BTSR

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BTSR

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:30 pm

If I had known what today was bringing, I might not have gotten out of bed. Today, it was announced that Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond would be closing at the end of this academic year. The financial equation is such that it is economically impossible to continue to provide masters and doctoral programs. I grieve this on many levels.
First, I grieve for the people who birthed the seminary amid the conflicts in Baptist life in the 1980's. Many of the original faculty were either professors who had taught me like Page Kelley and Glen Hinson, people with whom I had been in seminary like Tom Graves, and people from Southeastern Seminary whom I had come to know by pastoring in North Carolina. It was the dream that this might be the east coast's moderate seminary for Baptists.
Second, I grieve today for the people who are current faculty and staff members. I was at a gathering today with the current president of the seminary, and saw almost all the faculty and staff people, many of whom are friends. At the end of this academic year, they will be unemployed, and there aren't a lot of jobs out there for Old Testament and New Testament professors without jobs. Staff members, some of whom have been with the seminary for as much as twenty years, will also be looking for how to invest their lives with the demise of the seminary.
Third, I grieve for the present and former students. Those who are current students will have to finish their degrees elsewhere, and that will not be the same for them. I realize that arrangements have been made with two Richmond area schools that have shared in a theological consortium with BTSR to accept students and transfer most credits, but many of the students are people working full-time in other fields, and schedules may not be as easy to adapt. Along with these, I grieve for the 750 graduates of the seminary who feel a sense of lostness as their "mother" school will soon cease to exist in its present form. My son is in this group, and I know the school provided for him a quality education.
Fourth, I grieve for churches who are about to lose one of their best sources for quality young ministers who could help churches fulfill their missions. I have been close to some of the graduates, have served in an association with several of them, have had a graduate serve as my associate, and have seen the value that the school provided to the kingdom of God. To me, this is simply a sad day.
I graduated in the day when there was not a BTSR, but it has felt like my spiritual home. As I hugged the current president today and felt the drip of her tears, I know the pain of this day in so many ways. Lord, be near in this moment of unexpected change.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Tim Bonney » Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:36 pm

I saw a post about this on Facebook. I am also sorry for the loss of this fine institution!
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Re: BTSR

Postby Chris » Tue Nov 13, 2018 8:54 pm

Jesus paid the price for me and everybody.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Jon Estes » Wed Nov 14, 2018 2:40 am

How much of this is a result in the generational change (it has also and continues to hit the SBC). That is... There is a new generation coming on the scene who do not have the history and passion those in the beginning days of the CBF did. Even in CBF churches (similar to SBC churches) is there a lack of connection among the up and coming generations to know... love... and have bled for the work?

I am not speaking of theology but of enough people connected to what started it all to continue to support the work.

If yes, will this affect the CBF and its growth (not the closing of BTSR) but the new generation not connected in enough numbers to keep the work alive.

Even the SBC keeps seeing churches close their doors but for now, it is big enough to keep starting new ones with financial underwriting.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed Nov 14, 2018 6:46 am

Jon Estes wrote:How much of this is a result in the generational change (it has also and continues to hit the SBC). That is... There is a new generation coming on the scene who do not have the history and passion those in the beginning days of the CBF did. Even in CBF churches (similar to SBC churches) is there a lack of connection among the up and coming generations to know... love... and have bled for the work?

I am not speaking of theology but of enough people connected to what started it all to continue to support the work.

If yes, will this affect the CBF and its growth (not the closing of BTSR) but the new generation not connected in enough numbers to keep the work alive.

Even the SBC keeps seeing churches close their doors but for now, it is big enough to keep starting new ones with financial underwriting.

Jon, I appreciate your concerns, but the reality is far different from the narrative you have been given. BTSR's struggle is that it has been the only theology school among CBF that was not founded in connection with a standing university. As such, it was also burdened with costs that other entities did not have. In some ways, there have also been perhaps too many theology schools that related to CBF--for example, in North Carolina, there are four: Gardner-Webb, Campbell, Wake Forest, and the Baptist House at Duke. None of the schools are owned by or governed by CBF.

I serve presently on the CBF Global Ministries Council. There are only two of us on the council who were part of the founding generation of CBF. In fact, several of our council members are in their late 20's or 30's. The CBF movement is undergoing a generational shift, but there are young leaders coming into the stream who a finding fertile fields of ministry. We too are starting churches, especially among Hispanic immigrants. Texas CBF has a full-time, Hispanic coordinator who worked for a number of years with Buckner.

In Virginia, CBF looks younger all the time. Indeed, I was the last of the founding generation who served on the CBFVA Coordinating Council. We too are seeing a "growing younger" of leadership.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Sandy » Wed Nov 14, 2018 12:52 pm

I know that Dave was a big supporter and booster of the school and this is a big disappointment. It's not uncommon for small schools like this one, especially at the graduate level, to struggle because size makes balancing expenses difficult. There's more competition, not only because there are university-connected schools appealing to the same constituency as BTSR was in the same region, but because there is more competition overall for students and there are options that are less expensive and more convenient distance wise. I don't know what the collective capacity of all of the moderate Baptist schools that have developed since the 80's is, but it seems like students in that particular niche of Baptist life have a lot of choices.

I would guess that there are advantages for a small theological school in being connected to a university campus. There are a lot of things that can be shared from an expense perspective, including classroom space, dorm space, and even faculty and staff. I've taken some continuing ed courses over the past few years at American University in Washington, DC and the housing arrangements were in a very nice dorm that was like a very nice hotel on the campus of Wesley Seminary which is separated from the campus by a fence with a gate. The two schools are connected, offer some joint degree programs and apparently share facilities. If I remember correctly, there are some degree programs through AU that require coursework at Wesley and vice-versa. There are shared faculty members, and the foot traffic would indicate that some AU classes meet on the Wesley campus. I don't know how that works as far as expenses, but the seminary has the advantage of recruiting directly from the University, which is a source of many of its students.

I think the independence and autonomy of CBF and the related but not owned or governed institutions would make considering things like mergers or consolidation difficult. And in some locations, such as Texas, the schools are in the state convention CP support network. Was that not an option in Virginia?

Traditional denominational structures and the churches are, for the most part, experiencing decline in membership, aging and while there may be younger people stepping up to take over leadership, there aren't nearly as many of them as there are older adults. It is going to get more difficult to maintain traditional institutions.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed Nov 14, 2018 1:56 pm

Sandy wrote:I know that Dave was a big supporter and booster of the school and this is a big disappointment. It's not uncommon for small schools like this one, especially at the graduate level, to struggle because size makes balancing expenses difficult. There's more competition, not only because there are university-connected schools appealing to the same constituency as BTSR was in the same region, but because there is more competition overall for students and there are options that are less expensive and more convenient distance wise. I don't know what the collective capacity of all of the moderate Baptist schools that have developed since the 80's is, but it seems like students in that particular niche of Baptist life have a lot of choices.

I would guess that there are advantages for a small theological school in being connected to a university campus. There are a lot of things that can be shared from an expense perspective, including classroom space, dorm space, and even faculty and staff. I've taken some continuing ed courses over the past few years at American University in Washington, DC and the housing arrangements were in a very nice dorm that was like a very nice hotel on the campus of Wesley Seminary which is separated from the campus by a fence with a gate. The two schools are connected, offer some joint degree programs and apparently share facilities. If I remember correctly, there are some degree programs through AU that require coursework at Wesley and vice-versa. There are shared faculty members, and the foot traffic would indicate that some AU classes meet on the Wesley campus. I don't know how that works as far as expenses, but the seminary has the advantage of recruiting directly from the University, which is a source of many of its students.

I think the independence and autonomy of CBF and the related but not owned or governed institutions would make considering things like mergers or consolidation difficult. And in some locations, such as Texas, the schools are in the state convention CP support network. Was that not an option in Virginia?

Traditional denominational structures and the churches are, for the most part, experiencing decline in membership, aging and while there may be younger people stepping up to take over leadership, there aren't nearly as many of them as there are older adults. It is going to get more difficult to maintain traditional institutions.


Sandy, I don't know all the answers, but I will try a few. BTSR was located for several years in buildings purchased from the former Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond. The only Baptist college options for a relationship were Bluefield, located in Southwest Virginia in an area that would have required almost all students to be residential or Chowan, a NC Baptist School also located in a very rural area in Murfreesboro, NC. The two larger former Virginia Baptist Schools have very limited Baptist relationships at best (University of Richmond and Averett). There had also been some discussions, as I understand it, with Duke Divinity School which has a Baptist House of Studies, but those did not prove fruitful.

Another reality I see is the declining numbers of traditional theological seminary students. I can never make much sense of the SBC's listings of FTE equivalency for its schools and the counting of baccalaureate students on some campuses in the enrollment, but I can see that the numbers are down considerably from when I was a seminary student. Also, I am seeing a number of students simply priced out of traditional seminary education because of student loans they already have and the knowledge that most churches do not pay enough to help them repay their indebtedness. There are also simply fewer students in training for future ministry opportunities, except in online and non-traditional settings. I suspect that there may be additional school closings across the spectrum in the next five to ten years. Also, since Baptists in the South have no educational requirements for ordination, we can continue to ordain at will without equipping many future ministers.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Sandy » Wed Nov 14, 2018 3:57 pm

I think you're right on all counts. When I went to seminary, and I'd guess the same was true for you, though I don't know your exact age, I'm guessing, the SBC allocation for the schools based on enrollment covered all the expense of tuition, and the state convention where my home church was located paid $300 of the $500 per semester matriculation fee. My whole first semester, including books, came to about $450. Rent in the seminary married student housing, which was not completely full, was $250 a month. That was late 1980's. I don't know how the SBC schools count FTE's either, though it used to mean full time equivalent. It was the figure used to determine the CP allocation. The SBC paid a flat dollar amount for each full time student equivalent enrolled, so if the equivalent was 12 hours, then two part time students taking 6 hours each would be averaged as 1 student, while 2 students taking 18 hours each would be counted as 3. Even if you count undergraduates these days, the total enrollment is significantly lower than it was in the 80's, at its peak. Some of the SBC schools have struggled too, or are still struggling. Midwestern has apparently recovered a measure of stability while Gateway, formerly Golden Gate, appears to be struggling with the relocation to the Los Angeles area. Southwestern may have turned a corner but is nowhere near out of the woods. And while the CP allocation per student is still very much a part of the picture, it does not cover expenses like it once did.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Jon Estes » Thu Nov 15, 2018 6:52 am

Dave Roberts wrote:
Jon Estes wrote:How much of this is a result in the generational change (it has also and continues to hit the SBC). That is... There is a new generation coming on the scene who do not have the history and passion those in the beginning days of the CBF did. Even in CBF churches (similar to SBC churches) is there a lack of connection among the up and coming generations to know... love... and have bled for the work?

I am not speaking of theology but of enough people connected to what started it all to continue to support the work.

If yes, will this affect the CBF and its growth (not the closing of BTSR) but the new generation not connected in enough numbers to keep the work alive.

Even the SBC keeps seeing churches close their doors but for now, it is big enough to keep starting new ones with financial underwriting.

Jon, I appreciate your concerns, but the reality is far different from the narrative you have been given. BTSR's struggle is that it has been the only theology school among CBF that was not founded in connection with a standing university. As such, it was also burdened with costs that other entities did not have. In some ways, there have also been perhaps too many theology schools that related to CBF--for example, in North Carolina, there are four: Gardner-Webb, Campbell, Wake Forest, and the Baptist House at Duke. None of the schools are owned by or governed by CBF.

I serve presently on the CBF Global Ministries Council. There are only two of us on the council who were part of the founding generation of CBF. In fact, several of our council members are in their late 20's or 30's. The CBF movement is undergoing a generational shift, but there are young leaders coming into the stream who a finding fertile fields of ministry. We too are starting churches, especially among Hispanic immigrants. Texas CBF has a full-time, Hispanic coordinator who worked for a number of years with Buckner.

In Virginia, CBF looks younger all the time. Indeed, I was the last of the founding generation who served on the CBFVA Coordinating Council. We too are seeing a "growing younger" of leadership.


That's good. I have no intent to bad mouth the CBF. If they want to reach the world for Jesus... I support them.

I found the following article interesting... The journalistic discipline to keep it positive shows and is needed. The clarity that things are in decline (as most religious things are) seemed to be honest and challenging to get CBFers thinking about tomorrow and what they can become. I hope it works.

I do think it shows the decline of younger is real though there are younger involved.

https://www.wordandway.org/news/baptists/item/4312-looking-ahead-to-what-the-future-holds-for-cbf
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Re: BTSR

Postby Sandy » Thu Nov 15, 2018 2:28 pm

That's a pretty good analysis from a CBF supporter.

If I had an answer, especially for why "younger" people are either abandoning churches and denominations in which they were raised, or not ever being attracted to them in the first place, I'd write a book and retire.

People built their lives and ministries around denominational structures and on the perceived permanence of institutions that are crumbling because there's a paradigm shift going on in American Christianity right now that no one, not even the megachurch pastors, have been able to define. The impact is harder on small schools like BTSR because they have little room to downsize, but everyone else is going through it too. But of course, that doesn't make it any less painful.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Tim Bonney » Thu Nov 15, 2018 10:36 pm

In most all Christian denomination seminaries are struggling financially. The UMC seminaries are as well. Seminarians come from college already in deep debt. They take on more debt in seminary and the idea that you are going to have large debt coming out of a graduate program but make a very modest wage in your first church (or likely first several churches) is discouraging a lot of young people from considering the seminary route. In denominations where education IS required for ordination, it just means a lot of young people are just choosing not to enter ordained ministry or head into a non-traditional ministry of some kind.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Jon Estes » Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:10 am

Tim Bonney wrote: In denominations where education IS required for ordination, it just means a lot of young people are just choosing not to enter ordained ministry or head into a non-traditional ministry of some kind.


In time, this could lead to a change in the denominations criteria for who can be ordained.

Here in the UAE, I could not have gotten a "Priest" visa without my Master's degree. And by law, one is not allowed to Pastor a church without a "Priest" visa.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Sandy » Fri Nov 16, 2018 5:31 pm

Tim Bonney wrote:In most all Christian denomination seminaries are struggling financially. The UMC seminaries are as well. Seminarians come from college already in deep debt. They take on more debt in seminary and the idea that you are going to have large debt coming out of a graduate program but make a very modest wage in your first church (or likely first several churches) is discouraging a lot of young people from considering the seminary route. In denominations where education IS required for ordination, it just means a lot of young people are just choosing not to enter ordained ministry or head into a non-traditional ministry of some kind.


I mentioned Wesley in another post, as Dave had mentioned the other CBF-friendly moderate schools were able to moderate their expenses because they were connected to a university. I've done several continuing ed courses at American University over the past five years to earn my administrator certification. I don't know much about the logistics of Wesley's connection to AU, or how much sharing of costs goes on between the two. I took advantage of the housing offered by AU which was in the dorm on the Wesley campus, and all of the rooms on the hall were occupied by other continuing ed grad students, so there is probably some financial benefit to the seminary that comes from that. I met one professor who teaches at both schools, so there must be some of that going on as well. This may shock you, but I actually looked at finishing my continuing ed with a Masters in Peace and Conflict Resolution from AU, which also requires courses at Wesley. I think they have a couple of other joint programs. My continuing ed courses were $100 per credit hour, but I found out that if you want to move over to the degree track, it goes up considerably.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Haruo » Fri Nov 16, 2018 6:48 pm

Andover-Newton, which resulted from the amalgamation of Andover and Newton (Congregationalist and American Baptist respectively) half a century ago—my dad got an STM from Newton in the late 1940s—recently had to move to New Haven so it could be swallowed by Yale...
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Re: BTSR

Postby Tim Bonney » Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:12 pm

Jon Estes wrote:
In time, this could lead to a change in the denominations criteria for who can be ordained.

Here in the UAE, I could not have gotten a "Priest" visa without my Master's degree. And by law, one is not allowed to Pastor a church without a "Priest" visa.


The UMC actually has two tracks to ordination. Seminary or a system called "Course of Study." Course of Study actually predates seminary for Methodists. But seminary became the main way to become ordained while Course of Study got relegated largely to second career clergy over 35. Course of Study is basically an internal certification which includes classes at the seminary level but no degree is earned. It can take 7 years to get to ordination by using Course of Study but it is far cheaper.

I could see a day when Course of Study returns to the primarily way UMC clergy are educated. After all while my M.Div is "accredited" what good is an M.Div for anything other than pastoring or teaching adjunct at a college? Since most clergy don't do any college teaching, a denominationally recognized certification with similar requirements to the M.Div but without the high dollar cost could be a way to go.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Dave Roberts » Sat Nov 17, 2018 7:27 am

Two or three comments on this. The Bill Wilson article is interesting since Bill is a member of the Trustees of BTSR. Part of the reality for many churches across denominational lines is that the changing demographics of many areas means there will be church closings, and some of them will be CBF churches, simply because the population is no longer there to sustain them on the levels they once existed. There are going to be lots of changes ahead.

Sandy, when I was a student at Southern (1968-72), it was easy to finance a seminary education. I don't remember the exact figures, but my largest expense each semester was in the bookstore. My wife and I were newlyweds who rented a furnished, one-bedroom apartment from the seminary for $90/month. I worked most of the time while I was a student for the seminary's maintenance department. and that job paid many of our expenses. Only Texas gave a state stipend for seminary students when I was there, but if you were from Virginia or North Carolina, you could borrow money from the Kessee Fund that forgave one year of your indebtedness for each two years you served in active ministry.
Organizationally, CBF has set some caps on how it will finance the future. First, in the past three years, CBF has raised a $12-milion endowment, most of which will be used for support of global missions personnel on the fields. The numbers of field personnel has been capped at 125 units, which is seen as sustainable in the present (and no one can predict the long-term realities). Second, to keep a more sustainable footprint, CBF has chosen not to own institutions or even office properties. Presently, CBF offices are located on the fifth floor of a bank building in Decatur, GA. One of the problems for many state and national entities as well as for churches, is the requirements just to keep aging properties operating (as in the SBC sale of Glorieta and the relocation of Golden Gate). The most successful church plants today seem to be those who do not have massive property debts and who often operate from schools, theaters, or other public spaces.

The largest CBF-related theological schools are Truett Seminary at Baylor University and McAfee Divinity School at Mercer. The last I heard, Truett was above the 300-mark in enrollment and McAfee above 200. That may give you some information from the waterfront. ]
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Re: BTSR

Postby William Thornton » Sat Nov 17, 2018 7:43 am

Dave Roberts wrote:Two or three comments on this. The Bill Wilson article is interesting since Bill is a member of the Trustees of BTSR. Part of the reality for many churches across denominational lines is that the changing demographics of many areas means there will be church closings, and some of them will be CBF churches, simply because the population is no longer there to sustain them on the levels they once existed. There are going to be lots of changes ahead.

Sandy, when I was a student at Southern (1968-72), it was easy to finance a seminary education. I don't remember the exact figures, but my largest expense each semester was in the bookstore. My wife and I were newlyweds who rented a furnished, one-bedroom apartment from the seminary for $90/month. I worked most of the time while I was a student for the seminary's maintenance department. and that job paid many of our expenses. Only Texas gave a state stipend for seminary students when I was there, but if you were from Virginia or North Carolina, you could borrow money from the Kessee Fund that forgave one year of your indebtedness for each two years you served in active ministry.
Organizationally, CBF has set some caps on how it will finance the future. First, in the past three years, CBF has raised a $12-milion endowment, most of which will be used for support of global missions personnel on the fields. The numbers of field personnel has been capped at 125 units, which is seen as sustainable in the present (and no one can predict the long-term realities). Second, to keep a more sustainable footprint, CBF has chosen not to own institutions or even office properties. Presently, CBF offices are located on the fifth floor of a bank building in Decatur, GA. One of the problems for many state and national entities as well as for churches, is the requirements just to keep aging properties operating (as in the SBC sale of Glorieta and the relocation of Golden Gate). The most successful church plants today seem to be those who do not have massive property debts and who often operate from schools, theaters, or other public spaces.

The largest CBF-related theological schools are Truett Seminary at Baylor University and McAfee Divinity School at Mercer. The last I heard, Truett was above the 300-mark in enrollment and McAfee above 200. That may give you some information from the waterfront. ]


I appreciate Dave's insights. Couple of observations of my own:

The SBC's Golden Gate seminary was sold because it was worth a pot full of money. The seminary easily relocated with the proceeds. Best use of the Mill Valley real estate wasn't a seminary. Good move.

The Georgia Baptist taj mahal is worth $40m plus, first class office campus. Look for HQ of a major corporation to relocate there. It was overreach when we built it and a drag on finances until the $25m debt was paid off, indirectly, by money from the sale of the GB hospital a few years back. The GBC intends to sell the building, it is severely underutilized.

I think the CBF decisions not to own real estate is wise, but partly because they are weak financially. I don't see anything in the CBF's future that looks like growth and not a lot that looks like long term sustainability unless they do it all with endowments...but nobody asked me. Renting office space doesn't spell sustainability to me. Some CBF padnuhs like BNG and their publication can find donor and subscription support. Evidently BTSR could not.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Dave Roberts » Sat Nov 17, 2018 10:10 am

Most institutions rely on large alumni donations. While BTSR has 750 graduates, few of them are in highly lucrative positions. Pastors, church staff members, and chaplains (the predominant employment of the grads) are not in high paying jobs. William, you are quite correct in one area. Much of the wealthy CBF donor base is in Texas, not Virginia, so it is naturally tapped by Truett through the Baylor connection. VA CBF is sustainable financially, but it is a 3-person staff relating to some 350 churches, and it doesn't try to be all things to all people.
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Re: BTSR

Postby William Thornton » Wed Nov 28, 2018 5:05 pm

Article by major donor Jackie Baugh Moore was unusually candid.

https://baptistnews.com/article/the-dec ... _8PN-s8KrU

I envy the level of frankness. Doubtful that we would have that in the SBC.
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Re: BTSR

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed Nov 28, 2018 5:10 pm

Jackie was indeed candid. Even though I have been close to the seminary, there was financial information here that had not previously been released outside the board. This is being transparent and accountable.
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