I started seminary in the fall of 2005. I’ve been a student at Southeastern since the Spring of 2007. I graduated with my PhD in December, 2016. It’s been a long road.
Despite that long road, however, I look back and am grateful for the opportunity to have studied at Southeastern. As a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, I know something about loyalty to an alma mater. (By the way: Beat Army!) Everything at USNA is geared toward imbuing the ethos of a professional naval officer. It’s in the facts that are memorized, the habits that are inculcated, and the courses that are studied.
I enjoyed (most of) my time at USNA, but was always somewhat surprised at the number of people that didn’t really believe in the mission. The thing is, you could be a good Company Officer or a good midshipman and not really believe in the mission. After all, people would say, it doesn’t really matter if your shoes are shined, it’s whether you can get the job done. There was often a subversive disbelief under the veneer of compliant excellence.
That contrasts distinctly with ethos of Southeastern. I have both worked there and been a student there. There are few shined shoes, but the school as a whole is one that has bought into its mission. That makes a huge difference.
Southeastern’s mission is pretty simple: “We seek to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.”
I had that mission memorized long before we moved to Wake Forest because every chapel sermon includes an introduction with Danny Akin’s voice announcing it. No one can get away from it because it hangs on many of the light poles throughout the campus and adorns the syllabus of each course offered through the institution.
More significantly, Southeastern’s mission animates the institution.
The school is certainly not a perfect organization. However, even its failings tend to lead to it falling in roughly the right direction. Having a clear mission and broad buy-in for that mission keeps the institution on track and calls it back even when it strays.
In this case the mission is easy to get behind. It’s an institution of higher learning, but one distinctly organized around theological education. The students, staff, and faculty that are drawn to the institution are those who have a strong desire to do something (they may not know what) for the glory of Christ and in service of his church.
Recently, the institution adopted a new school hymn. That was good, because the previous one was a dirge that did little to inspire. Southeastern’s school hymn is now a song by the modern hymn-writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty, called “For the Cause.”
As I listened to the song the first time, and the hundred times after, I could not help but recognize that it reflects exactly the ethos of the institution. It’s not just a slogan, it’s actually the driving idea behind the institution.
At graduation rehearsal, Danny Akin addressed the prospective graduates. In his simple address, it became apparent that his mission is the same as Southeastern’s mission. That’s part of why everyone else’s mission tends to blend in with it and become just like it.
If I were to do a study on the impact that a unified mission and vision could have on an organizational structure, I might choose to use Southeastern as an example. It’s an institution of higher learning dedicated to a simple, but important ministry: equipping men and women for service for kingdom of Christ.
I’m thankful for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Being surrounded by such a cloud of witness as the students, staff, and faculty pulling in the same direction was a terrific experience. It shaped me in ways I probably do not understand.
Southeastern is a going seminary, so I have friends in places of service around the globe. They were all equipped by Southeastern. More importantly, however, they were shaped and focused by the culture at the institution.
We sang “For the Cause” at the conclusion of the ceremony on Friday. It was a powerful moment, standing in the front row of a crowded chapel, hearing hundreds of voices heartily singing out in unison:
Let it be my life’s refrain
To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Take up my cross and follow the Son.
I'm confident the students and faculty meant it deeply, too. That makes a huge difference. In fact, it’s what makes Southeastern as special place. I’m now employed at Oklahoma Baptist University, but I will always appreciate my time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.