Voices: Mutuality: The vital relationship between Texas Baptist schools and churches

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Although the motto “For Church, For Texas” has belonged to Baylor University throughout its history, the intent of serving the church and Texas—not to mention the rest of the world—also drives our other Texas Baptist schools as well.

There is a sense in which the work of the churches and the work of our schools covers common ground. Those of us who teach long for that day when all our congregations are spiritually healthy and effectively fulfilling their mission and ministries.

The reality of this common work points to the importance of keeping the bonds between churches and the schools healthy and strong. The reasons should be—but are not always—evident:

• the call to love God with our minds as well as our hearts,
• the need for trained, biblically and theologically literate ministers and lay people, and
• the danger to our witness and work that forms when we confuse education with indoctrination or see one another as threats to the faith “as we understand it.”

Texas Baptist schools actively involved in the local church

Our Texas Baptist seminaries, schools of theology and departments of religion actively are seeking to serve the churches.

We do so not only by educating the students entrusted to us but also by offering training to laypersons and ministers in the form of conferences, workshops, certificate programs and publications.

We also have offices in our schools that work to give our students opportunities to serve churches and gain practical experience in both volunteer and paid positions of ministry and service.

Indeed, our schools and churches owe an incredible debt to the churches surrounding our main campuses—located from Plainview to Marshall and Houston to Abilene—for providing “laboratories” in which students gain concrete understandings of what Christian ministry actually involves and requires.

In addition, our religion faculties frequently serve through teaching, supply preaching and interim pastorates.

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What may be between Texas Baptist schools and churches

For those who live near our main campuses, none of this is startling news. And yet, there is still evidence that drift takes place, that communication gaps develop between the schools and the churches.

Perhaps we are not as transparent with one another as we should be, or we rely on secondhand information, or misunderstand the ministries of our schools, or even see theological education as some kind of threat.

This is tragic, given that earlier Baptist churches expected their ministers to be “gentlemen theologians”—as the phrase went—and we took seriously the need to be “people of the Book” who were not afraid to dig deep into what we believed and why.

Perhaps that other stream of Baptist life, which emphasized “fire and faith” over training has, for whatever reason, become our source of drink.

Perhaps we are uneasy about the results of deeper investigation and come to prefer our schools to indoctrinate students rather than educate them.

Perhaps we no longer see theological training as a need. I have noticed more and more churches looking for pastors that are not calling for applicants with theological training.

Dangers of detaching from theological training

Do we realize the implications or consequences of this?

Consider how often Paul and other New Testament writers made theology inseparable from conduct. Whether reading Paul, James or the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that what we believe inevitably shapes how we conduct ourselves, whether in a worship service, a business meeting, a job site or a voting booth.

The converse is that how we behave demonstrates what we actually believe. This makes learning to think theologically—to develop a coherent sense of what we believe and why—critically important for our personal and congregational spiritual and ethical health.

Mere charisma, entrepreneurship, pragmatism and numerical “success” is insufficient.

To ignore this will leave us with congregations where it really will not matter what a person believes. And in turn, this will leave us hollow, capable of great noise but no longer able to share Jesus and the Christian faith clearly, coherently and in a way the Spirit can use to change individual lives and the world.

A wealth of resources available to Texas Baptist churches

I suspect another reason for this situation is that many churches are unaware of the resources right at hand.

In San Antonio, where I teach for Wayland Baptist University’s largest satellite, there is also the Baptist University of the Américas, a branch of Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology, and just up the road in New Braunfels is a branch of Howard Payne University.

How many of our churches in Texas know that we are here to serve them?

How many know we not only have formal classes or programs to certify ministers and laypeople, but also religion faculty ready to go to any church to preach, teach, train, consult or offer anything we can to help churches become healthier and reach their mission fields?

Further, these faculties—your faculties—are not simply academics who are masters of the abstract, but have years of practical church experience in multiple settings and cultures.

Texas Baptist schools & churches are a mutual benefit

In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul expresses a desire to see the Roman Christians so they might mutually encourage and gift one another.

Those of us who are called to serve on your faculties desire the same.

We can sense the needs, both in our churches and in the larger society. Yet, we sit like a tool lightly used when we long to be of greater service and benefit.

According to Acts, the gospel came to Europe after Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for him to come over and help them. Paraphrasing that man of Macedonia, let me say to the churches, regardless of size or circumstances, let us come over and help you.

Let us help not merely indirectly, but face to face, for the good of the church, the kingdom of God and for the sake of this broken world.

Steven Spivey is an adjunct professor in the religion department of Wayland Baptist University, San Antonio. He is also a product of Texas Baptists’ Intentional Interim Ministry program.

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