On September 29, the College of Bible & Ministry hosted a dinner “Remembering Batsell Barrett Baxter on the Centennial of His Birth.” Baxter served as chair of the Lipscomb Bible department from 1956 until his death in 1982 and preached 26 years for the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville (1951-1980).
The evening ended with the announcement of a one million dollar endowment initiative in honor of Baxter’s legacy at Lipscomb. Here are some of the remarks shared by the college’s dean, Dr. Leonard Allen on that occasion.
This is the centennial of Batsell Baxter’s birth and a good time to remember him, to acknowledge his legacy and to give thanks for it.
Let me share with you two reasons why I think it is important for us to do this. First, it is simply appropriate and right to lift up the legacy of a person who had such an impact on Christian education and on the kingdom of God. Doing this inspires us. Doing this blesses us. Doing this helps us know on whose shoulders we stand and to better grasp the meaning of heritage.
Second, this remembering is important because it enables us to build for the future. It is my conviction that the most healthy way to move forward, to face the new challenges of our time, is to maintain ties to our past. We regard that past, try to honor its ideals, and learn from its wisdom. And to carry that wisdom with us to where we find ourselves today.
So tonight we have looked back with gratitude. And I think we’ve been touched by that, and blessed by that.
Now I want to turn to the present and the future. This is not the 1960s or the 1980s. Those decades had their own pressures and challenges. And today we have ours. Here in the twenty-first century Christians are experiencing dramatically changing, unnerving times. We face a new reality: The West is becoming increasingly post-Christian, and Christianity is becoming increasingly post-Western. And it seems almost certain that these trends will continue.
Here in America Christians have lost their former cultural status; we are forced to live more and more at the margins. It may be harder to sense that living in Middle Tennessee, but we know it is happening.
Some take this as a time for handwringing and pessimism. Not me.
The good news is that, over its long history, Christian faith has remained vital when it wasn’t in power. Early Christianity did not come into existence in the midst of public favor. And it did not grow because it was popular and easily accepted.
In my view, it’s time for Christians to learn to think like missionaries in our own culture. It means a new seriousness about preparing men and women for missional leadership. Such a time calls for congregations and ministry training schools like Lipscomb to partner in new and more intentional ways. Let me share a vision of what this can look like.
Let me tell you first that I do not have a long Lipscomb history. I came to Lipscomb a little over two years ago. It was a surprising and unexpected turn for me and for my wife, Holly.
Early on I began articulating a vision for ministry training that sought to bring church and school closer together for more effective preparation. More hands-on experience. More focus on congregational leadership. More mentoring. More formation of the spiritual life.
Undergirding this is a basic conviction: the congregation is the central means of carrying out God’s mission in this world. It is the frontline of God’s kingdom coming. And it is the crucial place where the practice of ministry is learned.
I believe that ministers in training need lots of practice guided by experienced mentors. To put it differently, a key part of ministry training should be immersion in a “community of practice.” There students are given access to the practices that they are expected to learn. They must actually practice the activities themselves, not just observe or receive instruction about them.
Over a year ago we began putting this vision into practice in a cohort program—where students journey through their training together. Here are some of the basic guidelines we are following:
- We are making hands-on ministry experience a centerpiece of our training. All of the students in the two-year program are placed in a congregation for ten to fifteen hours of ministry each week.
- We are implementing a new level of mentoring and other forms of guidance for all our students. All of the students are assigned a mentor, usually from within the congregation and they work closely with that mentor over the two years. Here’s what one of these cohort members said about his experience just this week: “Two things are helping me more than anything and they are 1) the mentor meetings, 2) developing relationships within the cohort—we have grown together a lot as we have interacted at the retreat and through social media. This program is providing for me something that I have deeply needed and didn’t really expect to find.” A young woman in the cohort who works with inner-city children, wrote: “I’ve told people over and over that my MDiv cohort experience is giving me a confidence I never knew I was lacking, but perhaps courage is what I have really gained.”
- We are integrating personal and spiritual formation thoroughly into the degree programs. The students learn basic spiritual practices and habits and engage (often together) in the practice of them.
- We are putting in place a stronger, more expert focus on congregational life, vitality, and leadership.
- We are focusing on preparing students both for ministry in established congregations and for missional leadership and church planting on new cultural frontiers.
- We are inviting (even urging) congregations to join us in training ministers—providing a place for apprentices, helping support them, and seeking to call out young men and women in their midst to the vocation of ministry.
This is my passion. This is what I think I was called to Lipscomb to do. We have a good past to build on. But big and new challenges face us now. We need congregations in the thick of things when it comes to preparing preachers and other ministers.
We are about fourteen months into this. The results so far have surpassed what I imagined. The cohorts are filling up (18-20 in each). Two to three dozen congregations so far have received our students. The number of full-time MDiv students has quadrupled. We are working together more like a team. And we are just getting started.
Over six months ago I had lunch with John Baxter, son of Batsell. We were getting better acquainted. I had spent fifteen to twenty minutes sharing this vision for ministry training with him. When I finished, John looked at me and said, “You know, I think my father would have really liked this, really been excited by this.” I think so too.
Now here’s one more guideline we are following:
- We are committed to making ministry affordable for those who are answering God’s call to ministry. We are committed to sending out our graduates who are called to ministry with as low a debt as possible. Which means providing much more scholarship support.
This brings me to an announcement that I am very pleased and excited to make. Tonight I am announcing the Batsell Barrett Baxter Graduate Bible Scholarship. The goal for this endowment is one million dollars. It will provide a major scholarship to ten students each year.
I am also announcing tonight a foundational gift for this endowment of $250,000 from an anonymous donor. In addition to that, I am announcing another gift of $77,000 dollars from the estate of Wanda Baxter and her family.
Now in closing let me share with you Brother Baxter’s plainspoken words about the role of churches in preparing ministers. These come from his 1962 sermon entitled “God Needs More Men”:
“There are many churches which have used preachers throughout he years, but have never developed even one. They have called upon others to supply their own local evangelists. . . . It is also true that during the past two decades churches across the land have spent literally millions of dollars on buildings, but almost nothing on training men to preach in those buildings. . . . Every Christian and every congregation has a responsibility to help in the training of young men to preach the gospel.”
Let me invite you to join us both in remembering his legacy and in building upon it.
Leonard Allen serves as dean of the College of Bible & Ministry at Lipscomb University.