held the Bob D. Shepherd Chair of Biblical Interpretation at Gardner-Webb University’s School of Divinity in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, and lived there for the first 12 years of my life. From ages 12 to 16, I lived in Meridian, Texas. Prior to my junior year in high school, I moved with my family to Waco, Texas, and have gladly and proudly called Waco home for the last 35 years.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I entrusted my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior at the age of eight at a Vacation Bible School in Wichita Falls. One year later, I was baptized into the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls by my childhood pastor, Dr. William M. Pinson, who would later serve as president of Golden Gate Seminary and as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

After graduating from Midway High School in Waco, Texas, I attended Baylor University, from where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Greek and sociology in 1988. Thereafter, I enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and completed the Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages in 1991.

Then, in 1996, I earned the doctorate in New Testament Studies from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. I have also had occasion to study at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, the University of Cambridge, England, and the University of Exeter, England.

Ministry/Profession

Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?

Growing up, my father would sometimes say to me, “If you do what you love, son, then you will never work a day in your life.” I am blessed beyond measure because I love the work that I am privileged to do, the place where I work, the people with whom I work and the students, churches and organizations that Baylor’s Truett Seminary is honored to serve. To join hands with others in shaping those whom God is calling for ministry in the church and the world is simultaneously a sacred trust and a true pleasure.

Frederick Buechner once described vocation as “the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Beyond gladness and need, however, I believe that God has led me to do the work that I am doing in theological education. It is this conviction of calling that encourages and sustains me in the midst of both joys and struggles inherent to my work.

Please tell us about your BGCT institution—the breadth and nature of its work, including its mission, measures of scope, etc.

As readers of The Baptist Standard likely know, Republic of Texas officials chartered Baylor University in Independence, Texas, in 1845. As such, it is the oldest institution of higher education in continuous existence in the State of Texas.

Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary itself is of relatively recent vintage. Established in 1991, Truett began offering classes in 1994 in the education building of First Baptist Church, Waco. In 2002, the seminary moved to its present facility at Baylor University—the beautiful Baugh-Reynolds campus, featuring the Paul W. Powell Chapel, the Paul and Katy Piper Great Hall, the Heritage Room, the Baugh Lecture Hall and the Reynolds courtyard.

Over the course of its short history, Truett Seminary has prepared roughly 1,500 graduates for gospel ministry in and alongside the Church, which is our institution’s mission. At present, an accomplished faculty and skillful staff of 40 serve a gifted, diverse student body of 350 students, who come to us from all over the United States and 13 foreign countries.

As one of Baylor’s twelve schools and colleges, Truett currently offers three masters degrees (M.Div., M.A.C.M., and M.T.S.), five “joint degrees” (M.Div./J.D., M.Div./M.B.A., M.Div./M.M., M.Div. or M.A.C.M./M.S.W., and M.Div./M.S.Ed. or M.A.Ed.), and one doctoral degree (D.Min.). Moving forward, Truett anticipates offering additional degrees, launching extension sites, and increasing collaboration with other institutions.

What do you like best about leading your institution? Why?

I suppose the thing I like most about serving as dean of Baylor’s Truett Seminary is the challenge and the variety that is part and parcel of the role. Recruitment, enrollment, placement, advancement and development are always before me. I am constantly asking how we as an “embedded seminary” can best serve our university, our students, our alumni and our constituents—not least our Texas Baptist churches.

Furthermore, theological education in the 21st century is no easy nut to crack. It sometimes seems that there are more schools offering training than there are students to train! Moreover, questions of affordability and accessibility persist and sometimes appear to compete with our twin commitments at Truett to both academic rigor and spiritual formation.

What aspect(s) of your institution and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?

Five things spring to mind immediately:

  1. That Truett Seminary belongs to Baylor University and to the remarkably generous people, not least Texas Baptists, who have made and continue to make our school possible through their financial gifts and spiritual support.
  2. That Baylor’s Truett Seminary is of, by and for the Church. We exist to equip God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside the Church. At Truett, we love the Church and long to serve God’s people as we are asked and are able.
  3. That we are far more affordable than some might imagine. Due to the generosity of our university and our donors, all of our students, whether Baptist or not, receive significant scholarship assistance, and most of our students pay less than 70 percent of “sticker price.” To think that the vast majority of Truett students can study with our world-class faculty in first-class facilities at a top-tier university among some of the most gifted ministerial students anywhere for what amounts to roughly $1,000 per three-hour course continues to amaze and delight me.
  4. That Truett is a historically orthodox, broadly evangelical seminary in the Baptist tradition that seeks to instill in students, in the words of J. B. Lightfoot, “the highest reason and the fullest faith.” We are a seminary grounded in Christ, rooted in Scripture, which we regard to be authoritative for matters of faith and practice, and committed to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
  5. The vast majority of our roughly 1,500 graduates are actively involved in faithful, fruitful gospel ministry in and alongside (Baptist) churches.

How has your institution and its mission changed since you began your career?

At Baylor in general, we continue to “double down” on our mission and on our aspiration to become a preeminent Christian research university in the Baptist tradition. Such lofty aims necessarily occasion change at every conceivable level. At Truett Seminary in particular, we continue to seek to be both appreciative of and responsive to the needs of our students and constituents, especially churches.

How do you expect your institution and/or its mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

Because of our mission to equip God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s church by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will have to continue to adapt. What that looks like is hard to say, but I do not think that questions of affordability and accessibility that continue to concern educators in general and theological educators in particular will go away anytime soon.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your institution.

Enrollment is an ongoing challenge for Truett and other theological schools. The same may be said regarding revenue streams and perceived relevance by certain churches and the broader public.

What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?

Helping others in ways that I am tasked, asked and able as they go about their professional pursuits and personal lives.

About Baptists

What are the key issues facing Baptists?

Increased polarization among and between congregations and unprincipled, and sometimes seemingly unwitting, accommodation to broader ambient culture.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

Greater skill, efficiency and sensitivity in placing and replacing ministerial staff.

About Todd

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

There are too many to mention by name; I have accrued incalculable debts along the way. It has indeed taken a village to raise this child!

Were I to name but a few of those who have selflessly and lavishly poured into my life, they would include the following: my parents (Willard and Betty Still), my wife (Carolyn Christian Still), Bill Pinson, Dawson McAllister, Richard Creech, Mark Wright, Mike Toby, Jerry Pipes, Louie Giglio, Kay Mueller, John Wills, Earle Ellis, Bruce Corley, Doyle Young, John Barclay, Herbert Reynolds, Gary Cook, Tim Trammell, Charles Wade, Wayne Stacy, Robert Sloan, Elizabeth Davis, Levi Price, David Garland, Paul Powell and Ken Starr.

Taken together, they have sought to teach me to take my work and witness seriously but to do so with joy and humility.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

Beyond Scripture, I tend to read in my academic discipline of New Testament studies, particularly Pauline studies. I also enjoy reading sermons, poetry and biography, and, on occasion, I will allow myself a diversion into fiction, typically in the form of a John Grisham novel.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

This hardly seems a fair question to ask a Bible scholar! Were I to pick but a single passage, it would be Philippians 2:5–11, where Paul calls the Philippians and subsequent recipients of the letter to embrace and exemplify the humble mindset and faithful life of Christ Jesus.

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

Paul, due to his ardent devotion to Christ in life and death and the profound letters he composed that we are still privileged to read and interpret.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.

Although I exercise for 45 minutes to an hour most every day, it is not necessarily something that I enjoy doing.

If you could get one “do over” in your career, what would it be, and why?

I would seek to spend at least a semester, if not a year, in a non-English-speaking context, preferably a Spanish-speaking or German-speaking country, and thereby be forced to speak a language and learn a culture other than my own.

Write and answer a question you wish we had asked.

Tell us about your family?

I am happily married to Carolyn Christian Still from Houston, who is also an educator, trained at Baylor and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and one of the three founders of Live Oak Classical School in Waco. We have been married for 27 years and have two sons—Samuel, a Baylor senior (and likely to be a Truett student beginning in the fall of 2018), and Andrew, a Baylor freshman.

Our family loves music, our pets (two dogs, a cat and a chinchilla) and offering hospitality to others in our home.

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