BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- During New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's report to the convention two leaders -- Chuck Kelley and Jamie Dew -- shared the podium and offered a picture of a gracious transition of leadership and the importance of answering God's call.
Kelley, who led NOBTS for the past 23 years, spent the first half of the report thanking Southern Baptists for their gracious support of theological education and sharing the good news of the school's minority scholarships and evangelism efforts. Halfway through the allotted time, Kelley yielded the podium to Dew, who was elected as the seminary's ninth president on June 5. Dew shared his vision for a seminary of committed servants of Jesus Christ.
"My first words have to be, 'thank you,'" Kelley said. "No other American family of churches is invested in theological education the way Southern Baptists are invested. The truth is, we still need to do more."
Kelley said the Cooperative Program has provided $172,751,343 in funding to NOBTS during his tenure alone.
"We want to thank you for that and say please keep on sacrificing, keep on sending, keep on supporting the preparation of your next generation of ministers," Kelley said. "All of us want to see our students graduate without student debt and you can make that possible."
Presidential transitions usually result in decreases in enrollment and giving, Kelley noted. Bucking that trend, NOBTS experienced a small increase in enrollment this year in spite of Kelley's retirement announcement. Giving remains strong as well. Since January, $2 million has been given to the seminary's student scholarship endowment.
Kelley pointed to two important scholarship programs in which donors have given sacrificially in order to keep student debt to a minimum. The Fred Luter Jr. Scholarship is helping the seminary student body become more diverse, while the other, the Caskey Center for Church Excellence, is helping NOBTS become more committed to evangelism.
Since 2011, the Fred Luter Jr. Scholarship has distributed more than $1 million in scholarships to African American students in Atlanta and New Orleans. These funds supplement the general NOBTS scholarships which are available to all students regardless of ethnicity. The family who started the Luter Scholarship recently pledged another $250,000 to the effort.
The Caskey Center provides full-tuition scholarships for nearly 300 smaller membership church ministers in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Not only is the funding helping pay for the cost of theological education, it is fostering local church evangelism. Students who receive the scholarship are required to engage in at least one Gospel conversation every week. Since 2015, Caskey recipients have engaged in 34,732 Gospel conversations resulting in 4,059 new believers.
After these brief updates, Kelley yielded the podium to Frank Cox, chairman of the presidential search committee, who introduced Jamie Dew to the convention. "[Serving on the committee] has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," Cox said.
Dew said he is "honored to be numbered among these men on this stage and to have the opportunity to give my life in service to you. Everything I have and everything I am is because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ that came to me through the faithful work of Southern Baptists."
Dew said he had every intention of spending the rest of his life leading the College at Southeastern in North Carolina, but the call of God led him to New Orleans and that call has given him a passion for his new task.
"In a very short time, I have fallen in love with the city of New Orleans and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary," Dew said. "I had written a very cute, beautiful story for my life, but through this process I have remembered that God has the right to rewrite our stories and that He writes more beautiful stories than we do. God took something from me that I deeply loved – [the] College at Southeastern -- and He put in my hands and my heart New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary."
Dew said that the convention can expect to see a seminary that passionately trains up a generation of servants for Jesus Christ. NOBTS will prioritize preaching and proclamation of the Gospel to a broken, fallen world, he said.
"There is only one name, there is only one man, Jesus Christ, who can redeem and restore," Dew said. "We have a passion to see that redemption unfold to this nation and the nations around us."
Dew said the task before believers today will not be accomplished without a commitment to prayer and spiritual fervor.
"We must be a people who walk on our knees and keep our noses on the floor before God begging God to do a great work in us and a great work through us," Dew said. "So at the beginning of this journey, I offer our students, our faculty, our administration and myself to you as your servants for the century before us."