10 Year Stewardship Report: Reconnecting to Our Roots

July 8, 2024

by Greg Henson, CEO Kairos University; President of Sioux Falls Seminary

 

Welcome back to a walk through our stewardship of the past ten years. Last week, we spent some time reflecting on the phrase “Meeting you where you are…offering hope.” By embracing that commitment in 2014, the university began to reconceptualize our work as a call to obediently steward the resources and opportunities that God has entrusted to us as we participate in God’s mission and not as something that is primarily driven by a need to ensure long-term survival.

One of the first steps toward living into a paradigm in which the institution is not at the center of our work was embracing the fact that we are not alone in this endeavor. As part of the Body of Christ, we are members of an interconnected and interdependent community of Christ followers. To fully experience the beauty and expansive reality of the Kingdom of God, we learned it can be helpful to engage in our work with a great deal of humility and hospitality. Today, we call this concept theological hospitality. As with many things, we were not the first to consider this reality. In fact, an individual connected to the heritage of Sioux Falls Seminary encouraged a similar kind of humility.

Walter Rauschenbusch was one of the important early voices of Sioux Falls Seminary. His father, August, was the founding professor of the school. Both played a role in the North American Baptist (NAB) Conference of churches, which founded the seminary in 1858. In an essay on Baptist distinctives, Walter wrote, “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 irenic spirit shaped a community of people who choose to work together because of their shared mission. In that ethos, there has always been a recognition that we will hold fast to the orthodox Christian faith while welcoming the differences that exist within the Body of Christ. The North American Baptist denomination was so focused on this key principle that it took 131 years to create its first statement of beliefs. This wasn’t because contentious arguments kept it from happening but rather because, over the course of those years, the leaders of the conference kept tabling the discussion. The community gathered around the mission of God and practicing the way of Jesus.

In 1949, the seminary moved from Rochester, New York, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Eventually, a sister school, North American Baptist College (now Taylor Seminary), would be founded in Edmonton. Both Sioux Falls Seminary and Taylor Seminary had roots in the North American Baptist tradition. As is the case with nearly every institution of higher education with historic roots in a particular denomination, those connections ebbed and flowed over many years.

Over the years, fewer members of North American Baptist churches were choosing to enroll in theological education. By 2013, according to data from the Association of Theological Schools, very few people within the denomination were enrolled in an accredited seminary anywhere in North America. In addition, the majority of those in the denomination who were engaged in seminary were not enrolled at either Taylor Seminary or Sioux Falls Seminary. Despite our shared history with the denomination and our shared commitment to the mission of God, there seemed to be a growing gap between the schools and the local church.

In 2015, Sioux Falls Seminary and Taylor Seminary started a partnership with the goal of reconnecting the schools to the local church–and doing so in partnership with the denomination. A key aspect of this was the Kairos Project, an approach to theological education that was affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful. By 2019, we saw an increase in the number of pastors within the NAB who were engaged in theological education, many of whom were enrolled in the Kairos Project. God was up to something!

In addition to more pastors choosing to enroll in theological education, a deeper partnership between local churches, the denomination, and the various mission fields of the denomination began taking shape. Today, Kairos partners with several local churches within the North American Baptist Conference to provide unique opportunities for their members to participate in theological education. Missionaries within the NAB partner with us to develop pastoral leaders across the globe. Faculty, staff, and graduates from the school participate in missional initiatives within the conference, and the Governing Board of the NAB includes alumni and friends of the school.

Over the past ten years, our stewardship efforts have been fueled by a reconnection to our roots in a community of Christ followers with an irenic spirit. This group of people who gathered around the mission of God, choose to work together because more is possible when we work together. As a result, we have seen a rise in the number of pastors engaged in theological education, an explosion of partnerships between local churches and the university, and fresh expressions of affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful theological education in numerous countries around the world.

Ten years ago, there may have been questions about Taylor Seminary and Sioux Falls Seminary’s connection to the North American Baptist Conference of churches. Today, the relationship has been strengthened by a shared commitment to the mission of God, theological hospitality, and contextualized education that is affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful.

By God’s providence, this enhanced connection with the NAB paved the way for new and renewed connections to the wider body of Christ. As Rauschenbusch remarked, “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.” When we embrace that reality, we are exposed to the powerful ways in which the Spirit of God is at work in the world. Little did we know that this way of being would spark a global movement. Let’s jump into that next week.

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