July 18, 2016
Sphere # 1: Within 70 Miles of One of Our Locations
Last week I shared a little about why partnerships are such a vital component of the work of theological education. They form a foundation for much of what we do as a community of faith participating in God’s kingdom mission. Over the next three weeks, we will look at the three spheres or geographic areas in which Sioux Falls Seminary is called to serve.
We feel that God has called us to focus on people and relationships that: 1) reside within 70 miles of one of our locations, 2) dwell in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, or Nebraska, or 3) are actively engaged in ministry anywhere on the globe and have a desire to grow in their faithfulness to God and God’s mission. Within each sphere we seek to create partnerships with kingdom-minded ministries, work with students and clients, and ultimately develop faithful servants of Jesus Christ. Today, our topic of conversation is Sphere #1: People and relationships that reside within 70 miles of one of our locations.
Like almost all of our 273 peer seminaries within the Association of Theological Schools, Sioux Falls Seminary’s students and relationships begin with those that live nearby. In fact, 75% of all students attending seminary in North America commute to class rather than live on campus. This means every seminary in the country has strong relationships with their neighbors. Sioux Falls Seminary is no different. By recognizing that one of the groups we are called to serve is those that reside within 70 miles of our one of our locations, we are in a sense stating the obvious. Just like Jesus called his disciples to begin their ministry in Jerusalem, we are called to begin by serving those around us.
However, serving those around us does not limit us or even define us. As we will discover over the next few weeks, Sioux Falls Seminary has a very robust ministry that reaches well beyond our region, especially with regard to our work within our own denomination. At the same, those that live nearby are vital to our work. We strive to be diligent in our efforts to develop relationships and partnerships with local denominational leaders, area churches, mental health agencies, doctors, and more so that we can adequately serve their needs for theological education and integrative counseling.
As a Baptist seminary, we first seek to be in good relationship with our local Baptist community of faith. As a result of our renewed commitment to these relationships, the number of Baptist students attending the seminary has risen quite dramatically over the past two years. Our Baptist heritage is an important part of our ministry. It is this heritage that allows us to work well with other denominations.
In addition to our home or “heart” denomination, we are called to walk alongside others who believe our students and graduates are faithful ministers of the Gospel.
At the same time, our Baptist students are exposed to Lutheran, Wesleyan, and Reformed faith traditions. The result is a classroom full of enriching conversations wherein students come to more fully understand and defend their personal faith. Put simply, a Baptist student who discusses theology with a Lutheran student will deepen his or her faith in dramatic ways because he or she will be required to fully understand his or her theological convictions. Classrooms such as these demand students to own their faith rather than simply repeat something they were taught.
But, you may ask, why does this matter and how can Sioux Falls Seminary be a Baptist seminary if at any one time it can have as many as 30 different denominations present in its student body and even more represented in the clients served through its counseling center? Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor and scholar and one of the early professors of the seminary, once penned a series of articles on Distinctive Baptist Principles. He closed his writing with this statement:
“…Sometime while writing these articles I felt in doubt whether I was doing good or harm. I should do harm if I gave Baptists the impression that “we are the people and there are no others.” We are not a perfect denomination. We are capable of being just as narrow and small as anybody. There are fine qualities in which other denominations surpass us. I do not want to foster Baptist self-conceit, because thereby I should grieve the spirit of Christ. I do not want to make Baptists shut themselves up in their little clam-shells and be indifferent to the ocean outside of them. I am a Baptist, but I am more than a Baptist. All things are mine; whether Francis of Assisi, or Luther, or Knox, or Wesley; all are mine because I am Christ’s. The old Adam is a strict denominationalist; the new Adam is just a Christian.”
This statement is good reminder that, at its core, Baptist theology is predicated on the belief that we can do more together than we can apart and that we choose to work together not out of obligation but rather out of the conviction that we are called to be a community of faith, the body of Christ.
Sioux Falls Seminary has a rich Baptist heritage. Today, we stand firmly on that heritage and seek to serve those God places in our care. In doing so, we recognize that those people and relationships that reside with 70 miles of one of our locations is a great place to begin. That sphere of influence or reach does not define us or limit us, but it does provide a strong stepping-stone to other relationships.